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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. 



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.



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. 


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.



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


Crossing White Horse Creek during a rainstorm.


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


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!


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.



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!


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.


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. 



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


Moria Gate limestone cave, Oparara Basin, Kahurangi National Park



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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After two months of living with my wonderful host family, it is time to bid them adieu. The final month of my study abroad program is the ISP (Independent Study Project) period and in that period we are responsible for our own housing, our own travel plans, food, and other expenses. We were all a bit intimidated when it came time to find a house to rent! And of course, after two months of taking classes with the same 12 people, what could be better than getting a house together? Not all of us are living together right now as Alex is living with the guys from another program and some of the girls need to be in other cities for their research, but that leaves ten of us renting a beautiful house with one bedroom, two large salas with very comfortable couches if I say so myself, and a western style bathroom. It also has a fairly decent kitchen and sitting room! The best part however is that the house comes with a pet. Finally, I can wake up every morning to the shrill chirping of a bright yellow parakeet… Now I remember why I hated it when my little sister had pet finches in her room.

We had three days from the final day of class to the official end of our homestay. I spent those three days packing and bringing my stuff over one suitcase at a time, one bag per day to the new house. I explored to supermarkets for ingredients for food, and I looked up stove top recipes for my favorite treats that usually require baking. I waited until I officially moved out to go buy perishable ingredients and for dinner on my first night in the house, I made a nice rice pudding. Of course, before I could make the rice pudding, I had to find vanilla. In the supermarket, they had no flavorings of any kind. In the baking section, they had pre-packaged mixes, rose water, and orange blossom water. They also had vanilla sugar, orange sugar, and various types of chocolate. No pure or synthetic extracts of any type! I wound up asking the program coordinator how to say vanilla in French and Arabic and wandering up the streets in the medina to every singe spice vender…. Vanille? Vanille? La (NOT) sucre! Finally, right before I gave up and caught the bus to go down town to a big supermarket with an international section, I struck gold… or bean really. Gourmet whole vanilla beans! When I asked at the final vendor, they began to say no, then paused and fetched a bag from behind the register and asked if it had vanilla beans in it and lo and behold! I bought three whole vanilla beans for 36 Dirham… $1.50 US per bean. When I told my mom she started hinting that I should look up how to make homemade vanilla extracts since it’s higher quality than anything you can buy in a store and with the price of the beans here it’s way cheaper apparently! My mom said in the US vanilla beans cost about $5.00 per bean… I’ve never bought or used whole vanilla beans before so it was a new experience.

Next weekend I’m going to have my host family over for lunch so they can see where I’m living and sample some all-American food. I’m feeding them potato salad, coleslaw, rice pudding with raisins and toasted almonds, and southern-fried chicken like my grandma makes! Hopefully they like it! And hopefully I’ll be able to find all of the ingredients for this more efficiently and with less hilarity than finding the vanilla.

I’m down to exactly 32 days… and I have 26 days to write a 25 page paper on a migration issue in Morocco! I need to begin reading and researching and analyzing if I’m to finish it on time while also having the ability to start travelling and seeing more cities in this fair country. Until next time!

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