It's sad to say, or maybe not so sad, that I have just completed week 3 of my study abroad program and I am just getting to my blog. It has been a whirlwind of a time and I have been trying to be as technology-free as possible (hence lagging behind on my self-imposed blogging duties). So even though I'm more than half way through my time at the EcoQuest Field Center, at which I have been studying ecology and environmental policy, I'm going to rewind to my first week in New Zealand...
After landing in Aukland after an excruciatingly long plane ride plus 2 additional hours of standing in customs and biosecurity checkpoints, we met up with the EcoQuest staff who would drive us back to the field center. It's always a relief when you know you've successfully made it to the right place with the right people after a long journey. As with any study abroad program, the first week is always about settling into your new surroundings, getting to know your fellow students and staff, and orientating yourself. Class the first week consisted mostly of introductory lectures on ecology, biodiversity, Maori (indigenous people of NZ) culture, and policy. Free time was spent getting familiar with the EcoQuest grounds and the surrounding "town" called Whakatiwai, which is more like a small cluster of homes. EcoQuest is on the shore of the Firth of Thames (pronounced Tems), across from the Coromandel Peninsula, an hour and a half south of Aukland, and pretty much in the middle of nowhere- which is totally awesome.
My accommodations at the field center is a small cabin, which has now grown on me since I've been here. There's a small path that leads down to the beach where the mountains of the Coromandel Peninsula are visible. Behind the field center are low sloping mountains that make up the Hunua Ranges. On campus there is a garden and various fruit trees that sources some of the food served in the kitchen. The vibe here reminds me of my childhood summer camp (definitely a good thing). Everything about this program is completely different than my experience in Italy, which is exactly what I was hoping for. An entirely different experience means learning entirely new and different things.
The first weekend here, a group of us went for a long day hike in Waharau Regional Park which is just a few kilometers up the road from EcoQuest. The hike was truly amazing- some parts felt like a I was walking through a jungle and others felt like I was walking through the Shire. It was the perfect kickoff hike to the many hikes I have/will go on this trip, it also inspired me to do more backpacking once I'm home in the States. On Sunday we visited a marae which is a sacred Maori meeting area where we were welcomed to New Zealand and Whakatiwai by the local tribe or iwi. It was an extremely unique and valuable cultural experience that gave me a lot of insight to the indigenous culture of New Zealand and how that fits in to the rest of the country- Maori people have a strong connection to their land and to each other. Within the first week, I experienced a large variety of emotions ranging from anxiety to curiosity and pure excitement.
In closing of my extremely delayed first blog post, I'd thought I'd share the goals I have made for myself for this trip plus some fun Kiwi sayings. I'm excited to see what this adventure has in store, I hope to step outside my comfort zone and push myself to learn and experience new things. I hope to explore my connection to nature and what it means to live a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. New Zealand has and will continue to be one big adventure. Until next time friends!
My goals for this international experience:
- Discover nature as a way to connect with God and reflect on the beauty of his creation
- Explore the impact of the environment and nature on human health
- Discover ways to create a more environmentally friendly and sustainable lifestyle back home
- Limit use of technology and unplug as much as possible
- Journal and blog about my experiences (kinda slacking on that one, oops)
Random New Zealand sayings and Maori words:
- Bits and bobs (Kiwi version of "odds and ends")
- Going into the bush (Kiwi saying for going hiking in wilderness areas)
- Pigeon Hole (what Kiwis call cubby holes)
- Aotearoa (Maori word for New Zealand, literally means Land of the Long White Cloud)
- Kia Ora (Maori for "I support you" or greeting wishing good health)
- Kumara (Maori for sweet potato)