A Cozy Return: Time in Denmark

The gravel crunches under my tires, and I’m careful not to lose traction. With the almost-full moon breaking from the clouds, I can just barely make out the path in front of me. My eyes adjust. Fog rises from the tall grasses to my right; a fenced pasture to my left. I’m beginning to remember. Horses graze there during the day. The old bicycle I have borrowed becomes a metronome, click click clicking with every passing second. It is just after 1 am, and I am trying to make my way home. Lasse – the best friend of my Danish host brother – has pointed me in the direction of a short cut, a short cut I have taken a year and a half earlier, and one I hope I can remember.

This is Copenhagen – an oasis for cyclists. In one moment, I am navigating through buildings and streets. The next, I have slipped into a covered forest, transported to a Danish countryside, with only the sounds of my own bicycle. I will come out at a metro stop, concert hall, and beautiful (read expensive) waterfront condominiums. The integration of cycle tracks, bicycle lanes, and greenways is impeccable. Not to mention the driverless metro, buses, S-tog, and regional trains – all of which will readily accept your bicycle as an additional passenger, without extra charge.

I have returned to Denmark after over a year’s absence. In some ways, my time away was only a blink. I immediately feel at home with my host family. We pick up our same patterns, jokes, and activities – afternoon coffee, hours of beach volleyball, bike rides along the shore, Danish garden parties. It has all been wonderful.

Yet, at the same time, Denmark has lost its newness. It has become a home, a home that I love but that no longer holds the same adventure. When I arrived for the first time, I was infatuated by the novelty of this Scandinavian nation, one so different than my home. Everyday brought fresh experiences. Now these experiences are rich in associations. As I bike across town, I am hit by memories rather than awe. While equally good, these are not at all the same. These memories are sweet, savory and comforting. I yearn for the zest of the unfamiliar.

I am reminded why I have chosen this year of travel – for the adventure, the challenge, the growth. At times I fantasized about simply moving back to Denmark; I am now reassured in my decision to do otherwise. While I now revel in time with people I love and a place I love, I simultaneously itch for the adventures to come. I am ready to trade the ease of familiarity for the discomfort, and fruit, of the unexplored.

Chicago Results

Last Friday, my team presented our project to the SISE panel of judges. Having been assigned corporate responsibility, we developed a unique labeling system for Kellogg Company products hinged on a future of transparency between consumer and corporation with regards to environmental impact. As one of our teammates had significant experience in graphic design, the finished prototype was quite polished. Using life cycle assessment of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, we identified key areas for improvement and recommended specific technologies.

Unfortunately, we placed second. While generally a satisfactory outcome, second place felt a bit disappointing, as it was a prize in name only while the first place team received $1000 for each member. The things I could have done with that money! Oh well. The winning team was quite impressive (electric cars and DOD partnership). Additionally, the SISE program is encouraging (and supposedly helping) us to present our idea to Kellogg’s, believing it to have great potential and marketability. While I may not be able to directly partake in this effort, I believe my teammates are interested in forwarding the project.

After the competition, I packed my belongings and checked out of University of Illinois at Chicago. Much to the amusement of my friends and chagrin of the hostess, I proceeded to bring my packed bag to a restaurant to celebrate the birthday of Grace Burnworth with Lonyae Thomas and Grace Suh. It was a wonderful Vanderbilt reunion. After dinner and good-byes, I met up with my mother, who was anxious to spend one last night with me before I left the US. In the morning, I would go to DC.

Institute on Energy and Sustainability

I have now been “on the road” for just over one week. A week from yesterday, on August 8, I boarded the Megabus from Saint Louis to Chicago. This ordinary trip – one I have done various times for weekends away and visiting friends – has become the first leg to a most unordinary year.

I am in Chicago as one of about 70 students, mostly graduate, from across the country participating in the University of Illinois at Chicago Summer Institute on Energy and Sustainability (SISE). Partner institutions include University of Chicago, Northwestern, Argonne National Laboratory and Clean Energy Trust. The mission of the Institute is to educate future decision makers on energy and sustainability through interdisciplinary lectures – thus providing an overview of the technical challenges and potential solutions, the economic and social barriers to implementation, the policy and planning needed to implement sustainable energy and the entrepreneurship that will deliver innovative energy technologies.

This experience has provided the unique opportunity to interact with intelligent students from many different backgrounds while learning from experts of many different backgrounds. It has been incredibly informative, intellectually stimulating, and EXHAUSTING. In addition to our daily programming, we have been split into 14 different research groups. Within these groups, we are designing innovative approaches to one of four assigned projects – materials, aviation biofuels, corporate responsibility, and electric cars – that include policy, technology, and entrepreneurial components. As we meet each day until at least 6 pm, this research has been conducted into, and beyond, the evening hours, leaving little time for full recuperation. The presentations of our projects tomorrow in front of our peers, mentors, and a panel of judges will serve as the conclusion to the 10-day program.

When I leave Chicago on Saturday for Washington, DC, I will have inherited a wealth of information from SISE surrounding issues of sustainability and energy. I will have met many current experts in these fields, as well as many future experts in the form of my fellow participants. I will have been pushed to develop solutions to extraordinarily large problems in a very small window of time.

Most importantly, I will leave with a firm belief in the need for interdisciplinary approaches to global challenges. Even within my small research group, our diverse backgrounds have led to a much stronger, more comprehensive product. Unique approaches and differing knowledge bases created initial discourse and clash, but this superficial conflict forced us to face our assumptions, to challenge our mindsets, and to expand our perspectives. In the end, our conflicts became sources of innovation; our differences became complements.

It is in this way we must approach global challenges – challenging each other, inspiring each other, complementing each other.