Journey to Another Reality: An Overseas Study Program Pedagogy for Sustainability Transition Practice

The videos included here introduce my current study into teaching sustainability transition practice through the short overseas travel program subject Environment and Sustainability in East Asia.  In three iterations of the program to China (2015-16) and South Korea (2017), students grappled with the difficult question of how to live sustainably in societies that are inherently unsustainable, within the context of global ecological crisis and emerging sustainability transition.

The governance of China is one of the greatest social engineering projects ever undertaken.  China’s monumental environmental problems are combining with significant social and economic forces that are reshaping Chinese society.  Similarly, South Korea faces many significant problems resulting from transnational environmental degradation and the impacts of rapid economic development.  At the same time, China and South Korea have become incubators for innovative political, economic and technological strategies to address these problems.

Through in-country immersion, students explored the difficulties and opportunities of transitioning to sustainability in such challenging contexts, in the process reflecting on sustainability transition issues in their home context back in Australia.

My goal for this program moving forward is to evolve the trip from a passive field learning exercise into an active sustainability transition praxis experience.  While students overwhelmingly emerged with an enhanced knowledge base and greater motivation to engage in sustainability work, I would like to develop greater structure in the program to help students develop a holistic sustainability transition practice that is appropriate for their chosen fields.



Professional practitioners grappling with sustainability transition problems are working at the interface between local-level sustainability and regenerative projects, policy frameworks across various levels of government jurisdiction, and international treaty regimes, not to mention transnational trade networks, powerful industrial sectors, social movements and other actors.

I am currently researching how to apply the practice of the “shamanic journey” as a model around which to design the program.  This structure would employ a journey to an alternative reality (the in-country experience in a foreign culture) as the vehicle for an intellectual death-rebirth process from which students emerge with a newfound appreciation for human inter-dependence with the environment, as the fundamental underpinning of their sustainability transition practice.

Furthermore, the program elements will be designed around five inter-related roles performed by the shaman archetype—healer, balancer, connector, teacher, and manifestor—that can help shape how students develop their sustainability transition practice as professionals.

The final outcome of this project will be (a) a new holistic subject design for the Environment and Sustainability in East Asia program, including its academic elements and in-country itinerary; (b) a peer-reviewed research article documenting the development of this model; and (c) a field methodology for my own research into environmental politics and international relations.

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