Eight Remarkable Characteristics of Ghanaian Culture

As I approach my first month here in Ghana, I have had the chance to witness and be a part of many central features involving Ghanaian culture. Absorbing and observing another culture other than one’s own is an awe-inspiring experience, and for that reason I’ve shared some parts of the culture here that I’ve found pretty cool.

1. Community. Is. Everything.
Ghanaians share an immensely powerful bond with each other, and it is evident all throughout the country. For example, if a person was eating next to a total stranger who did not have anything in front of them, it would be customary to say, “You are invited.” Everyone shares, and it makes my heart warm to see such a simple kindness between two unrelated individuals. Complete strangers may show up to funerals, weddings, or any other ceremony because all are welcome.

 

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Some of the international and Ghanaian students out for a Friday night.

 

2. Systems Don’t Work, People Do
I have been told this several times over the course of my time here, and I believe that I am starting to get better at accepting it. In summary, this motto is a way to say that face-to-face interaction is more effective than any program or technology. Efficiency comes second… always. Many of the international students are used to time being associated with money and productivity, so taking it slow is an alien concept.

3. People Adore Dancing
I have yet to find a person here who detests music and dance. Music floods the university, the hostels, and downtown. Also, people just naturally have rhythm and are familiar with at least a few traditional dances. A favored pastime of numerous college students involves visiting a local nightclub to listen and dance along to the popular Ghanaian artists.

4. Greetings are Imperative
Basic conversation is expected in most environments, especially when asking for something. It is considered impolite to get straight to the point, first one should question the other on their day and well-being. When a person asks a question, they often start it with ‘please,’ as the person answering is performing a favor when doing so. Closer friends frequently use a local handshake, a kind of snap between one’s thumb and middle finger for casual greetings.

5. Soccer, Soccer, Soccer
One of the first nights at the hostel, I heard intense screaming throughout the building. In a moment of confusion, I rushed outside to see what was causing all of the commotion. It turns out that half of the hostel was upstairs watching the African Cup, cheering for the record-holding Ghanaian Black Stars. Besides watching soccer, one can see students enjoying an afternoon game after school, or visiting the Accra stadium to watch the local Ghanaian teams.

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Some of the Black Star players prior to a big game. This year, they made it to the semi-finals, but ultimately lost against Cameroon.

 

6. The Way You Dress Matters
After coming from a university where sweats and ponytails are the norm, it’s a bit refreshing to see that mostly all students will put time in their appearance for lectures. Going to college is both a privilege and a sign of adulthood, and individuals in Ghana believe it should be represented as such. Besides the classroom, one can find that different occasions call for assorted attire. Happy occasions demand white, while funerals are filled with black or red. As for everyday apparel, colorful (and usually handmade) clothing fill the bustling crowds.

 

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On a trip to Kumasi to visit the Ashanti King, we had the chance to see the unique wraps of kente cloth (a type of hand stitched fabric) among important officials from the palace.

 

7. Bargaining is an Art Form
Unless someone wishes to pay a ridiculously overpriced amount for a possession, bargaining must be used. The two main markets in Accra, Madina and Accra Central, are extremely crowded streets filled with booths selling various goods. From fresh produce to a new cellular device, the markets are the place to get a deal. The only catch is you have to bargain for it… and do it well. If a person does not know the correct price range for a product they run the risk of overpaying. In addition to this, patience and skill is required because bargaining is a process, not a quick action with a time frame.

8. Language is Fluid
When I say that language is fluid, I am struggling to express my best explanation of how locals interact with each other. Although English is the official language and most people can speak it, it is mostly used for formal settings. In the markets, vendors and customers mostly speak Twi, one of the many local languages here in Ghana. Sometimes, people will casually switch between the two. Pidgin is also an accepted way of communicating, a kind of broken English most commonly spoken between younger adults and friends.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

10 Study Abroad Tips – South Korea

Here are 10 tips I found useful in my time studying abroad that can be used anywhere, but especially South Korea!

