Guánica Dry Forest

Although this entire trip was exciting and I had so many new and fascinating experiences, one day stuck out in particular. On the third day of the trip, we woke up fairly early and, with reminders to choose good footwear and to bring plenty of water, headed out to the Guánica Dry Forest. The Guánica State Forest, which is located in southwest Puerto Rico, is considered to be one of the best preserved subtropical forests in the Caribbean. One interesting fact about this forest is that about half of Puerto Rico’s bird species and nine of the sixteen endemic bird species populate it. It is about 9,500 acres, making it the largest tropical dry coastal forest in the world.

Once we arrived at the entrance to the forest, we were greeted by a closed gate. This gate, when open, allows vehicles to pass through in order to get to the parking lot at the top of the mountain. Because it was Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day), we figured out that the person who usually opens the gate must have had the holiday off. After making this realization, we decided to walk around the gate and walk the distance to the parking lot, adding on this distance to the rest of our planned hike. On the way there, our professor pointed out multiple large termite nests on trees and the trails that these termites left behind along the road. The weather, while the trail itself was not very difficult to hike, made for a more intense hike as it was hot and humid and despite there being many trees on either side of the road, there was not much shade. The next interesting thing we saw was a 700-year-old Guayacan tree (which is pictured below). After sitting on the above-ground tree roots to take a break and take a few pictures, we began to hike again, with our next destination being the beach.

Slightly exhausted from the heat and humidity, our pace sped up as soon as we could see the water. Once we were actually at the beach, almost everyone immediately ran to get into the bay. After swimming for a bit, which mostly consisted of me trying not to get overtaken by the high, rough waves, I, along with two other classmates, decided to try to find a good coconut to break open. After a bit of time searching on the ground, we decided to try to get one out of a tree to avoid breaking open a rotten one from the ground. To do this, we picked up coconuts from the ground and threw them at the ones in the tree, which was both safer and more effective in getting them down. After about five minutes of throwing the ground coconuts, we were able to get some down from the tree. The only problem was that the coconuts from the tree were not ripe and we could not get them open. After this realization, we decided to take the risk with the ground coconuts and began to work on breaking one open. We worked through the coconut’s husk, tearing the fibers away and finally got to the hard internal shell which held the meat of the coconut and the water. We broke open this shell, obviously very proud of this accomplishment, and tasted the fruit and water. The rest of our time at the beach was spent eating peanut butter and guava jelly sandwiches and relaxing.

Guayacan Tree in Guanica Dry Forest

Beach near Guanica Dry Forest

Illinois History

Over the years, Illinois has had many historical and contemporary events that have shaped its current state. Beginning in the 1820s, farmers have been importing animals from out of state in order to better their breeds. Prior to the 1930s, these early Illinois farmers lost many of their animals due to these unpreventable pests and diseases. This is due to the fact that Illinois farming began before the usage of chemical pesticides became the norm. Without these pesticides, it was both costly and nearly impossible to protect against the insects that attacked their crops. In efforts to control these pests, farmers used methods such as crop rotation. Crop rotation involved the crop of wheat being followed by beans and then wheat again afterward. This coupled with skipping a year greatly decreased the number of pests in the area. Also, beans were grown near other crops because the amount of moisture and shade they offered discouraged insects. The second popular method was to harrow the soil, plant debris in the fall, and clear rotten plant material which killed many of the pests. Because of occurrences like this, farmers have formed farmers’ associations for mutual benefit. From 1850 to 1900, farms in Illinois rapidly developed using mechanization and farmers became even more connected by sharing the cost of machinery. Agricultural in Illinois today is very different. Rather than the traditional subsistence farming of the 1800s and early 1900s, the majority of modern farms are commercial. New technologies and computers have drastically become more used in agriculture over the past two decades. In the fields, computers are used for record-keeping, to monitor rainfall, crop yield, and soil quality. In terms of new machinery, during the middle of the 1800s, the usage of steam-powered machinery became the norm for those who could afford it. Also, as the custom of using automobiles for transportation became popular, farmers began to use the gasoline engine for their machinery. In terms of how farms are financed, farmers get government subsidies, insurance, and take out loans. This often means that farm owners and workers must also have additional jobs.

