Category Archives: Oceania

New Skills in New Zealand

INTRODUCTION

On my first day in New Zealand, I completed a self-assessment provided by the Gilman Scholarship Program. It asked me to rate myself in areas like problem solving, adaptability, communication, openness, resilience, and confidence. Now, five months later, with my journey nearly complete, it’s time to retake the test! In this post, I share how I’ve changed this semester and attempt to answer why. To make this look more scientific than it is, I’m writing in the format I used for my semester-long geology project (which is now finally done!).

 

20170601 Poster Conference

Since classes began in February, I’ve been working on a research project to explain groundwater flow on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand. Now it’s finished! I presented this poster to my professors and classmates.

Francis Upritchard - Sloth

After spending 40 hours on homework in my final week of class, I was in need of a study break. A friend and I went to the Christchurch Art Gallery, where I felt an emotional connection to this sloth by Francis Upritchard.

Look Mum No Hands

My favorite exhibit at the Christchurch Art Gallery was “Look Mum No Hands,” by Wayne Youle. It featured dozens of simple and colorful works like this one.

Wayne Youle - Trap

 

METHODS

The self-assessment consisted of 30 qualitative and 23 quantitative questions divided into different categories. The qualitative questions were yes or no: Do I think I have this quality, or do I not? The quantitative questions were similar, but ask me to rate my skills from 1 to 10, ten being most skilled.

I did not want to be influenced by the results of my initial self-assessment, so I did not compare answers until after I had retaken the test. When I did, I noticed that some categories in which I didn’t feel I had experienced any change had different scores. I think this was because I interpreted those questions differently the second time. To correct for this, I changed seven answers so that the after values matched the before values. Those are the only changes that I made.

 

RESULTS

Quantitative

During the initial self-assessment, I answered yes to 24 of 30 questions, indicating that I thought I had 80% of the skills, attributes, and qualities listed. During the final self-assessment, I answered yes to only 22 of the 30 questions. None of the yes answers were new. The two abilities or qualities I no longer felt I possessed were “Identify career objectives,” and “Self-confidence.”

Qualitative

Six skill scores decreased, six stayed the same, and 11 increased. The net change across all 23 questions was +5.

Most changes were slight. The only before and after results that differed by more than two points were both negative. “Ability to keep a sense of humor in stressful situations,” dropped from 6 to 2, while, “Ability to interact with and relate to many different people,” dropped from 8 to 5.

The other losses were more than offset by the many gains. Each of these scores increased by two: confronting problems, dealing with failure, taking risks, handling unfamiliar situations, establishing relationships, and awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses.

 

DISCUSSION

I’ve lost some confidence in my ability to identify career objectives. Engineering schools like the University of Canterbury are more practically minded than my liberal arts college back home. Studying here this semester has opened my mind to new careers I had not previously considered, like engineering geology. These new options make the path forward seem less clear.

I’ve also lost some confidence in myself. When I first took the assessment in January, I was content with minimal social interaction. As long as I got to Skype with my girlfriend, I was satisfied. After the breakup I wrote about in March, however, I realized how lacking my social life was. Being plunged into singleness reminded me how I struggle to make new connections. I’ve made progress since then, but there is still more work to be done.

One thing I gained from the breakup was a wealth of candid feedback from my ex-girlfriend. We were always good communicators, and we split up on good terms, so when I asked for feedback, she delivered. “Ability to keep a sense of humor in stressful situations,” dropped from 6 to 2 because it’s something that she specifically mentioned. When under pressure, I perform well, but I’m not cheerful. I failed to make that distinction when I took the initial assessment.

The other big drop was from 8 to 5 for, “Ability to interact with and relate to many different people.” Being immersed in a foreign culture for an extended period can be overstimulating. I often find I don’t have the mental energy to engage with New Zealanders as much as I’d like. Instead, I gravitate toward the familiar. For example, my closest friends here are the other Americans in my geology program. I suspect that our five weeks of bonding during field camp would have created close friendships regardless of cultural differences, but there’s no denying that coming from the same culture makes it easier.

Positive changes were smaller, but more numerous. The skills underlined in the following paragraph increased by two points each. These improvements came from experienced gained during the breakup and the recovery that followed.

I was forced to confront problems as the relationship unraveled. When nothing more could be done, I learned to deal with failure. Afterward, I hatched a plan to improve my social life, and took risks to make it happen. I handled unfamiliar situations that helped me to establish new relationships. Throughout it all, I reflected on events in my journal, which gave me more awareness of my strengths and weaknesses.

 

Cycling Map

This map of Christchurch shows an area 15 miles wide. The permanent marker I’ve drawn on it shows that I’ve ridden my bike everywhere. This week I recorded my one-thousandth mile and sold my bicycle.

