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Archive for the ‘Field Notes’ Category

Caroline Gilmore, the Richmond Down Under marketing intern, writes:

On the North Queensland program our guides led us through different habitats and ecosystems, teaching us about the land they knew so much about. Their stories about the outback, Daintree Rainforest, and Great Barrier Reef were engaging and kept us informed as we made our way around the region.

file3661291126590Our classes used experiential learning, allowing us to travel the land and see first-hand the flora and fauna we were learning about. Working with the Center for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation (C4) we heard about the importance of the cassowary and the ways in which they are essential to protecting the rainforest and coastal ecosystems. Many people don’t know that cassowaries carry the seeds of trees and distribute them throughout the rainforest. If this did not happen many tree species would go extinct.

After our lecture on our way to a hike, we saw a cassowary, an independent and solitary bird, walking down a main highway completely unprotected from the passing cars. It was after this sighting that we were all able to better understand the challenges that we inflict on our natural ecosystems.

In a normal classroom setting, it is hard to make these real life connections, for instance I still don’t know how linear algebra relates to my day-to-day life. But seeing the cassowaries made me understand some of the challenges in modern day Australia and made me want to make a difference, and that is something you don’t often get in a classroom.

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Xuanyan Ouyang, 2014-15 Fiji International Tourism for Development student blogger, writes:

Life-changing means you have experienced something different that alters life circumstances or outlooks in a substantial way. The day and a half we spent in Votua Village, short yet eye-opening, was just that.

Students and a villager wearing sulus

Students and a villager wearing sulus

The homestay experience helped us learn more about the true Fijian lifestyle and the impact of tourism on the villagers, and as a result, made us realize how blessed we are.

Villagers in Votua Village wore traditional sulus, a skirt of sorts worn by both men and women. The fabric can be either below-knee or ankle-length and is wrapped around the legs and secured by twisting at the waist. So, before we arrived, we put on our own sulus.

The first thing we did when we arrived at the village was have a kava ceremony.

Students listening to locals' introduction of the kava ceremony

Students listening to locals’ introduction of the kava ceremony

Kava is a traditional drink and is made using the roots of the plant, which are then ground and combined with water for drinking. We sat in a circle with some of the villagers to hear from them about the kava ceremony before sharing in the drinking of the kava.

Xuanyan spending time with village youngster Caroline

Xuanyan spending time with village youngster Caroline

After the ceremony, our homestay families picked us up and showed us to their homes, which would be our home for the next day. My homestay sister showed me and a few of my classmates around the village. Most of the time, we played with the kids in the village, as it was their school summer break during our visit so they were at home.

We also enjoyed some incredibly tasty food made by our homestay parents. Our homestay mom made coconut eggplant, chicken curry, and sausage with Chinese noodles for one meal.

Homestay meal

Homestay meal

Those experiences are not what made this experience life-changing, but it’s the fact that the living conditions are so drastically different and more challenging compared with that in the U.S. However, the villagers are still satisfied with what they have and are happy and optimistic about their lives.

My family did not have running water except for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. This means no flushing the toilet or using the sink whenever desired. With no air conditioner or fans in the house, the house is the same temperature as it is outside. They had a limited amount of income and are heavily dependent on tourism.

UI students and villagers

UI students and villagers

While it was a short period in a Fijian village, my homestay definitely brought me more than just the experience of a new lifestyle, knowledge of local Fijians, and academic reflection on tourism’s impacts. It brought me a new outlook. After this program, I think life is not about the constant pursuit of material fortune but rather about the mindset to be content with what we have, treasure it and share this attitude with others.

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Xuanyan Ouyang, 2014-15 Fiji International Tourism for Development student blogger, writes:

Bula! As with every study abroad program, academic study was not the only thing that we were doing. Our program combined activities and cultural interactions to enhance our learning in an experiential way. Two of my favorite program components were our kayaking and ziplining adventures.

Group photo alongside the Navua River

Group photo alongside the Navua River

Kayaking the Navua River

After hearing from the Rivers Fiji team about the company and its eco-tourism practices, we headed off for a day on the river. Though some of our group didn’t know how to swim, after donning life jackets and helmets, none hesitated to participate in the kayaking. We spent the day kayaking on the middle portion of the Navua River and also visited a remote village named Wainaduri.

Paddling along the Navua River

Paddling along the Navua River

Passing through inland villages and farmlands, the scenery is so amazing that I even thought we were in a movie! Plus, we had the opportunity to take a break from paddling and walk to a stunning waterfall.

Stunning waterfall beside Navua River

Stunning waterfall beside Navua River

But what pleased me the most was not the beautiful scenery, but the people that we met. There were kids playing around and in the river. They were very friendly and said “Bula!” to us, as most of the Fijians had greeted us thus far. When we finished our kayaking, the kids even followed the boat that we were in – it was such a moving moment.

Young boys playing in river

Young boys playing in river

Ziplining through the rainforest

Youyou Zhang, me and the tour guide preparing to zipline

Youyou Zhang, me and the tour guide preparing to zipline

This was my first time to go on a zipline tour, and I could not have been more excited. First we heard the operator Zip Fiji’s perspective of their business operations and also discussed some environmental issues affecting their operation. Then, we ascended into the canopy for the ziplining excitement.

We traveled along eight different ziplines through the rainforest canopy and stopped at viewing platforms along the way to appreciate the amazing views and learn about the local area.

Do my photos make you excited about traveling to Fiji? I hope you will visit the country one day.

Michael Brummer ziplining

Michael Brummer ziplining

I still have many fun stories and pictures to share, so I’ll talk to you in the next post.