Illinois became a state in 1818, with Chicago being incorporated as a city in 1837. With the incorporation of Chicago soon came a largely diversified economy. Chicago connects Illinois to other ports, the Mississippi River, and the Atlantic Ocean. In the early 20th century, groups of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe came to northern Illinois for the industrial job prospects. In around the same time period, the Great Migration occurred where groups of African Americans from the south moved to Chicago and established communities within it. At the turn of the 20th century, Illinois had a population of around 5 million people. Although Illinois has been historically considered a swing state, it is currently considered one of the most democratic states in the United States. Illinois also, unfortunately, has a history of corruption. In the late 1900s, an Illinois congressman was imprisoned for mail fraud, a governor and federal judge was imprisoned for bribery, and a comptroller was imprisoned for embezzlement. In 2006, the former governor of Illinois was convicted and sentenced to about six years in prison for racketeering and bribery. Only two years later, Governor Rod Blagojevich was alleged to have conspired to sell Barack Obama’s old senate seat to the highest bidder. Then, in December of 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 14 years in prison for it. In the future years, it is hoped that Illinois can avoid putting corrupt people into power.

“Chicago’s Dominance Puts Illinois Solidly in ‘blue-state’ America.” HighBeam Research. Chicago Tribune, 8 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

“From Prairie to Fruited Plain: The History of Illinois Agriculture.” History of Illinois Agriculture. Illinois State Museum, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

Shaw, Andy. “A ‘must Read’ Tells How Corrupt Chicago and Illinois Are.” Chicago SunTimes Opinion. Chicago Sun Times, 22 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

Automated Machinery used in Illinois in the early 20th century

This picture shows the type of industry in Chicago that brought in immigrants.

Sustainability and Water

By participating in this study abroad tour, I learned a few things about sustainability and the actions that help to promote it. My main takeaway from this trip is that preserving water and having efficient ways to treat and distribute it are vital aspects of sustainability. The sustainability of water depends on how well it is managed. Because it is both an irreplaceable and finite resource, it is crucial that the management of the many water systems across the globe is put into the hands of people who know how to handle it. This means putting an emphasis on the fact that the water issues around the world are not just problems; it is a water crisis for many.
We also must educate those in the fields of agriculture, industry and energy, and cities. Agriculture accounts for 70% of water deficits globally. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, agriculture needs to double its food output in developing countries in order to sustain population growth. This means that the amount of water needed to sustain this increase in production must also nearly double. Energy and industry come in second for the amount of water they demand. The 20% of water demand that these two sectors account for mostly occurs in the more developed countries whereas agricultural water demand dominates in less developed ones. In large urban areas, water management organizations cannot keep up with the overwhelmingly large demand. By 2050, it is anticipated that over two-thirds of the world’s population will live in these cities which are already hard pressed for water. Lastly, it is vital to educate the public. Millions of people around the world die from preventable waterborne diseases largely due to a lack of knowledge and education about the proper ways to purify water.
Another issue is that so many people do not know how big of an issue the water crisis is because they are not noticeably directly affected by it. Many people do not really give major issues a second thought when they believe that it could never happen to them. This is why education plays a huge role in decreasing the negative effects of the depletion of water. It is estimated that in just eight years, in 2025, around two-thirds of the population will be living in countries that are classified as “water-stressed”. The increasing strain on the planet’s water resources has had detrimental impacts on millions of people’s economic status and wellbeing. This is due to things such as wastefulness, weather patterns, and the over-pumping of aquifers. While the earth’s groundwater is finite, other aquifers are renewable. The problem with this, according to Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Project and the National Geographic Society’s freshwater fellow, is that humans are pumping them too fast for precipitation alone to refill. Also, poorly managed water systems coupled with underinvestment have only exacerbated the problem.
At the water treatment plant pictured below that we visited, many water was sent to places in both that city and the surrounding cities. Visiting this place showed us how much it can take for water to get to homes, farms, and various businesses. Visiting this plant during the trip also strengthened my interest in water supply and quality, which I am interested in partially because of how vital it is to life on this planet. Around 900 million people do not have access to potable water and about 3 million die each year due to waterborne diseases.

