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Ally Brown - Freshman Seminar Abroad in New Zealand

Published: Wednesday, 29 Nov 2017
Author: Cheryl Ann Benner
Department: Office for Education Abroad

Name: Ally Brown

Status: Freshman

Major: Environmental Biology/Zoology Major

Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI

Program: Freshman Seminar Abroad in New Zealand (The Science Behind New Zealand's Sustainability and Economic Success), August 2017

My two weeks in New Zealand seemed to take up six months but at the same time went by exceedingly quick, and while there I experienced more than I had even imagined. One of the biggest pieces of culture that stuck out to me was how excited everyone in New Zealand was to tell us about their country and its history, both human and natural. Our tour guides in Rotorua were proud of the columns of steam that plumed from the ground across the entirety of the town, despite its strong sulfurous odor; they gladly build their homes surrounding the geothermal hotspots that are an integral part of this area, and they have learned to live with and around the geothermal hotspots rather than attempt to contain them. At the botanical garden in Wellington we were shown the countries unique trees, which developed defensive, spiky foliage to protect themselves from predation from giant birds known as Moa. Locals are also very proud of their countries goal to get rid of all invasive mammals by 2050, as citizens across the country are working together to protect native birds by eliminating nonnative predacious mammals. From Auckland to Wellington, we heard passionate stories about lakes formed in giant volcanic basins, amazing tectonic history, and birds saved from the brink of extinction, and these histories were accepted and loved equally and proudly.

The Maori people, who originally populated New Zealand, are extremely in touch with the natural environment and have a deep spiritual connection with the North and South islands. When our Maori guide led us through the rainforest on a silent, rainy day it felt as though we had gone back in time to when no inhabitants lived on the island. He explained to us in great depth the history of the land, as well as the history of his people through legends and stories of past wars and methods of living off the land. The Maori believe strongly in staying connected with their ancestors, and the hongi is one way which they accomplish this. When greeting or leaving one another, they press their nose and forehead together twice, once for ancestors passed on and again for those still alive today. Participating in this ritual greeting was amazing, and although I am sure I had amateur technique I truly felt connected with and accepted by all that we met and were able to do the hongi with. Seeing how deeply the Maori and other New Zealanders understand their history made me realize how little I know about my own, and during my time there I learned how large a part of your identity history can be. I have always loved nature and animals, and know a lot about the natural history of my community in Michigan, but after my time in New Zealand I will make a much bigger effort to get more in touch with my human side.