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New Zealand semester abroad: ‘Mountains, caves, streams and estuaries as a classroom’

January 06, 2014

About 70 percent of Earlham College graduates participate in one of more than 20 off-campus programs around the world.

Earlham College’s off-campus semester study program in New Zealand offers students opportunities to explore eye-catching vistas and the depths of glowworm caves while learning about environmental issues, cultural diversity, conservation and biogeography.

Each spring, students hike, kayak and bus across the nation’s north and south islands as they complete 18 hours of immersive coursework, conduct internships, live with host families and experience life at a Quaker settlement with ties to Earlham.

“The prospect of using mountains, caves, streams and estuaries as a classroom was a really big draw to come to Earlham,” says Angelica DeSimio ’14, a sociology/anthropology major who went to New Zealand last spring.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” she says. “Even though New Zealand is very similar to the United States, it’s also very different. The indigenous Maori have an intimate connection with the natural world. New Zealand is also far more advanced with its environmental policy. It was incredible.”

A rotating team of faculty from the College’s chemistry, biology, environmental studies and science, and geology departments lead each four-month excursion abroad. The current program started in 2008 when Jay Roberts, now the College’s Director for the Center of Integrated Learning, reimaged a Southwest Field Studies program that began in the United States and Mexico more than 40 years ago.

“One of the great aspects of the program is the connection to New Zealand Quakers,” Roberts says. “Students reside at the Quaker Settlement for a portion of the semester and the relationships we have built there have been transformative for our students and faculty.”

Last spring’s trip was led by Director of Wildman Science Library Jose Ignacio Pareja, and Assistant Professor of Biology Wendy Tori.

“We are strangers when we arrive, but as we move through the program and learn about the people, their stories, and ourselves, New Zealand starts feeling just like home,” Pareja says. “It is amazing to see how each individual in the group grows personally and in knowledge as they embrace the challenges that this new learning environment provides.”

In New Zealand, students can also connect their academic pursuits with their personal passions in a unique immersive experience.

“Wendy Tori is an ornithologist and is an expert on birds,” says Kasun Bodawatta ’15, a second-year biology major. “I really love birds so going to New Zealand with someone that has an ornithology background was an amazing opportunity.

“New Zealand is just really different from Earlham’s other off-campus programs,” Bodawatta says. “We didn’t study in a university, we learned as a group at different locations across the country.”

Students arrive and travel to Whanganui on the North Island for an orientation at a Quaker settlement. Extended excursions are planned to the South Island to experience a tramping component in the Fiordland National Park, and during a visit to the wild “west coast” where students stay in an eco-lodge while learning about New Zealand’s struggle to generate “clean and green” energy.

Students also travel to Kaikoura, a world-renowned marine reserve, and visit Christchurch where they learn about challenges of rebuilding after the 2010-11 earthquakes.

“Students interact with the environment and see how New Zealanders have dealt with the problems that they have,” says Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Smith, who will lead the trip next spring with Associate Professor of Geology Meg Streepey Smith. “For one, they’re on an island and they have to worry about invasive species. New Zealand has a unique fauna, but being on an island opens you up to rapid-extinction events because population sizes are so small.”

Smith says a lot of colleges and universities offer study abroad opportunities in New Zealand. But what makes Earlham’s unique is that the College’s faculty is with students every step of the way.

“You are living with the faculty for a majority of the trip, adventuring with them, and learning from them,” Smith says. “There are formal classes that we are teaching and that’s how we can immediately relate it back to our curriculum and life at Earlham. It’s an extension of Earlham, but in a totally different place, in a totally different context, with totally different lessons.”

Apply for Spring 2015

  • The spring 2015 off-campus program in New Zealand is taking applications until Feb. 28, 2014. Apply at the International Programs Office.
  • The faculty leaders are Associate Professor of Biology Peter Blair and Nicole Blair.
  • To read the blog written by students who participated in the most recent trip, visit http://ecnewzealand2013.blogspot.com.

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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