In this article, Michelia shares her experiences of studying marine environment with Erasmus Mundus program in three countries. You could find some insights about university’s life, fellow students and some practical tips in Bordeaux and Plentzia, where she is doing her master study.
Why I choose to study marine science
When I was a little child, watching diving trips to see the beauty of seabed life on TV was my favorite activity. Being Indonesian, I am sure that almost everyone understands that the country’s marine biodiversity is a treasure we should protect.
Plastic waste is one of the threats for this biodiversity and Indonesia currently generates approximately 4.2 million tons per year of plastic waste, of which about half a million tons goes into the sea. In addition, this waste could also affect the global community as the marine ecosystem will be disturbed, and the effect will extend to people who rely on sea for their livelihoods, transportation, recreation and other activities.
Because of these facts, after graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marine science from IPB University, I decided to pursue a master study in marine environment topic and eventually arrived in Europe.
Chance to learn many aspects of marine environment and to meet environmentally-conscious colleagues
I am currently pursuing a master’s degree from 3 universities at once, namely the University of Southampton (UK), University of Bordeaux (France) and Universidad del Pais Vasco (Spain), with the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.
My first semester was filled with fundamental courses on oceanography. All aspects are studied from Biology, Chemistry, Geology and Physics. Meanwhile, my second and third semesters would be filled with more specific subjects such as Socio Economic of Climate Change, Marine Entrepreneurship, Marine Social Policy and others.
During my second semester now, I have learned a lot about the dangers of marine plastic, not only from daily lectures, but also from my daily activities. Often my friends and I visit the beach while collecting plastic waste along the way. Even though there is not as much plastic waste on the European coast as in Indonesia, we still often find cans, styrofoam or plastic trash along the beach.
Here, I also made friends with students and professors who really care about the environment.
The majority of friends I know in Europe are vegetarians and are very plastic-wise. Even though it is supporting a healthy lifestyle, most of them become a vegetarian not for the diet, but instead for sustainability reason. Many of them become vegetarian because they know that producing meat such as chicken, beef, goat, etc would generate more greenhouse gas than producing plant-based food.
Moreover, they are very careful in every product they use, for example, some of my friends avoid buying soap with plastic bottles. As a substitute, they prefer to buy bar soaps whose wrappers are made of recycled paper. Even though it sounds very simple, small actions like this can greatly contribute to our environment in the future.
Of course, this does not mean we cannot use plastic at all, but reducing its use is the right step to protect the earth from plastic pollution.
Life as a Muslim in Bordeaux and Plentzia
During my first semester, I lived in Bordeaux—a very old city in France with many historical buildings. Some of my university buildings are old and have a long history.
As a Muslim, finding halal food is very important for me. You could easily find halal food in Bordeaux because there are so many Muslim immigrants living in this city. For example, you could find halal fried chicken, kebabs, falafel, and other halal food along the streets in the St. Catherine area.
Transportation in Bordeaux also varies greatly, from trams, buses, boats to cross the river, and bicycles that the public can rent. To enjoy all these transportation facilities, it is enough to have a TBM card. This TBM card can be topped up every time you travel, or you can also buy a monthly trip package if you live in Bordeaux for a long time. For one trip it costs around 1.7 euros or the equivalent of about 30,000 rupiah.
After spending one semester in Bordeaux, I moved to a small town called Plentzia in Spain last February. The city has a population of about 5,000 people, where Muslim is a minority and halal food is very limited. I only found halal food in a kebab shop owned by a Pakistani seller. That is why I prefer to cook at home than buying from restaurant during this semester.
To buy halal meat, I need to travel to Bilbao—a very big neighboring city that can be reached within an hour by metro. In Plentzia, transportation is limited to buses and metro, but there are more modes of transportation including trams, bicycles, and trains in Bilbao.
Despite of its small areas, Plentzia has a truly amazing scenery. My campus is right on the edge of the sea and even my classrooms face directly to the Atlantic Ocean, in the Bay of Biscay. In addition, Plentzia also has many beautiful hills for picnics, parasailing, hiking and climbing. Here, I already learned a lot of new things not only from classes, but from off-campus outdoor activities such as surfing and parasailing.
The cost of living while I was in France was approximately 800 euros, which included housing, transportation, telephone bill, meals and daily necessities. I also spend more or less the same amount in Spain.
*All photos provided by Author