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I saved my most ambitious bike ride for last: 50 miles with 6,000 feet of elevation gain! This view down the length of Lyttelton Harbour shows about half the route. I cycled to the peninsula on the right, then took a ferry across the harbor and headed up into the mountains. That night I ate a 4,000 calorie dinner.

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Looking back to where the previous photo was taken. This waterfront road was the most scenic part of my 50-mile ride.

 

CONCLUSION

Comparing scores from my initial and final self-assessments provides insight into the conflicts I’ve faced this semester and the ways in which I’ve grown from them.

The most drastic individual score changes were in the negative direction, but my capability has not diminished. It is only my perception that has changed. That some scores have decreased shows that I have grown wiser, and have a better understanding of my limitations.

Despite some decreases, the overall trend was positive. The improved skill scores were mostly the result of lessons learned from the end of one relationship and the beginnings of others.

These last five months in New Zealand have been a valuable experience. The skills I honed this semester will serve me well in my senior year at Pomona College and beyond.

For the time being, however, my focus is on the more immediate future, namely summer! After I take my last exam, I fly to Wellington for one final adventure, then home to California, where I look forward to some time off in perfect weather.

 

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The wharf at Diamond Harbour, where I caught a ferry to Lyttelton.

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Looking north across Lyttelton Harbour toward the industrial town of Lyttelton.

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Pulling away from the wharf at Diamond Harbour.

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Approaching Lyttelton from the water.

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I expected Lyttelton to be a touristy town, but, as this photo shows, it’s thriving with industry. It is an international port with a lumber yard and dry dock. It’s just on the other side of the Port Hills from Christchurch, which does not have a deep water port. A tunnel connects the two.

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Looking north from the top of Dyers Pass. Christchurch sprawls out in the distance.

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South Island’s Greatest Hits

The mid-semester break at University of Canterbury has come and gone. Returning to class after so much time off is a hard reality, because I know that no lecture or lab can compare to my ten-day road trip of South Island.

It was an old-school road trip. My German flatmate and I navigated 1700 miles of two-lane highways with little more than a road atlas and the advice of visitor centers. We knew where we wanted to go, but we weren’t sure what we would find once we got there. We didn’t plan any activity more than a day in advance, we rarely looked anything up online, and we never used GPS. We were driving by the seats of our pants. What could go wrong!

For a plan that was so last-minute, I was lucky to have so compatible a travel companion. Considering that we grew up on different continents, Marius and I have a lot in common. We’re both quiet. We’re the same age, have similar music taste, and share a strong sense of responsibility. As we stocked up on groceries the night before our departure, I could tell that we were going to work well together. Our cooperation would be important, because for the next week and a half we would be spending day and night inside the cozy confines of his newly acquired camper van.

 

20170419 Angie at Queen Street Holiday Park

 

Despite our lack of planning, the trip went smoothly. The worst of our troubles was a leaky transmission that had to be repaired when we got to Nelson, our first stop,on the north coast of South Island. That cost us a full day, but we gained it back later.

 

20170421 giant pine cone

A giant pine cone.

 

 

Walking around Nelson while we waited on the repair was a pleasant way to pass the time, but the reason we’d driven that far north was to visit Abel Tasman National Park. Once we got the car back, that’s where we headed. We spent our second night on the road inside the park at Totaranui Campground. The campground is right on the ocean, and a short walk from the Abel Tasman Coast Track, the park’s most famous hiking trail.

 

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Abel Tasman Coast Track.

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Abel Tasman Coast Track.

 

We got up early the next morning and spent all day hiking what we were told is the most scenic portion of the 37-mile Coast Track. The trail wound its way through the jungle, over gentle hills, and down onto the beaches. The meandering route added to the sense of adventure.

Our fourth and fifth days were mostly spent in the car. We backtracked from Nelson until we reached the West Coast, then headed south. We stopped for a sunset walk at the famous Pancake Rocks (which I had already seen in January), then drove on to Greymouth, where we spent the night. The next day, we continued south on Highway 6 all the way to Wanaka.

 

20170421 Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks.

 

Along the way, we did a bit of hiking at Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. The two have a reputation for being the world’s most accessible glaciers, but Marius and I were unimpressed. They’ve both receded so much in recent years that there’s not much left to see. A new sign at Franz Josef says that the only safe way to get onto the glacier now is by helicopter.

 

20170422 Franz Josef scenery

Franz Josef scenery.

In Wanaka on day six, we hiked to the top of Roy’s Peak, a 5177-ft mountain that gives spectacular views down the length of Lake Wanaka. It was the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done. By lunch the next day we were in Milford Sound, our turnaround point on this ten-day journey.

 

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Roy’s Peak scenery.

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Roy’s Peak scenery.

 

For an international tourist destination, Milford Sound is incredibly remote. The Sound is actually a fiord. It’s part of Fiordland National Park, and it’s those sheer-sided fiords all around it that make it so geographically isolated. It wasn’t discovered by Europeans until 1812, and there wasn’t any road access until Homer Tunnel was completed in the 1950s. In the 65 years since then, not much has changed.

