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A future in International Energy Economics – Hermann’s story

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Hermann: Protecting the planet with a degree in International Energy Economics

I caught up with Hermann via a video call and, apart from his time studying abroad at Western Sydney University, I knew nothing about him. By the end of our conversation, I was astonished at how much he has already fitted into his 22 years. I asked him about his current degree in International Energy Economics.

“I’m currently studying International Energy Economics at the University of Applied Sciences in Ulm, southern Germany. As the name suggests, it’s a combination of computer science (data analytics, mostly), energy engineering and business studies relating to the energy sector. I completed my sixth semester abroad at Western Sydney University in Australia, now in my seventh semester. I’m currently writing my thesis with my bachelor’s degree graduation in March.

“My semester abroad made me want to continue using my English, so I’m currently working as a Student Assistant at the International Office. Because I was an international student myself, I can empathise with the internationals here. I know how it feels, being in a new country and some of the difficulties that can cause, so I can help them.”

Why study International Energy Economics?

Hermann’s enthusiasm for his chosen field was striking. I wondered why he chose to go in this direction, and if he had ever considered anything else. It was towards the end of his high school studies that he chose the energy sector, making a big shift from his previous plans.

“At the very beginning I wanted to become a banker; you could say I was just after the money! But then a visiting professor from The Biberach University of Applied Sciences delivered a presentation in my school about renewable energy sources. He talked about sustainability and how we need to protect the environment, using my home region as an example. It changed everything.

“I’m from a town that’s really close to nature. Five minutes by bike and you’re outside in the forest or you can go swimming in the lake. I realised that the professor was right – we have beautiful landscapes here, close to the Alps and close to Lake Constance. It’s beautiful, it’s green and there is so much nature. His presentation reinforced the importance of protecting all that, rather than running off to chase the money. I think I was only two or three weeks from my final exams when I switched. I was about to enter a programme offered by Deutsche Bank but that persuasive and inspiring talk made me change my mind.”

Find out more about Hermann’s time as an international student in Australia.

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From Germany to Sydney: Why Hermann chose to study business abroad

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Hermann is in his final year studying at the University of Applied Sciences in Ulm, Germany. He chose to study Business abroad in Australia for a semester at Western Sydney University. This is his story.

Why study abroad in Australia?

“I really wanted to study business abroad, so I started doing some research on universities overseas. Personally, I didn’t want to stay in Europe and so I decided on somewhere different – Australia. Being in the city was also a big thing for me. So I was looking at studying in either Melbourne or Sydney. I came across Western Sydney University and I really liked the look of it. It also offered some good study scholarships as well, so that was a bonus.

“I used an organisation called GOstralia! that helps students travel to Australia and New Zealand to study. They were great, and they made the application process pretty straightforward. I sent them all the application forms and then they went through them to check that everything was right. Then they send everything to the university and afterwards, I got my letter of acceptance!

hermann and friends“Western Sydney University contacted me directly via email, then I was able to say yes or no. It was pretty simple. Then I just had to pay the tuition fees and choose my units. Afterwards, I got support from Isis Kowaliauskas and Rohan McCarthy-Gill in the International Department at the university. They provided video conferences explaining everything about the university – things to know, what stuff to bring with us from home and so on.

“I chose to study business, which is taught at the Parramatta Campus. This is where I took most of my classes – modules such as ‘Creating Change and Innovation’, ‘Business, Society and Policy’ and ‘Psychology: Human Behaviour’. These units are not necessarily related to my field of study back home in Germany, where I’m an engineering student. But I wanted to try out something new, and I thought technology and business were some interesting subjects.”

Why study business at WSU?

“In terms of the course, there was a wide selection of units to choose from. I wanted to use my semester overseas to do something new, working in areas that I’m not that confident in and will be useful in the future. This was the main reason I chose to study business abroad. I’m really interested in the field of entrepreneurship so I did ‘Business, Society and Policy’ and ‘Creating Change and Innovation’.

