For my STEP project, I went on a Study Abroad trip to New Zealand in order to study Human-Animal Interactions. We started in Auckland and visited a new city every day until we reached Queenstown. We visited many different farms and businesses where we talked about animal welfare, business, and the environment with a focus on how New Zealand’s practices differed from those in the United States.
This trip was my first time leaving the United States. Visiting New Zealand showed me that some of my beliefs about humanity were rooted in my American upbringing, and that some of my assumptions about other countries were not accurate. I learned that New Zealand has some major new government action against problems that are not addressed in the United States. They are currently paying reparations to the Maori people for past injustices. They are also much more progressive on animal welfare. Animals there cannot be exported for slaughter as they do not agree with other countries treatment of meat animals. New Zealand has also passed much stricter, evidence based environmental regulations than would be considered in the United States. While discussing these environmental protections with the local businesses is where I also began to see the differences. Despite the clear political differences between our country, the people are not significantly different. When environmental restrictions began to impact their business, they began to disagree and resist them. Even though more citizens of New Zealand support climate change action than United States citizens, people tend to change their opinion when the solutions might impact them. When farmers around Lake Taupo were told that the nitrogen leeching from their livestock will have a massive negative impact on the lake, they looked to blame other businesses. After more studies proved that the farmers were indeed responsible, they resisted any legislation against them. Eventually, they were successfully put into place, but they are quite unpopular among farmers.
When I went on this trip, I was a Pharmaceutical Science major. The study abroad and the prerequisite class were my first look into livestock, our interactions with them, and cultures outside of America. While I was debating about changing my major before I left, some of my interactions on the trip reaffirmed that idea as well as influenced on what I changed it to. Before the trip, I was planning on switching to Biology. Although Environmental Science is always something I have been interested in, the visit to Glen Emmreth Farm was what convinced me that I wanted to study environmental science.
Mike Barton is the owner of Glen Emmreth Farm and talked to us about the environmental impact of livestock. This farm was on Lake Taupo, which has a high phosphorus content. Ammonia from livestock urine can be broken down by microbes in the soil into nitrate, which can leech through the soil and eventually reach the lake. Due to the high phosphorus content in the lake, the addition of nitrate would create ideal situations for algae blooms. Lake Taupo is famous for its beauty and cleanliness, both of which would be compromised with algae blooms. When the government introduced a cap on nitrogen emissions, they had to try new methods to reduce their nitrogen output. Since a growing animal releases significantly less nitrogen than matured animals, they discontinued their dairy production and moved entirely to beef cattle. He also runs studies to find what kind of grasses absorb ammonia the best in order to help others reduce their nitrogen output. I enjoyed the time I spent at this farm, which directly influenced my choices when I changed my major.
People there were interested in American politics. When people found out we were American, they often wanted to hear our opinions, what we had done to try and stop Trump, some even knew that Ohio went to Trump and were wary of us for that. The newspapers we saw frequently had news about the United States on the front page. Like the majority of the United States, New Zealand citizens dislike Trump. One member of our group was even approached by a young child who asked about who she voted for in the election. Even though they are a small country, they are a significant player in the global market. They export a significant amount of beef and dairy for the rest of the world. Since they are so involved in the rest of the world, the average citizen is much more informed about what is going on in the world. They also have a large amount of tourists and immigrants in the country which would add to the globalist perspective.
Since this was my first time leaving the United States, this look at another culture was a valuable experience. This opportunity allowed me to broaden my horizons and meet people from different cultures. The experiences with different people gave me insight into American culture by giving me something to contrast it with. The academic material I learned motivated me to change my major to environmental science, which has been a good idea so far. This trip has possibly changed the course of my life significantly.