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Photos: Marwa Shumo

International Master of Environmental Studies - Interview with Marwa Shumo

What works for Kenya won’t fit for India

Marwa Shumo is from Oman. But her keen interest on environmental studies took her from the Middle East to Germany to delve deeper into environmental issues and, more importantly, into the question of how to tackle challenges of the future like waste recycling. Today, Marwa is an early-stage researcher at the Center of Development Research at the University of Bonn. Before she started her research in Bonn, Marwa was enrolled in the International Master of Environmental Studies (IMES) at the University of Cologne. 

The interview was conducted by Svenja Rausch

Marwa Shumo is a young scientist in environmental studies. Foto: Marwa Shumo

Marwa, what drives you to do research in environmental studies? What is your motivation?

As a child, my parents used to drive us around the valleys, mountains, deserts, and the coast of Oman. I was always enchanted by the beautiful landscapes and the opportunity it provides for people – especially in an arid country like Oman. I studied biotechnology and we spent a lot of time identifying the flora and fauna of Oman. That’s how I became aware of how complex our ecosystems are, how resilient living species are, and the struggle they undergo to survive regardless of the pressure human beings exert on them and their habitat. The rapid urbanization of Oman, although it has provided us with a great living standard, took a huge toll on the nature of Oman. Knowing that we cannot continue exploiting our natural resources in such a manner, I was eager to learn more about the possibilities of harmonizing our needs as humans with those of nature. Reaching a state of equilibrium in which what we take from the environment is equal if not less than what we return is the ultimate challenge that every environmental scientist wants to understand and answer.

Why did you choose the IMES?

The IMES covers environmental sciences from an interdisciplinary viewpoint. I previously studied environmental sciences, but my training was always from a purely scientific perspective. Through the IMES, I managed to study environmental policies, legislations, sociology, and I even developed my own Environment Education curriculum. Another reason was the international dimension of the programme. We were a group of 24 students who came from around 17 different nations, and our lecturers were interested in international outreach. This means that I had the opportunity to learn from and through different methods and mind-sets. I was also awarded the University’s elite Albertus Magnus Scholarship, which is an initiative of the state of NRW to attract young and talented international students to receive their postgraduate education in Germany. Also, I wanted to live and study in a vibrant city like Cologne.

In what way did studying the IMES support you in your research career?

I landed on a career in transdisciplinary development research, meaning most of the research we conduct is actually not only to be published in peer reviewed journals but rather to be applied in improving the livelihoods of people in the developing world. It is through the IMES that I learnt about topics like the theory of common-pool resources and the principles of managing the commons. I learnt about the importance of localizing our solutions: what might work for farmers in Kenya might unlikely work for farmers in India. Through an IMES field research stay in India, I had the opportunity to experience some Eco sustainable initiatives like an entire Indian village that generates its power from cow dung. The experiences I had during my IMES days made me eager to learn more and spend more time outdoors trying to come up with innovative and novel solutions to our environmental problems. Therefore, I decided to go on for a development-oriented research programme that combined my previous training in biotechnology and environmental sciences and introduced me to new disciplines and depths of research.

Did you feel welcome on campus in Cologne?

The University of Cologne by Kölntourismus_Axel Schulten

Yes, I did. The IMES programme has its own independent coordinating and support staff who do their best to assist and welcome the students right from the start of the programme in Cologne. In addition to that, my scholarship tutors from the International Office at the University were always there. They helped me find student housing and advised me on a bank account and medical insurance options. Thanks to the International Office I visited many cities in Germany including the capital Berlin, Heidelberg, and the Printen factory in Nuremberg. Being a big fan of history and culture, these trips enriched my time as a student at the University of Cologne. We were often treated to museums, musicals, and classical music concerts that enabled us to get a first-hand impression of the German cultural scene. So yes, I had an enjoyable experience that was not only limited to campus life. Life on campus is very welcoming for international students here in Cologne.

What advice would you give to students from abroad?

12% of international students study at the University of Cologne. Photo: T. Josek

Just do it! I was concerned at the start. Relocating to a new place is always a challenging experience, but you will enjoy it. Studying in Cologne will teach you how to be an independent knowledge seeker. Yes, sometimes I was lost and confused, but every time I figured it out on my own, I unlocked an extra altitude of my strength. Great faculty members and world-renowned professors and scientists will surround you – regardless of what discipline you are planning to engage in. They will help you grow and will challenge you to expand your horizon and achieve more. The International Office staff are there to help and support you, so get to know them and seek their help, they are happy to have your back when you are in need.

What was studying in Cologne like?

View on Cologne Cathedral from Deutz. Foto: S. Rausch

Honestly, I miss my times in Cologne, the only city in the world that experiences five season a year if we count in the famous Cologne Carnival. Being at the heart of Europe, Cologne is close to every city I wanted to visit in Europe, and spending a Saturday in Amsterdam, Paris, or Brussels was one of the advantages I gained from studying here. Whenever I felt homesick, I enjoyed visiting the zoo and spent time watching the animals. They reminded me of my life in Oman. With an apartment that was as close as 50 meters to the River Rhine, I enjoyed the sunsets after a long day at the lab and with time, the Rhine and I became very good friends. Looking back, I think that living and studying in Cologne was a great stage of my life.

Interested students may apply up until 1. June 2017 for acceptance as a masters student. More information can be found here.