 

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Milford Sound.

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Milford Sound.

 

Marius and I were surprised by how few facilities there are at Milford Sound. The only substantial buildings are a café, and a cruise ship terminal where a handful of companies compete to sign up tourists for daytrips aboard their vessels.

We’d hoped to rent kayaks for an hour or two, but were disappointed to learn that the only way to get out on the water is as part of a guided tour. The least expensive option available that afternoon was a cruise/kayak package that cost a lot more than we had planned to spend. The cruise was better than expected, but the kayaking was boring. There is nothing adventurous about a leisurely paddle with a group of tourists.

Aside from our pricey day at Milford Sound, we traveled cheaply, splitting costs every step of the way. Food, fuel and accommodation cost me an average of $43 per day.

Our second-to-last stop, Queenstown, was my favorite. On the afternoon that we arrived, Marius and I took the Skyline Gondola to get a bird’s-eye view of the city and Lake Wakatipu beyond. There’s a fancy restaurant at the top of the Gondola, and, more excitingly, a downhill racetrack for gravity powered carts. Marius couldn’t match my years of racing experience, but he put up a good fight, and we both had loads of fun.

 

20170425-26 Skyline Gondola and The Ledge Bungy

Skyline Gondola.

Driving is my greatest passion. Sadly, I misplaced by license on the way to New Zealand, and haven’t been allowed to drive since. That’s my biggest regret of the semester, but it made the Skyline Luge that much more gratifying. I finally got to scratch the itch.

 

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Skyline Luge.

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Skyline Luge.

I had the next day in Queenstown all to myself, because Marius was going skydiving without me. (While I’m sure skydiving is an incredible adrenaline rush, I have no interest in paying hundreds of dollars for so passive an experience.) On our Gondola ride down the mountain the day before, a Canadian sitting across from us had recommended the Ben Lomond Track, which goes all the way to the top of the mountain above the restaurant and luge. Having spent most of the last week in a car, I had a lot of pent-up energy, so I decided to go for it. The sign at the trailhead said it would take 6-8 hours round trip. I did it in 4.5, and that’s including a one-hour lunch break! It’s a beautiful thing to be young and healthy. It felt great.

 

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Ben Lomond scenery.

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Ben Lomond scenery.

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Ben Lomond scenery.

When Marius and I met back at the car, I learned that his skydive had been cancelled due to unpredictable winds. I felt sorry for him, because I knew how much he was looking forward to it. That was going to be the highlight of the trip for him. Missing out on it seemed to take the wind out of his sails. We had planned to spend another two or three days on the road, but he said he wanted to be home by nightfall the next day. That was okay with me. We both had a lot of homework to do before classes resumed, and we would still have time for one last stop.

I had hoped we would return via Dunedin, South Island’s second largest city, but Marius is more interested in New Zealand’s nature than its culture. After seeing how disappointed he was, agreeing to return via Mount Cook was the least I could do.

The visitor center at Mount Cook National Park is a fascinating little museum. I could have spent half a day just admiring all the exhibits, but time was ticking, so we took the advice of the woman at the information counter and drove to the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. It was a windy, but pleasant 90-minute walk that led us over several suspension bridges and ended at Hooker Lake. New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook (12,218 feet), loomed tall in the distance. Before leaving the park, we also drove to Tasman Lake for a shorter walk.

 

20170427 Mt Cook National Park (1)

Mt Cook National Park.

20170427 Mt Cook National Park (2)

Mt Cook National Park.

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Mt Cook National Park.

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Mt Cook National Park.

 

We made it back to Christchurch without incident. We pulled up to our flat shortly after sunset and unloaded the car, satisfied with our trip, and happy to be home.

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When in Rome…Don’t Go Home

One of the best reasons to study abroad in New Zealand is the long break that students get in the middle of each semester. Two weeks is standard, but spring break here at the University of Canterbury is three weeks, and it’s going on now.

Back when I had a girlfriend in California, the plan had been to fly home and visit her. After we broke up last month, it took me a long time to decide what to do with my already purchased plane tickets.

My first thought was to fly home and stay with my parents instead. They would have been happy to have me, and I had reason to visit. Besides getting to see family and friends, I could have finally replaced my lost driver license, something that has been a limiting factor here in New Zealand.

Going home would have been the safe, familiar choice. That’s why I gravitated toward it initially. But as the days passed and the time for a decision drew nearer, I realized what a missed opportunity that would be.

The comforts of home can wait. This is probably the only time in my life I will have three weeks’ vacation in New Zealand, and there’s still so much of this spectacular country I haven’t seen. With only hours to spare, I cancelled my plane tickets for a partial refund.