Handwerk, Brian. “Sustainable Earth: Water.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2017. <>.

“Water and Sustainable Development.” United Nations. United Nations, 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2017. <>.

History’s Lasting Effects

The colonization of Puerto Rico begins with the name of a very famous sailor we are all familiar with, Christopher Columbus. In 1943, Columbus discovered the island of Puerto Rico and claimed it for Spain. Spanish settlement on the Caribbean island began soon after. Before the Spaniards came, the Taino Indians called the small island their home. However, the Europeans brought new diseases which wiped out much of the previous Indian population.

In 1815, the Royal Decree of Grace was issued, allowing all foreigners to be admitted to Puerto Rico and Islanders to trade with other nations. Around the same time, Puerto Rico exhausted the final riches of their meager gold supply. Due to this loss of economic activity from the small gold rush, the islanders began to try and establish an agricultural based economy. Cattle, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee were the core investments.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War, a conflict between the United States and Spain over colonial rule of Puerto Rico, had come to an end. The United Stated acquired the territory in the Treaty of Paris. Soon after, the Foaker Act of 1900 established a civil government for the territory govern itself.

As we can see, much of the current state of Puerto Rico has been shaped from historic events. The Spanish settlers brought over much of their culture to the island, including the Spanish language. This is evident because even though Puerto Rico is now a United States’ territory, much of the island speaks Spanish as their primary language. Secondly, the Royal Decree of Grace allowed Puerto Ricans to begin trading. This new law, along with running out of gold supply on the island, sparked a switch towards a more agricultural based society. Lastly, it is obvious the effect that American culture has had on the current culture of Puerto Rico. Many of the islands citizens can speak English, and they have also adapted many of our holidays and customs as well. According to forumbiodiversity, another one of the largest influences the United States has had is in the educational systems. The University of Puerto Rico was officially founded in 1903, shortly after the United States took over. Overall, it is very obvious to see that historical events in Puerto Rico’s history have made lasting impressions on the identity of the country today.

While the tropical island may seem like a great territory, it has its many problems as well. The Puerto Rican government currently has more than 70 billion dollars in outstanding debt, and the future does not look much brighter. The effects of their lackluster economy can be seen all across the island, as education systems are failing and unemployment rates continue to rise. It was also very obvious that the infrastructure of the island was a lot more worn down than what we are used to here in the United States. Congress is currently not helping out Puerto Rico at all, so there is very little hope from the future unless some changes are made effectively.

If the government can supply some money to the island, I’d advocate for it to be put toward the education and healthcare systems. Increasing education will have many major benefits. Unemployment will go down and the economy would flourish with more educated civilians working good jobs across the country. Another area the country can improve in is their agricultural production. As we’ve talked about over and over again, most of their food is imported. This is a lost opportunity to gain revenue for the people of Puerto Rico by not producing their own food, but by buying from other countries.

Solving these problems are not going to be easy, and will take years. However, by applying a systems approach and thinking about how all aspects effect each other, I hope one day these financial burdens can be lessened.


The infrastructure in Puerto Rico is very poor. Potholes covered nearly every road we traveled on.

The United States influence led to the University of Puerto Rico being founded in 1903

“Life Begins at the End of your Comfort Zone”

As someone who has been swimming nearly their whole life, there is absolutely nothing I love more than being in the water. For me, the water is my comfort zone. I know I am a strong swimmer. When I heard we were going snorkeling, I could not have been more excited. I love aquatic animals and fish, and more importantly, I love to swim.

To my dismay, Dr. Rodriguez informed us all that the snorkeling was cancelled because of the high surfs. While I was disappointed, I knew that things happen, and I was excited to hear we might go to the beach instead. The next day plans had changed and we were informed that we were going ziplining. Although I hate admitting it, heights aren’t exactly my favorite, so when Dr. Rodriguez told us that we would be ziplining, I began to grow anxious.

A million thoughts rushed through my brain. I was so scared, that I even considered using my stomach flu illness as an excuse as to why I couldn’t zipline through the rainforest. However, I quickly realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and that I could not let my fears take over and miss seeing the rain forest from a bird’s eye view.

