This is an article I completed in conjunction with Northern Michigan University’s school newspaper, The North Wind. Superior Edge, an organization that rewards students for excelling in community service, citizenship, leadership and diversity, took students on a trip to New Zealand.
As seen in the Jan. 26, 2017 issue of The North Wind (below).
With a primary focus on sustainability, a group of 13 students from NMU’s Superior Edge participated in a two-week international service project on the North Island of New Zealand over the final two weeks of winter break.
“Sustainable living is more important for our generation than ever before. The way that we are living cannot last very much longer and the generation after us is really going to be living in a different way because they’ll have no choice,” said senior English major Amanda Maher.
From Dec. 29 to Jan. 13, the volunteers worked on five different ventures, ranging from administering tourism surveys to fixing up a walking trail.
At the first stop in Whitianga, students conducted interviews about sustainable travel practices with other tourists for local travel agencies. Maher said it was sometimes hard to distinguish locals from visitors but she knew their work had merit. She even had a chance to interview a man from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Next, in Tauranga, the group was in charge of planting flax for an organization that employs people with mental illnesses. By 2018, the flax seedlings planted will have provided a solid base for new vegetation to flourish, contributing to rainforest restoration in the area.
The travelers then volunteered at a YMCA day camp in Papamoa Beach. The project was aptly named “The Day the Americans Came,” because many of the children attending the camp had never met people from America. The group learned about the Maori culture from the children through games, songs and dances.
At a place called Hannah’s Bay Organic Community Garden, nestled in the volcanic city of Rotorua, members worked on a trail that passes through the garden. The group pulled weeds and applied mulch to beautify the trail.
For their final project, the group assisted volunteers in building a trail around Lake Okareka, which has been ongoing for six years. Natalie Berger, a recent film studies graduate, said the process was physically demanding but worth the hard work.
“I think the most rewarding part of the trip was knowing that I helped out in some small way to better the communities we were involved with and getting to know so many kind individuals who have been working on these passion projects for so long,” she said.
Hannah Lewis, assistant director for the Center for Student Enrichment, said the group’s personal connections with the local residents were more important than the tasks they completed.
“They weren’t so worried about how much we got done that day—they didn’t even talk about it. They were just like, ‘It was so great to get to know you,’ and that, ‘You care about what we’re doing,’” Lewis said. The trip was not just work, of course. The volunteers visited Hobbiton, a Lord of the Rings movie set tourist attraction; kayaked along local beaches and went “zorbing” in human-sized hamster balls.
They also viewed and participated in traditional practices, like Hanka dancing, feasted on Kiwi cuisine and combatted the New Zealand sun.
Rachel Harris, director of the Center for Student Enrichment, said international service projects are safe ways to explore countries and get a new angle on traveling.
“If I went to New Zealand on my own, I wouldn’t have done or seen half of these experiences,” Harris said. “It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture, way more than just being a tourist.”
For information on upcoming Superior Edge international service projects or about joining the organization, students can visit the Center for Student Enrichment. Tentative abroad
experience locations include India, Thailand and Ireland.
Also can be seen on The North Wind’s website.