By the time you read this, I will be on a thousand-mile road trip with my German flatmate, Marius. I’m lucky that he recently bought a camper van for this purpose, and that he hadn’t yet found a travel companion.

Ordinarily, I would feel the need to meticulously plan for a trip like this, a trait I get from my dad and that was reinforced during my four years in the Marine Corps. For this trip, however, I think it’s important that I not overthink it. This semester, I’m learning to accept that it’s impossible to plan for everything. Even if it were possible, I’m not sure that I’d want to. Proper preparation reduces the risks involved, but it also takes away from the fun and adventure. Knowing what’s going to be around every corner makes for a sterile experience.

I credit my cycling for teaching me this life lesson. Despite a pair of recent rainstorms, I’ve now put 400 miles on my bicycle. I’m closing in on my goal of riding through every square kilometer of Christchurch and its suburbs. I carefully plan each ride to cover as much new ground as possible, but once I’m out on the road, I allow myself to detour if I see something interesting. Whether I’m on the predetermined route or wandering impulsively, I find that my best memories are unplanned.

 

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In downtown Christchurch, Cranmer Square is covered with crosses bearing the names of the thousands of Canterbury residents who died in World War I. It’s part of a nationwide effort to commemorate the fallen on the War’s 100th anniversary.

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Christchurch is home to a couple of wizards. I first saw them at a Waitangi Day celebration in February. Here they are again, this time enjoying afternoon tea on New Regents Street. The large sculpture across the street is one example of the hundreds of works of public art around the city.

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Looking west toward the Avon River from Cashel Street in downtown Christchurch. From left to right: a bike share program (free for the first 30 minutes), the Bridge of Remembrance war memorial, and a public ping pong table (paddles and balls included).

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This week I rode 12 miles to the next town north of Christchurch, Kaiapoi (population 10,200). I crossed the main bridge in town just in time to snap a photo of this kayaker on the Kaiapoi River.

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My favorite things about Kaiapoi were the pedestrian bridges across the Kaiapoi River, which connected miles of paved paths along the tops of the river banks.

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The 2010/2011 earthquakes liquefied floodplains in and around Christchurch, including land in Kaiapoi (pictured here). About 10,000 houses were condemned and demolished, leaving behind only the streets and the driveways. There is much debate over how to repurpose this “red zone,” but nothing has been done yet.

 

For example, roadwork often forces me to deviate from my route, but I love the challenge of having to find a way around it. The most creative solution I once found was to carry my bike through an adjacent cemetery, then squeeze through a fence to get back on track.

On another ride, I was passed by a portable building that was being towed by a slow-moving car. I sprinted to catch up, then drafted behind it, coasting for several hundred meters before it turned off the road.

One day, riding back from the farmlands north of the city, my route was cut off by a flooded road. Rather than turn around, I decided to pedal through the shin-deep water. It was unpleasant at the time, but it makes me smile to think back on it now.

 

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Not all cycling surprises are fun ones. Here I had to ride through a puddle the size of a pond. My shoes got soaked, but it was worth it, because I was way out in the country. Turning around would have added six miles to my ride.

The best rides have multiple surprises. A couple Sundays ago I stumbled upon an old outdoor cycling track. There was no one around, so I took it for a spin! Then, back on the road, miles later, I chased after a convoy of classic cars until I found the show where they were gathering.

 

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On a recent ride, I detoured through Denton Park, where I discovered this velodrome. Originally built for the 1974 Commonwealth Games, it is now open to the public. Zooming around its steeply banked curves was nerve-wracking, but fun!

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Back on the road after leaving the Denton Park velodrome, I noticed I was being passed by dozens of classic cars. I chased after them for more than a mile trying to find out where they were going. Just when I was about to give up and turn around, I discovered a meeting of the Canterbury Branch Vintage Car Club.

 

All these unexpected encounters have happened in the few weeks since my last blog post. Just like the improvements to my social life I wrote about then, again I am learning to embrace uncertain situations for the new experiences they offer.

 

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The fun part about cycling through an unfamiliar city is that I never know what I’ll find. This middle-class neighborhood has a street with my name on it!

20170409 Adrenaline Forest

A friend invited me to try the high ropes course at Adrenaline Forest. We made it all the way to the highest platforms!

 

Wanting to be more relaxed and accepting of the unknown is what convinced me to spend my break in New Zealand, and it’s the same approach Marius and I have agreed to have on our road trip. We have a general plan, but nothing is set in stone. We’ll figure out the details as we go! For the first time in a long time, that suits me just fine. I’m finally learning to let go.

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Everything Is Going to Be Alright

          The world is our oyster. The correspondents on this site who have shared tales from Ghana, South Korea, England, Scotland, and France are only a small sample of the more than 850 Gilman Scholars who are having life-changing experiences all over the globe. While we chose our host countries for a variety of reasons, one common draw was the challenge and adventure of navigating a foreign culture far from home.

