by Nicole Riemer
For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad in New Zealand during Maymester, studying linguistics. New Zealand is the only English speaking country where the development of a particular type of English and accent can be traced in its entirety. New Zealand has a complete audio record of the changes in New Zealand English (NZE) due to the ONZE data files that were collected by Mobile Unit Recordings in the early years of New Zealand settlement. While in New Zealand, my cohort and I studied at the University of Canterbury which houses the ONZE project. While I was there I learned about the nuances of NZE and how it compares to American and British English. I also learned about phonetics and the development of language and accents.
Going to such a small country and being able to readily interact with locals, including my host family, definitely changed my world view. Living in a country as large and as powerful as the United States, I never really realized how cut off I was from the rest of the world until visiting a country that is incredibly dependent on world affairs. While I have visited other countries before, my inability to speak the parent language never allowed me to reach this realization. I also gained an increased understanding of myself through being on my own in a foreign country and learning to navigate in unfamiliar territory.
While I was living with my host family, we would sit together and watch the nightly news. Through this simple activity I realized how filtered the news in the United States is. In New Zealand, the news contains stories from all over the world from a fairly unbiased perspective. In the U.S. however, the news is always very U.S. centric with the majority of it focusing on politics. International news focuses on where our political figures have traveled and where the U.S. is monetarily involved. It is also heavily tinged with a U.S. centric outlook on every story: we are never wrong, it’s always another country’s fault. I had never really thought about it before I was sitting in my host family’s living room watching with them. They would often ask me questions about the political affairs going on in the U.S., frequently asking about my opinion on Donald Trump. I realized that they were vested in the outcomes of U.S. politics and policy because it could drastically affect the economy and stability of their own country, much like the rest of the world. I hadn’t realized how much smaller countries were attuned to world affairs, but they need to be because their livelihood depends on their trading partners. For example, on a visit to a New Zealand sheep farm I learned that as a main export, sheep meat and wool is an important part of New Zealand’s economy and culture. We learned how the farmers use each part of the sheep for different products which allowed me to see the role that New Zealand plays in the world economy as well as how their economy functions. I found it interesting to learn that lamb meat in New Zealand is actually quite expensive despite there being more sheep than people. This is because the farmer can bring in more money selling the meat and other byproducts to other countries, putting New Zealand firmly into world trade. The U.S. is not as easily swayed by the fluctuations in the global economy, but New Zealand relies on the stablity of their global trading partners. Despite the fact that we are not as easily affected by world events, I find that the U.S. should pay more attention to what its actions do to the rest of the world instead of allowing the important stories to be buried under a sea of media fluff.
I also found out about myself as a person on this trip. Being in a foreign country where I had to figure out public transportation by myself and discover things to do and proper and improper ways to do things required me to get outside of my comfort zone and ask locals for help and guidance. For example, one of the biggest problems that I had while in New Zealand was orienting myself in order to get from point A to point B. It is not necessarily that I did not foresee this as an issue, rather that it proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. As the digital generation, we have all grown up with smart phones and computers that can tell us directions instantaneously. In New Zealand we were not always able to use the devices we have relied on since our parents stopped collecting and delivering us from place to place because we needed to have internet to use our cell phones. My first experience with having to figure out how to get to where I needed to go was on our second day in New Zealand when we were left to get home from the bus exchange. At the exchange I saw that the two buses that I would normally take to get to university didn’t run through the main exchange which meant that I needed to figure out which lines to take. I picked up one of the maps that showed all the lines, but the main problem I had was that having been in the country less than 36 hours, I had no idea where my house was on the map.
So long story short, I spent 15 minutes trying to find the name of my street on the map. Once I did that I figured out that I had to take two buses and proceeded to find the blue line bus at the terminal. It took me about 10 minutes on the bus to realize that I had no clue where I was and that there was nothing on the bus telling me what stop I was at. When I looked at the map, it also didn’t show the location of every single stop. Not only didn’t I know where I was, I also didn’t know what stop would be close to where I needed to go. So in a panic, I sucked up my pride and in a very un-American fashion asked the lady sitting next to me if she knew what stop we had just stopped at. She didn’t, but then she asked me where I was trying to go, so I told her and she told me that I wanted to get off when the bus starts to turn to the right. I thanked her, but I was still nervous that I wouldn’t know what that meant until it was too late. Being that my American accent was really evident and having just heard my conversation with my neighbor, a couple of curious passengers piped up to ask me some questions. One gentleman told me that he was getting off where I needed to and to just follow him out. That was when the bus driver chimed in to ask exactly what street I was trying to get to.
After I relayed the information for the third time, she told me that she would tell me when to get off. This was a totally new experience; I had never seen people go to such lengths to help someone lost in the States. Surely enough, the bus driver stopped the bus for me when it was my time to get off. Then I was faced with my next problem: which side of the street to stand on? Of course I picked the wrong side and took the bus in the wrong direction, but I realized it quickly and got off to switch sides. Even with all that, it took less than an hour for me to get home. After reflecting on situations like this one, I have realized that the number one thing to being successful in exploring a new country is to ask the locals. Experiences like these made me realize that I am well equipped with ways to problem solve. Also traveling in a large group where none of us were familiar with the country was a lesson in coordination and how to “go with the flow,” something I have never been very good at but nonetheless tried to embrace on this trip and since then.
My trip to New Zealand provided me with important realizations and experiences that are relevant in my personal life and my future professional life. As a visual communications designer, I have the skills and ability to reach a large number of people with the things that I can create and in the future, I will have a job that will put me on an even larger platform to be able to do that. However, the things that I design and promote need to be globally conscious as companies never operate in a vacuum these days and large companies are becoming increasingly global. In addition, I need to be aware of world affairs to ensure that the things that I design will be ethical. I also learned how to operate in a large team of people and how to learn to be aware of others’ strengths and weakness and leverage them for the group’s greater benefit.