Week 7 Blog: A Lovely Day in Strasbourg

This week was another exciting week in the books for the SLS France Program! We had our second full-day excursion of the semester, and this time we got to visit the beautiful city of Strasbourg. Metz may be known as La Ville Verte (Green City), but Strasbourg takes the cake when it comes to sustainability efforts. It is not only one of the greenest cities in France, but in all of Europe as it was in the top three finalists for the European Green Capital award in 2021! The city is known for being “France’s most bike-friendly city,” its thriving biodiversity, and its efforts towards utilizing energy-positive buildings, and we got to experience all these characteristics during our field trip. For this trip, Dr. Boulard handed us the reins for the activities of the day; her goal is to help her students develop teamwork and global competence skills by putting us in charge of thematic excursions and exploring on-site what is being studied in the classroom. The class was split into four groups, and each group planned a different activity. The first group (Olivia, John, Marc, and Lauren) took us to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg and on a boat tour. The cathedral has a beautiful burnt orange pinkish color that comes from the sandstone used to build it, and it instantly caught my eye as one of my favorite qualities of the building. Because this was the first activity of the day, the sun was still rising and hitting the stained-glass windows just right to illuminate the vaulted ceiling! The cathedral is also home to the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock from the Middle Ages that was a super cool combination of work from artists and mathematicians and was an awe-inspiring invention of the time. When we finished the cathedral, the first group also planned a boat tour to take us through the city’s canals! It was a lovely way to see a lot of the city from a new perspective! I especially thought the canal lifts (locks) were so cool the way they filled with water to allow the boat to transfer to a higher canal! 

Figures 1-3: Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg
Figure 4: Astronomical Clock
Figure 5,6: SLS students with Dr. Boulard on the boat tour, boarding the boat for the boat tour

I was in the second group with Laynie, Ida, and Megan, and we decided to take the class to the Parc de l’Orangerie. We picked this park not only because it is a beautiful place but also because it has played a significant role in protecting and preserving Strasbourg’s biodiversity. The Parc de l’Orangerie is responsible for reintroducing the stork and effectively saving the species from extinction in 1983. Today, over 800 young storks have been successfully born, and the Alsace belief that they are symbols of happiness, faithfulness, and good luck! We walked through the park and took in the stunning views while on our way to the area of the European Parliament to do a scavenger hunt of the European Union’s buildings for group three’s (Nate, Tanner, and Ngari) activity. We were given two pamphlets (one easy and one challenging) for a scavenger hunt that took us around to all the government buildings to find clues. It was an entertaining and nostalgic way to see and learn about the area while working with our classmates to solve the riddle! We ended the day with a visit to Tour Elithis Danube and the Parc de la Citadelle led by group four (Maddie, Alexander, Laura, and Samyuktha). The Tour Elithis Danube is an energy positive apartment building which means that the building produces more energy than it uses! The only other energy positive building I have seen in person is the Kendeda Building at Tech. It is fantastic that these methods are being used in an apartment complex because they are typically huge energy guzzlers! After admiring the tower’s architecture, we made our way to the Parc de la Citadelle, home to a military fortress destroyed during a siege in 1870. Today this park is classified as an Ecojardin (just like the one I saw in Nice) ¹! This park was stunning! We got to spend our last hour in Strasbourg relaxing under the willow trees and watching the swans gracefully swim through the stream at golden hour. It was a picturesque ending to a lovely day exploring the ecological efforts of a new city!

Figure 7: Stork statues in the Parc de l’Orangerie
Figure 8: SLS students in the Parc de la Citadelle
Figure 9,10: Alexander, John, and Tanner finding the answers to the scavenger hunt
Figure 11: European Union Parliament Building
Figure 12: Laura explaining the history behind the Parc de la Citadelle
Figure 13-15: Ecojardin label for the Parc de la Citadelle, swans in the Park
Figure 16: Me and Dr. Boulard posing for a photo in the park

¹Read more about what makes a park an EcoJardin in my week 2 blog “Toxic Gardens, Marvel Movies & the Seaside”

