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Park Scholars Go Global

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Posted by Kyla Pigoni at 11:33AM   |  Add a comment
Samantha Mason and John Vogan are abroad in New Zealand this semester

 By John Vogan and Samantha Mason, '14

Kia ora! John Vogan (JV) and Sam Mason (SM) here. Since we’re studying abroad together, we decided to write a joint blog to share our experience. We are currently in New Zealand’s east coast city of Christchurch.

SM: Paradoxically, the Spring semester of our Junior year began in what is Fall in New Zealand. John and I are students of the University of Canterbury, which is located in the suburbs of Christchurch. Unlike the U.S., many Kiwi students walk to class barefoot. In fact, they walk most places barefoot, including the supermarket and shopping mall. Nevertheless, the culture here is quite similar to the U.S. minus the excessive number of fish & chip shacks!

What came as a complete surprise to John and I, however, was the extensive damage Christchurch had suffered from the earthquakes that shook the city in September 2010 and February 2011. According to our IES study abroad advisor, the Christchurch program is continuing to see a huge decrease in international participants because of the quakes. This lack of knowledge led to John and I to register for a class at the university that was created after the quakes called Rebuilding Christchurch. This class has allowed us volunteer with local grassroots organizations that are partnering with community members in an attempt to help the city recover. This class has not only taught us so much about the post-earthquake recovery in Christchurch, but has also made John and I feel more apart of the local community.

In addition to my work with Rebuilding Christchurch, I have also been fulfilling my passion for permaculture through volunteering at the campus community garden. It has been peculiar however, harvesting fruits, veggies, and herbs during what would be winter months back in Ithaca.

JV: For me, advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community has been a defining part of my abroad experience. The University of Canterbury has a student organization called UniQ, which has allowed me to make many new friendships and share my interest in securing equal rights for all citizens. This has been an especially exciting time to be in New Zealand; last week we witnessed history as Parliament legalized same-sex marriage, bringing back memories of the volunteer work we did last semester to make this a reality in my home state of Washington with passing Referendum 74.

As a journalism major, I decided to take the opportunity to learn more about the industry’s development in New Zealand. My favorite “paper” (a Kiwi term for lecture) has been a 300-level Communication course titled Journalists at Work, in which we take an introspective look at our profession, analyzing everything from how we interact with other professions (PR is a prime example), to pressures we feel from organizational structure and demands of the market, to the ever-changing dynamic of norms and ethics. Despite New Zealand’s relative isolation geographically from the rest of the world, I was surprised to find that news outlets are very much in tune with what is happening globally. I am the only American in my class, which feels a little strange, but many of the journalistic examples cited in the lectures stem from journalistic enterprises in the U.S. and U.K. (where I studied abroad last year).

SM: As a Documentary Studies and Production student, I also have had the privilege of taking a class called Maori and Indigenous Film. This class has consisted of examining the political, historical, social, cultural, and ideological influences that have shaped the portrayal of New Zealand’s indigenous population in mainstream media. Some of the films we have watched include: Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, Boy, Utu, Rewi’s Last Stand, and Ngati. We have also been exploring the term Fourth Cinema or Indigenous Cinema and the ways in which Maori filmmakers challenging how they are represented in film.

JV: Speaking of film, we’re not exaggerating when we say that film has inspired much of our travel here. One of our first stops during the mid-term break, Milford Sound, appeared in James Cameron’s movie Avatar. Much like the characters, we felt as if we were transported to another world entirely. The Sound is notorious for being cloaked in dense cloud and fog about 90 percent of the time, but we were lucky enough to visit on two pristinely clear days. We took full advantage, tramping (hiking) to the top of a waterfall with an absolutely stunning vista overlooking the water and treating ourselves to a few lush nature walks.

Further south is the usually sleepy town of Invercargill, which got put on the map by local Kiwi Burt Munro, who set a world land speed record on his Indian motorcycle. Anthony Hopkins portrayed his journey in the film The World’s Fastest Indian. I had a personal connection to this: my grandfather still owns a 1945 Indian motorcycle, and this film was what first sparked my interest in coming to New Zealand.

Matamata, perhaps now more notoriously known as Hobbiton and the origin of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, was a must-see on our tour of the north island. Unlike most movie sets, the one constructed for The Hobbit was done using permanent materials – something we greatly appreciated, as it now stands as a destination that fans and fanatics alike can visit. The spot itself is incredibly picturesque. When you stand there, you can rotate your view a full 360 degrees without seeing a single telephone pole, radio tower, or other sign of modern technology, making it perfect for shooting.

It would not suffice to say that these films do New Zealand full justice, but what they show is nearly spot on. As vividly captivating as the motion pictures are, it is even more breathtaking to experience these sights in person.

SM & JV: Perhaps these images will inspire several of you readers to visit Middle Earth. It is well worth the long flight and missing a day as you fly across the International Dateline. Meanwhile, we’re both looking forward to once again returning to another beautiful part of the world: Ithaca, New York. Cheers!


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