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Regenerating Study Abroad

By Daniel Ponce-Taylor posted 07-29-2021 10:34 AM


Regenerating Study Abroad

Regeneration has been a widely used term lately, from regenerative travel, fashion, or food to regenerative design or agriculture. In this context, the term "regenerative" describes processes that restore, renew or revitalize their own sources of energy and materials.

“Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that can help reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. This results in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle, making the industry a contributor to achieving the SDGs. The recently released film “Kiss the ground” has made regenerative agriculture and its benefits a household topic. Regenerative agriculture has the amazing potential to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, as used by IOI in their regenerative agriculture study abroad programs. Thus, one of the solutions to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty reduction and increased public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks.

Lately, the concept of regenerative tourism has gained momentum. The idea is that tourism leaves a place better than it was before. In a widely exposed article in the New York Times, regenerative tourism looks to become a growing faction within the tourism industry, and one that can help achieve the UN SDGs contribution to well-being of the people and planet.

Just as other regenerative approaches have the potential to radically change, or restore, ecosystems, economies, and societies, regenerative study abroad programs should be a thing! Regenerative Study Abroad (RSA) has the potential to not only change students’ perceptions and values, but to support social, economic, and environmental changes in the host community.

RSA also has the potential to be a considerable contributor to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. 

If tourism or agriculture, two industries considered major contributors to climate change,  can look at ways to not only minimize their social and environmental negative impacts but to leave a better destination or environment than originally found, why can’t we look at changing study abroad mindset so our trips, courses and programs are also vector of regeneration?

Here some ideas that might help us get there:

  • When selecting your local partner or provider, evaluate the impact that your programs have on local communities’ perceptions. Is this a mutually beneficial program? Ask, ask, and ask lots of tricky and controversial questions when selecting partners - how are the programs designed? Are local communities engaged in the design and implementation process? Who is, directly and indirectly, benefiting from the international programs? Have potential negative implications been taken into account and mitigated? It’s our responsibility to ask all those questions.
  • Ensure students and local communities interact in a respectful and equal manner, and reflect on the concepts of regeneration
  • Ensure social, environmental, and economic impact (negative and positive) is measured along the way, from design to implementation and following the trip. If possible align the measurement and report it to global platforms such as the UN SDGs
  • Encourage long term relationships and programs, rather than one-off visits 
  • Ensure shorter-term faculty-led trips contribute to longer-term goals
  • Measure all carbon emissions, including pre, during, and post-program-related emissions. Design and implement a mitigation strategy for those emissions happening? After mitigation has been implemented, design carbon sequestration strategies that involve in-house (or in-setting) sequestration, versus the more traditional offsetting.  

As educators and providers of international education experiences, we have a dual responsibility to help educate our students whilst ensuring our programs are not negatively affecting the chosen destination. But why not embed a regenerative mindset in our International Education programs and ensure that our students, host communities, and ecosystems are better off when we leave than when we arrived?

Ready to be part of the Regenerative Study Abroad revolution?

By Daniel Ponce Taylor 

Director of Operations and International Partnerships at IOI (, a carbon-negative study abroad provider, co-founder of, and co-chair of the NAFSA Sustainability SIG