        With that opportunity comes risk. Setbacks are an inevitable part of any journey. Some can be anticipated, others take us by surprise, but all can be overcome with the right attitude. That’s what I’ve learned these last three weeks here in New Zealand.

        One difficulty I saw coming was the different testing and grading style of a big university compared to that of a small liberal arts college. At Pomona College, my professors know me personally. They know I don’t cheat, and when I submit work that is incorrect, they can compare my answers to what they know about me as a student to figure out exactly where I went wrong. At University of Canterbury (UC), my Physics 101 professor can’t possibly learn the names of all 700 students in my class, much less trust them on a test. Similarly, graders faced with a foot-tall stack of Statistics 101 assignments don’t have time to dissect strange-looking answers.

        I was confident going into my first Physics 101 test. After studying for seven hours, I aced the online practice test with time to spare. I had so strong a memory for the material that I didn’t even bother with the reference sheet I was allowed. Instead of filling the sheet with important equations, I thought it would be funny if I made a colorful crayon drawing of a boy flying a kite. So, that’s what I did.

 

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My Physics 101 professor allowed each student to bring a reference sheet to the first test. He said I could put anything I wanted on it. This is what I chose!

 

        I got a four out of ten on the test, not for lack of a serious cheat sheet, but because the strict testing procedures made me nervous. I had to show my ID and calculator at the door, leave all my belongings at the front of the room, then sit with empty desks on both sides of me to discourage cheating. Once told to do so, I opened the booklet and had exactly one hour to finish the machine-graded, multiple-choice test.

        As soon as I hit one small stumbling block, I panicked! I remembered the formulas, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to work the problems through from start to finish. It made me miss Pomona’s casual, take-your-time approach to testing. Fortunately, it was only worth a small portion of my final grade. I’ll be ready next time.

        My first Statistics 101 assignment was a similar story. I submitted it assuming I’d get an A. Despite doing all my calculations correctly, I got only half credit because I didn’t display my data in the correct format. For example, I lost points on one of my graphs because the values on its y-axis were expressed as absolute values instead of percent values. It seemed so nit-picky, but that’s the attention to detail that’s needed here, and now I know. For my next assignment, I’ll print it out in advance and ask for feedback before I turn it in. Problem solved!

        If only all problems were so straightforward….

        My girlfriend and I had been dating for two years. We planned to marry each other someday. This month, she broke up with me.

        Long distance was nothing new for us. That’s how we had spent most of our relationship. But once she started graduate school last semester, she started to make new friends and see new career opportunities. Without either of us realizing it, she started to drift away from me. At some point, our long-distance relationship stopped being a buoy for her. It became an anchor. She didn’t want to put her life on hold for a future with me that was still two years away, so she cut the rope. I don’t blame her.

        I had a good cry the night she broke the news to me, but she said she did it for both of us and I understand that now. The longer we had been together, the more reclusive I had become. It’s hard to be present when half your heart is hundreds of miles away. Instead of engaging with those around me, I used to busy myself with solitary pursuits like reading and video games. It got to the point that I hardly had a social life outside my girlfriend. I made little effort to stay in touch with old friends, and no effort to make new ones. Not anymore!

        I had an epiphany recently that I’m afraid of putting myself in situations where I must compete for peoples’ attention. So, what am I doing now? Exactly that. I’m joining clubs left and right, chatting up strangers, making new friends, and accepting invitations I normally would have turned down. Basically, I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone and seeing what happens. I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing, but at least I’m doing something, and it seems to be paying off.

        So far this month, I’ve joined six student clubs and attended 13 meetings. I’m cycling with UC Bike Club, speaking with UC Spanish Club, tasting with UC Wine Club, grooving with Defy Dance, and doing community service with the Student Volunteer Army. Through these activities, I’ve made several friends who I never would have met otherwise. I’m also growing closer to my flatmates, who continue to impress me with their friendliness and consideration. Things are looking up.

 

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The flatmates celebrate Jasper’s 35th birthday! From left to right: Marius, me, Mathew, Calvin, and Jasper.

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My first ride with UC Bike Club.

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Last weekend I went camping with the Student Volunteer Army. My group did trail maintenance. Others improved the campground by doing yardwork and home-improvement projects. The camp is owned by a charitable trust that subsidizes camping trips for the disabled.

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After the Student Volunteer Army was finished working for the day, we got to relax at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, a waterpark that is naturally heated by magma near the Earth’s surface. It was of special interest to me because one of my geology classes this semester focuses on geothermal energy!

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The Avon River winds its way through Hagley Park, a 400-acre park right next to downtown Christchurch.

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It’s been six years since the deadly earthquakes hit Christchurch, but ruins are still a common sight downtown.

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Last month the city unveiled a memorial to commemorate the 185 people killed in the earthquakes.

