Anyone can live abroad, according to Greg Dahlke (BLA ’15).
As a junior landscape associate based in Rwanda, he works to manage and educate about environmental impacts. Greg works for Mass Design Group, a nonprofit architecture firm based out of Boston and Kigali, Rwanda. He has spent much of the past few years living in Africa.
“After finishing my fourth year internship in the landscape architecture program, I made the decision that I would only work as a landscape architect if I could work with communities to produce solutions to environmental, health, or educational needs,” Greg said.
Greg’s interest in working with international communities grew while he was a student at LSU. “I believe my degree did not prepare me for my profession in the typical, ‘I received this amount of hours so now I am ready to work’ mentality,” he shared. “My time studying at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture taught me that the world is out there. I thought, ‘my home has problems and so does everywhere else’ – so let’s use analysis, design, mapping, community engagement, and beauty to make environmental, policy, and economic impacts.”
“My time studying at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture taught me that the world is out there.”
Greg studied with professors of all with different specialties, ranging from information analysis, horticulture, hand drawing, mixed media graphics, literature, diagramming, and more. All these skills are needed to be a professional landscape architect, an environmental engineer, a national park ranger, an ecologist, a professor, and many other roles.
“I knew after leaving school I did not have to be a landscape architect,” Greg said. “I had the skills to start a career in a dozen different fields. That is when I realized how versatile and great my program was.”
During his fifth year at LSU, Greg was accepted into the Peace Corps Senegal program as an Agroforestry Extension Agent. The September after he graduated, he left for Senegal, West Africa.
In his twenty-seven months as a volunteer in Senegal he focused and taught about environment education, garden establishment, and women’s group empowerment and business making opportunists. The biggest challenge for the first six months was learning the language, Greg said; then the next six months was understanding his role in the community. Then he was able to work with others to “achieve goals that everyone wanted and could understand enough to teach others,” he said. “As my time there increased and I became more comfortable, I could start to address issues that were more complex.”
“My time in Senegal gave me the chance to be a community member and leader, to tackle challenges within and outside my knowledge, in the end my experience with local communities taught me to be open and flexible – both with my current projects and my life moving forward.”
Though he spent much of his life in Louisiana – he grew up in Kenner and went to high school in New Orleans before studying at LSU – Greg said he was able to adjust to living abroad in Africa.
“Anyone can live abroad,” he said. “The location does not matter as much as you would think, as long as you have an understanding that things will be difficult for a certain amount of time – and then one day they are not.”
In Rwanda now Greg is working on construction administration for one of MASS Design Group’s projects. He is on site daily working with surveyors, contractors, and local organizations; Greg manages the environmental impact of each contractor’s work.
“For example, in order to do a soil test, the surveyors have to set up a machine to drill, so I make sure that every move made on site does not disturb the landscape, soil, and water in the areas we intend to work,” he explained. “Also, my role includes spreading knowledge to contractors about best practices around their environmental impacts in order to insure better practices and standards.”
Landscape architecture is a field where one can work on a regional master plan, mapping and analysis to understanding micro ecosystems, so the field enables a variety of specialties. “I enjoy big ideas and system design,” Greg said. “As environments around the world change, landscape architects have the chance to work on projects that can influence an individual’s perspective of the landscape as well as a whole region.”
He looks to the future of the field with optimism. “In the same way that architects started significantly influencing the design of cities (away from engineers) in the last 20 years, I think landscape architects will have the same effects in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas globally.”
For now Greg is working to help improve communities in Africa, but he is open to international opportunities elsewhere. He says he would like to learn a third language and live in Japan someday. “I’ve got a few things to do by the time I am thirty.”