Journal Entry #1
Movies from New Zealand
Of all of the movies we watched, “Whale Rider” was definitely one of my favorites. I am from Marina del Rey, California and live about a three-minute walk from the beach. I have always felt drawn towards the ocean and sea animals, and the beach is definitely my happy place! I think this is one of the reasons I enjoyed this film so much. Seeing all of the children run barefoot to school made me tempted to book a one-way ticket to Hawaii and spend the rest of my days lounging in the sand. I also really appreciate how much the Maori people respect their land, and how they view the whale with such reverence.
It was also really interesting to learn about the Maori culture in general. Hearing their traditional songs and seeing their traditional dances was really fascinating because it is so different than anything I am accustomed to seeing here in America. In the Maori culture, women aren’t allowed to be leaders, which leads to tension between Kahu and her grandfather. I was so inspired by Kahu for going against the norms of her culture and aspiring to be chief despite the fact that she is a young girl and despite her grandfather’s resistance. She boldly follows her heart, and proves that she was a strong and capable leader. The final scene of the movie where Kahu coaxes all of the whales back out to sea is extremely moving.
I also loved seeing the beautiful scenery of New Zealand’s coast! This got me even more excited for our upcoming adventure!!
The Dark Horse
I also really enjoyed “The Dark Horse”. This is such a touching story, and I even got a little teary-eyed at the end when Michael wins the final round at the tournament in Aukland!
This is a really interesting movie because it highlights a side of New Zealand that none of the other movies show. I have very little prior knowledge of New Zealand or the culture there. The other films show the natural beauty of the country’s bush and coastline, but this film delves into the heart of the city where homelessness, poverty, and gang violence are prevalent issues.
One of my favorite parts about this movie is the relationship between Mana and Genesis. It was inspiring to see how Mana is born into such a violent and dangerous life, yet he is determined to do better for himself. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps and spend his life in the gang, he finds a way out. And despite the fact that Genesis has his own personal issues to deal with, he still takes the time to be there for Mana and help lead him to a better life.
I am a Psychology major with a minor in Social Welfare, so I was personally really interested to see how Genesis’s mental illness is portrayed on screen. I believe this film is very effective at portraying the difficulties of bipolar disorder. It also demonstrates the common issue of homelessness among those with serious mental illness, as Genesis has nowhere to go after being released from the hospital, and at one point in the movie ends up sleeping in a park.
The Hunt for Wilderpeople
“The Hunt for Wilderpeople” is filled with such gorgeous scenery!! Most of the movie follows Ricky and Hec as they escape deep into the bush. The green forestry and tall mountains are absolutely breathtaking! Seeing this definitely inspired me to look up some good hikes to do while we are adventuring around New Zealand. And as excited as I already was for this trip, I am even more so now!
One reason I really loved this film is because it is such a touching story. When Ricky comes to Bella and Hec’s home, he is emotionally distant and behaviorally delinquent. But after receiving unconditional love from Bella, his heart begins to soften and he finally learns what it means to feel at home.
It is also sweet how Ricky and Hec bond throughout the film. Their relationship is really funny in that they bicker a lot and definitely get on each other’s nerves, but it is obvious that they deeply care for one another. They also have a very unlikely relationship, as Ricky is a mischievous young boy, and Hec is a hardened unemotional older man. Despite the odds, they grow close to one another which I really enjoyed watching.
Another reason that I really liked this film is because I love to laugh!! Comedies are definitely my favorite types of movies, and “The Hunt for Wilderpeople” is really funny in certain parts. I think Psycho Sam was one of my favorite characters because he was just such a goofball.
One talking point that I find particularly interesting is Kiwi’s views on the environment and New Zealand’s reputation as being one of the “greenest” developed countries in the world. I am personally very interested in environmental concerns. I live about a three minute walk from the beach in Los Angeles, California, so I have witnessed firsthand the destruction and damage caused to the environment by human waste, pollution, and overcrowding of large cities. For this reason, I feel very strongly about investing significant time and resources towards protecting and preserving the earth. Before coming to New Zealand, I had heard about their reputation as a very environmentally-conscious developed country, and was excited to learn more about what exactly Kiwis do to prioritize the health of the environment.
It was really interesting to learn about traditional Maori culture and how they perceived the earth as their mother. While we were in Russell, our tour guide Daryl explained to our group how Maori’s initially had a very difficult time comprehending the idea of land ownership. They saw the earth the one who had gifted them everything; they couldn’t understand how one could possibly sell or own it. I believe these traditional values regarding the environment influence Kiwi’s values today, and help explain why they so highly regard protecting the environment.
From my experience, it does seem that New Zealand is fairly environmentally friendly. At our hostel in Paihia, there was a sign in the bathroom asking occupants to turn off the tap water while brushing their teeth, as this is an easy and effective way to save a lot of water. At the same hostel, there were also several different recycling bins for different types of materials. In my opinion, these simple measures to “go green” demonstrate New Zealand’s dedication to environmental concerns.
During our time at Mahurangi College, I got another chance to see how Kiwis value conservation. All of the students seemed really excited to get hands-on experience promoting a healthy environment by planting trees. The regional park that we were at was very well maintained, and it seemed apparent that all of the Kiwis we interacted with at the park were very proud of their beautiful surroundings and were very interested in keeping the park clean and healthy.
While we were working on this conservation project, some of the volunteers taught our group about the methods used in conservation efforts in New Zealand. To my surprise, conservation efforts often include killing off animals and other species. When Europeans first started colonizing New Zealand, they brought a lot of animals that are not native to the island. This led to an extinction of many of the native plants and animals. I believe that these extinctions instilled fear among the Kiwis, and made them more determined to care for and save what native animals they have left on the island. I think this is another reason why environmental concerns are so important to New Zealanders today.
