The agapanthus are blooming, plums and apples are ripe for the picking (peaches on their way), and the convent is full again, this time with 17 students! They come from all over, even as far as the UK, and most are studying a variety of different majors at their various colleges. Yet they all are united together here in New Zealand, halfway across the globe, to live in this very special place for 3 and 1/2 months. Ever since hopping out of the vans in Kaikoura this group has hit the ground running. In amongst the many activities planned for each day, the overall attitude of the group has been unrestrained excitement and wonder. Whether it is finally getting their hands on a field or bird guide of New Zealand, or visiting different sites where they will be conducting research for their marine ecology class, without fail the prevailing vibe of this group is “this is so cool!”
One of the favorite activities of Orientation week was going to a local marae, or Maori meetinghouse, and having a welcoming ceremony there, called a powhiri. This involves speeches and songs shared between the locals and the visitors, both in the Te Reo Maori language. “Aroha” is usually our song of choice, which means “love.” After the powhiri, Brett Cowen, a local expert on Maori culture, gave a brief history of this particular Maori meetinghouse, including a description of the stories represented on the elaborate wood carvings and panels on the inside of the marae. After sharing some “kai,” or food and tea, we gathered up on the lawn outside the marae to receive an introduction in taiaha, Maori stick fighting. After mastering some sparing with our partners, we had the privilege of Brett teaching us a fruit haka. A haka, for those who don’t know, is a traditional challenge used as a form of nonviolent intimidation or a way of generating energy, commonly used to pump up the group towards a common goal (such as picking fruit). You may have seen a haka if you have ever watched New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks, play. Needless to say, this was a great way to introduce the students to indigenous New Zealand culture, and a favorite morning of the past week.
Another favorite activity was a visit up to the Topps Farm, home to a local pastor and sheep farmer in Kaikoura. Kevin Topp showed us how to shear sheep, and talked about the history of sheep farming in New Zealand, while Sandy Topp showed us around her gardens. The students were enraptured with the pet deer, Lucky, who came along with us on a walk up around the farm. Though the weather was a bit drizzly, the farm’s views of the Puhi Puhi valley, nestled under Mount Fyffe, were still quite beautiful.
But these two experiences are just a sampling of the week’s introduction introduced to Kaikoura and what makes it so special, including scenic views and marine wildlife. Now that the students are back from their weekend get-aways (which you may hear more about in a future post) and starting into their first week of classes, students are beginning to settle in, and make the Old Convent their home. I’ll let them tell you more about life here in New Zealand themselves. Stay tuned!
-Lauren, Student Life Coordinator