“The courses I chose were really good and really interesting. They were delivered through a mixture of lectures and seminars and tutorials. But besides that, there were a lot of assignments such as writing essays, group reports, quizzes, doing presentations, etc. You actually have to do a lot of work throughout the semester, which we don’t necessarily do in Germany. It was actually quite good because it encouraged you to learn. In Germany, you just have one exam at the end of the semester, and everything depends on that single exam.

“The teaching staff at the university were very good, but it was different compared to the bigger universities in Germany. At home, you can sit in a lecture theatre with 300 students and no interaction with the professor. So you feel more afraid to ask questions because of the group size. When I went to study business abroad at Western Sydney, it was a really nice experience, similar to being back in school with smaller groups of 30 or 40 people. The professors were also different – in Germany, a lot of professors at universities focus on doing research, so their teaching styles are not very good. But in Australia, you could really see that the professors cared for you and they wanted you to learn – a slightly more personal touch.”

Find out more about Hermann’s time at WSU and travels to Southeast Asia.

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Ligia’s study abroad experience in Australia

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Ligia is a marketing professional working in Sydney. She came to Australia from Brazil to study her MBA at Western Sydney University. This is her study abroad experience.

Do you want to study abroad in Australia? Ligia has put herself through plenty of challenges as an international student and emerged from them all triumphantly. We caught up with her to chat about her time as an international student in Australia, and the events in her life that got her there.

Putting family first

The first thing Ligia wanted to talk about in our interview was her family and what they mean to her, which speaks volumes about the kind of person she is.

“I think firstly I have to mention that I have a “special” brother. His name is Vitor and he was born with cerebral palsy. I am just starting off with this because this makes my family’s dynamic slightly different from everyone else’s. I’m very attached to my family. It may sound cliché, but everything that I do is based on what’s better for them, not just for me.”

family graduation photo
Family graduation photo

Throughout our interview, these remarks hold special significance as it becomes clear just how much Ligia missed being close to family and to Brazil. Illustrating just how determined and resilient she is. Ligia has been familiar with the world of business from an early age as her dad works as a customer success manager for an insurance company in Brazil. She quickly realised that she needed to do something that would earn her enough money to support her family. But she also wanted a good job, a career and to uphold her commitment to them.

“I chose to do my bachelors in Brazil when I was 17 and straight out of school. So I started studying at a great private college called ESPM, which translates as ‘Superior School of Advertising and Marketing’. I did an undergraduate course in Advertising and Marketing, which is consistently ranked as one of the best in Brazil. I guess everything started there in terms of my career and my relationship with business and marketing.”

Find out more about Ligia’s MBA at Western Sydney University.

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Ligia’s MBA in Australia – Western Sydney University

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Ligia graduated with an MBA from Western Sydney University in 2018. She now works in Sydney as a Marketing Manager. This is her story.

Why an MBA in Australia?

I studied a degree in Communications, Advertising and Marketing in Brazil, but what I really wanted to do was study English in Australia. So I did, and after four months in Australia, I started studying for a diploma in Business. Then I realised that if I wanted to stay in Australia, I had to enrol on a postgraduate course in order to qualify for a visa. So, I decided to just go for it and apply for an MBA.

I had wanted to do a Masters anyway because it was the next level for me after my degree in Brazil, so it seemed like the next step. I also wanted to stay in Australia because I knew it would offer me a lot of opportunities in terms of working and career progression.

Check out our reasons why you should complete an MBA programme.

Why Western Sydney University?

I made contact with Isis Kowaliauskas – a fellow Brazilian who works for the international department at the university. She has now become a colleague, but at the time we met through a Facebook post in one of the Brazilian communities. After looking at her Facebook post about Western Sydney, I knew I wanted to go there and see what it was like. In the beginning, it was just what I needed because I didn’t know anybody else. She was so sweet and helpful. She introduced me to the whole university and the whole course and everything. And then I said, yes, that’s where I want to do my masters.

I went through all the modules and did all the research, and then I went to the campus and could immediately see myself studying there. It was like falling in love. I know that sounds romantic, but that’s what happened: it felt right. I think it was the biggest factor for me because I’m very into feelings – they are important when making choices.