When we first geared up, I surprisingly was very calm, but I suppose some of the people around me could sense my fear so many people started joking around with me trying to scare me. The man putting on my harness even asked me, “Is this your first time?” when I said yes, he followed jokingly with “Me too, I am learning with you guys.” What really got my stomach in a knot was when he said “Hopefully heights aren’t a problem for you, because each line gets higher from the ground.”

After that, the lady proceeded to give us all these instructions on how to break, and what to do if we didn’t make it to the end of the line. This increased my fears even more. At that moment, nothing seemed more terrifying than not making the end of the line and dangling in the air. I followed directions carefully, and went on the first line. To my surprise, I was not scared at all. I loved being in the air. As the lines progressed, they did get higher, but I enjoyed them, except one.

When we first arrived to the site, there was a huge red structure with a nearly vertical ladder and a platform. I remember talking to Emily and Emma saying “There is no way I am climbing up that.” Being experienced zipliners, they assured me that I would not have to climb up to that platform and that you simply just zipline to platform to platform and the ladder was just there for precautionary measures. After the fourth line, the man running the even looked at me and said, “alright go to the ladder and climb all the way up.” Because I enjoyed ziplining so much, I forced myself to conquer my fear. When I got on the ladder, my legs instantly felt like jello. Even members of our group who weren’t usually afraid of heights were scared on the latter. To make matters worse, when I was half way up the ladder, it began to pour rain. The steps became slippery, and I looked down by accident. I took a moment and a deep breathe, and with the encouragement of peers, I made it up the ladder. I was so proud of myself. From then on, the views were absolutely breathe-taking, and I felt like I was soaring above the clouds. Zipliing for me was one of the best experiences of my life, and gave me a sense of adrenaline that I craved for me.

The Crew before taking on the ziplines!

If I didn’t face my fear, I would never have had this amazing experience. This was a large lessons I learned throughout my time in Puerto Rico. In order to experience the world, you have to go out and try new things. Rarely are things ever learned in your comfort zone. Never in a million years would I have thought I would get up on a platform and jump on it into the depths of the rainforest, but if I hadn’t I would have never known what it was like to fly. Often times, traveling abroad scares a lot of people. People always fear the unknown, and dwell on possible things that could happen to them. Traveling to Puerto Rico has given me a further desire to travel the world and do things that scare me. I can confidently say that I am definitely over my fear of heights, and I hope to zipline again wherever I end up in this world. I learned that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Identity and Place in the World

My personal identity is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. One of the greatest concerns that I have right now and something that I have been trying to figure out for a while is what I want to do with my life. I am currently majoring in Agricultural and Biological Engineering but the only thing that really interests me in this major is the Renewable Energy Systems concentration. I also am interested in Aerospace, and jet propulsion, for spacecrafts and such. And I also find robotics pretty cool. At U of I’s engineering school they make it so hard to transfer to different programs (which literally just makes me want to punch a hole through a wall) but makes me feel an urgency in figuring out what I want to do, which I really don’t know yet. One thing I know is that I want to be an engineer and that I love solving problems, and there were a few separate occurences in Puerto Rico that helped solidify this for me.

The last hotel that we stayed at was an Eco Lodge in the middle of the Rainforest. There was a ten minute hike that we could took from the lobby that led us to a river. The river was not a river that one could canoe in because there were many big rocks sticking out of the water that are all pretty close to each other. Once we got to the river, I jumped on one of the rocks, and then another, avoiding the water underneath. I kept doing this and made my way down the river, however with every rock I had to figure out a way of climbing on it, getting to the next one, and to navigate the best path down the river. Sometimes the rocks were slippery and I had to try and stay on without slipping and falling. A few times the only way to get to one rock to another was to jump. I think this reflects my identity pretty well. I am a very adventurous person, and I really love putting my body on the line and taking risks. I really hate looking back on things and regretting, so I try to take every opportunity that I can. I also love solving problems, and I really liked looking down the river and finding the best route.

Us navigating a route down the river going from rock to rock.

