When Greater Columbus Sister Cities International (GCSCI) President Tim Sword took his students on a study abroad trip to Odense, Denmark, they returned not only with an increased knowledge of sustainable business practices, but also a sense of sisterhood and a connection to Odense.
In March 2015, Sword set off with a group of 10 students to explore the sustainable practices of Odense businesses as a part of an Ohio State University course. They visited local businesses and met with city officials who welcomed the Columbus natives to their city.
I had the opportunity to discuss the value of this trip with program coordinator Kozue Isozaci and a participating student, Michael Lotko. Isozaci explained how the students benefit by experiencing global sustainability in action. This trip was invaluable, she said, as it exposed students to other countries’ practices and different methods of thinking and problem solving.
During their visit to a recycling plant in Odense, Isozaci noted that the plant not only focused on the business aspects of their operations, but also educated local youth about recycling. The plant reached out to kindergarteners through educational programs and made the process interactive by placing QR codes on different types of recycling bins so that people could see what happens to their recycled material. Isozaci explained that experiencing these different practices gave the students a better idea of global solutions and encouraged them to think outside the box.
Lotko added to Isozaci’s take on Odense personal stories about the connections he made abroad. He recalled one occasion where a former water polo player invited the group into his home and gave them a tour around the city. He was the “best tour guide you could ask for,” Lotko said, as he gave the group a more authentic and personal Odense experience.
Once in Copenhagen, Lotko’s favorite experience occurred when with Sword, they went out to eat dinner at one of Denmark’s most popular restaurants. Upon arrival, they were disappointed to learn that it was closed for cleaning. But, one of the staff members let them come in and look around. He mentioned that one of the chefs had just opened a new restaurant called Amass outside the city. He then hailed a cab for the two and directed them to the restaurant. Lotko described the meal at Amass as the best he’d had in his entire life! Lotko said this experience demonstrated Danish hospitality and friendliness to outsiders.
Lotko also described how his sister city experience challenged him to think outside of the box. As a business student, he was eager to learn more about sustainable practices, and what he learned in Denmark helped him grow not only as a student but also as a global citizen. He was very impressed by a local resident’s business: making biofuel from waste from local restaurants. Lotko also applauded the city’s and government’s sustainable practices: much of the city runs on biofuel and a huge effort is underway to phase out cars and rely on bicycle transport. He described Odense as a big city with a small-town feel, which Isozaci noted was very similar to Columbus.
Both Isozaci and Lotko took away an important lesson from this trip: while Odense is different in some ways, the city is a lot like Columbus because of its welcoming “home away from home” atmosphere. Because of this experience, Lotko left Denmark with a new perspective, inspired by the collective approach to problem solving that he observed in Odense.