Wind in the sails of sustainable development

2015-05-05

The subject is sustainable development in the Baltic Sea, but the students learn a lot about cooperation as well.
Foto/bild: Baltic University Programme

During a two-week sailing trip on the Baltic Sea, there's a lot of time to learn about sustainable development and make international contacts. And that's the idea behind the SAIL summer course, which takes place aboard a sailing ship.

‘This is a unique and different learning environment, a challenge for both lecturers and students’, says Lars Österlund, professor of Solid State Physics at the Department of Engineering Sciences and the person responsible for the content of this year's SAIL course.

‘We will have five hours of instruction a day and in addition to that some extremely practical group work. Unique to this course is that there are strict rules on board that the students actually obey’, he says with a laugh.

The course is offered as part of the Baltic University Programme and is organised by Uppsala University. Every year many applications are received, from which 40 students are selected.

‘We strive to take students from as many different countries as possible in order to highlight sustainable development from an international perspective, but just now there are unfortunately a preponderance of students from Uppsala University. We will try to change that’, says project manager Maria Hejna.

The lecturers on the course come from the different member countries of the Baltic University Programme and from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. We vary the content of the course, but the actual foundation is sustainable development in the Baltic Sea and meetings across cultural boundaries.

Last year the voyage took place between Gdansk and Szczecin via Stockholm. It included lessons in marine biology, solar energy, environmental engineering, urban planning, economics and social studies. This year, one of the lecturers is Professor Dennis Meadows who has worked with sustainable development since the 1970s and is known for his film ‘Last Call’, about the limits to growth.

This is a foundation course that can be taken by students from different disciplines, but they usually share a common interest in the environment.

‘Many students have been involved in the climate debate and feel that they want to do something. We show them what are sometimes shocking facts but also point out what can be done’, says Lars Österlund.

No previous sailing experience is required, but both lecturers and students are expected to help onboard the boat. If it is stormy, of course, more work is involved than if the sea is calm. It's difficult to know in advance which harbours will be visited during the course. The only thing that is certain is that the journey begins in Åalborg in Denmark and ends in Świnoujście in Poland.

Dominika Stygar from Poland has been on the course for the last ten years. She started out as a student and now she is shipboard coordinator and the crew's contact person.

‘After all these years I know that there are no problems we can't solve. The key is to get everyone on board to talk to each other, collaborate on board and rely on each other.’

Marja Hejna has also been on the trip many times and actually started the course 18 years ago. She particularly remembers one occasion when it was very stormy:

‘In the summer of 2009, we had two full weeks of storms. It was really tough going, but it has left me with a lifelong memory. Even though I get seasick, I usually wish for a small storm because then you learn respect for the see and see the forces of nature at work. It's fascinating; you make friends for life.’

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FACTS:

SAIL stands for Sustainability Applied in International Learning.

The Baltic University Programme (BUP) is a network of 225 colleges and universities around the Baltic Sea. The network is coordinated by a secretariat at the Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD) at Uppsala University. BUP focuses on issues relating to sustainable development, the environment and democracy in the region.

Annica Hulth

News archive 2015