By Rachel Dunphy
For the past two weeks, a dozen families (including mine) from the Burlington area have been playing host to a group of students who have travelled from far a wide to study environmental science and policy in Vermont. They and several committed instructors make up Green Across the Pacific, a 17-year-old program which brings students from the Affiliated High School of South China Normal University in Guangdong Province to the University of Vermont each summer. The program also includes several students from Thailand and from around the United States.
After being selected for the program from a competitive pool of applicants, accepted students, about 25 in all, were flown to the U.S. on July 14 and began three weeks of touring the state. Each day takes the student somewhere new to meet with experts on sustainable farming, renewable energy, soil composition, resource management, and essentially any other topic you can think of that pertains to Vermont’s environmental struggles and/or successes. Any day they might be at Shelburne Farms receiving a lecture from Marshall Webb or at the State House asking policy questions. Ying Liu, one of the Chinese students in the program, said her favorite day was visiting the OMYA quarries in Middlebury, learning about the purification of calcium carbonate.
Of course, a program like this isn’t only about learning science. Just as important are the lessons these students learn from each other and from their host families about a country and a culture they’re unfamiliar with. “I’ve learned from the U.S. students to participate actively in conversation,” said Liu. She said being here has given her a much better understanding of the American lifestyle and that the people here in Vermont are much friendlier than those in her home city, Guangzhou, with a population of over one million people. “I feel very safe here,” she said.
Although Liu is interested in a career in finance, she’s here learning about conservation because she believes that environmental problems are global and that everyone should be responsible for understanding them and fixing them regardless of their career. She said China can learn a lot from the work Vermont has done and that even the students can be a part of it. One past student wrote a position paper on measurement of mercury levels in Vermont for the program and helped to introduce a similar measurement system in China.
Liu and the other students in the program are committed to changing the places they live. She explained to me that the sky in Guangzhou is quite grey and gets very red from the pollution. She was clearly worried for the future of her city, but hopefully what she and the others learn during their stay in Vermont will help change that. “The sky is bluer here,” she said hopefully.