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Victoria Robertson, 2014-15 Fiji International Tourism for Development student blogger, writes:

Going into my study abroad program, living with a homestay family was something I dreaded. Even while in Fiji, I couldn’t help but be nervous for what was to come. Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t been this way, as this was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of.

Meeting homestay familyMy homestay family immediately made me feel as if I was one of them, and to connect with the children on the level I was able to was absolutely incredible, to say the least.

Myself and another student stayed in a house with two twin girls about 8 years old. While taking our initial tour of Votua Village, each twin held our hands as if we’d known each other for years. From this point on, they were constantly attached to us, asking us to play games with them or watch them dance, amongst other activities.Homestay children

We also quickly learned how connected the community is, as well as how much communal living plays a part in the lives of the villagers. Throughout our stay, there was a constant flow of people in and out of the house, almost to the point you weren’t sure who actually lived there.

Village neighbors
While staying in someone else’s home can be a bit intimidating, especially if it happens to be abroad while you’re learning not only about a new family, but about a new culture as well, I suggest students embrace it without holding back.

If your experience is anything like mine, you won’t only have a fantastic time with some of the most interesting people you’ve ever met, but you will also leave feeling like family.

And to know that I have a family thinking about me back in Fiji is priceless.

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Joe Bagazinski, 2014-15 New Zealand and Sydney Sustainable Business student blogger, writes:

DSCN0740After hearing about the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes I was not sure what to expect when visiting the city, but it turned out to be one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had. I never knew the old Christchurch, but as I walked through the shadows of what the city used to be, I felt a mixture of despair and hope. From the city blocks and infrastructure, you could tell there was so much tradition and life within the city that had moved away. Many parks and public spaces still remain, but almost everything else vanished followed the natural disaster. Blocks and blocks of buildings were destroyed in the earthquakes and gravel lots now stand in their place.

DSCN0726After initially seeing only the destruction, it was after having been in the city for a few days that I realized that Christchurch is as special as it ever was. Sure, many of the buildings have been reduced to piles of rubble, but the effort and drive of the residents is clear. Christchurch is a city rebuilding, and there is no hiding that fact, but it’s also one of the most unique cities I have ever visited. Everywhere you look, there is a pop-up organization or shopping place, such as Re:START, doing good to help the city. As a group, we visited a makeshift dance floor in the middle of the city, a few urban farms, and volunteered pulling weeds in gardens where buildings once stood.

Dec 24 1071During our time in Christchurch, I realized that a city is not made up of buildings and physical structures. A city is made up of individuals and spirit, and no matter what happens to the buildings, the spirit of Christchurch is evident in the heart of the city.

Christchurch is an extremely special city, and with the influx of new innovators and young people willing to put many thankless hours into improving Christchurch, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be one of the most unique places on the face of the earth.

I never knew the old Christchurch, but I cannot wait to get to know the new one.

Dec 24 1074

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Caroline Gilmore, the Richmond Down Under marketing intern, writes:

 

When I arrived in Townsville for the North Queensland, Australia program last summer, I knew little about Aboriginal Australian culture. The little I remembered from high school was certainly not enough. Fortunately while in Australia, we were given the opportunity to connect with the indigenous community, forever changing my perspective.

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The day we spent at Mungalla Station, an area operated by the Nywagi people, allowed our group time to explore and understand Aboriginal culture in a hands-on way. We had the opportunity to learn how to throw a boomerang, make ochre and watch one of our guides, Buddy, play the didgeridoo. I embarrassed myself trying to throw the boomerang – it’s more difficult than it looks – while others were able to show off their athletic talents.

We also worked alongside Big Jake, another of our guides, to help restore the wetlands area, which has been overrun with hymenachne, an invasive plant species. As we worked, Big Jake explained to us the unique relationship between Aboriginal people and the land. He described the environment as a pharmacy, where each plant traditionally had a specific use within the tribe.

He emphasized that his family places a priority on living their lives in harmony with the environment.  After everything we had been learning about sustainability, the visibly strong connection that Big Jake’s family had with the land was extremely insightful. While I already knew a little about the Aboriginal lifestyle, nothing compared to speaking with Buddy and Big Jake, hearing their stories, and being able to truly interact with pieces of their culture.

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Carly Kubly, the Eagles Abroad marketing intern, writes:

 

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine a vineyard is row upon row of grapes. Having grown up in a farm town in Minnesota, I have seen my fair share of crops and so was not particularly thrilled to be taking a tour of a vineyard while in New Zealand. Little did I know I was about to fall in love with the winery.

 

Yealands Winery, although it obviously has many rows of grapes, also has a much more complex environment. The landscape at Yealands, located in Seddon, New Zealand, contains many different wetland areas, trees and flowers. Native birds and sheep also call the vineyard home. This biodiversity has set Yealands apart from other vineyards.

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One of Yealands’ utmost priorities is sustainability, which is backed by the fact that their winery was the first in the world to be certified as carboNZeroCert™. It is their goal to become the most sustainable winery in the world, and they are well on their way, particularly having engineered the world’s first vine pruning burners as a major energy source. One of their more innovative tactics is to play classical music to the grapes. Yealands powers stereos with solar energy in order to help the grapes grow faster – certainly not something I would ever have thought of.

 

While I learned a lot about sustainability at Yealands, I also learned the importance of keeping an open mind when visiting a new place. For me an activity I was not as excited about ended up being one of the most interesting parts of my program. It is easy to make assumptions, but I challenge anyone studying abroad or even just visiting some place new to have an open mind – you never know what you will find!

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