Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Michaela Shea-Gander will be HECUA’s student blogger for the New Zealand program this spring semester. Michaela is a junior at Denison University, majoring in Communications with a narrative non-fiction concentration. Read on for Michaela’s fourth and final post, as she reflects back on her time spent in New Zealand.
It’s hard to believe that my time in New Zealand has come to an end, and I’m already back home in Vermont after 30+ hours of traveling. Our last week was spent at a retreat in Mikimiki, which was a beautiful location. Besides relaxing and finishing our Independent Study Project presentations, we had a chance to explore our surroundings and visit two farms. On one of them we went on a hike to the top of a mountain and were able to see all the replenished land that had originally been bare farmland.
Our view from the top of the mountain.
We also visited Cameron Family Farms, and there we met James Cameron’s stepson Jasper. We got a tour of the extensive permaculture farm and learned about their mission to use the land sustainably and organically. We then drove to a nearby lake and Ngārangi told us about ancestors that lived on this land. On our way back to Wellington for our final night, we stopped at Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History in Masterton. Here, Ngārangi talked to us about his ancestors’ stories and we saw two paintings of women he is related to from five and nine generations ago. It was impressive to listen to him recount stories from so long ago with such a great deal of detail.
Ngārangi at the Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History.
After, we stopped at a nearby black sand beach to take in the views one last time. We headed on to Te Papa Museum, which is where most of us met. On our first meeting there, we did not get to discuss the meeting house we gathered in due to the storm and delays that some of the students faced. Being back there with all of us together on our last day and learning about the history of the carvings was a very special experience for us, as was the goodbye ceremony we had. Te Papa was one of my favorite parts about being in Wellington, and I was glad that I both began and ended my experience abroad there.
Though I don’t think that studying abroad changed me that much, this program made me more aware of how my actions affect the earth and how I can mitigate this impact. It also made me more aware of how much I don’t know about the indigenous people who lived on the land that I now live on, and how important it is to learn about indigenous rights in the United States. Going abroad made me more independent and confident, and gave me life-long friends and memories. Though ending the program and coming home was a bittersweet experience, I know that the things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met will stay with me for my lifetime.