We went to a couple plantations during the trip, one sugar and one for coffee. I generally am pretty underwhelmed when it comes to farming, and it does not interest me at all; so when the talked about the plants and stuff it was hard for me to get excited and be engaged. However once they stopped talking about the planting and got to the machines it was a whole other story. The machine used for crushing the sugar canes is recognized as one of the greatest mechanical engineering feats for its time, and while looking at it I could tell that it was very advanced for the time that it was built. I was in the back of the group as we approached it and once they turned it on I made my way to the front and just stared at it trying to understand how every part worked. I looked at it for a few minutes and asked Dr Rodriguez a couple questions about the mechanics, that now make sense to me. At the coffee plantation the machines were also very interesting. In fact, there was this machine that was used to filter the different coffee fruits based on their density, so that they could only collect the better, denser ones. I think it is really cool that they can construct a machine so that it can do all of that.

On this trip we also visited the engineering University, where we met Dr Luis Perez. He told us about the school then took us out and showed us a farm and the dam. Although I was sick for that day I did get a piece of paper that showed the path of the irrigation system, where the dams are, and how it works. I liked seeing this because it provided me with an example of an application of the things that we are learning. We also went to another location near San juan where we got a lecture from Perez, and the lady that wrote the article we discussed in class. Perez took us through one of the projects that he was working that had to do with wastewater, experimenting to test for different minerals in the water. Seeing these two applications of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, it really made me want to get out in the world and help. I like to tackle problems especially on the actual sites and my place in the world is to use engineering knowledge to save our planet, this makes me think that once I learn the basics, my identity will allow me to do great things.

Current State of Illinois and Puerto Rico

In the political world any small single change, vote, or law can have the greatest and extensive consequences, good or bad. A couple years ago the people of Illinois elected Bruce Rauner as our governor. As hard as it is not to, I will not digress by going into what my personal opinions about him which are quite strong. Last year, Rauner, his advisors, and a few other state officials decided to impose major cuts to CPS (Chicago Public Schools) funding. It was rumored that my high school along with many other school in CPS would have to cut about a fourth of their teachers. I could not believe it when I heard it, twenty five percent of CPS teachers would be out of work. This insane percentage of teachers being cut would serve as a good measurement factor to indicate that the situation was not in good shape Before Rauner was mayor he cheated the system and got his daughter to go to a CPS school even though they lived in the suburbs and now he wants to cut funding no that she graduated. This blatant neglect toward the public education system, students, teachers, and their families was appalling, and a lot of us students felt like we could not let this happen.

Many people, including me, took it upon ourselves to advocate for a change and try to do something about it. One of my friends created a facebook event called the “Study In” to respond to the budget cuts. My friends and I told everyone we knew about the event, shared it on facebook, and eventually there were nearly a thousand people planning on going. One of the risks of this event though is that it could be thought of as hypocritical because we were ditching school to protest for education. However, if we did it during a school day it would attract the most attention and it would show that we found this issue more important than one day of school so we decided to go through with it. Soon before the day of protest it got a lot of attention and our principal had do make a comment about it. He emailed all of the students urging us not to go to the protest. We knew our principal though, and he was probably pressured to make this decision, and after we went out and protest he secretly thanked us. The protest went really well, about six hundred students ended up joining us, and we attracted a lot of attention. We marched while chanting from the Thompson Center, around downtown, sat outside of the state building and studied for a few hours, and then we finished with a rally back at the Thompson center.

I thought that the fact that we were high school students going and were protesting made the message that we were trying to advocate for even stronger. The state looked over the budget and made a slight change, but a huge amount of teachers were still cut. As a result, CPS enrollment fell by 3.5 percent in 2016, which is only going to cause more cuts, approximately for a total of 300 CPS teachers and staff members. CPS will continue to be underfunded by the state and with our next president I cannot imagine it will get any better.

A solution to this problem that I would advocate for though it really controversial is the legalization of marijuana. Wait, hear me out. If marijuana were to be legal, I think the majority if not all users would buy it from dispensaries, which would mean that it would be pretty easy to tax. We could use the huge amount of tax revenue that this would create and funnel it into our education system. If the question has to do with money this is a pretty easy and pretty harmless way of getting it. Just a thought.

