For the last three months, Thomas Stephenson has been HECUA’s student blogger from New Zealand. Thomas is a junior, majoring in Communications and minoring in Cinema at Denison University, in Granville, Ohio. This is his final post before he returns to Ohio!
For my final blog post, I wanted to talk about my favorite experience I’ve had in these past three and a half months, and that is without a doubt my internship with the New Zealand charity: Sustainable Coastlines. Through HECUA I was given the amazing opportunity to take part in an internship within the city of Wellington for two months. I got lucky enough to get Sustainable Coastlines, which is a charity organization based on the idea of cleaning up trash that is polluting waterways and harming the environment.
Along with my fellow HECUA intern Ari Zuaro and the program manager Oliver Vetter, I went all over the Wellington area to a variety of schools. At each school, the three of us gave a power point presentation to classrooms of student that taught them about the dangerous effects of trash (more specifically single-use-plastics) on the surrounding environment. The sections I presented were focused around the dangers polluted trash poses to wildlife as well as the everyday actions they could take to help save our environment. Through doing this over and over again, I learned a lot about how I can change my own lifestyle in order to protect my environment. For example, I no longer accept plastic bags in stores, I make sure to pick up litter when I see it, and I’ve solely used my Sustainable Coastlines water bottle each day since it was given to me on my first day at work.
It has not only been exciting for me to learn and spread this information to New Zealand children, but to take action with them as well. After each presentation, Oliver, Ari, teachers, chaperones, the students, and myself all head to the local beach to conduct a beach cleanup. We distribute protective gloves, reusable trash bags, and give a safety briefing before we head onto the beach for an hour or so and pick up as much trash as possible. It was a privilege to watch how excited the students would get while they cleaned. It may not have been the most fun-filled field trip they’ve taken, but I could tell the presentation we gave prior inspired them to help protect their beach.
I always saw New Zealand as being in better shape environmentally compared to the United States. I was shocked to find bags upon bags of trash in just a few months of participating in the cleanups. We found a massive array of trash from items as big as tires and buoys to teeny little bits of raw plastic. After every cleanup, we headed to a storage area where we would audit one of the bags to get a rough estimate of the types or trash and amount we got that day.
Not only did I learn a lot about how I can help my environment, but I now know a lot about how to spread this message and explicit actions that I can take to do so. I feel so lucky to have experienced working with Sustainable Coastlines, and I cannot wait to take the knowledge I learned back to the United States to see how I can help my community’s environment. My study abroad experience has been nothing short of spectacular, and being a part of the Sustainable Coastlines team for two months was definitely the highlight.