Theresa Chiarenza

Name: Theresa Chiarenza
Major: Architecture
Hometown: Cumberland, Maryland
Your Role Model: I don't think I have like a celebrity "role model," but I really look up to my friends and family and I feel like I'm constantly learning from them.
Your favorite place you've ever visited: 
I went to this church in Copenhagen last week called Bagsværd Kirke, and it was literally the most beautiful building I've ever set foot in. There was this beautiful curved ceiling that let ambient light in and made the acoustics of the space amazing. A man started playing the piano while I was sitting in the sanctuary sketching, and I had one of those out-of-body experiences where you just feel so happy and at peace. It was a really lovely place, and I'm so jealous of the people who get to go to church there every Sunday.
Best part of Studying Abroad (so far): 
I really love staying with a host family and getting authentic Danish experiences. They're so fun and welcoming, and some of my favorite memories so far have been with my hosts. It's also a huge comfort to be able to come home to a home-cooked meal and just hang out, watch TV or do a puzzle together. It's definitely made me feel more comfortable here, and we've done lots of fun stuff together. I would definitely recommend the host family experience to anyone considering it while studying abroad!
Best part of Denmark (so far): 
Biking! It's literally faster to bike to most places here than to drive or take the train. I've gotten a lot of exercise and I've been able to explore the city a lot easier by bike.
What made you chose Denmark? 
The school I'm attending here, DIS, has a really cool curriculum. They build study tours into the schedule, so I can travel to other countries and learn by seeing and doing rather than sitting in a classroom. I was also drawn to Copenhagen because it has a reputation of being a very sustainable city, and there is a nice mixture of old and new architecture to study. 
#1 Study Abroad Bucket List Item: 
I've always wanted to go to Peter Zumthor's Thermal Baths in Switzerland (look it up, it's so beautiful), but I always thought it would be crazy expensive to go there. When I actually looked into it, though, it's not too bad! My friends and I are going there for two days over one of our breaks, and I am so so so excited. It's going to be so surreal to be inside one of my all-time favorite buildings - not to mention relaxing swimming in the baths. I absolutely can't wait!
Something you're looking forward to in the next month: 
My long study tour is coming up in October, which means I will get to travel to Sweden and Finland for a week with professors and other students. I'm really excited to see how the architecture there differs from Denmark, and see some work by Alvar Aalto, one of my favorite architects. I also heard there's a stop at a sauna!
The main reason you decided to go Zero Waste:
One of my coworkers, Erin, has been zero waste for a year and is a huge inspiration for me. She is a sustainability guru, and after hearing what she had to say about waste I knew I had to make some changes.
The most important step(s) to take in living a less wasteful life: 
The more I educated myself about waste and how to create less of it, the more I realized that the zero waste lifestyle is not that complicated! The zero-waste mantra follows the 5 R's: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot - in that order! By simply refusing that free candy bar, plastic silverware, grocery bags, and other grocery store products, you can avoid a lot of plastic. A lot of people think recycling is good - and it is! - but it actually falls towards the bottom of the list. Why not avoid the plastic all together? Plastic can only be recycled once, and then it ends up in a landfill for 500 years. Try using glass or aluminum instead, which can be recycled infinitely. :)
One item that you think everyone can cut out of their life to reduce waste: 
Grocery bags! It's so simple to keep a few in your car, grab some before you leave, or get a tiny baggy that fits in your purse and can be unfolded to fit a last minute purchase.
One item that you think everyone can own to help reduce waste: 
For people who menstruate, definitely a menstrual cup. They're life changing and definitely not as weird as I thought they would be. Other than that - a silverware set! You can make your own or buy a cute kit online. Mine has saved me on countless occasions.
The most challenging part of being zero waste: 
Not feeling guilty for everything. If you can't find something you need and have to buy a version wrapped in plastic, it's not the end of the world. Every little bit of waste reduction helps, and making yourself feel guilty doesn't help anyone! It's so important to stay positive, and think "I'll have to research where I can buy that next time!" rather than being hard on yourself for one little thing.
Has living abroad helped or hurt your zero waste lifestyle? How? 
It's kind of a mixed bag. I'm adjusting to living in a new family, and they're open to accommodating some of my zero-waste requests, but I can't expect them to go out of their way to buy everything in bulk. It's also difficult to find fresh produce that isn't wrapped in plastic, because it has to travel so far to get here. So there have been some challenges, but Denmark has an excellent recycling system and more bikes than cars! My hosts are also very open to change, so I'm sure we will gradually come up with a system that works for everyone. The transition to zero waste is hard, and it's even harder if everyone isn't 100% in the mindset.
What made you decide to study architecture?
I was actually interested in interior design at first because I really liked helping my parents with home renovations. I went to a camp for "interior architecture," designed my first structure, and decided I really liked the studio culture and the thought of having control over an entire space. I decided to study architecture without really any experience except for that 3-week camp, and I haven't looked back since.
What's the best part of studying architecture?
Every building you go into becomes a learning experience. It's really changed the way I view the world, and I can find inspiration in anything. Now, when I go to museums, I admire the natural daylighting techniques instead of the art. It's super nerdy and I love it.
The worst part?
Sometimes nights in studio can be...long. Especially when your critique is right around the corner. The silver lining here is that all your friends are in the studio late together, so you become really close with the people in your major.
Do you hope to incorporate sustainability into your career? How?
I'm really interested in sustainable architecture! There's a lot of that happening in the Northwest, so I'm hoping to live and work in Seattle someday designing buildings that do more to help the environment than hurt it. The architecture industry is actually one of the most harmful to the environment in terms of materials and emissions, so I really feel like I can make a difference in this field.
Where do you hope to travel to?
All 7 continents, one day!
Whats the best part of traveling? 
Soaking up the essence of a city by just walking around and trying to experience it like a local. I love trying local foods and just sitting outside people watching.
The worst part? 
For me, probably flying. Airplanes make me feel so gross, and I feel guilty for how much fuel is used for each flight. The whole process just leaves me feeling like I need a shower.
What are your top tips for traveling while reducing waste?
Be prepared! I have a little backpack which will fit everything I might need: my silverware set, a napkin, my water bottle, and a beeswax wrap (these are super convenient for leftovers or storing snacks without having to get a takeout container). A lot of people also suggest bringing a mason jar, because it can store food or be used as a cup. I don't have one with me here, but it would definitely come in handy!