  1. Research your host country

Before you 100% commit to your study abroad destination choice, do some research on the country, culture, schools, and other things to ensure it is somewhere you truly want to study abroad. With so many great cities around the world, it may be difficult to choose just one! When starting my study abroad journey, I wanted to go to so many places. I recommend considering which places you would want to spend a vacation for a few weeks in, and which you would want to live in for several months. Also, make sure you are going for good reasons that you can learn from. Studying abroad in South Korea for several months just because you may see your favorite k-pop idol or drama star may not be the best idea. I chose South Korea because I’m really interested in the culture, language, history, and many other aspects.

 

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Many of the streets in South Korea are quite crowded with people and shops!

 

  1. Packing – No need to pack so much!

Make a list and plan out what you will pack before you start. You definitely do not want to over-pack otherwise you’ll end up with too much stuff and need to throw away items or pay for extra baggage when returning home. Even if you do not plan on buying a lot of items abroad, you will accumulate things throughout the semester and wonder at the end how you got so many new things. When out and about you may see some random neat things or school gear that you’ll purchase along the way. During my semester, I bought several school apparel items, including a letterman jacket! I packed enough clothes that could last around 1-1.5 weeks and was able to fit everything into one 29” suitcase. I bought several new pieces of clothing when shopping with friends around Seoul. Find out what the weather is like in your host country and pack accordingly. Most importantly, pack comfortable shoes! In South Korea, you will walk and use the subway to get everywhere with the occasional taxi ride.

  1. Search for information about your school

Most if not all study abroad institutions with have information for English-speakers on their website. Usually it can be found on the ‘Office of International Affairs’ page. Google will be your best friend before studying abroad, especially when it comes to South Korea. When I was doing my research I found it wasn’t as easy to find information on studying abroad in South Korea as it was for a destination such as London or Paris. It’s getting better as more students study abroad and post media of their experience abroad, so with some time and effort, you can definitely find blogs and some videos online that will greatly help prepare you for the semester. Some important things to research are the dorms or living arrangements, majors and classes offered, curfew times, location relative to subway, and anything you want to do. When I asked students what they wanted to know prior to their arrival, the number one thing was the dorms: how big they were, what they needed to bring or buy (buy all your dorm needs at Daiso or Home Plus), and what it looked like. Another top thing they wanted to know was how the classrooms were as far as size and setup.

 

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Korea University OIA website.

 

  1. Search the school website for class information

Registering for classes was perhaps the biggest headache I came across in South Korea because I wasn’t fully prepared for it. They use a different system than I am accustomed to. For Korea University, there are only two week-long periods during which you can register for courses. Furthermore, there were additional restrictions such as registration by grade level, semester specific courses, and a limited amount of international student spots in classes. Every school has a list of majors and courses offered so you can get an idea of what you’re getting into. Afterwards, the school website, your study abroad program, or home international office should have information on courses that are taught in English. I would advise you put in the extra time to look through all the classes and try to make a list of which courses you want to try to enroll in. Another thing that caused many students problems was that Korea seems to predominantly use Internet Explorer as their main browser. Make sure you have it installed on your laptop for school use to avoid any problems during registration. If you have all of these things prepared ahead of time and are ready and waiting for registration time to open, you should be good to go!

 

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Korea University class registration page.

 

  1. Learn Korean

While there were many students who did not know any Korean before arriving for their study abroad experience, it can only make your experience better if you know the basics of the language before you arrive. Prior to going to Korea, I utilized the months before to learn some Korean on my own when I had spare time and it helped me significantly. It makes ordering food or coffee much easier and when you do, you feel very accomplished! Luckily, many if not most Korean students speak and understand English enough to communicate so don’t fear if you are a beginner. Korea University also has a fantastic program called Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) where each native Korean student is paired with several international students to your buddy for the semester. Many students become very close friends with their buddy and keep in touch even after the semester and program are finished. The KUBA buddies are there to help you with anything, setup KUBA events/activities, practice Korean with, or simply just be your friend. Some helpful and free korean language learning sites that I love are talktomeinkorean.com and howtostudykorean.com

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Learn Korean!

 

  1.  Make friends!

It can be easy to fall into a routine and only hang out with your friends from your home university or students you meet upon arrival that speak the same language as you. This is great and all but I highly encourage you to talk to and make a lot of friends outside of your immediate social circle. Schools such as Korea University have a large international student base- just in fall 2016 there were around 2,000 international students! This is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about even more the world’s cultures. Plus you never know when you’ll travel to different countries in the future and it’s good to already have some friends there! Within the first week, I had made friends from all over the world who spoke many different languages. It was great hearing the diversity of spoken languages such as Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and many more!

