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My Two Weeks as a Kiwi: A Once in a Lifetime Experience by Brittany Ayers, Biological Engineering major

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Posted: May 25, 2016

I had the time of my life in the most amazing country with thirteen of my new best friends, learning about the subject that matters most to me.
Crawling through an Ice Cave on Franz Josef Glacier

Crawling through an Ice Cave on Franz Josef Glacier

Hi there! My name is Brittany Ayers and I am majoring in biological engineering with a minor in environmental engineering. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Lincoln University in New Zealand through the Environmental Resource Management major! I participated in a course called ERM499C, New Zealand and Natural Resources. I had always known that studying abroad was something that I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if I would ever have the chance to do it. A whole semester was out of the question because as an engineering student who had already used up my gen ed requirements, it just wasn’t feasible. I was very excited to learn about this program. It occurred over winter break, so I didn’t miss out on the opportunity over the summer to have an internship. I was able to spend Christmas with my family, and a day later I left Newark Airport for LAX, followed by a 13 hour plane ride to New Zealand. I have to admit that there were times that I was homesick and uncomfortable in a totally different place, but looking back now, I wouldn’t trade my experiences in New Zealand for the world.

Traveling to New Zealand was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I suppose I should explain in advance why I use the word “Kiwi” so much. New Zealanders call themselves “Kiwis,” not after the fruit, but after the flightless Kiwi bird, the national bird of New Zealand. While in New Zealand, I was able to learn about natural resources and sustainable practices in a place so diverse and rich in its ecosystems and environmental diversity. While in New Zealand, I saw glaciers, waterfalls, beaches, rainforests, pine trees, palm trees, mountains, plains, and the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I had never before been to a place where you could drive twenty minutes and seemingly be in a different climate altogether. New Zealand is quite simply the most beautiful place on this Earth. So remotely located, and rich in environmental history and science, I chose to travel to New Zealand in hopes that the ERM sustainability course would help me to advance in my major, natural resources engineering. I truly believe that it has. While there, I learned about agro-ecology, beekeeping, climate change in New Zealand, and how to conserve the natural environment. I even had a chance to hear a lecture from a professional New Zealand beekeeper, and I was able to purchase some of his super sweet honey! I was also made aware that New Zealand is a country with a zero nuclear energy policy, who gets most of its energy from hydropower. I got to see some live Kiwi birds, experience a taste of native Maori culture, learn about invasive species, and visit Quail Island to learn about the native species and habitats. I very much enjoyed my time in the land of the Kiwi people.

While I was in New Zealand, I took a helicopter ride to the top of the Franz Josef Glacier and was able to hike on it, learning about its history as I went. The ride was magnificent as I got to see the entirety of the glacier from start to finish. In one of the biggest adventures of my life, the helicopter landed directly on the glacier ice, after which I promptly laced up my crampons and stood in amazement at how vast the Franz Josef Glacier really was. Sadly, this glacier is receding and isn’t expected to be there much longer. I am very grateful that I had the chance to do this before it is too late. I learned about the movement and formation of the glaciers, and even got to climb through a wind tunnel formed in the ice of the glacier! What started out as a tiny air pocket in the ice and snow grew into a cave of sorts that I was able to crawl through!

I did a lot of amazing things while in New Zealand! I visited Queenstown, the “Adventure Capital of the World,” and did a bungy-swing into a canyon. I visited a sheep farm over eight square miles large and had a chance to watch the sheep dogs in action. I also had the chance to visit the Hinewai Nature reserve. I hiked through the beautiful mountain side and got a chance to see the preserved forest in all of its glory. I went white water rafting on the Rangitata River, and hiked around Mount Peel.

I was also lucky enough to have the chance to travel to beautiful Milford Sound and learn about the history of the fiord. I learned the way it was carved out by glaciers, how it was discovered, and all about the wildlife that live there. To get there, I took a 45 minute plane ride in a 6-passenger plane over the Southern Alps from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Once in Milford Sound, I took a boat tour in and around the fiord. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life. The mountains jutted straight out from the sea! There were waterfalls everywhere, snowcapped mountains, little penguins, and breathtaking views. To anyone who ever plans to visit New Zealand, I would highly recommend visiting the sound.

The weather in New Zealand was absolutely gorgeous, and there were many days spent exploring and hiking. I wouldn’t have wanted to travel with any other group of students. We all bonded and became a family over our adventure. We plan to keep in touch, even after some of us graduate. Hopefully someday many years from now, we can all get together and reminisce on our once in a lifetime trip to New Zealand.

There were so many amazing things that I saw and experienced in New Zealand! Stories and pictures could never do any of it justice. I even had a chance to be among the first people in the world to ring in 2015, a whole eighteen hours before it was celebrated at home! We all celebrated together in a park in Christchurch, New Zealand. There was yummy food, great music, and wonderful friends! Another interesting fact, because of the time difference between New Zealand and America, I lived through January 10, 2015 twice!!

My time in New Zealand was nothing short of unforgettable. Our host university, Lincoln, was wonderful. While there, I learned a great deal about the country of New Zealand, sustainability, and natural resources. I am now even more inspired to preserve what Mother Nature has gifted us. I am so grateful to Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences for the chance to travel to New Zealand. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will cherish forever. I had the time of my life in the most amazing country with thirteen of my new best friends, learning about the subject that matters most to me. I am so grateful to have learned everything that I did and I plan to carry this information along with me throughout my life and career.