Getting to know New Zealand

Twenty-six Furman students rubbed shoulders, and in some cases noses, with a diverse group of New Zealanders during a unique May Experience course studying communication, culture, and identity.

Their travels brought them to five different cities in the island nation, learning from scholars, editors, and journalists about the role of mass media in shaping and reviving the identity of its inhabitants.

Communications studies professor John Armstrong, Ph.D. and education professor George Lipscomb, Ph.D. first took a group of Furman students to study communication in New Zealand in 2011. Their second trip to New Zealand together with students in 2014 brought a mix of communications, education, French, Spanish, political science, biology, and health science majors for three weeks of learning and enjoying new experiences.

Courtney German ’15, a communications studies and sociology major from Medford, N.J., said she’d been looking for an opportunity to “take a step outside of my comfort zone with a study away experience.”
After 18 hours of air travel, German said she found exactly what she’d been looking for.

“Learning about the indigenous culture of the Maoris was probably the most academically and, simultaneously, culturally enriching part of the experience for me,” said German.
The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, came to the country in the 1200s and make up 14 percent of the nation’s population. Furman students were able to not only learn about the language, customs, and traditions of the Maori culture from professors at the Auckland University of Technology, but were able to experience the culture firsthand.

They were welcomed into the wharenui, a communal meeting house, by the songs and blessings of the kaikaranga. They learned the traditional Hongi greeting, “sharing a breath” by pressing their noses and foreheads together for a moment, and Thompson ’16 had the chance to see and explore the majestic backdrops of the movies.

At the Hobbiton film site in Matamata, director Peter Jackson constructed a small village to be the home of the hobbits. “It was fascinating to learn about the attention to detail required to make these movies and to hear about how much it has impacted global awareness of New Zealand,” said Thompson, an economics and political science major from Arlington, Va. “It was particular exciting to watch the movies afterwards and be able to say, ‘I was standing right there earlier today.’”

Lena Pringle ’15, a communication studies and Spanish major from Lancaster, S.C., was similarly inspired by the magnificence of the Milford Sound fjord of New Zealand’s South Island. “This was the most beautiful natural landmark I have ever seen,” she said. “Words would not do it justice.”

Even the little things were a treat to Furman students, especially Hokey Pokey ice cream, a New Zealand specialty. “It’s honeycomb toffee, vanilla, cinnamon and other wonderful greatness all mixed into one scoop of delicious ice cream,” said Pringle.

German said she learned an important life lesson. “I learned to take in moments instead of focusing on capturing pictures,” said German. “I learned flexibility, and that despite organization . . . things do not always turn out how you expected—sometimes, they turn out even better!”

“A May Experience course gives you the chance to participate in the Furman ideal of engaged learning,” said Thompson. “Rather than look at pictures of the Southern Alps or Milford Sound, we got to experience it. Rather than read a textbook about how mass media shapes culture, we visited TV studios, recording studios, and film locations to see for ourselves the processes that result in the media we consume. Rather than read a textbook about Maori culture, we shared meals with the Maori, listened to them tell stories of their past and experienced the power of their heritage.”

Read the student blog.

Image courtesy Shutterstock.