I have really loved my stay in Puerto, it is a really beautiful territory, from the beaches, Old San Juan, to the Rainforest and all of the people that we have met really kind and interesting. One major problem that Puerto Rico is facing that I have seen through research is their economy. Puerto Rico is 70 billion dollars in debt, which is a very large number considering that the island has only 3.5 million inhabitants. This measurement of the debt owed to its creditors is a credible indicator to show that Puerto Rico is indeed facing a big problem.

There have been quite a few factors that have led to this debt accumulation, and to Puerto Rico’s current economic state. A few years the United States changed a tax law in Puerto Rico which raised taxes on companies operating there. Before this change was enacted, many American companies moved some of their operations down to Puerto Rico because they were taxed less. However, now that the taxes have increased a lot of the companies are moving back to the United States which is hurting the Puerto Rican economy and causing debt. Another reason as to why Puerto Rico’s economy is bad is because the job market isn’t very good. Puerto Rico has an eleven percent unemployment which is about twice the rate of the US. Because of this, a lot of educated Puerto Ricans are leaving the territory to look for jobs in the US.

Puerto Rico has a lot of work to do to get them out of this whole. However, it would be easier for them to do so if they had the same bankruptcy rights as all of the United States. The United States has something called Chapter Nine Bankruptcy rights which can be used to help the country, states, and municipalities get out of debt. Chapter Nine Bankruptcy Rights were crucial in helping Detroit when it went bankrupt as with a couple cities in Michigan. The Obama administration pushed for Puerto Rico to gain these rights however it was very difficult to get the bill through congress. Even if Puerto Rico had Chapter Nine Bankruptcy rights though, it is estimated that it would only cover about a third of their debt. A lot of politicians in the United States are thinking about finding ways to help Puerto Rico but they are worried if they give them money no real problems will be solved and debt will build up again.

I think that Puerto Rico needs to find a way to create new jobs, and I think that a great way of doing this would be using its environmental awareness revival to its advantage. In this way, Puerto Ricans can try and find solutions for there environment, and in order to execute these solutions, people will need to work, thus a greater job market. The key to getting out of debt that I would advocate for doesn’t have to do with stocks or bonds but with creating jobs

History Repeats Itself

A member of a labor union shouts slogans while holding a Puerto Rico flag during a protest in San Juan September 11, 2015. Reuters/Alvin Baez

People protesting for equal funding in education

Puerto Rico has a long a rich history. What Puerto Rico is today all began with the settlement of the Ortoriod people between 3,000 and 2,000 BCE. At this time, other tribes also populated the island. At the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival, the dominant culture were the Tainos people. However, their numbers became dangerously low because of disease the Europeans brought over.

From the early days of exploration, Puerto Rico was a large part of the Spanish Empire. It served as a military post during many wars between Spain and other European Countries. Throughout the 19th century, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the last two Spanish colonies in the new world.

In 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded and became a possession of the United States.  Later, the Foraker act of 1900, which established a civil government, and the Jones Act of 1917, which made Puerto Ricans United States citizens was enacted.

Similarly, the United States was formed through colonization. Illinois specifically became a state in 1818, and is now considered one of the most powerful states in the United. However, both Illinois and Puerto Rico face their fair share of problems. Specifically, Puerto Rico and Illinois both suffer major economic problems. The island of Puerto Rico is over 72 million dollars in debt, and they have missed key bond payments. The effects of this financial crisis can be seen all over the Island, especially in healthcare and education. To make matters worse, the United States congress is not helping at all. This has made the cost of living in Puerto Rico skyrocket. While in Puerto Rico, we learned that many of their agricultural products are imported.  While Puerto Rico was once used and an agricultural wonderland, it is not agriculturally sufficient, creating food security problems. Many of the problems Puerto Rico faces have roots within the detrimental effects of European colonialism.

Just like Puerto Rico, Illinois has numerous budget problems. For example, Illinois has not passed a budget. Illinois has major problems funding education and healthcare. However, Illinois receives help from the federal government, while Puerto Rico does not have those same perks. However, Puerto Rico has a larger tourist industry than Illinois, but Illinois has a large metropolitan city.