 

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Make friends from all over the world!

 

  1. Go out of your comfort zone -Say yes and try new things! 

You are in a new place and might not know even a single person there. Time to get out of your comfort zone that you are used to and try new/different things! There will be plenty of things to do and students doing many different activities. While you don’t necessarily have to do every activity that comes up, you shouldn’t hide in your dorm! A new country will have a different culture than you’re accustomed to and could be very enjoyable. Now is the perfect time to live a different lifestyle and learn not only about a new culture, but you can learn a lot about yourself as well. Maybe you’ll pick up new skills or find a new hobby that you love. You’ll never know if you don’t try! South Korea has so much to offer from gaming and sports, to language cafes, to hiking or exploring beaches in Jeju. There have been many occasions where I’ve felt tired, lazy, or not really interested in something. But I push myself to go and afterwards I’m usually glad I went as it was so much fun.

 

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We traveled 3 hours to Jinju for the lantern festival!

 

  1. Do not neglect your studies

While being abroad and experiencing new things with new friends, you’ll be having an abundance of fun, however you must not neglect your studies. It’s important to do well not only to uphold the standards of your host university, but also to ensure you are still on track at your home university. It would be terrible to have graduation delayed or financial aid removed because you had too much fun and didn’t work on your studies. It may not seem like it, but if you plan well and study hard, you will always have time for fun and exploring the city. Since Seoul is very connected with the subway system, you can get to so many places in a short amount of time so there isn’t a need to worry about accounting for extensive travel time. The key is utilizing your time well and making sure you have your priorities in order! In Korea, students take their studies very seriously and study hard to get into some of the top universities. They also make plenty of time for fun, so it’s a work hard, play hard life.

  1. Record videos, take pictures or write!

Not everyone is a natural when it comes to recording a vlog, taking nice photos, or writing. However, you should still make an effort to do one or all of those things while you are abroad. Whether you are an aspiring YouTube creator, and want to make vlogs abroad, or simply want to share with friends and family back home, documenting your experience in some form of media is great to have and will be even better down the road. The key thing is to not be afraid or hesitant to start. Many students aren’t used to recording vlogs, taking pictures, or writing down their thoughts or daily recap. This is okay! Everyone must start somewhere and you will only get better with practice. I’ve seen students who are shy or hesitant to whip out the camera and record or ask someone to take a picture of themselves and they regret it later on. This is also a great chance to get creative with your media and who knows, maybe you’ll create the next great YouTube or photo idea that will take the internet by storm!

  1. Embrace and adapt to the cultural differences.

You are in a new country with a different culture. The best thing to do is observe and adapt to try and fit in. The worst thing to do is to expect the people in your host country to change and adapt to you! South Korea will be quite different from what you’re accustomed to. They speak a different language, live a different lifestyle, and eat different foods that you are used to. It can be difficult to make the change from your home culture but if you give it a chance and really make an effort, you find a new appreciation for things you’re used to at home and find out more about yourself. You also may enjoy some of the new cultural things you learn from South Korea that you wish you had back home. Like karaoke rooms with friends and 24 hour Korean barbecue places!

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

Khalid Gives a Tour of China

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Gilman Alumni Spotlight: Everett Elam

Gilman Scholar Everett Elam was first inspired to study abroad after hearing a Gilman Scholar’s Follow-on Service Project presentation at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. As a blind student studying music and the Spanish language, Everett was interested in exploring the rich musical culture of Spain, and improving his Spanish speaking skills. While abroad, Everett stayed with a host family and took intensive language courses. He also immersed himself in the traditional Spanish music community by participating in gatherings of musicians and learning new techniques to play on the fiddle.

 

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Everett and his girlfriend Emily with their fiddles in Salamanca, Spain. 

 

Since returning from his experience abroad, Everett has become an outspoken advocate of study abroad for students with disabilities. He has presented about his study abroad experience and the Gilman Scholarship to numerous groups in his community, and created an “abroadcast:” an audio-story about studying abroad that transports the listener to Spain how Everett experienced it: through sound.

