Student Blogger Study Abroad

Transitions: Back to City Life in New Zealand

A line of students sit on the grass in Wellington, in a massage train, where each is rubbing the shoulders of the person in front of them.

Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Mari Xiong will be HECUA’s student blogger for the New Zealand program this spring semester. Mari is a senior at Bethel University, double-majoring in Environmental Studies and Reconciliation Studies, with a minor in Leadership Studies. Read on for Mari’s second post as a student on HECUA’s New Zealand study abroad program.

We’re now in Wellington! Yay! Honestly being back in the city was a bit of a culture shock. We started out our voyage into the city around 10 pm, after a long day of traveling out of the bush. About five minutes into the city and nightlife, shaken and not amused, we sung a waiata (song) that calmed me, and made me feel connected to the land I knew just hours ago. The city felt like a distant faraway place, away from Mother Nature.

Tararua Forest Park Hike

Now I’m remembering the times of pure joy in the middle of a forest, in the middle of a magical lake, and in the tummy of a cloud. Taking all that I’ve experienced the past five weeks on the road and beginning to piece them all together.

All of this I’ve allowed to shape and mold me. All of these experiences and more were just the start. We’ve now got eight weeks in Wellington and I’m scared but also very excited to start this next journey.

For my internship, I am working with Challenge 2000. They are a “professional, innovative, responsive, dynamic and passionate Youth Development, Community and Family Social Work Agency.” I see this work as directly connected to the values of the Gospel and a vision to better the lives of young people. I am working as a gap year intern for the next eight weeks. So far they’ve welcomed me with open arms, with great love and community. I get to see my cohort about two to three times a week. We have internships from Monday to Wednesday, and on Thursdays and Fridays, we have class.

We all live with host families, and my host family is amazing! They have a dog named Tiki, and they do Sunday night dinners with their neighbors, which have been super fun. So far I’m loving the community here and I’m enjoying myself very much.

Recently, though, there was a terrorist attack, killing 49 people, including children, parents, and grandparents. They were all killed in their place of worship. My heart goes out to all of the people and the families that have lost loved ones. This was the first time for New Zealand to experience a terrorist attack. Immediately I saw posters and signs up, welcoming immigrants and refugees. The comfort and love of the New Zealand community have been shown everywhere as we all mourn and grieve for the lives lost.

On the same day of the mass shooting, my cohort, along with our professor Charles Dawson, went to participate in a climate change march. It was honestly great to see so many young people standing up for their earth. There were young adults, parents, and grandparents that participated in the protest.

The generational layers to building a community are so important and this week I have seen that everywhere in New Zealand. The honoring of elders and the relationship that elders and young people have is a very special bond to building a community. I’m grateful to be here and learn all that is to come.

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