STEP Reflection: #New2NZ

Name: Gretchen Albrecht
Type of Project: Education Abroad, Global May New Zealand


My STEP project revolved around my travelling to Christchurch, New Zealand for 4 weeks. During that time, I stayed with a host family while also taking a Linguistics course at the University of Canterbury. The main goal was to be able to combine these two aspects of the program, along with our excursions, to develop a better understanding of Maori history and New Zealand English.

Before I left for my study abroad experience, I really didn’t know much about the history of other countries. Sure I have been to Costa Rica, but my short time spent there and lack of maturity didn’t allow me to fully absorb or appreciate their culture and history. This time, after only two years, I feel like I have grown and developed the patience and maturity it takes to truly appreciate another culture. I was able to take information from our lectures and directly apply it to our adventures outside of the classroom.

For example, one of our lectures focused on New Zealand history: how the island was discovered, European settlement, and the impact this had on the Maori people. While this material could be dull in class, the reason I’m able to remember it so well is because of our excursions outside of class. One of our excursions was a trip to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. At the reserve, we not only got to see some of New Zealand’s signature plants and animals, but we also got to participate in a Maori cultural experience where we got to see the tribe dance and then eat food that was prepared using a traditional Hangi method.

Another aspect in history that we touched on is the earthquakes that have affected Christchurch. The day we arrived, one of the first things we were told is what to do if an earthquake occurs or if we experience a tremor because there was a high likelihood that we would during our month stay. Although I didn’t feel any quakes myself, I did learn a ton about the Christchurch earthquake of February 2011. It was hard to avoid the topic whenever you walked through the city because there is still so much damage left behind from the natural disaster; the whole city is still under construction. The cathedral in the center of the city hasn’t even been touched since the earthquake hit 6 years ago, and local government officials are still debating on whether to rebuild or tear it down. When I asked my host mom about that day, she talked about it like Americans talk about 9/11- it was a day that she could recall exactly what she was doing, where, and when.

Lastly, the greatest aspect of New Zealand that we focused on was the development of the New Zealand English (NZE). Just as American English is a variation of British English, NZE stems from it as well. There are phonological terms to describe how the pronunciation varies, but as a Finance major, I’ll just highlight some of the major things I noticed: the absence of “r” when they speak, how some of their vowels overlap, and their use of different terminology. We learned about these features of NZE in class, but it wasn’t until I heard people talk and had my own conversations with them that I noticed these to be true. A few examples of the different terminology they use include: flat for apartment, togs for swimming suits, biscuits for cookies, and mate for friend.

In the end, I learned the importance of taking time to immerse yourself in a culture as opposed to skimming the surface. I really like how the Global May program is designed to allow students a full month to live in another country and experience life on a daily basis, as opposed to taking a 1-2 week tour of multiple cities and countries where you only see the main attractions. While I have nothing against doing that, being able to actually live in New Zealand for a month is something that I will never take for granted. Moreover, this trip reaffirmed my love for travelling, exploring, and learning about the world. It reminded me that my goal in life is to find a job that allows me to pursue this, whether that be a part of the job or in my free time.