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LAND – Where You Want To Be By Katie Andrews, Agricultural and Extension Education Major

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Posted: January 27, 2016

The immaculate country of New Zealand provided a learning atmosphere through never ending adventures and exploration.

The name ‘God’s Country’ is well deserved by the immaculate country of New Zealand. I, along with thirteen other students and two advisors explored and discovered the south island of New Zealand for fourteen days during the 2014-2015 winter break.  Our home base was Lincoln University, which is the only agriculturally focused land grant university in New Zealand. Our mission was to study the environmental resources of New Zealand through lectures and exploration. Upon our arrival, New Zealand’s summer sunshine as well as our guide, Kate, met us with a warm Kia Ora, which is the native Maori language for saying hello. Our first trip from the airport to the University met all my preconceptions of New Zealand, lots of sheep, mountains, and there was a McDonalds.

The first part of our trip was local exploration accompanied by lecturers. In one of our first lectures we learned about the short history of New Zealand in addition to touring Christchurch. We learned New Zealand is British owned which we quickly detected that the New Zealand accent has a strong British flare to it. Traveling into Christchurch my expectations were bigger and busier than what was actually there. Christchurch had a lot to offer from the stunning botanical gardens, a museum of history, and creative paintings and seating throughout the city. Christchurch was nearly destroyed during an earthquake in February of 2011 and there were multiple places that still had not recovered. The following two days were spent with a charismatic and brilliant agro-ecologist, Roddy Hale. With Roddy we visited and hiked Banks Peninsula’s Hinewai Reserve where we learned about and found the New Zealand native invertebrate, the Weta. Hinewai reserve was not our only educational exploration trip though.

Our group traveled to Lyttleton harbor and took a boat out to Quail Island that contained a lot of settlement history and eco-restoration examples. Through the pouring rain we saw geckos, penguin’s beds, and a whale’s jawbone. One of my favorite trips was out to a sheep and cattle farm where the owner explained how and what they produce, New Zealand animal product markets, and the pros and cons of farming in New Zealand. We learned that he owns 5,500 hectares of land, which is an average number for New Zealand farmers! Throughout the following days we discussed topics such as flammability due to the large number of forest fires in New Zealand is addition to climate control and impacts. We were educated on New Zealand’s famous Manuka honey by a production beekeeper himself. One of the most unique tours we took though was through the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve where we met the wildlife that is specific to New Zealand, including seeing the native Kiwi.  (Clarifying statement: Kiwi refers to the people of the New Zealand, which came from the native bird) At the end of the Wildlife tour our group experienced traditional Maori culture and dances that was followed by a unique Maori dinner, Hangi, which is where you cook dinner in the ground.

               All of our structured lectures and academic learning was during the first half of the trip, but a different type of learning continued through the rest of the trip. Our last five days were spent traveling to the west coast, down to Queenstown, and then back to Christchurch.  During our several hour bus rides we frequently stopped to take hikes to waterfalls, lakes, or to simply visit a town. Towns were not what I thought. They rarely were more then three short roads in any direction. Some of the experiences we had during this trip was hiking and viewing Franz Josef Glacier, which is predicted to not be in existence in about ten years. Prior to the glacier we toured the famous Punakaiki rocks, commonly known as the Pancake rocks. We toured Gibbston Valley Winery and Cheesery and learned the history, making, and markets for one of the regions most famous facilities. Our group looked forward to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, and we agreed it did not disappoint. We rounded out our trip with exploring Lake Tekapo, which was breath taking scenery in addition to a midnight tour to Mt. John Observatory. The location of the mountain at Mt. John Observatory was placed in the least polluted atmosphere in the world. At 1 am in the morning our group was viewing star constellations in the southern hemisphere, the moon, and Jupiter.

               Studying aboard has been an extraordinary way to develop myself as a student academically, professionally, and personally. Through this experience I learn the power, importance, and amount of learning that happens through observation. Comfort is one word that often arises with international travel. Having myself sign up for the course, traveling in small groups by ourselves on free days, and trying new foods were all areas I felt uncomfortable with, but the results of me doing each of the three activities listed above made my experience better and will result with less hesitation next time these situations arise.

As mentioned this trip has developed me further. An employer recently has asked me about this experience and the benefit of it.  I briefly explained the educational value has helped enhance my understanding of environmental topics I hope to teach one day. Also, traveling internationally with a group of people I did not know for two weeks is just like stepping into a new job. It can be uncomfortable at first and you have to work at your relationships but the rewarding aspect is you are all there for a common goal. Traveling internationally shows up frequently on “must do in college” lists and it stays there for a reason. You will make new friends with students and professors, learn more then you ever thought you could, and continually reap the benefits long after!