 

         I’ll end with an update on my cycling, and mention one ride that perfectly sums up my experience these last three weeks.

        After weeks of searching, I finally pulled the trigger on a 2014 Trek 1.1 road bike that was listed online. My patience paid off. Although it’s three years old, it hadn’t been ridden at all before I bought it, so I basically got a brand-new bike for a 40% discount! In my three weeks of ownership, I’ve ridden 250 miles all over the city.

 

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I finally bought a bicycle! This is Trek’s entry-level road bike. It’s three years old, but it looks and rides like new. The previous owner hardly ever used it.

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Looking northeast down onto the beach community of Sumner, seven miles from downtown Christchurch.

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My longest ride so far was a 38 mile round trip to the beach at New Brighton. Little did I know, the national Surf Lifesaving Championships were going on that day! I joined the hundreds of spectators on Christchurch Pier who were watching the kayak and rowboat races.

 

        My most memorable ride was on a Wednesday night. It started as the sun was setting and continued past dark. So many things could have gone horribly wrong, but didn’t. I won’t list all the near misses here, I’ll just share the one that best describes my mood right now.

        I was on my way home riding through downtown when I became distracted by a giant neon sign outside the Christchurch Art Gallery. In colorful, all-capital letters, it proclaimed EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. That’s when the front wheel of my bike slotted into a streetcar track, flinging me sideways. (For added irony, this happed right in front of a street sign warning cyclists of this very hazard!) I fell, but I got up again. The bike was undamaged, I was uninjured, and I have a feeling that everything is going to be alright.

 

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This sign would have been helpful if I had seen it in time.

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Instead of heeding the warning of the sign in the previous photo, I was distracted by this bigger and brighter one across the street. I fell hard, flat on my side! Thankfully, my bike and I suffered only minor scratches.

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Goodbye Wilderness, Hello University of Canterbury

My five-week field camp is over. Our final week was spent mapping lava flows on Banks Peninsula. The work was similar to the volcanology we did on North Island, with one major difference: Whereas Taupo Volcanic Zone is one of the most active systems of its type in the world, the volcanoes of Banks Peninsula are extinct. Enough time has passed for the flows to become overgrown with vegetation, which makes them much harder to see. The upshot is an inviting, pastoral landscape, nothing at all like the foreboding, otherworldly terrain you saw in my last post.

 

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Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula.

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The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.

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The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.

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The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.

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Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.

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Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.

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Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.

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The seal colony on this shore platform is home to dozens of seals, many of them newborn pups!

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The beach at Le Bons Bay. These local boys have erected walls of boogie boards and are now throwing sand at each other. As we passed, we overheard one of them call out, “It’s the U.S. vs. Mexico!”

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Some of the students from my group wade into Le Bons Bay, which is extremely shallow. Even 100 meters from the shore, I could still touch the bottom.

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This Maori war canoe, called a “waka,” paddled upstream as part of Okains Bay’s Waitangi Day celebrations. Waitangi Day is February 6 and celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty gave England sovereignity over New Zealand while granting some rights to the indigenous Maori. Unfortunately, the English and Maori language versions of that treaty differ slightly, so there is debate over how to interpret them. Maori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population, but account for 50% of the prison population. On average, their income is only two thirds that of European New Zealanders. Still, they are better off than Native Americans. Many of New Zealand’s largest companies are Maori-owned, and 20% of New Zealand’s parliament is of Maori descent.

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Children’s foot races at Okains Bay’s Wataingi Day celebrations.

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Unlike nearby Australia, the wild animals in New Zealand are relatively harmless. Instead, it’s the plants that will get you. Gorse (pictured here) is the mildest. It’s sharp, but flimsy, so the best tactic is to walk quickly through it without pausing. Matagouri, on the other hand, is sharp and stiff, so it requires more caution. Worst of all is ongaonga, which grows only in shady areas and is covered by poisonous hairs. One look and you know its dripping with menace. Our professor described it as “stinging nettle on steroids.” The burning sensation lasts for up to three days!

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Full days in the field require plenty of food. Fortunately, we were well fed. This sandwich has sausage, chicken, ham, cheese, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, mustard, and hummus. My typical lunch would have two sandwiches like this, two pieces of fruit, and two granola bars.

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Our group plops down for an extended lunch break next to Coffin Rock (on which I was standing to take this high-angle photo), Banks Peninsula.

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The wind played an active role in many of the landscapes we visited. On one particularly bad day in Castle Hill Basin, gusts reached almost 100 mph! The wind was not as bad on Banks Peninsula (pictured here), but you can see it’s still strong enough to rake this bush into a sort of natural topiary.

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Our final stop was an old school that had been recently converted to a campground.

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The best part about camping at a school was getting to use the playground. Besides this soccer field, there was also a tennis court.

