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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June 30th, 2017
Lauren Fenyes, the University of North Texas Special Learners in Oceania student blogger writes: As my time in New Zealand comes to an end, I wanted to share some of the many spectacular things I have experienced in the past week. Our second stop in New Zealand was to Kaikoura, a small town rich with Maori culture and beautiful scenery. On the first of the two full days, our group took a culturally enriching tour through Maori Tours Kaikoura. This tour was a highlight of the trip for many of my peers as we learned the history behind Maori land acquisition, the legend of Maui pulling the island of New Zealand up from the sea with his grandmother’s jaw as a fishing hook, and many traditions such as the hongi, a greeting in which participants share the breath of life. At one point in our journey, we tested our weaving skills by cutting a branch from a flax plant and then forming the branch into a flower, which is often used by Maori people to decorate for special occasions.
Also in Kaikoura, while on our free time, I joined a midday excursion to kayak with seals! I had so much fun paddling along with a couple of the friends I’ve made on the program and quickly learned that kayaking is an intense workout in the choppy ocean! Although I had been concerned that it would be too cold to be out on the water, the weather turned out to be perfect and thanks to the provided kayaking gear, I stayed completely dry. I can now proudly say that I have kayaked in the South Pacific Ocean, surrounded by seals and beautiful snow-capped mountains!
After the two days in Kaikoura, we headed off to our final New Zealand school visit in the city of Christchurch. Here, we visited the Chris Ruth Centre, a daytime facility for adults with severe disabilities. Each of us was paired with one of the Centre’s adults to accompany and assist them during the morning activities. The Chris Ruth Centre is a unique place because they have one-to-one staffing for every individual. Some of our students were included in activities such as cooking, shopping, going to the person’s place of work, and even horseback riding! The Chris Ruth Centre is a truly special place and provided an alternative perspective in contrast to the schools where we have mostly interacted with young adults and children.
There was plenty to do in our free time while in Christchurch and we made the most of our time while there! We were able to stroll through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens right across the street from our hostel, visit the Canterbury Museum, shop at the “Re:start mall” built out of shipping containers, and become inspired by the exhibitions at the Christchurch Art Gallery. The city is still heavily under construction after the 2011 earthquake, but the natural beauty and resilience of New Zealand shines through such tragedy.
We bid farewell to New Zealand with a group dinner to celebrate our time and also to recognize our wonderful travel companion, Dave Pringle, who willingly put up with all of us for the duration of our stay in New Zealand. Dave imparted all kinds of wisdom upon us throughout the trip with his stories and never-ending wealth of information about his beloved home country. His guidance and commentary will be dearly missed as we move on to Australia. Next stop: Sydney!