Scholarships

Then there were the practical reasons. I’d say that Western Sydney University was the most cost-effective out of Sydney’s biggest unis (UTS, Sydney University, the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney). Among these, in terms of price, it was the best option. Western Sydney University also offers scholarships for international students, as well as their public scholarships. I was nervous but it was like any university thing, I needed to just go for it. So I applied to try and be the lucky one, and I was!

Click here for our top 5 government-funded scholarships for international students.

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Reflections on Studying Abroad in a Changing World & a Warming Climate, Part 2

The Carbon Footprint of International Education

Many education institutions do essential work around climate change. Universities and research institutes produce much of the data and are often the source of the loudest voices calling for action. They are home to many of the researchers seeking technical solutions and many of them invest heavily in making their buildings more sustainable and cutting their operating carbon footprint. This is, of course, all very positive but there is an element of cognitive dissonance when it comes to international education. Those of us working in the field can be a little reluctant to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that the whole business of studying abroad contributes to global warming.

So, how exactly do we contribute to the problem? Well, our operating and business models depend on our ability to fly around the world and encouraging others (students) to fly. This travel (mainly flying) by students, international office staff, and academics, as well as other activities such as the production and shipping of brochures and prospectuses generates the emissions that help warm the planet.

The carbon emissions associated with global student mobility have been rising due to growing numbers of mobile students (at least pre-coronavirus), despite a fall in the emissions per student. They are estimated to stand at 14-39 megatons of CO₂ per year (Shields, 2019) – an amount equivalent to having more than 3 million cars on the road for a year – and a significant proportion of this is caused by air travel.

Some research done by a former colleague of mine, Rob MacDonald, on the emissions associated with international students coming to Australia estimated that the 350,000 commencing international HE students in 2014 generated 1.5 million tonnes from aviation emissions alone. To put that another way, you would have to plant almost 9 million trees, or enough to fill the entire Sydney harbour just to offset the flights of that single arriving cohort. Anyone wishing to find out more should read the excellent article calculating the flight-related carbon footprint of international students to Australia (IEAA Vista, 2015). What action did we take as a sector to offset those flights? Why, none at all.

You might wonder why the emphasis on flying, particularly when it only accounts for around 2.5% of total global emissions, but according to Peter Kalmus, NASA scientist and founder of NoFlyClimateSci, ‘Hour for hour, there’s no better way to burn fossil fuel and heat the planet.’

A round-trip flight in economy from Melbourne, where I live, to London on the other side of the world would generate 6.3 tCO₂. To visualise that another way, my one trip would have melted 18.9m² of Arctic sea ice. That latter figure incidentally is courtesy of a website called shameplane.com where you can see the emissions from any flight and contrast it with the impact of various sustainable actions, such as going vegetarian or car-free for a year.

Why Studying Abroad is more Important than Ever

So, studying abroad has an environmental cost but that does not mean that it isn’t worth it. To solve wicked problems like climate change, the world needs people who have a global perspective, who have developed the skills to work across borders, and who can communicate effectively. In a real sense, it has never been more important that we have global citizens who understand the importance of evidence-led action and who respect scientific findings. In other words, we need people who are not just educated but who are globally educated.

Once the borders are open again and it is possible to travel, the advantages and skills that you gain from studying abroad will be as valuable as ever. My suggestion is that you don’t feel guilty about travelling to study abroad, but that you take the time to understand the carbon cost of it so you can also decide how to balance out that cost through other choices. For example, you could reduce emissions elsewhere in your life and you could at least choose to offset our flights. If you would like to measure your own carbon footprint, a useful place to start is the free online calculator from footprintcalculator.org. You can also find practical tips on what action you can take at sites like climate7.com.

How Student Attitudes to Climate Influence University Behaviour

There is growing awareness of the need for radical and immediate action, as evidenced by the global school climate strikes – 4 million young people in 163 countries took part in school strikes for climate last year. There has also been a shift in public attitudes to flying, notably in parts of Europe, and a new-found preference for lower-carbon travel options.

