Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment – New Zealand

Name: Morgan Whitecotton

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For three and a half weeks in May, I participated in the Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment program on the South Island of New Zealand. We focused on the tourism industry of New Zealand and how it impacts the economy, society, and the environment. We also learned about sustainable practices and conservation efforts in the country and studied the culture in New Zealand, from their view on evironmentalism to the native Maori people.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

I have always seen myself as an environmentalist, doing what I can to save resources and not harm the environment. On this trip, my group and I paid so much more attention to everything we were consuming and the potential impacts we were having. While this was mainly because sustainability was the theme of our program and many people were from the ENR department, it was a really great awakening for me as a non-ENR major. We had many discussions about if any of the activities or travel we were participating in, or life in general, could every truly be considered sustainable.

These conversations made me realize how fragile our ecosystems and resources are, and that the lifestyle I’ve been living is nowhere near as ecofriendly as it needs to be. Since getting back from this trip, I have invested in many more reusable household items and have started carpooling to work. I am also much pickier about activities I participate in, knowing that many recreational activities are harmful to the ecosystem that supports it. While my lifestyle has been improved because of my experiences on this trip, it’s nowhere near being considered sustainable. I am hoping that going forward with my life what I’ve learned will influence my future decisions, such as when purchasing a car or appliances. Every little thing helps, and as technology advances one day I want sustainability to be achievable.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

The 19 other people I lived and traveled with around the South Island were who influenced me the most. Our group
was made up of 16 Ohio State students, a professor and a TA from Ohio State, and then local New Zealanders for a tour guide and a bus driver. Each and every one of us became very close with Dave and Murray, our guide and driver. They were filled with so much knowledge not just about what it was like to grow up and live an ordinary life in their unique country and about the native plants and animals, but also about life in general. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to get to know someone who has
lived such a different life than yours, and to be able to soak up everything they’ve learned and their perspective on it.

Having a local tour guide also changed the way I think about traveling. I have always enjoyed learning, but I can definitely look back on some past trips and know I didn’t take the time to learn about the area or the significance of what I was looking at. Being so immersed in New Zealand with all of the information Dave and Murray were giving us, in addition to readings and lectures from others, I feel like I received a very rich and full experience of the country. I want to continue to take my time and thoroughly get to feel what life is like in future places that I visit.

The other people in my group impacted my learning and experiences just as much as Dave and Murray did. This surprises me a little, because we were all from the States and all go to Ohio State, so I would think comparatively we’d have pretty similar perspectives. All coming from different majors and minors, it was neat to see how everyone could listen to the same lecture and walk away from it with a different message. I enjoyed our discussions where we all shared what we picked up through our different lenses. Something I really wasn’t expecting to learn from this trip is that the people you’re with really shape the place you’re at and what you take away from it.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

I am a food science major hoping to end up in a product development career. The food industry creates a lot of waste because of processing, production, and spoilage. While waste may seem inherent and inevitable, it is possible to come up with new processes, products, and technologies that reduce or prevent it. I am determined to ue the perspective I’ve gained on this trip to make an impact on the workplace I end up working in.