By Sofia Catalina

It was under a year ago when I sat in a room filled with about 30 people, placed on the edge of a large horseshoe of tables.

I was nervously smoothing the hem of my dress when the person we had all been waiting for walked into the room -- former Vice President Al Gore.

Out of hundreds of weShare projects submitted for EF Tours' first annual Global Student Leaders Summit in Costa Rica, only four groups had been chosen to present their ideas for how to improve the environmental impact of their school. My two partners and I were about to present the project we had poured hours into.

This opportunity sparked a passion in me, and today, environmental preservation is a global issue that is incredibly important to me.

I was inspired and motivated by meeting Al Gore and attending this environmental conference, and am now driven by the fact that, even as a student, I can use my innovation to improve the world around me.

When I returned home from that incredible trip, I decided to try to make a real difference in my community. With the environmental club at my school, I made plans to work on eliminating the use of paper plates and sub wraps in the cafeteria, and we are selling coffee mugs in an effort to reduce the use of disposable cups.

In class, I take notes on my laptop to save paper.

I joined my town's Energy Advisory Committee as a student member. We meet every other Wednesday to discuss energy conservation and alternative energy possibilities for the school and town buildings.

Although I am a student, I am still very able to work on what I am passionate about and make a difference in my community.

I have now been given the opportunity to attend yet another of EF Tours' Global Student Leaders Summit, this time focused on social responsibility and located pretty much as far away as I can get from home: China.

To me, China is fascinating, as the country contains enormous economic growth coupled with colossal environmental impact. Comparing this impact to that of the United States, China produces the largest amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the entire world, almost twice that of the US.

This extreme amount of pollution is destroying not only China's environmental resources, but also the health and safety of its citizens. Beijing's pollutant levels are over 40 times what the World Health Organization has decreed safe, and water shortages and contamination is staggeringly dire.

The difference between China and the United States is the regulation of businesses' environmental impact.

In China, the main priority is the continued growth and expansion of their economy, but this has come at the high cost of the health of their environment and citizens. Although the government has implemented some regulations, these measures have been described as "toothless," as, in truth, they have very little impact. Factories easily evade the target carbon dioxide emissions or local law enforcers do little to remedy emissions, as often they own the enterprises they are supposed to regulate.

In order to solve the massive issue of pollution, government and businesses have to work together to improve their country's, and, ultimately, the world's, environment.

What I hope to learn by visiting China is what is being done to improve its ecological situation and how the government and businesses can help reduce environmental impact while still promoting economic success.