 

 

Are you a Gilman alumni with a story to share? E-mail gilman_scholars@iie.org to share it with us!

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Filed under Alumni Spotlights, Western Europe

Where Are You From?

Two days into 2017 and I found myself on a long journey to the United Kingdom. After spending the holidays at home with my family in Mexico, I packed my suitcase and drove north for four hours, just me and my mom. We crossed the border and arrived in Tucson, Arizona – spending a brief night in a place that I had also once called home. Ever since my parents relocated to Mexico, I rarely have the opportunity to visit. Perhaps it was just the nostalgia, but it felt right to be in the place where it all started before flying to my college home again.

The next morning, I took in the lingering smell of the desert rain and kissed my anxious mother goodbye. Seven hours later, I found myself lugging my heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs to a mostly empty college apartment in Philadelphia. After two years studying at the University of Pennsylvania, it also felt like home to walk around my college campus and have late night conversations over noodles at the local Ramen Bar. Less than 24 hours later, I packed up my second suitcase and stumbled back down the stairs before heading back to the airport for another day of traveling.

By the time I arrived in London, I had passed through 3 different countries over 3 days of travel. Disoriented and exhausted, it was difficult to find the charm in London when I first arrived. My heater didn’t work, my phone service went out, and there was no logic in the placement of crosswalks. During orientation, I sat in the back with one of my best friends from Penn and we rolled our eyes at every cheesy presentation while introducing ourselves to an overwhelming group of new people.

What school do you go to? What are you studying? Where are you from?

 

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First day out in the city in typical London weather!

 

Though the entire situation surrounding “Abroad Orientation” called for small talk and awkward introductions, my inconsistent response to every “Where are you from?” question made me uneasy. As I stumbled to simplify my complicated background and the different layers that compose my identity, I realized that home could take on different meanings. To other American students, I was mostly from Arizona, the place where I grew up. In awkward and somewhat incoherent sentences, I would also mention Philadelphia before quickly moving on. On the other hand, to my British classmates, I was clearly American. Yet, I would often find myself clarifying that I was Mexican too.

 

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Strolls right at dusk down on Oxford Street.

 

It has been a month since I first arrived in London and as the days pass, introductions and “where are you from?” questions have become less frequent. Still, these past few weeks have encouraged me to look back and pinpoint the places that I call home and people that have inadvertently impacted and influenced who I am. At a time when the value of diversity has been questioned and undermined, I find myself embracing my background and the framework that it has provided as I find my place in this expansive and multifaceted city. Sure there is no place like home and there is no place like London but I have a feeling that the two aren’t altogether mutually exclusive.

 

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A rare day of sunshine near Tower Bridge.

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by | February 17, 2017 · 4:21 pm

Studying Abroad as a First-Generation College Student at an Elite Establishment

I refuse to let the pressure get to me. Walking around the hallways of this elite French school, I refuse to be intimidated. I refuse to let everyone’s ease and comfort, (their only worries the readings they didn’t complete last night or the impending presentation they haven’t started), make me feel like I’m a burden. I refuse to feel that I deserve this less, or even, that I deserve this more, which is a thought that bubbles up to the surface when I am overly-confident, partially bitter at how little everyone else has had to do to succeed as I scaled my very anxieties to get here. I refuse to bow.

 

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I’m at the Louvre so I’m smiling but deep inside I’m panicking: Will my scholarship come in time? Will I pass my classes? Will they be challenging enough to be interesting? Are there professors I’ll meet on Monday familiar with students like me in the classroom? Whatever Tammie, smile, we’re getting crepes later.

 

I have a few friends who go to my host school (or are alumni). A good friend of mine, who for the sake of this blog we can call “Nick,” attended this school and graduated, with high honors of course, and told me everything I’d need to know before attending. I know it’s wrong to come to a new place with worries and assumptions but, I’m human, and I cannot keep myself calm in almost any situation so why should this be different? Before I came here Nick told me that this school was built as a place where the French elite could educate their children; politicians and diplomats sent their kids here to follow in their footsteps, and it’s become world-renowned as a place to get your foot in the door to a successful life as a part of high-brow academic society. Many of the previous French presidents have attended this school. Almost all of the people who go here are part of the wealthy elite in whatever nation they come from; all of their family is usually college-educated. Well, crap.

