Airport Interlude on the Road to DKU (昆山杜克大学)

As I type this, I am sitting in Terminal 1 of Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada, about 5 minutes from boarding a plane to Shanghai. I’ll find out some time tomorrow whether the choice not to sleep before my flight from Raleigh was 1) a successful evasion of more serious jetlag or 2) a rookie mistake.

This semester will be dramatically different from my time at Duke so far, as I will be spending my third semester of grad school at Duke’s sister school in Kunshan, China, near Shanghai and Suzhou. Duke Kunshan University (DKU) welcomed its first class of international Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) students last year. As part of that program (similar in many ways to my own environmental policy concentration in the Nicholas School’s MEM program), the DKU iMEP students will have the chance to spend one of their 4 semesters in Durham. I am the first Durham MEM student set to participate in what will hopefully grow into a strong reciprocal exchange; I’ll return to North Carolina in December for the last semester of my degree.

All environmental issues exist in some form at both local and global levels. What happens to the environment in one place can have far-reaching or even world-wide ripples, whether directly (for example, a country’s industrial air pollution may blow across national borders on the wind) or indirectly (for example, soil degradation in one place might fuel increased agricultural pressure in others). Moreover, the kind of environmental problems that unfold in any one part of the world are likely to be seen in many other places in different forms, a thousand echoes and variations on a theme (whether mining pollution, overfishing, infectious disease incubation, or something else entirely). Knowledge of these broad patterns and interconnections can be invaluable to those hoping to apply the lessons learned in one place to another. That good intention, however, must come with the recognition that good policy solutions are never one-size-fits-all. On the local level, the best answers to environmental challenges around the world will be as diverse as the places they are meant to be applied.

Over the course of this semester, I hope to gain deeper perspective on how environmental policy is made, beyond the U.S. context I have focused on so far at Duke. While some countries have modeled their environmental laws on approaches developed in the U.S., many countries approach their environmental regulations (and just about everything else related to governance) from a place of radically different history, priority, geography and need. I have previously had the chance to explore some aspects of environmental policy in Brazil, as an undergrad; I expect that studying environmental law and regulation in China will provide another totally new set of lenses toward understanding how the world does, could and should approach its environmental issues. Surely places as different from one another as China and the U.S. have an enormous amount to teach one another.

While at DKU, I will be taking classes (in English) on environmental law, policy analysis and global issues of environmental health. I’ll also be working on an independent research project inspired by the relationship between China and Brazil, as well as working on my Master’s Project with my teammates and advisor back in Durham. Hopefully I’ll get to take advantage of some Mandarin classes (among other things, I’m sure). Beyond all that, I’ll also try to get off campus as often as I can and to share some broader glimpses of China in future posts.

More soon, from the other side of the globe!