 

As fascinating and educational as field camp was, it was starting to wear on me by the end. The constant stimulation and weekly location changes were a little much for an introvert like me. I prefer to have my own space and a predictable schedule. Now I get my wish.

For the next four months, I get to settle down in the largest city on South Island, Christchurch (population 375,000). The city has been a hotbed for geology ever since 2011, when it was shaken by a deadly and highly destructive earthquake from which it is still recovering.

Three miles west of downtown is the University of Canterbury (UC), where I’m now one of 12,000 full-time students. It’s many times larger than Pomona College, but it’s not entirely unfamiliar. Before Pomona and before the Marine Corps, I spent a year at another UC: Berkeley.

I spent only one year at Berkeley because it was a poor fit for me at that time in my life. I struggled academically and socially, and ultimately withdrew. During this first week of class here in Christchurch I’ve had a few flashbacks to that overwhelming experience eight years ago. Thankfully, my work ethic and study skills are better now, and the students here are not workaholics, something I disliked about Berkeley.

I live on campus in a five-bedroom flat. Surprisingly, I’m younger than all four of my flatmates. Matt is a 32-year-old Kiwi undergrad who used to work in the wine industry but is now changing careers to become an accountant. Marius is a 27-year-old postdoc mechanical engineering student from Germany. Rounding out the flat are two PhD candidates: Calvin, a chemical engineer from Malaysia, and Jasper, a botanist from the Philippines. Although we’re still getting to know each other, we’ve already had some good conversations in our flat’s common room. It’s nice living with older students.

 

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After five weeks of sleeping in bunkrooms and tents, this spacious bedroom is a major upgrade. It’s mine for the next four months.

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There are five of us who share this five-bedroom flat. The common room has a fully stocked kitchen, a table with chairs, and a couple of sofas. It opens onto a balcony that faces another four-story building just ours. The front door to our flat is at the end of the hallway.

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There are about 1,000 international students at the University of Canterbury. This map shows where they call home.

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International Student Orientation was held inside the University’s largest lecture hall, the same room I use for Physics 101 and Statistics 101.

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Two days after orientation I went to the Central Library for enrollment. The domestic students get to enroll online, but we international students had to do it in person. I waited in a series of lines for more than two hours. Fortunately, I got into all four classes that I wanted to take.

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Special events are common during orientation and extend into the first week of classes also. This game reminded me of the pugil stick bouts that are important rites of passage for Marine Corps recruits at boot camp. The purpose of those pugil stick bouts is to teach aggression, but this game is just for fun. The building in the background is identical to the one in which I live.

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The area of campus west of the academic buildings has expansive lawns and gardens. Chalk advertisements are everywhere this week because the student clubs are recruiting new members. Here you can see one for the largest club on campus, EnSoc, which is short for Engineering Society.

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The Puaka-James Hight building houses the University’s Central Library and is one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch. Its blocky concrete architecture is typical of the rest of the campus, which was constructed in the 1960s.

I’ve been told that classes here are much easier than what I’m used to at Pomona College. That’s held true for the first week of class. This semester I’m taking two geology classes and what I fear will be two boring electives: Physics 101 and Statistics 101. They might not hold my interest like the Spanish and dance classes that were my go-to electives at Pomona, but they are prerequisites for graduate school.

Outside of classes, I expect that my biggest time commitment will be biking. This semester I’ve made it my goal to become an avid cyclist.

I need wheels. I feel trapped without them. I want to get out and explore the city, but anything more than two miles from campus is too far to walk, and I hate waiting on buses. My study abroad program doesn’t allow me to own a motor vehicle, so a human-powered one is the next best thing. With the right bike, I can expand my radius from two miles to twenty. Nothing will be off limits!

 

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I have all the gear I need for the perfect commuter bicycle: Helmet, lock, gloves, high-visibility vest, and cycling shoes with compatible pedals. All I need now is the bike. Every time I ride a new road, I’ll cross it off on the map that’s pinned to the wall.

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Once I have a bike, visiting attractions like this farmers’ market will be much easier. It took me 28 minutes to walk here from campus. With a bike I could do it in less than ten.

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The farmers’ market in the previous photo is held every week at Riccarton Bush, a park that is home to the last old-growth forest in Christchurch.

 

Over the last week, I’ve spent hours each day researching my options. I’m looking for a good, used road bike. Ideally, it will be fast enough to beat the bus, but cheap enough that I won’t be devastated if it’s stolen. This morning I test rode a 2006 Kona Zing that might fit the bill. I found it on Trade Me, a hugely popular New Zealand website that’s like Ebay and Craigslist combined.

Once I have a speedy bike for zipping around the city, I look forward to learning every neighborhood, visiting every park, riding all the way east to the ocean and south to the mountains of Banks Peninsula. By the end of the semester, I want to know my way around this city better than the locals. I’m stating that goal here so that my readers can hold me to it.

Until next time, that’s all the latest from Down Under!