Week 6 Blog: The Posing Chickens and Nuclear Waste

Our topic of conversation this week was nuclear power and radioactive waste. This is a prevalent and challenging issue in France and all over the world. Nuclear waste is hazardous for the environment and people, and there is no way to recycle it or safely store it for long periods. So, this issue of nuclear waste has no definitive answer and is a highly controversial topic in most environmental and social arenas today. We had an intense debate of our own in class on a nuclear waste project, a deep geological disposal facility (the Cigéo project, or Industrial Centre for Geological Disposal). That is being pushed to essentially bury mass amounts of highly radioactive long-lived waste under the city of Bure, a city located about an hour away from Metz. We took sides as the government versus the citizens of Bure, and both sides made excellent points, proving how difficult it is to find a solution for the mass amounts of toxic waste that we are so carelessly producing.  We also had Dr. Jean Paul Salvestrini, Adjunct Professor at the school of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech and Director of the Georgia Tech CNRS research Lab IRL 2958, join us as a guest speaker to explain a little more about the Cigéo project in Bure, how nuclear power works, and just how dangerous it can be. He presented his research on materials and how to monitor and anticipate the degradation of concreate (one of the main materials used to build radioactive waste storage shelters) due to its contact with clay. He pointed out that the materials’ robustness and corrosion resistance are not clearly demonstrated and are a risk in this project. 

Figure 1: Dr. Boulard and Dr. Jean Paul Salvestrini talking about nuclear waste
Figure 2: Samyuktha and Laynie enjoying the posing chickens
Figure 3: Dr. Boulard and Laura looking at the birds
Figure 4: Kara leading our tour through the Botanical Gardens of Metz
Figure 5: Yannick Monget’s digital painting of Metz in the future

Our field trips of the week were to the exhibition “Hopes” and the Botanical gardens of Metz! The exhibition was a series of digital art renderings by writer Yannick Monget that depict how different places in the world will look due to climate change in the future. I thought the digital paintings were exceptionally creative, and some were much different from how I would’ve imagined. One of the most popular pieces among the class was the depiction of Metz (see Figure 5) for the way the city had been overtaken by nature to become a true Ville Verte (green city). At the botanical gardens, the graduate student and Program Assistant, Kara, gave us the grand tour explaining everything from Japanese trees to the different types of grain! As SLS program students, you would be correct to assume that we love galivanting through gardens and looking at plants, but we are also animal lovers, and the highlight of this garden was, hands down, the bird habitat. We all loved hearing Laura’s extensive knowledge of bird facts and stories of her two cute pet birds at home. We also got quite a hoot (pun intended!) out of the way the chickens loved our attention and seemingly posed for our photos. All this talk of animals makes me miss my pets at home a little extra. I don’t have any birds, but I do have two adorable dogs who I miss dearly and decided to Facetime this week to check in on; they said they miss me, of course! For those of you that are home with your pets, give them an extra hug (or pet) for us this week, and until we are home, we will keep visiting the local animals of Metz to get our fill of furry friends! 

Figure 6: SLS students walking through a “tree tunnel”
Figure 7: Laura’s pet birds Pancho (left) and Mina (right)
Figure 8: my dogs on FaceTime with me
Figure 9: SLS students looking at one of the digital paintings in the “Hopes” exhibit
Figure 10: one of the posing chickens (photo by Laynie)

Finally, this week we began the “serve” section of the Serve, Learn, Sustain program! For this part of the program, we get to put all the knowledge we have gained thus far into action by volunteering with the organizations we have met through our field trips with the class. The organizations I am most interested in working with are Un Jardin Pour 2 Mains¹, The Institut Européen d’Écologie (specifically with their Cinemaplanete film festival) ², the Oppidum³, and Motris. Motris is a new organization that came to talk to us this week along with Club UNESCO. Motris is an organization that is sparking an initiative to plant trees in the city of Metz. Their goal is to create urban forests in the heart of metropolis Metz by planting 10,000 trees. I am so excited to be a part of this project! Earlier in the semester, we read a story called L’Homme qui plantait des arbres (The man who planted trees, by French writer Jean Giono), and it was a beautiful tale of one man who changed an entire valley by dedicating his life to planting trees. The story started in a harsh, barren land where the people were savages, and by the end of the story (and the man’s life), it was a beautiful, thriving area because the valley, once a desert, had turned into an immense green forest. The tale perfectly depicted how one seemingly simple action and a heart for change can be the difference between life and death. The story inspired me, so to have the opportunity to put it into action feels so symbolic and memorable. Plus, I have always been somewhat of a tree hugger, and when I was young, I collected my apple seeds with the hope that I might be able to grow a tree one day. Now, I can do so, and I am so excited!

Figure 11: Representative from Motris telling us about the organization

1 Explained in Biodomes, a Meatless Cow, and a Lovely Picnic

2 Explained in Toxic Gardens, Marvel Movies & the Seaside

The Institut Européen d’Écologie Turns 50!

