STEP Reflection: Linguistics in Global May New Zealand

Name: Erika Baldwin

Project Type: Education Abroad

For my STEP signature project, I participated in a four week study abroad program to Christchurch, New Zealand. Once there, I took a linguistics course at the University of Canterbury and participated in cultural excursions around the area.

My understanding of language differences was transformed while I was abroad, which is critical for me as a speech and hearing science major and aspiring speech-language pathologist. The importance of distinguishing between language differences and language disorders is continually emphasized in my undergraduate coursework. This experience provided a great opportunity for this, as this was my first time immersing myself in a different dialect for a significant amount of time. I both learned about New Zealand English in my coursework and experienced it in daily life. I believe my appreciation and respect for different ways of speaking was deepened as a result of this experience.

My view of the world also shifted in terms of the environment, as I admired and respected the efforts people from New Zealand make on an individual basis to protect the environment and live a more sustainable life. Coming back to the United States, I hope to implement more of these techniques in my everyday life to have a more positive impact.

Additionally, the attitude of the people that I encountered was one of generosity that I learned I want to emulate even more in my daily life.

I did not expect to struggle understanding the New Zealand English accent, but I experienced difficulty during the first few minutes of meeting my host mom. She asked me and my roommate which one of us would prefer to have a desk in our room. However, because of her accent, I perceived “desk” to be pronounced as “disk.” This would be the first of many instances where we would notice differences in the ways we would speak, and we would talk about these differences in my linguistics class at the University of Canterbury. The experience was humbling. I learned to recognize common patterns in New Zealand English and not be afraid to ask my host family to repeat a word or phrase if I did not understand it the first time. I even took this a step further and reached out to the Speech and Hearing clinic at the University of Canterbury, where I shadowed speech therapists and spoke with student leaders. My interest and passion for this field was deepened as I learned to recognize and appreciate these differences in both speech and speech therapy across cultures.

I also respected the daily efforts of people in New Zealand to better care for the environment. I found the biosecurity at New Zealand airports to be much more significant than any other I encountered on the trip. Additionally, my host family had separate disposals for trash, compost, and recycling, and air-dried their clothes to save energy: I noticed their conscious efforts to reduce waste and live more efficient lifestyles. I believe this to be an important issue, and want to look for ways that I can live a more environmentally friendly life as I transition back to the United States.

Finally, I sincerely appreciated the efforts of the people I interacted with to make us feel at home. From my host family to the program directors, everyone tried to do everything in their power to make sure we were comfortable and happy throughout our time in New Zealand. I was humbled by their generosity, and hope that I can be so kind and giving with the people I encounter in my life.

Moving forward, this experience will significantly shape my life. Academically and professionally, I will now become a clinician with a more diverse perspective on different dialects and cultures. Personally, I will now strive to live a more sustainable life and emulate the generosity that I received when I was out of country. This experience was difficult for me at times, as it was my first time leaving the country. However, the knowledge and transformation I received as a result were invaluable, and I am grateful for the experience that STEP provided me.

More information on my trip is documented on an Instagram account for my travels: @imerika_not_america

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