These changes are starting to affect international study choices; for example, many universities across Europe are actively working to funnel students towards study abroad options they can reach by train. This works reasonably well for people in many parts of Europe who want to study in another part of Europe but it’s not a great option for people in most other regions of the world with less extensive train networks, or in island nations like Australia and New Zealand.

There are early indications that students may choose to study in countries or at institutions with strong green credentials. In a recent QS report on Sustainability in Higher Education, an overwhelming majority (94%) of respondents agreed that universities could do more to be environmentally sustainable. The new Times Higher Education Impact Ranking rates universities on their performance against the Sustainable Development Goals and means that prospective students now have a tool they can use to rate universities on their climate credentials.

This is important because universities pay close attention to what students want, and to what drives their behaviour. So, if you would prefer to study abroad at an institution that takes environmental issues seriously it is important to use your voice and let them know.

Risk and Opportunities

So where does this all leave us?

The current pandemic has given us a brief respite. Universities are experimenting with teaching online and with virtual recruitment events, all of which will help reduce emissions now, and potentially in the long term if these changes take hold.

On a grander scale, while the planes are grounded, many factories lie shut and cars stand idle we are actually reducing global emissions slightly, but this is just a pause. What is important is what we do next.

I mentioned at the start that we have a widening of our narrow window of hope and it is this: the unprecedented, large-scale action that is being taken right now around the world to fight the coronavirus shows us what is possible. It shows that we are still capable of taking difficult decisions when the need is upon us and the greater good demands. My hope is that, once learned, this lesson will become a habit that we are unable to shake.

 

*One hour of flying generates CO₂ emissions of 250 kg (Carbon Independent web site).

Ailsa Lamont, Director and Founder at Pomegranate Global and Co-Founder of CANIE: Climate Action Network for International Educators. 

Reflections on Studying Abroad in a Changing World and a Warming Climate, Part One

I have spent much of the last three years talking to people who work in international education about the need to cut down how much they travel because of the damage that flying does to the environment …. I suppose the lesson here is to be careful what you wish for as the COVID-19 crisis bites and forces much of the planet into lockdown.

The coronavirus pandemic is understandably absorbing everyone’s attention right now but unfortunately, the underlying problem of climate change has not gone away. Maybe, just maybe though, this strange new world we have entered offers us a new window of hope for how we might resolve it.

But first, let me go back to the beginning to talk about how global student mobility contributes to the climate crisis and then how the international education sector might serve as a catalyst for positive action.

The Scale Of The Climate Challenge

The world has warmed by roughly 1°C since the time of the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century because of human activity. This temperature rise is already causing stronger storms, more erratic weather, dangerous heatwaves, longer droughts and extended fire seasons.  At even a 1.5°C temperature rise – the lower end of the Paris Agreement targets – this trend will intensify and be accompanied by large-scale disruption to climate systems, infrastructure and migration patterns.

If we stay on our current emissions trajectory, we will see warming of more than 4°C by the end of this century which would mean that many major cities in India and parts of the Middle East would literally become lethal on some days due to extreme temperatures and heatwaves (Mani M, et al. 2018), and whole regions of Africa, Australia and the United States, as well as parts of Asia and South America would be uninhabitable as a result of direct heat, desertification or flooding.

We still have a little time – around 10 years – to prevent such a catastrophic outcome according to the UN report (IPCC 2018). To do this, the 15 largest economies must cut their carbon-dioxide emissions in half over the next four decades. The scale of that task is immense, however.

According to Vox Magazine in 2014,

“to put that in perspective global emissions declined by just 1 percent in the year after the 2008 financial crisis, during a brutal recession when factories and buildings around the world were idling. to stay below 2°c, we may have to triple that pace of cuts, and sustain it year after year.’’

 

The COVID-19 situation means we have to update this current picture as normal life has closed down for a staggeringly large part of the world’s population. This has pressed pause on our greenhouse gas emissions which up until the pandemic had still been rising.

So, we have a little room to breathe, and a chance to reflect on how the world works and how we might perhaps remake it a little differently once the current threat of the virus has passed.

Ailsa Lamont, Director and Founder at Pomegranate Global and Co-Founder of CANIE: Climate Action Network for International Educators.