It was a very exciting week for the SLS program! One of our partners, the Institut Européen d’Écologie, celebrated its 50th anniversary on Tuesday (09/21), and we had the honor of joining them in the festivities! For their main anniversary event, they started the evening by introducing and unveiling the Aquablier, a water hourglass statue that represents the urgent need to contain global warming. The statue also had a screen that rotated through names of people/groups, and we were able to get the program name displayed (see figure 1)! The second part of the event was a conference during which we got to hear from about 12 up-and-coming voices for ecology on what they are doing to help save our planet and build a brighter future. Once everyone had spoken, they concluded the conference by showing a trailer for the movie “The Great Green Wall,” whose premiere the Metz Ciné Klub was hosting on Friday. The event ended with a party where we had the opportunity to converse with Merveille and Errol, two of the speakers. They are both brilliant students at prestigious schools in Metz and it was so entertaining to get to speak to them. It was a lovely evening, and we were all overjoyed to be a part of such a significant milestone.

Figure 1: SLS Program name being displayed on the Aquablier
Figure 2: SLS students in front of the Aquablier
Figure 3: SLS students with Merveille and Errol

Later in the week, we had an excellent zero-waste workshop with Dr. Jean-Jacques and Dr. Boulard. For our first DIY activity, they taught us how to make laundry detergent! It was so easy and only five ingredients: Marseille soap, hot water, baking soda, vinegar, and a little bit of lavender oil for scent. We each filled up a reusable glass bottle with our detergent, and it was as easy as pie! The next thing we made was toothpaste, it was also straightforward (and easy to use as you can see in figure 4) and only required four ingredients to make! Lastly, we got to try some of Dr. Jean-Jacques’ homemade kefir. His kefir was not like the milk types I have tried in the past but instead was a citrusy fizzy fermented drink made with a water base and kefir seeds. My classmates and I were slightly skeptical about the drink based on its smell at first but were pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it was after trying it! On top of its yummy taste, kefir is filled with probiotics and is excellent for maintaining a healthy intestinal microbiota. I definitely want to try to make some kefir at home soon! Making these everyday items was a fun activity that I could easily incorporate into my routine to decrease my waste output. I had never really thought about how much waste is produced just from laundry and toothpaste products alone. It put into perspective how easy it is to contribute to the plastic problem without even realizing it.

Figure 4: me testing out our homemade toothpaste
Figure 5: John, Lauren, and Olivia making laundry detergent
Figure 6: Jean-Jacques preparing the ingredients for the laundry detergent
Figure 7: Laynie, Ida, and Laura making their toothpaste with the help of Dr. Boulard and Dr. Jean-Jacques
Figure 8: Dr. Boulard and Dr. Jean-Jacques explaining the ingredients

We ended our week by attending the premiere of the film “The Great Green Wall” hosted by the Institut Européen d’Écologie. The film was all about bringing awareness to the Great Green Wall initiative in the Sahel region. This project attempts to combat the desertification of the area by planting a wall of trees that stretches across the entire Sahel: 8,000 kilometers (4970 miles) of trees planted across 11 countries! The film followed Malian singer Inna Modja as she journeyed from one end of the Sahel to the other, learning all about how climate change and desertification have ravaged many individuals’ lives across the region. Her goal was to make a song for each place she visited that represented the stories of the people while repainting their image today and for the future with a light of hope. The film was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It is devastating to see how so many people’s livelihoods have become so fragile because of the climate crisis, but to see someone like Inna (and many others in the film) have a dream for a future where this region can live in peace and without fear was a beautiful thing. The emphasis on working together to overcome something that many believe is bigger than us was inspiring. Often, I get overwhelmed with the destruction of the world that we are constantly discussing in class and feel like there is no way to make a difference truly, but this movie reminded me otherwise. The Sahel needs help and has a very long way to go before the land and people can begin healing. However, the last stop Inna went in the movie was Ethiopia, and the film showed how a country once devastated by famine is one of the greenest, most peaceful parts of the region today! If that doesn’t put a fire in your belly to do all that you can in your lifetime to fight this ecological crisis, I don’t know what will! People being resilient and fighting for change together is the answer, and Inna and this film did a fantastic job portraying this message.

Figure 9: Poster for the film
Figure 12: SLS students with the Chadian and Mauritanian delegations, Great Green Wall respresentatives, mesdames Fatimetou Abdel Malick and Sarah Toumi and the IEE president: Marie Anne Isler Béguin

Check out this link to see the Institut Européen d’Écologie’s tweet about the premiere and some more photos of us! https://twitter.com/IEEMetz/status/1442378529438638080/photo/1