 

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Pictured in the Jardin des Tuileries, one of the largest and historically most important parks in Paris. Nick took me on a bike tour, and we stopped for a moment to admire how many things there were to do right in front of us.

 

Knowing that I have quite the snappy attitude towards those who think they’re better than anyone else because of their academic or economic privilege, I prepared myself for the worst. I pictured myself living in an academic battlefield, constantly having to prove that the self-sufficient girl from New York (the Bronx, to be specific) was good enough, smart enough, and could handle what this school brought for me. Every time I thought about it, I got sick. What if I couldn’t afford to take all the same fancy trips everyone had planned? How would they feel about me going to a state school, one of the most affordable educations in the nation, coming from a CUNY rather than Columbia University, or NYU?

Fast forward some months, and voila! Here I am. Refusing. Refusing to let my own mental insecurities about my abilities affect how I present myself and how I perform at this elite institution that I absolutely deserve to attend. Refusing to disappoint my parents, who I don’t see as inferior for not having attended college, but as visionaries and angels, who sacrificed everything they’ve ever had to make my life better and more privileged than theirs ever will be. I refuse to view myself in competition with others with whom I might not relate; but rather I will let myself get to know others, and see the similarities we share in the world of academia, global travel, and professional experience.

 

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My fears were quickly relieved when I made great new friends who taught me that it’s dangerous to over-think and stereotype institutions, no matter how right I think I am. It’s important to focus on making good friendships and fostering connections, and the rest comes easy. And by the way, no one cares about your circumstances!! This is something our brains will tell us to worry about, but it’s your heart that counts, every single time.

 

To be honest, I think all first-generation college students share some of the same trials and tribulations. There is a girl here with me from my school who has become one of my closest friends in the time we’ve been here together. Let’s call her… Amara. Along with her, I’ve made good friends with an Afro-Brazilian woman (let’s call her Dascha) studying abroad in Paris, and she has struggled just like me to make it to this great university. They both understand, as fellow first-generation college students and low-income women of color, how nerve-wracking it is to be here among all of this wealth, prestige, and honor. We’ve had days, hours, and moments, when we’ve needed to confide in each other about comments made in our classes, observations we’ve seen among social groups, and implications of this institute which were shocking to us. (For example, everyone here can afford textbooks. At our home university, many professors omit them, or give much more time for students to purchase them, because working class colleges contain multitudes of people who can’t afford hundreds of dollars at once for reading material.) I am extremely grateful to you, Amara, for being a friend I confide in about these issues, who understands my anxieties, and gives me hope that we can for sure fulfill this experience without losing our self-esteem, or feeling any type of inadequate.

 

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They don’t have to understand the struggle, it’s okay. If they’re good friends, they’ll care enough to hear you out: your fears, concerns, and everything that comes with it. As long as they’re open to understanding the world, they’re alright with me. Never be ashamed of where you come from.

 

For all the first-gen students who are reading this, feeling some type of way, looking for inspiration or courage to study abroad or head off to college: look inside yourself. It will be difficult to get rid of the assumptions that society has put on us, and we will always feel slightly resentful at how much harder we’ve had to work to get here but please understand that it’s worth it. You deserve the opportunities you’ve fought for, and there’s no sense in worrying so much that you lose the ability to soak in all of the wonderful experiences, moments, and friends you will make here. Refuse to let yourself be a statistic, but make yourself a living example. Refuse to feel self-conscious, but let your different background propel you. Refuse to let the pressure get to you, use it to succeed.

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

Scaling Volcanoes Only Looks Easy

Last time I wrote that “adjusting to field camp has been pretty easy. The Marines prepared me well for this physically demanding and highly structured environment.” Easy might have been the wrong word. Being physically fit and super organized, I might make it look easy, but beneath my calm exterior, my mind is clouded by doubt. The reason I’m so well prepared is because I worry about everything.

I served on active duty for four years. One of the hardest things about readjusting to civilian life has been travelling with others in unfamiliar environments, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last four weeks of field camp. I get stressed because I feel the need to plan everything. The Marine Corps taught me that the more control I can have over my surroundings, the safer I will be. When I’m on my own, this is not a problem. I can take all the time I need to properly prepare for whatever the day may bring. When I’m travelling in a 30-person school group with instructors who decide where we go and when we stop, I worry endlessly.

