Getting the Kiwi Experience

Kia Ora!

My Name is John Mark Morris. I am currently a Chemical Engineering major here at UAH, but I have always had a passion to learn about the environment. Whether it be in my back yard, or 8,000 miles across the world, I love to learn about the various environments this earth has to offer. I love traveling to exotic places throughout the world, and I love being immersed into different cultures so when I found that I had the opportunity to study at the University of Otago all the way across the world in the South Island of New Zealand for a month to see some of the most attractive natural landscapes, I had to take the chance and go.

Going overseas is something that I have had the opportunity to do many times before, but I have yet to acquire the opportunity to study abroad until now.  During my time here in Dunedin, New Zealand, I studied the landscape development, environmental engineering, and the synthesis between the land and the indigenous cultures that settled New Zealand long ago. For the past month, I have had the pleasure to explore, learn, and immerse myself about the landscapes of the South Island of New Zealand. While I only had the chance to stay here in New Zealand a month, I accomplished as much as possible in a compact time. During the duration of the trip, I was able travel to nearly every location you could imagine throughout the South Island of New Zealand. Words cannot describe the sites I saw, the new perspectives of landscapes, but most importantly the people I met. The size of the class that I took was only twenty people, but we grew super close throughout our journey on the South Island. During our first week at the University of Otago we focused on the native species and the indigenous cultures that are a part of an environment. During this week, we took field trips to the landscapes owned by the Maori peoples and attempted to understand what it meant to be Maori and how the people of Maori viewed their domestic landscapes. As a group, we went throughout the Maori landscape and rooted native plants throughout the fields to combat invasive species that were brought over by the Europeans during the 1600’s. The hands-on knowledge gained during this first week was incredible. Not only did we learn about how the landscapes in the South Island are changing, but we learned how to truly identify with a landscape. The main take away from the first week when bonding with the indigenous cultures was to consider that no matter who you are or where you are from, there is always a landscape that has deeper meaning than just the physical land.

During the second week, our tightknit group of friends traveled throughout the South Island. There were not many classes to attend that week so we took advantage of that opportunity to see as much as we could. As a young group of American students, we rented cars and stayed in hostiles for nearly the entirety of the week.  The places we traveled consisted of Queenstown, Wanaka, Milford sound, Karitane, The Dunedin peninsula, Lake Tekapo, and much more. Throughout these adventures that we decided to take as a group of young Americans, we not only were able to see some of the most astounding sites in the world, but we were able to form lifelong relationships between one another all caused by having one thing in common: Wanting to see the beauty that this earth holds. During these trips, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attempt to truly be a part of the kiwi culture. Our entire small group truly branched out and took part in so many exotic experiences that I could honestly tell you I would have never done before I left for the trip. Whether if it was viewing the topography of a landscape from a different perspective by jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet, seeing the freezing threshold by luging down one of the largest mountains in New Zealand, or just plainly umping off a bridge with a bungie cord attached to your feet, we tested our limits. One thing that I really cherished during this second week of the trip was the environmental diversity. During the morning, we would all be going to a beach to go surf, then in the afternoon go to the top of the mountain for snow shoeing, then at night go hike in the rain forest to view the stars. This diversity shocked me. These different forms of landscapes and environments were all within literal minutes. One trip that we took that enthused me the most was by far Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a waterway located on the southern portion of the South Island that has some of the most geological diversity While the trip to Milford sound was quite educational and informative, the thing that I took from the trip was the way it made me feel while on a boat floating in the middle of the sound. Although I have never been to New Zealand before in my life, the feeling I received was one of my feeling of home.

During the third week and final week of the program, our class had many class activities to accomplish before the trips end, so we decided to stay in Dunedin for most of this week. Even though we were living in the city of Dunedin, we rarely got a chance to see the city due to so much work and travel. In result, during the last week we got to genuinely enjoy the city we were staying in. Dunedin, New Zealand is primarily a college city that was the first ever city in the country of New Zealand. Dunedin consists of a wonderful city life, fabulous museums, and a beautiful pacific coast. One thing that amazed me about the University of Otago was the historic infrastructure throughout the university. I felt like I was studying at Hogwarts when walking through the middle of the campus. While the final week of the trip was a week to remember, the entire month of the trip was indescribable. Overall, the words cannot describe the sights that I saw, the people I met, or the information I learned, but I hope this post provided a little bit of justice to such an awesome experience. New Zealand is one of the most amazing places this world has to offer, and I highly recommend for anybody with a desire to travel to go to this astonishing area of the world.