Both Puerto Rico and Illinois are often headline horror stories in news outlets primarily because of their financial standings. History has a great deal to do with that. It appears that Illinois and Puerto Rico have regressed as far as the state of the nation is concerned. Puerto Rico had a prime period when they were agriculturally sufficient and they had major exports. We learned a lot about this from a sociologist from the University of Puerto Rico. She talked about the major agricultural/food crisis the island was facing.

As of now, the best thing that can be done is advocating for the issue. For Puerto Rico, a lot of their problems would be solved if they received more support from the federal government, or they became a state. In Illinois people all over the state advocate for issues they care about to their state legislatures. Ultimately, a great solution would be better allocated funds for education. It is difficult to get out of a financial crisis, and Illinois and Puerto Rico have a long way to go. As of now, their quality of life is good compared to developing countries, however, the cost of living in Illinois and Puerto Rico continues to be a reoccurring problem. These problems can be solved with a systems thinking approach, and hopefully one day the political and financial scandals in both Illinois and Puerto Rico will be solved.

Understanding My Place in the World

I’ve always considered myself a lover of nature. I think I realized how much I cared for the environment when I picked up my first fishing rod around age 4. I remember how it would always bother me to see garbage in the water or dead fish. My parents wanted my brother and I to see as much of the world as possible, we were always going on weekend trips to local forest preserves, or Wisconsin or Michigan. We would go blueberry picking, apply picking, or morel mushroom hunting. They got my brother and I into cub scouts and eventually boy scouts and we found that with each new adventure, our love for the outdoors continued to grow. When it came time to decide on colleges, I knew that my major had to have something to do with the environment. Working a 9-5 desk job was never going to cut it for me. I wanted to be out in the field getting my hands dirty with the environment as my office and the limit to my imagination as my cubicle. All of the excursions and exposure to the outdoors as a kid has most definitely played a large role in who I am today. Today, I am a freshman studying Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois. Without the immersion in nature and the outdoors as a young kid and throughout my life thus far, I don’t think I would be the same person.

Being in Puerto Rico for the last 10 days has been incredible. It has given me the opportunity to see life in another country first hand and how different it can be compared to my life in the states. In addition, through my observations there, I was able to use to my love for the outdoors and the environment to further my understanding of some of the issues being faced by the country of Puerto Rico as well as provide clues to my true identity in this world and what I’m on this Earth to do

One thing that I noticed in Puerto Rico almost everywhere was the amount of litter. Even with plenty of trash receptacles in cities like Old San Juan, there was still plenty of trash on the sides of streets. Even when we were up in the mountains, I saw beer cans and trash on the side of the road walking up to breakfast every morning. Although littering is illegal, it is still something that is evident all over the world. What people don’t realize is how long it takes for some of those things to disintegrate and break down. A plastic bag is said to take around 1000 years to decompose. The thing is, there isn’t one person dropping a plastic bag on the ground, its millions of people around the world and eventually all of the trash that throw on the side of the road or on the side walk really adds up. The problem is that people often operate under the out of sight out of mind approach. If they can’t see it anymore, then it isn’t a problem that they have to deal with. I think that is one of the major problems with the world today. People need to realize that just because they can’t see something, it doesn’t mean it won’t still cause problems. I think that’s where people like me come in. It’s up to people like me who love the environment and truly understand its necessity to teach the other people how to protect it and make sure that the Earth will be protected for years to come. If I can teach one person the importance of recycling and the problems associated with littering, then they will teach their kids the same thing and those kids will teach their kids. I can effectively start a chain reaction to ensure that the environment remains as pristine and perfect as it was before. I think I’m in the world to not only protect it, but to also make sure that others do the same.