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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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Where I Am and How I Got Here

Hello! My name is Trevor. I am a Marine veteran and a third-year geology student at Pomona College. This semester I’m studying abroad in New Zealand. I’m halfway done with the first part of my program, which is a five-week field camp all over the North and South Islands. 

 

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That’s me atop a hill that was located near the center of our mapping area and offered astounding views in all directions. I’m holding the map board and field notebook I used to record my findings.

 

I must admit, I’m a little surprised to be here. When I started at Pomona two years ago, I had no plans to study abroad. I was lucky to travel a lot growing up, and I’d recently returned from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. I thought I’d be content to hang around campus all four years, but my curiosity got the better of me. Some friendly encouragement from my girlfriend (who also studied abroad while at Pomona) was the final push I needed to take a step out of my comfort zone. Here I am.

 

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A farm truck and a sheep dog driving through the countryside. It doesn’t get much more New Zealand than that. Sheep outnumber people 20:1 in New Zealand. 

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Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area: Known to non-Maori speakers as Castle Hill, these limestone cliffs featured prominently in the Chronicles of Narnia movies. That’s my group gathered in the background.

I had three main concerns about leaving home, all of which still hold true to varying degrees. 1) After field camp finishes, I will have to do my own cooking for the rest of the semester. I hate cooking. 2) Cars are my greatest passion in life, but my program does not allow me to own a motor vehicle while in New Zealand. 3) I sunburn easier than anyone I know. New Zealand’s depleted ozone layer means I will have to be even more careful than usual.

I haven’t yet had to cook for myself, and I’ve only been away from my car for a few weeks, so the only concern I’ll address now is the sun. Yes, it’s bad, but it is manageable. As long as I reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes I know I won’t burn. I’ve only burned once so far, and that was on an overcast day in the field when I tried to make due with only three sunscreen applications instead of the usual five.

Otherwise, adjusting to field camp has been pretty easy. The Marines prepared me well for this physically demanding and highly structured environment.

 

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Rivers cut through rock leaving behind excellent exposures for us to study. The only downside is soggy socks.

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Crossing White Horse Creek during a rainstorm.

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The sea foam at 14-Mile beach was knee-deep and jiggled in the wind like Jell-O.

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Torrential rain damaged much more than just this trail. The flooding and debris flows it caused closed major roads, delaying our trip to the West Coast. Professor Sam described it as the storm of the decade. According to weather reports, more than a foot of rain fell in a 24-hour period, and the wind was gusting at almost 100 mph!

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My group descends a hillside at Castle Hill Basin after a long day in the field. The area we mapped measured two square miles and extended all the way to the foothills of the tallest mountains in the background.

 

I’m here with 22 geology students from American liberal arts colleges. We won’t mix with the local New Zealanders until classes begin at the University of Canterbury next month. For now, it’s just us and a rotating cast of professors and teaching assistants. I like that everyone has a friendly attitude.

 

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A few of us pause for a photo op during a steep ascent of a limestone ridge. Tectonics have uplifted the limestone beds so much that in some places they are vertical, or even overturned. The beds continue onto the terrace behind us. You can see the vertical bedding exposed in the small hill to the left of the larger one. Also note the landslide scraps on the right of the photograph. This is a very active landscape!

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Professor Sam (left) and student Monte (right) try to distinguish between the bedding and cleavage planes of this sandstone at 14-Mile Beach. Bedding planes show how the sediment was originally deposited. Cleavage planes are where it later fractured. Ordinarily, they’re easy to tell apart, but these beds have been steeply uplifted. By measuring the orientations of bedding and cleavage at several locations across the beach, we were able to piece together the size and shape of a fold that was thousands of feet wide.

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Students play on a suspension bridge. Look how it flexes!

 

Each day we spend six to eight hours outside in the field making observations and taking measurements. Sometimes this means miles of hiking over hills and across rivers. Each night we spend a couple more hours in the classroom combining and interpreting our data. It’s a lot of work, though we do occasionally get days off to relax indoors or go off exploring on our own.

The university’s field stations serve as our base of operations. They have everything we could want: bunkrooms, classrooms, kitchens, bathrooms with hot showers, and half-decent internet. So far, we’ve spent nine days at Cass Field Station in the Southern Alps and five days at Westport Field Station on the West Coast. In a couple days, we’ll fly to the North Island to study volcanoes. Below are some more photos of the sites we’ve visited so far. 

 

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Scotts Beach, Kahurangi National Park. I climbed to the top of the tallest rock on the left. 

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Moria Gate limestone cave, Oparara Basin, Kahurangi National Park

           

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The famous “Pancake Rocks” of Paparoa National Park.

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On the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, we hiked toward Cape Foulwind (the rocks in the distance) where we surprised a seal sleeping in the plants. It was so well hidden we didn’t notice it until we were almost on top of it!

 

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