My STEP signature project was a study abroad to New Zealand. This Education Abroad was centered on Human-Animal Interactions. Activities that occurred during this study abroad was visiting farms and other animal facilities and looking at how human and animals interact in comparison to interactions in the US.
Before going to New Zealand, I knew very little about the country. I did not know how advanced New Zealand is when thinking environmentally. I thought that New Zealand would have been more urban and less rural; I thought agriculture was important there but I did not know it was their leading industry. New Zealand second leading industry is tourism, and this was very evident while there. On a daily basis I would see people from all around the world, even all seven continents. America is called a melting pot, but I saw more melting going on in New Zealand than at home in the US. Another thing I noticed is that people in New Zealand knew a lot about what is going on in our country, specifically politically. I noticed about myself is that I learn more in the field than in a classroom. This study abroad was only ten days, yet I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t just learn but I made memories that will last a lifetime.
The moment we arrived at New Zealand their environmental focus was key. Going through customs they were very secure to make sure we were not introducing any new species whether that be a minute bacteria found on your shoes or an apple from the US. At our first stop we went to a dog shelter and asked about a lot of common diseases we have in the US and most of them New Zealand did not have. Even when going to farms their disease rate seemed to a lot less. A specific stop that we made which showed New Zealand’s commitment to the environment was a beef farm we visited in the Lake Taupo catchment. I was told that Lake Taupo is 150 times cleaner than the minimum for drinking water. Environmental law was put into place to reduce the amount of nitrogen leaching into the water. New Zealand was not even simply fixing a problem but preventing one from ever happening. In the US we are at the point of fixing problems as they come, yet New Zealand is thinking about it almost 80 years early.
Each day we ended up driving for at least an hour, most days more. We could drive five minutes outside a town and we would be in the middle of the mountains surrounded by large extensive farms. Farmers in Ohio see their animals if not every day then every week. When talking to one New Zealand sheep farmer, he would only see his animals twice a year. In the US right now we are worried about animal welfare. We see animals grouped together feeding on grains and want to picture our animals living on grass like they do in New Zealand. It’s all about perspective because a person may also be concerned about welfare when a farmer does not even see their animals and do not know if an animal is sick or suffering out in the mountains. During this study abroad we pretty much drove throughout the entire country, and I can now attest that New Zealand is mostly land with animals on it.
Then there is all the intangible things that I learned in New Zealand. One thing is that I do not know how to work a GoPro. I realized that no matter the quality of camera, the view you see with your eyes could never be truly captured in a picture. I learned that a coach bus is capable of driving off road in a field. I figured out that New Zealand knows way more about the US than I do of them, this was evident when multiple people asked who we voted for. I also learned that I should have packed more warm clothes, even though it was technically their summer. I never would have thought that I would be at dinner with people from all over the world or met a man in a supermarket that was on a pit stop back from Antarctica. I learned about a completely different human and animal interaction that I had not previously thought of when we went to Deer Genetics. Here I learned about the trophy deer industry and velvet used for healing. These are few of the many things that I did not think about at all before being in New Zealand.
In being in New Zealand without internet or service on my phone, it has taught me that I can live without my phone. So much of my time and others now, is spent on my cell phone. When I am looking at my phone there are things I am missing in real life. New Zealand has also changed my future career and life plans. I no longer feel restricted to living in Ohio and embrace the idea of living somewhere different whether it is nationally or internationally. I feel capable that I could live somewhere new or different due to this study abroad. Going forward, I am going to think differently when people discuss welfare of animals and look at pros and cons from both sides. New Zealand has also renewed in me, my passion for the environment and my want to help to preserve the planet for future generations.