What if my boots don’t dry overnight? What if I forget to refill and pack the water bottle I was using at breakfast? Once we’re out in the field, what if I don’t have time to stop and reapply sunscreen? What if I need to adjust my pack? Will there be a lunch break? When, and for how long?

Whenever I’m away from home, I feel the need to be at 100% readiness so that if an emergency presents itself I will be in the best possible position to respond. Call me paranoid, but that’s the way I think. I’ve been trained to be highly aware of my vulnerabilities. Stopping and addressing them calms me down and gives me a surge of confidence, but it’s hard to find the time to do that at field camp. I have to rush to keep up because my group is always on the move.

 

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Often road cuts reveal fascinating outcrops. This is a cut in half hummock (bump-shaped mound) several kilometers from Mt. Ruapehu. Its jumble of boulders mixed with fine sands and every grain size in between are what we would expect of an avalanche debris deposit that could have formed after a crater collapse.

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Breaking out the whiteboard turns this small cinder cone volcano into an outdoor classroom.

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There’s a lot going on in this little ski cabin. Students eat breakfast in the foreground, wash dishes in the background, and prepare lunches off to the side. Getting around requires a lot of patience, because there are always people in the way.

 

We spent nine days in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, five days on the West Coast, and now here we are on North Island. We’ve spent all week in the Taupo Volcanic Zone studying volcanoes. Highlights have included hiking the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, speaking with volcanologists at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, and getting to put our hands on volcanic deposits left over from processes like lava flows, pyroclastic density currents, and lahars. All the while we’ve been staying at a cozy, but cramped ski lodge on the flank of the Zone’s tallest volcano, Mt. Ruapehu, which last erupted in 1995.

 

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The 19.4 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing is more easily completed from the north end of the trail. From that direction, it requires only 700 meters of elevation gain vs. 1100 meters if attempted from the south. Still, it’s steep in places. Here the trail zig-zags its way past an old lava flow (foreground).

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Once you make it up that first steep bit you cross an ancient lake bed. Mt. Ngauruhoe (AKA Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings films) looms ominously overhead.

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Now past the high point on the trail, we look down at our first big descent. Beneath us are a trio of geothermally heated pools that smell of sulfur. Notice the yellow helicopter that just landed on the ground between the pools. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hosts thousands of hikers every year, many of whom are either unlucky or inexperienced. During the summer (which is now in the southern hemisphere) an average of one hiker is rescued every day.

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This is the last good view we got on our way down the crossing. Lake Rotoaira is in the middle ground and the much larger Lake Taupo is in the background. Lake Taupo fills the caldera of a super-eruption that happened 26,000 years ago. It was a cataclysmic event with global consequences. Five hundred thirty cubic kilometers of magma were erupted. (Imagine something with the footprint of Manhattan, but six miles thick!)

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This close-up gives a better sense of appreciation for just how large Lake Taupo is. The bumps you see in the foreground and middle ground are small rhyolitic domes that have formed since the supereruption 26,000 years ago.

 

Tomorrow we fly back to Christchurch for the final module of this field camp: a mapping exercise on Banks Peninsula. For all my anxiety, I must admit, it doesn’t get much better than hands-on learning in world-class geological settings. Experiencing these rocks and sediments with all five senses (yes, sometimes even taste*) is sure to cement them in my memory better than any textbook figure. Still, I’ll be happy when it’s done. It will be good to set my schedule and move at my own pace.

*Even with a hand lens, it is impossible to see the difference between silt and clay in the field. Try grinding them between your teeth, however, and the difference is night and day. Clay is so fine you won’t feel a thing, but silt is coarse enough that it will feel similar to sand.

 

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The sunsets here are spectacular. Several students admire Mt. Taranaki 150 km to the west.

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Before and after images of Waikato River as Arataitai Dam releases millions of gallons of water to generate hydroelectric energy.

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A geothermal power plant near Lake Taupo that dates back to 1958 and is still in operation. New Zealand gets about 80% of its energy from renewable sources.

 

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand