Study abroad program explores New Zealand’s great diversity

Getting stuck in a blizzard is likely the last thing on the minds of Salve Regina students studying in Rome or Oxford this summer. But for the 10 students who recently completed a short-term study abroad trip to New Zealand, getting stranded in a blizzard in the Southern Alps on June 2 was very much a reality, and just one of many adventures they encountered while halfway around the world.

Led by Dr. JD Swanson, assistant professor of biology and biomedical sciences and a New Zealand native, the trip explored the island nation’s people and places along with human and geographical impacts on New Zealand’s flora and fauna.

“One of the most important things I can do as a professor is get students out of their comfort zone and get them abroad,” Swanson said. “New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and a way to show students something that’s very important to me.”

From May 12 to June 5, Swanson and students Hope Allen ’15, Howie Clift ’16, Eric Dominguez ’15, Lydia Lyons ’16, Steph Marvel ’15, Heather Nicholson ’15, Sydney Richter ’14, Allie Rockwell ’15, Kelsey Stafstrom ’14 and Karl Varkey ’14 backpacked their way through the country with their trusty coach driver Brian.

Along the way, the group experienced the great diversity New Zealand has to offer, visiting sites such as the glowworm caves in Waitomo, the volcanic ecosystems of Rangitoto Island and the geothermal springs of Waiotapu.

“I wanted the students to look at how New Zealand was formed, how it’s changed over time with the introduction of the Maori people, how the early Europeans came and then how modern Europeans came in and tried to fix the messes that previous groups had made,” Swanson said.

For Stafstrom, a biology major who had never been abroad before, going on the trip was a no-brainer. “Every single day was cool and different and special and unique,” she said. “In a matter of hours, you could leave the beach, drive through mountains, go through the grassy knolls of farmland and then at the end of the day, end up back at the ocean.”

Marvel said a highlight of the trip was spending a night in a traditional Maori village, which gave the students the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture of New Zealand’s indigenous Polynesian people. “It was a completely difficult cultural immersion, getting to experience what they did,” she said. “I thought it was really special.”

New Zealand is a good country to visit because it’s the same but different, said Swanson, who plans to run the trip again in a year or two. “The thing that I’m most happy to hear when people come back is for them to say “I’m not afraid to travel,'” he said. “If I can give them that confidence, as well as teach them about sociology and biology along the way, I’ve done my job.”

Editor’s note: Click here to view the photo album from the New Zealand trip.

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