Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Engaging with Fijian kava ceremonies. Exploring the startling beauty of New Zealand's Milford Sound. Stepping to the edge of the world in Antarctica. This is why many alumni call our programs the single most influential experience of their university careers.
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September 5th, 2017
AUIP welcomes Jessie Auclair, the Hokies Abroad Marketing Intern, to the team. Jessie writes:
G’day and Kia Ora, my name is Jessie Auclair and I am the marketing intern for Hokies Abroad at Virginia Tech. I am a Senior Human Nutrition, Food, and Exercise (HNFE) major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I took part in the New Zealand and Australia Conservation Based Service-Learning Program during summer 2017. I am excited to be an intern because I get to share my wonderful experiences with all of you in the hopes that you study abroad and create your own experiences.
To me the most eye-opening and rewarding element of the trip was in learning about Indigenous worldviews, conservation practices, culture and history by interacting with the New Zealand Maori community. At our visit to Waitaia Lodge, our Maori hosts Lance and Rawinia Gray welcomed us to their home with a formal Maori welcome ceremony. Lance and Rawinia shared their cultural beliefs with us. They told us that whanau, family, is very important to them and how they have kitiakitanga, guardianship, over the land. Lance and Rawinia, in the Maori cultural tradition, have a spiritual connection to the environment. They believe that the land they live on is a part of them and so they are tasked with protecting it. Every action or choice they make in life is to build their mana, which is their living state of being/self-worth, and the more good works you do the more you raise your mana. I felt a strong connection with the Maori culture because family and self-worth are very important aspects of my life. I also felt a new appreciation for the environment, as I never thought of having a spiritual connection to the land.
The most fascinating aspect of the trip was learning and understanding the complexity of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia. I learned that the GBR is composed of more than just coral reefs; it is interconnected with rainforest and mangrove ecosystems. Preserving the connectivity between these three ecosystems is vital to the conservation of the GBR. Conservation of the GBR is more important now than it ever has been before as the GBR is declining due to runoff, overfishing, and water pollution. I saw the effects of runoff on the GBR first hand snorkeling on Magnetic Island. Algae growth had overtaken the coral reef system almost entirely; it did not look anything like the images of the GBR I had looked up on the trip. It was shocking to see the GBR in this state but through conservation efforts the GBR can be restored. In Port Douglas parts of the GBR have been zoned off to protect it and it has really made a difference. While snorkeling in Port Douglas, I got to see what the GBR is supposed to look like, with various species of coral and aquatic fauna flourishing together in harmony.
I would recommend to anyone who wants to get the full experience of what it is like to learn outside your comfort zone, search your soul, and challenge your beliefs, to find a program like the Hokies Abroad programs in New Zealand and Australia and discover all the world has to offer.