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Italian Reflections, in English

June 3, 2015

About Me 

As a rising senior, Maggie Osbahr is pursuing a combined Bachelor and Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree, concentrating in environmental engineering. Maggie grew up just north of Boston in a coastal community called Nahant. Maggie has completed two co-op and an internship at Environmental Partners Group, CDM Smith, and the US EPA’s NPDES Branch. When she is not studying, she is busy being the President of Northeastern’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and choreographing Irish Dancing pieces for Northeastern University’s Dance Company.

Italian Reflections, in English 

Almost two years ago I was talking with Professor Annalisa Onnis-Hayden and she brought up her idea that she might hold a Dialogue in her hometown in Italy. I was determined that I was going. It didn’t matter to me that I was a different co-op cycle, it didn’t matter to me that I knew very little about solid waste management, and it really didn’t matter that I had never left the greater Boston area for an extended period of my life. My determination was unwavering.

Fast forward to right now, we are halfway through our time here in Cagliari, Italy studying sustainable solid waste management. Our studies have not been limited to the technical side of solid waste management but have also encompassed corresponding policy and culture. I am writing today to share with you the bits I have learned about myself, my experiences here, and how what we are learning is relevant in many facets of my life.

I have always been a homebody. I come from a very close family so sometimes it is hard for me to part ways with them and get out of my comfort zone. When I came to Italy, I decided that I would put myself out there to adsorb the culture. I promised myself that I would never say no to any new food. So far, I have learned a few tidbits of Italian, tried to learn to wear jeans in 85 degree weather, and have tasted crazy food including fish stomach. For me, following the same route on a daily basis is comforting but to achieve my goal of putting myself out there I adopted an awestruck attitude to shape my experience. I greet each day with few expectations and let myself absorb everything I am faced with. And let me tell you it has been awesome!

First, I should say we have been BUSY here. We had hardly gotten off the plane when we spent an entire weekend with students from all over Italy. Together, we compared our studies, cultures, and the specifics about being an environmental engineer. Since then I have had a lot of classes, which have been supplemented by guest speakers and field trips. For technical visits, we have seen a recycling plant, a composting plant, an incinerator, and a landfill. All smells aside, the experience opened my eyes to the extent of work that goes into waste management.

In addition to the technical aspect of our adventure, we have traveled away from our dorm on cultural excursions. These include a long list of activities such as: hiking to see wild Sardinian horses; trekking through mineral mine called Porto Flavia to reach spectacular views of a rock called Pan di Zucchero; and learning to make pasta at a farm deep in the Sardinian countryside. There are at too many experiences to list, but my true intent is to portray the quality of my experience. I find myself with wide, eager eyes every day, before the cappuccino.

Now I want the chance to tie this all together and tap into your solid waste management knowledge. On the environmental engineering side of this Dialogue, our lives have been directed by the hierarchy of management: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, (Landfill).” This list has been adopted worldwide and its message have been incorporated into our experiences on a technical and personal level.

Reduce

Technically, the goal of reducing is to prevent waste from entering the stream in the first place, quite literally it is to use less. Here we have learned to reduce some aspects of our lives. The biggest example of that has been in packing, which I was most nervous for. Any time before now if you told me that I could survive on just a carry on for 4 months I would have probably laughed. As a chronic overpacker, I am never without those extra outfits I just might need just because. Here, I have the absolute bare minimum, and I have never been better. I don’t overthink in the morning when getting ready, I wake up and face no choices to hinder my day. When you only have as much as you need there is less stress, just like the reduction of stress on the solid waste system.

Reuse and Recycle

Reusing and recycling are similar, but still slightly different. Reusing is repurposing something in a way that is different from its original intent, whereas recycling is utilizing the materials to create something new. It is better to reuse something because there is less energy involved, however recycling the material is still an adequate substitute. The people we have met here, the culture we are surrounded by, the food we eat, and all the new experiences we face can be reused and recycled for the rest of our lives. When you travel, you have the opportunity to learn about the culture of people so you can incorporate into our own. Experiencing new things allows you to learn about yourself provides the global perspective that a solely domestic education cannot. I plan to “reuse” the connections I have made with the Italian students to visit them on my summer long adventure. I know the stories of climbing a mountain in the half light of morning to a spectacular sunrise will be recycled for the rest of my life. Just as discarded materials don’t lose all of their value over time, I know these and many more experiences will stay with me forever and for that I am truly grateful.

Landfill

Landfills are the final grave of solid waste. Although many people frown at landfills, we have learned about the safe design of disposal facilities. When I consider the island Sardinia, I think more on the lines of “land full.” The land is full of beautiful views. The land is full of rich history. The land is full of kind, generous people who are truly delighted to meet you. The land is full of delicious, local food. The land is full of the Mediterranean sun. But most importantly, the land is full of experiences waiting for us, corners for us to explore, and happiness meant to be shared. It is spectacular place. If you have not been here, you may not understand. Just as the good of landfills is sometimes unknown, you have to experience the beauty of Cagliari first hand to truly understand.

Here, I live a life of constant awe and enjoyment. My eyes are open to new things every day. I want to soak in every detail of the world surrounding me. In my life, I have traveled, but I have never been somewhere that has left me this breathless.  I feel so fortunate to learn about myself, the world, and some technically relevant knowledge as well. Thank you, Annalisa!

Read more about Maggie in her blog here!