Today I attended a reception in Waikiki with Whitman President Kathleen Murray, meeting with Whitman alumni and current parents, to communicate campus updates and the future of the college. The whole event was a bit bizarre for me because I was the only current student attending and I had to explain why I was still enjoying winter break at home in mid Feburary… to the president of Whitman! When choosing my program in September I hadn’t seriously considered the scheduling implications of studying in the southern hemisphere, but it’s really quite obvious: southern summers occur in January and their winters occur in July! While New Zealanders are enjoying their long summer off, I’m enjoying a long winter. Thankfully Dr. Kathy Murray is very understanding and promised that I won’t be expelled for skipping school.
I’ve enjoyed 9 weeks of winter break, escaping the northwest chill to be back home in tropical Hawaii. During this extended break I’ve relaxed, refueled, and refocused myself, and although I love Hawaii the suspense has made me even more excited to discover what’s waiting in New Zealand. I’ve connected with the “flatting” or student housing community at the University of Otago, read through a few travel guides on the region (I highly recommend this guide book by lonely planet) and poured over literature about the charming kokapo and kiwi, two indigenous and critically endangered flightless birds.
Adding to the excitement, this evening I received the itinerary for my geology field course which will take me up the heavily braided Waitaki River. The Waitaki is a crystal blue river draining glacial lakes in the largest inter-mountain basin in all of New Zealand, the Mackenzie Basin. Geology of New Zealand is almost completely different from anywhere else I’ve visited, and the opportunity to take this field course is a significant reason I chose this off-campus program.
A few days ago a cultural exchange from New Zealand visited and volunteered at my neighborhood loi, Ho’okua’aina. A loi is a wetland farm for taro root, a staple of the Polynesian diet in Hawaii and New Zealand. After working in the mud patches all day, these young Maori men performed a haka, Maori war dance, as a symbol of friendship between Maori and Hawaiian culture.
They chose to perform Ka Mate, a haka made famous by the New Zealand “All Blacks” rugby team. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to view another haka in New Zealand, they’re very powerful dances to watch.
During the Whitman reception today I had the opportunity to talk with alumni and parents about the off-campus experience, and I encouraged tentative parents to seriously consider off-campus studies as a valuable part of the college experience. Surprisingly, I met with the parents of a student who had gone to Dunedin last spring and had thoroughly enjoyed the field geology course. I also met with the parents of two separate sophomores considering study abroad in New Zealand; if you’re reading this feel free to reach out at any time with questions.
When I finally fly to Dunedin this Friday I’ll immediately be out in the field, digging up cobbles in the Waitaki River and taking pictures everywhere I go. My next post will have real content about New Zealand and the unexpectedly Scottish city of Dunedin, but I hope this post gives you a taste of the agony I’ve been in while waiting to visit the southern alps.