Discovery Profiles: Study Abroad Experiences Shape Silas S. Binkley’s Contributions in Sustainability Education
For Silas S. Binkley, studying and traveling throughout Nepal, India, Indonesia, Australia, Latin America and Western Europe brought a deeper understanding of the world and, ultimately, a refinement of his professional goals in further developing experiential sustainability education philosophy as well as implementing courses and consulting on ESE program design.
“We just tipped over to seven billion people on the planet,” says Binkley, a fifth-generation native of Boulder, Colo., who is completing a doctorate in sustainability education at Prescott College. “Really, the world is so interconnected and it’s such a benefit to get out there physically and be a part of that and bring that experience back home.”
Binkley, who also teaches environmental studies at Naropa University, first studied abroad as a freshman at Colorado Mountain College, participating in the Outdoor Semester in the Rockies program, including travel in the Southwestern United States and, for three weeks, Mexico, while sleeping under the stars and studying ecology, archaeology, wilderness ethics, and gaining many outdoor skills.
“At such a young age, being able to spend three weeks in a different culture gave me a different perspective on things,” he says, “it changed the course of my education and my life.”
Mexico pushed him out of his comfort zone, and in the process, transformed him. It magnified the consumer-driven society of the United States and contrasted it with the lifestyles of some of the smaller villages in Mexico where the people were very welcoming, the elders were valued and the children played together late in the evening in the town square. “People seemed very happy, and the culture was very colorful.”
Binkley came away from that first experience abroad with a strong sense of the interconnectedness of different world cultures, the ecosystems that support us all, and a drive to discover more.
“After my first trip to Mexico, I intuitively knew there was a lot of value in studying abroad,” he says, “so I continued to seek that out.”
Although it was the towering mountains of the Himalayas that initially drew him to study for a semester in Nepal, the culture and people there left a greater impact. He was living in one of the world’s poorest countries, but the much simpler lifestyle, which included eating rice and beans each meal of the day, enriched him in many ways, especially spiritually.
“On a happiness index,” he says, “I felt very content there.”
It took a while to get back into the groove when I came home because there’s just so much material stuff here in the United States.
While studying abroad in Scotland, Binkley picked up a book on the recent history in Cuba, and it spurred a strong interest in human rights.
“That built upon my experiences in Mexico and Nepal,” he says. “I didn’t become less interested in the environment, but I started to become more and more interested in social equity and economic equity.”
After earning his undergraduate degree from Colorado State University in 1999, Binkley worked for four years at Colorado Mountain College as a full-time staff member for Outdoor Semester in the Rockies, co-instructing and coordinating the field-based academic experiential adventure education program for eight semesters.
Binkley then decided to go to graduate school in Australia at the University of Queensland through GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
“When I decided I was going to go to graduate school, it was really important to me to go out of the country,” he says. “I wanted that diversity piece, not only with the student body, but with the faculty as well.”
He started at UQ in 2003 in the international studies program, earning a graduate certificate. Binkley then shifted his academic focus to environmental management and sustainable development, earning a master’s degree in the subject in 2005.
“I’ve always been interested in the environment and feel strongly that the path humans are on, with our current patterns of consumption, are not sustainable,” he says.
After returning home from Australia in 2005, Binkley founded Trade Wind Statues, which imports works of art from across the world and exports part of the profits back to development and aid projects in the artists’ communities, and also began teaching at Naropa University.
In 2008, he began tying together his different academic interests through his doctoral studies at Prescott College developing a new educational philosophy he terms “Experiential Sustainability Education (ESE).”
“My own passions are leading me to a specific program,” he says, but development of the program is farther down the road.
“Studying abroad has helped me see that the world is such a big place, and there is so much opportunity out there,” he says. “I don’t mean financially. I mean a lot of opportunity to do important work while at the same time having a lot of fun and enjoying the rich, diverse, wild places and different cultures that are out there.”Print