Learning From Nature

SUSIs alumnus Vaibhav Chakraborty talks about his experience of visiting Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park during his exchange trip to the United States. 

Vaibhav Chakraborty, a political science student from New Delhi, participated in the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSIs) for Student Leaders program on Environmental Issues at the University of Montana in 2016. During his fellowship, Chakraborty visited Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. The visits, he says, were a great learning experience for him. 

Excerpts from an interview.


The exchange visit was your first trip abroad. How was your experience of interacting with student leaders from other parts of the world?

I was pretty excited. From the 19 other student leaders from different parts of the world to the staff at the University of Montana, we were like a family—taking classes, hiking, going out for meals together, etc. Initially, communication was a bit difficult because we all came from non-English-speaking countries and had to adjust to a different accent. But, we soon overcame that barrier.

Even though we sometimes had differences of opinion, we would try to find ways through discussions on how to bring in the changes that we wished to see in our respective countries.

You visited Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park during this exchange program. Could you please tell us about your experiences?

Glacier National Park, often called the “Crown of the Continent,” was my first experience of visiting a national park. It is truly majestic. From hiking to the snowcapped mountains and occasionally being greeted by mountain goats, to finally sitting at the edge of a mountain and capturing the view, it was an unforgettable experience.

Words fail to describe the beauty of Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world. The gushing geysers, alpine rivers and the lush green surroundings make Yellowstone a place for fantasies. I still remember the breathtaking sight of the giant full moon reflecting on a river, us singing aloud next to a bonfire and cooking dinner.

However, climate change has caught up with both these national parks. At Glacier National Park, snow sheets are melting at a brisk rate. And by 2050, we were told, there would hardly be any part of the glacier left. Scientists are keeping a watch on Yellowstone, as the volcano lying in the interiors of the park could erupt, causing large-scale destruction.

What are your main areas of interest in environmental protection?

Deforestation is a major concern, with the world’s forest cover depleting at a brisk rate since the turn of the 20th century. Forests play a major role in the sustenance of the ecology. If we ignore the ecosystem in the name of development, we are doomed. It’s crucial to recreate the bond with nature.

You are a student of political science and like to work with the underprivileged sections of the society. How does your involvement in environmental issues interrelate with your line of study?

Political science gives in-depth knowledge of the functioning of different forms of government, policymaking and, most importantly, the role of citizens in the functioning of the government. I believe that every citizen has the right to live a decent life without the hindrance of poverty. We are a part of the ecosystem, but we have caused great damage to the environment, which also affects the weaker sections of the society.

Studying political science helps me to understand the ways in which state institutions, along with the citizens, can help overcome environmental issues, while empowering the underprivileged sections of the society.

What are your biggest takeaways from the exchange program in the United States?

I learned a lot during the five weeks of my stay while traveling to Montana, Texas and Washington, D.C., in the company of some of the best mentors and professors I have ever worked with. Among my key takeaways are: Being able to look at the world from a different perspective, appreciating different cultural milieus and bringing my views forward in the right way.

We came as 20 different individuals, but we left with thousands of memories and friendships that we’ll cherish for years to come.


Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.