Singing Doc Watson's "Down in the Valley" for her indigenous New Zealand hosts warmed Ashley Oliver with the sense of home and a newfound pride in her own folk culture.
"When we visited the marae, they sang a song for us, so we had a song we sang back for them," explained the Appalachian State University junior. "I'd heard the song before, but singing it in a foreign place... made me appreciate my own culture. They loved the song, so it was nice to give back to them because they gave us so much of their culture."
That kind of appreciative learning is a primary goal of international travel at Appalachian, and one of many aspects of personal growth the 18 students experienced when they trekked through New Zealand for a month during the summer of 2008.
The students' cultural understanding of New Zealand expanded in part by visiting Waikawa Marae, where they joined the indigenous Māori in traditional songs and dances, and learned about their people's history, protocols, and ways of life, including the many textile, artistic and other purposes of the New Zealand harekeke or flax plant.
"I think it's important to study abroad so you can experience other cultures, get out of your everyday routine, learn more about yourself as well as other cultures and apply that to your daily life at home," said junior Aenon Moose.
"Outdoor Programs tries to create environments for students where they can really experience the natural landscape in an intentional and meaningful way. We also develop really strong relationships with the people there, so our friends at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Waikawa Marae do a lot for us when we come," said Rich Campbell, associate director of Appalachian's Outdoor Programs.
"We create powerful learning opportunities for students that push them and challenge them academically, physically, socially and mentally. I've seen a lot of students develop and grow over the years, and it seems to be a pretty powerful combination."
The month-long trip also gave students the opportunity to develop their outdoor leadership skills through kayaking, backpacking and rafting expeditions. They also explored environmental issues facing New Zealanders and Americans alike, and worked to offset all the carbon output associated with their travel by planting trees and purchasing green power.
The trip was open to all students, regardless of their academic major. Some were recreation management majors while others represented biology, health education, public relations, art, business and communication.