The bioluminescent pools also offered valuable insight into just how fragile the environment is and the impact that people have had on Puerto Rico. Michael, our guide on the Kayak tour, told us that 10 years ago, the bioluminescence used to be 10 times brighter, but with all of the tourists and all the people that interact with it now, it was slowly dying. I’ll admit, going on that tour was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip but from a standpoint of protecting the environment, it was a bad decision. The mangroves and the bay are such a fragile ecosystem. In fact, the bay is one of the only places on Earth with the bioluminescent factor. Mangroves all over the world are threatened everyday by places like large resorts that cut them down to ensure that they have the nicest more pristine beaches in the area. What people don’t realize is the amount of habitat that mangroves offer to countless species of fish as well as their vital importance to the preservation of the bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico. I was glad to hear that PR is generating funding to help protect the mangroves and the bay before it is gone forever. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told about mangroves and how important they are to different types of saltwater species such as the Tarpon and Snapper. They also protect the soil from erosion with their root systems.

I feel like I am on this Earth to alert people of the weight of the decisions they make when it comes to the environment. Through my love for the environment and the world in which we live, I can teach other people to love it as well. Through a collaborative effort, we can all make the world a better place. A place that will sustain countless generations to come. It’s the people like me, the ones who truly understand how important our ecosystem is to giving us things like clean water, and air, and food to eat, who have the moral responsibility to teach others the importance of all that is sustainability and environmental health. This trip has taught me to protect what is rare and fragile on this Earth and ensure that I continue to fulfill my role in maintaining the sanctity of our home.

Travel Responsibly

In the classroom portion of ABE 199: Sustainable Biosystems we learned that sustainability does not really have one single, set definition. Its definition can vary from person to person, and it does not apply to just one area of discussion. My personal definition of sustainability has a lot to do with efficiency as well as being conscience of surroundings and the cause and effect associated to those varying surroundings. Whether it is an effect on humans or the environment. In class, we learned that sustainability influences three major sectors. Social, environmental, and economical. While sustainability has an every-changing definition and reaches too wide to easily comprehend, it is something that is important to consider in almost, if not every endeavor. The application of sustainability has a huge impact on those sectors, but it is a type of push and pull because those sectors can very heavily impact the way that sustainability is practiced.

This is an example of a graph that shows how the three sectors interact. Personally, this is the optimal model, but in many cases the circles can be rearranged based on how people think the three sectors are actually being used.

When it comes to travel, it is easy to forget about sustainability. In my opinion, when a person forgets completely about sustainability it is easy to make irresponsible and uniformed decisions. Whether it is a decision that effects your social life, your morals, or the environment around you, it is easy to forget when it is not something that would create an effect on your everyday life. It is easy to leave litter because there is already litter. It is easy to decide to enjoy yourself a little too much on a night out. It is easy to walk past a situation that someone should intervene in. These are all situations that are easy to pass up in everyday life, but even easier to pass up when you are just visiting somewhere, because how does it really effect you. Honestly, it probably has no noticeable effect on you as a person. Unless it is a question of your morals that is. However when you are traveling, in many facets your decisions effect other people more. They have to live with the litter you left on the beach. They have to live with the effects of your decisions far longer than you do.
That is why when a person travels it is so important to take into account whether your choices are sustainable for all three sectors of the graph above. I think that a great first step of carrying sustainability in the front of your mind is to take a personal responsibility to learn about the place you are visiting before you go. This is not only something that can be incredibly interesting, but also is something that can help you to feel more of a connection between where you are going and your home. There will be differences, but the similarities between your home and the place that you are going will help you care more about not only the place that you are visiting but also about the people that live in that place who can often be taken for granted.
I truly believe that as a person I need to do more of this when I travel. I can definitely see where I can improve in making decisions that take the people that live there full time in to account. The biggest way this trip showed me that I can take personal responsibility is by cleaning up more than I brought. The beach is one place that Puerto Rico really lives on. Between attracting tourists and the way that the locals use the beaches it is easy to tell that beaches are a part of not only the islands revenue, but also the culture of the island. This proves to me that by taking a personal responsibility to help clean up more than just what I brought I will not only create a more enjoyable place for myself and other tourists potentially helping draw more travelers and money to the island, but also help social aspects of the culture that revolve around the beaches, and the by helping the environment by cutting out more litter that could potentially harm animals and the ecosystems they live in.

This is an image of our group exploring a beautiful beach. It was well kept and many locals came later in the day, but there was definitely more trash we could have picked up and tossed on our way back to the bus that would have taken no extra time at all.