Student Blogger Study Abroad

Spring is in the Air

From a distance, group of students standing in front of white building with a red-trim roof

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Naomi Clayton is HECUA’s student blogger this fall for the New Zealand program Culture and the Environment: A Shared Future. Naomi is a student from Grinnell College majoring in Anthropology. Read on for her next post!

Hello again! Since my last post, my cohort and I have explored the South Island on our spring break and then moved into our homestays in “the coolest little capital of the world” (aka Wellington)! We have transitioned from the road-trip portion of the program to our approximately two month long individual homestays in the capital of New Zealand. I appreciate being able to unpack my suitcases in a room and house that I will be able to call home for a while, and it is incredible to feel so welcomed by my host family right from the get-go. The weather here in Wellington can be windy–the Southern wind can be quite cold coming directly from Antarctica–and rainy, but you can tell that spring is here! All of the trees are blooming, and the birds are enjoying the abundance of tasty flowers. While we are in Wellington, we are working at our internships, meeting up for class, and continuing on our Independent Study Projects.

Bird with orange beak, green chest and white belly perched on the limb of a tree with white blossoms
Kererū (native New Zealand pigeon) feasting on some spring blossoms. Photo credit, Naomi Clayton

I am interning at Otari-Wilton’s Bush, which is the only public botanic garden in New Zealand that is dedicated solely to native New Zealand flora. My internship is a perfect intersection of my interests in the natural world, anthropology, and photography. While some of the other HECUA students are continuing existing projects at their internship sites, Mary T. (another HECUA student) and I have the opportunity to create our own project based on the current needs of the gardens. Otari-Wilton’s Bush is in the process of reevaluating the information they are presenting and redesigning the formats they are using to educate the public, so we hope our project will help them start this process. Mary and I are designing an interactive map display using ArcGIS software. We plan to have three layers depicting the Otari-Wilton’s Bush’s vegetation over time to allow visitors to visualize what the gardens looked like when it was old-growth forest, then deforested pastureland, and finally to its present-day regrowth. We will also include specific points that the viewer will be able to click and learn more about a feature. I am excited to be able to combine my interest in GIS (Geographic Information System) and the natural world with anthropology and photography because, when the viewer clicks on a specific feature, a description and photograph that I have taken will pop up. We are working to connect with the local iwi (tribes) in order to provide tangata whenua (indigenous New Zealand people) knowledge–such as medicinal plant uses or the origination story of a plant–in these descriptions Additionally, we will work to provide bilingual text of Te Reo (tangata whenua language) and English.

Despite only being in Wellington for about a little over a week, we have already been able to visit some incredible places and meet some inspiring people. On our first day here, we toured the National Library of New Zealand, the Supreme Court of New Zealand, and, finally, the Wellington Museum. The place that stood out to me the most was the He Tohu exhibit in the National Library because it is home to three of the most significant and influential documents of New Zealand–1835 He Whakaputanga (Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand), 1840 Te Tiriti a Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. To be in the same room as these three documents was extremely inspiring and powerful. The ceiling of the room housing them is domed above each of the individual documents to physically represent the impacts that they have had on New Zealand. Additionally, Te Tiriti a Waitangi is positioned so that it is directly facing the Parliament building as a symbolic reminder to abide by the treaty. I was so impressed by how well and intentionally the library presented their information to educate the public, and I hope that we will be able to replicate some of their efforts in our internship projects.

Last week, we visited the Waiwhetu Marae and learned about their focus on education and community. The Te Atiawa iwi greeted us with excitement, warmth, and hospitality just like when we visited the Tirorangi Marae on our road trip. During the pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony onto the marae), three of the women in our cohort had the empowering opportunity to perform the karanga. The karanga is an exchange of calls between the women of the host community and the women of the visiting group. It was very special to be led onto the marae by my own peers. Once we finished the introductions, our hosts explained the importance of the youth in building their local community and empowering the tangata whenua across New Zealand. The Waiwhetu Marae is home to a kohanga reo (Māori language immersion preschool). Since the kohanga reo program started several decades ago, tangata whenua adults have resurrected the language and now their children are attending these schools. It is amazing to see how just the revitalization of Te Reo has empowered the tangata whenua. In addition to kohanga reo, the marae also has its own radio station–Atiawa Toa FM. Our hosts emphasized how this radio station has also allowed for them to promote Te Reo and make it accessible on all broadcasting platforms. The preschool and radio station have contributed greatly to fostering community on the marae.



Group of students sitting in a canoe each holding a paddle inside of a building.
Group sitting in a waka (canoe) carved from a tōtora tree at the marae. Photo credit, Charles Dawson


From a distance, group of students standing in front of white building with a red-trim roof
Group photo standing outside of the main building at the marae. Photo credit, Charles Dawson

I am very excited to see what the rest of our time in Wellington will hold. Based on our first weeks here, I know that it will be busy with full days of hands on learning, but lots of fun for sure! Heoi anō tāku mō nāianei! That is all for now!



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