Kia Ora! I’m Brianna, a senior in the wildlife biology, GLI, and honors college programs. I truly was not prepared for the semester I had while studying abroad at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. From a global pandemic, personal loss, new insights, and irreplaceable friendships, Aotearoa gave me a completely unique and unpredictable experience.
My global theme is social inequality and human rights. I chose to go to New Zealand because of the seemingly well-mended relationships they have. Overall, New Zealand seems to be a peaceful place full of righteousness and equality. That can be observed from the praise they received over handling COVID-19. I wanted to study there to find out why that is and to learn what is working for them.
While in New Zealand I learned a lot about the Māori people, who are the indigenous people. I took a class on their history and their culture. I took an anthropology class on ethnicity, and I took a class on intersectionalities. In all these classes I learned that New Zealand often uses the U.S. as a model and sometimes uses policies from the U.S. to shape their laws. Schoolchildren even learn U.S. history in school. This led me to wonder how the U.S. seems to have so much more inequality and human rights issues than New Zealand does. I learned that New Zealand has its issues as well. I learned about the long persecution and land taking of Māori iwi (tribes) and the persistent systemic racism they still face today. People in New Zealand are also fighting for justice in their own communities, but because in an effort to mend broken relationships, they implemented peacemaking actions such as performing haka at rugby games and using Māori greetings such as “Kia ora!” in their day to day life, their relationship to their indigenous people comes across as mended.
Overall, I learned that it is not that New Zealand is better at solving human rights and social inequality issues, it is mostly that they are just better at covering up their issues with a bandage. However, they do seem to have more active politicians working to mend the issues surrounding inequality. In my classes I was also provided with a sort of social toolbox to approach some of the issues I want to look at and begin to break them down.
It was not all work all the time either. I was fortunate enough to be placed with wonderful flatmates and form meaningful friendships. My flatmates and I often had nacho and “sofa bed” nights where we made nachos and pushed our couches together and watch movies, did face masks, and “had a yarn.” Not only did I learn a lot about New Zealand, but my flatmates Lillian and Kristine also taught me a lot about Norway. My small friend group took a while to form due to quarantine measures, but after, we took it upon ourselves to make the best of our time there. I will never forget my time on the land of the long white cloud and the people I met there. I hope to make my way back some time to explore the areas I did not get a chance to while I was there, but for now, all I can do is share my memories and video call my new long-distance whānau (family).