Perspectives Expanded

Rebecca Johnson, Pitt in Amsterdam Summer 2022

Before this program, my career goal was to become a journalist, and that hasn’t changed. I’ve worked at multiple media outlets, including the Austin-American Statesman, The Pitt News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where I’ve reported minimally on environmental issues. During my reporting internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last summer I wrote an article that explored how climate change is impacting and will impact Pittsburgh’s infrastructure. I wrote about, and subsequently learned a lot about, the city’s failing stormwater management system and rising temperatures.
However, while I was always interested in these topics, studying abroad in Amsterdam reinforced my goal of pursuing environmental reporting — a beat growing rapidly in importance due to climate change. Studying abroad gave me a global perspective that will help my reporting anywhere, but particularly in Pittsburgh where an industrialist past is at odds with a green future. It’s the story of our time, and I learned some tools on this trip in order to tell it correctly. 

My program in Amsterdam focused on building sustainable cities, including green urbanism, sustainable water management systems and the UN’s Sustainability goals. And beyond the classroom, I got to see these theoretical concepts in action.  

One of my favorite trips was to Amsterdam-Noord, a borough of Amsterdam across the River IJ that is known for its wharf attractions and the NDSM cultural center. In the borough’s wharf area, which ironically is the site of the second-largest coal port in Europe, there’s lots of discussion among city leaders about how to make the port “circular” in terms of bio waste, meaning taking the end-of-life of the product into account. Noord also hosted a “circular festival” where food suppliers were required to dispose of their own waste and no meat was served. They even marketed it as more sustainable/circular than staying at home.  


I also visited Amsterdam’s newest neighborhood, IJburg, which is made up of four man-made islands on the Ijmeer, and is located in the easternmost part of the city. Probably the most notable feature on the island was its variety of housing types. Probably my favorite were the houseboats. one of them looked like multiple units and others were single-family homes. Some were floating and others were fixed in the ground. They also had a variety of different styles and colors — blue, red, brick, etc. One town home was even built from straw.


In addition to these excursions, simply walking around the city and seeing the canals, people biking instead of driving, and electric instead of gasoline-powered cars served as a helpful comparison to the U.S. I also learned from a guest lecturer that the world economy is too large relative to the finite planetary resources on Earth. Essentially, humanity is pushing (or has already pushed too far, depending on what expert you ask) against the environment’s limits. 

While that’s a daunting fact, it’s important to know and learn to relate to others so governments, businesses and the average citizen take necessary steps to mitigate climate change. 
Beyond my career goals, this study abroad trip was my first time traveling internationally (which has always been one of my dreams). It was super cool learning about Dutch culture through communicating with people living in Amsterdam as well as fellow Pitt students and exploring some of Amsterdam’s landmarks. I hope to travel more in the future!