Douglas Wolf, an honors environmental, soil and water science major and sustainability minor, just spent a semester studying sustainable development in New Zealand. He took field trips to the Southern High Country, learned about sustainable management at local wineries, and bungee jumped at the Nevis Bungy (above). Douglas gets our award for most thrilling study abroad photo snapped this year ….
My six months at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand was a fascinating learning experience that provided a unique perspective on sustainable environmental practices. New Zealand is world renowned for environmentally friendly practices and sustainable development, and this was reflected culturally and academically at Lincoln University. I enrolled in four classes: advanced soil science (SOSC 343), plant science I (PLSC 104), environmental physics (PHSC 103), and introduction to the winegrowing industry (WINE 101). These courses provided me with experience that will greatly contribute to my professional and academic career at the University of Arkansas.
Each course contained a laboratory or field trip, which consisted of using information from the classroom. For example, the advanced soil science course included a four-day field trip to the New Zealand Southern Island High Country, where we completed a Land Tenure Review of the surrounding area. Land Tenure Review is a monitoring and classification system based on land resource analyses. These analyses are then used to promote ecologically sustainable land management practices such as soil conservation and nutrient management.The Southern High Country is characterized by steep mountain slopes and flat valley floors with grass, scrub, and forest vegetation, along with areas of bare rock, ice, and snow. This provided a multitude of different ecosystems and soil development processes to implement various Land Tenure Review practices.
Land Tenure Review utilizes two classification systems: New Zealand Land Resource Inventory (system of land resource analysis that includes rock type, soil unit, slope, erosion severity and type, and vegetation) and Land Use Capability (classifies land according to its potential to support a range of broad land use types). To accomplish this task, students in groups of three dug numerous soil pits across the Southern High Country and coordinated with multiple professors to complete the two classification systems. Once the data was compiled among the students, the information was plotted using Google Earth to provide a visual representation of Land Tenure Review of the Southern High Country.
I have also created numerous beneficial contacts while studying abroad at Lincoln University, which includes a professor who has the potential to assist in my graduate research project dealing with environmental toxicology and soil remediation. The New Zealand academic system was also a good preparation for graduate school. For example, the final examination grade percentage was worth 60% of my grade for the courses at Lincoln University, which is substantially higher compared to courses at the University of Arkansas. Lincoln University also placed more significance on exams during the school semester and typically did not offer daily homework assignments. This allowed me to prepare for future graduate courses that generally place more importance on the final examination than on daily classroom academics.
Another substantial component of spending a semester abroad is the personal and cultural growth. By living six months in a country that heavily incorporates sustainable practices in all aspects of agriculture, I have gained an understanding and appreciation for the amount of effort and knowledge required to implement these practices by all parties involved. It is truly a collaborative effort by numerous businesses and dedicated people that allows for sustainable management to be accomplished. This was especially seen in winegrowing industry field trips,where the grape growers and vignerons provided differing viewpoints of the New Zealand wine industry, yet also achieved compromise on certain aspects to achieve their goal of sustainable agricultural and business practices. For example, one vigneron and grape grower agreed to bottle their wine in plastic bottles to achieve lower transportation and shipping costs, at the expense of possibly lowering the quality of the wine. I have also grown as a professional and person by living with international students with the common goal of creating a sustainable planet through the recognition and application of environmentally beneficial practices.
However, the bonding and relationships between the students was culminated through the weekends full of tramping, exploration of major cities such as Dunedin, Queenstown, Christchurch, and Auckland, and (way too) long packed car rides where we all shared our life stories. Although we met each other six months ago, I feel as if I have known everyone for years and countless tears were shed as we departed New Zealand because we were losing family, not friends. One of the greatest moments I have experienced with this newly formed family was our weekend trip to Queenstown where we all were able to experience the thrill of bungee jumping over 440 feet at the Nevis Bungy. By conquering our fears together, we were able to grow together as well.
The hikes and camping trips across New Zealand are honestly hard to describe because the natural beauty of New Zealand is impossible to appreciate and photos will never do it justice. You almost stop valuing the natural beauty of New Zealand because it surrounds you at all times, whether you are driving across the South Island or walking to the grocery store down the street.
Overall, this program was greatly beneficial to my academic and professional career and was an enormous opportunity to learn and personally grow from an international culture and perspective. Without a doubt, New Zealand is the most gorgeous place I have ever had the chance to visit. I would recommend this semester abroad to all students and especially those interested in the protection and advancement of the environment because you will gain so much from just living and experiencing all of the different facets New Zealand has to offer.
I truly am honored I was able to experience all of the wonderful moments with my fellow students, faculty, and the communities of New Zealand, and I will never forget them. New Zealand has already changed my way of life for the best, and I want future students to share these same influential experiences.