From my experience so far, I think New Zealand does live up to this reputation of being “green”. However, when we were at The Auckland University of Technology, someone in our class asked one of the AUT professors about New Zealand’s reputation as an environmentally conscious country. She kind of laughed at this question, and seemed unaware of New Zealand’s “green” reputation. She explained that in her opinion , New Zealand still has a long ways to go before it should be considered an environmentally conscious nation.
This made me wonder if being raised in different cultures may give people different perspectives regarding these types of issues. Maybe by US standards New Zealand is very progressive in regards to environmental concerns, but by the standards of a Kiwi, there is still a lot more that can be done to protect the earth. These opposing views and perspectives show why traveling and studying abroad is so valuable. Interacting with people of different backgrounds is extremely important, as there is much we can learn from one another.
Our group just spent the last five days in the South Island. We stayed in Christchurch, which was devastated by two major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Eighty percent of the buildings in the Central Business District fell in the second earthquake, and 185 lives were lost. Seven years later the damage of the city is still quite evident. A large portion of the city is in the process of being rebuilt, and there are still countless empty lots that used to house large corporate offices. The city itself feels pretty empty and unpopulated, and at times it almost felt like a ghost town. It was eerily quiet walking to dinner on Friday and Saturday night, when I would have expected the large city to be bustling with activity.
Despite the fact that the city has yet to return to normal, I got the impression that the community as a whole has a great deal of civic engagement and community action. The community seems to have really pulled together following the devastation of the quakes.
Our class visited the University of Canterbury and heard a presentation from the Student Volunteer Army. This is an extracurricular club that was founded as a response to the earthquakes. In 2011, thousands of UC students joined forces to provide manual labor and help clean up liquefaction in the city. It was really moving to hear how young people at a university were so passionate about doing all they could to help. I think most people would have expected college students to be apathetic and uninvolved in the wake of such a disaster, which is why I found it so inspirational that in fact it was just the opposite. What’s even more amazing is that seven years after the earthquakes, the Student Volunteer Army is still a very active club on campus. They provide aid following national disasters across the globe, and they participate in local service projects on a weekly basis. This club demonstrates the strength of the Christchurch community, and the willingness of its residents to come together to help one another.
After visiting the university, one of UC’s professors took our class on a walking tour of the city. Along the tour we stopped at several “gap filler” sites. These are sites where buildings fell during the earthquakes, and are now empty lots because the buildings that previously occupied them have not yet been rebuilt. On these sites, artists have built sculptures, gardens, and other interactive exhibits. One place that we stopped was a dance floor in the middle of an empty lot. Our group really enjoyed this site because we all got to sing and dance to Sweet Home Alabama and Dixieland Delight! These sites are another example of the citizens’ investment in the city. The “gap filler” artists are attempting to make the city beautiful again while it is in the process of being rebuilt. They are also trying to give people a reason to spend time out and about in the city.
It has been seven years since the earthquakes, yet the city is still largely a ghost town. I think it is easy to be critical of the city and how slowly it has recovered from the earthquakes. However, it is important to note that New Zealand is a small country with much less resources than larger nations like the US. Christchurch likely received little aid from the federal government to put towards construction efforts. Additionally, after losing such a major portion of its buildings, it will understandably take a long time for it to be fully rebuilt as it was prior to the destruction.
Given the circumstances, I think Christchurch has done a great job of coming together as a community to attempt to recover from such a significant natural disaster. I would love to return to Christchurch sometime in the near future to see how the city continues to progress and rebuild.
One topic that has come up frequently in my discussions with Kiwis is the idea of race and ethnicity. Our class talked about this with a student at Auckland University of Technology. Jeremy was one of the students we met, and he was born in the Philippines but moved to Auckland when he was young.
I asked Jeremy if he felt that he belonged in his community, regardless of the fact that he is an immigrant. In Jeremy’s opinion, race, ethnicity, and heritage are not determining factors to ones’ sense of belonging in New Zealand. Jeremy explained how there are countless different cultures represented in Auckland, as people frequently immigrate there from all over the world.
What really struck me about my conversation with Jeremy was that in his opinion, Kiwis don’t really care about race: everyone is viewed as equal, and everyone is welcomed. Especially given the racial tension that is currently very prevalent in the US, I thought this viewpoint was refreshing to hear, as this level of acceptance is how all communities should be. I am unsure whether this is the collective viewpoint of all Kiwis towards the issue of race, or if this is just one progressive college student’s opinion. If this truly is how most Kiwis view race and racism, than New Zealand is miles ahead of the US in terms of race relations, and we clearly have a great deal to learn from them.
Based on my experiences in Auckland, it does seem that there is less prejudice towards those of different ethnicities. Walking around the campus of AUT, there wasn’t an obvious racial majority; the student body was made up of quite a diverse group. For this reason, I can see how Jeremy would feel like he belonged in his community, regardless of his heritage being from outside of New Zealand.
I left the North Island with a very positive view of Kiwi race relations. However, the general atmosphere in the South Island regarding race was noticeably different. The residents in general were more white, and definitely more native to New Zealand. The overall culture seemed to have more of an English influence as well, whereas the North Island was more heavily influenced by Asian and Pacific Island cultures.
One night in Christchurch our group went out for ice cream. We talked for awhile with one of the workers there. He is half Tongan and half Kiwi. He talked candidly to our group about race relations in New Zealand. Although many New Zealanders put on the facade of tolerance and acceptance, in his opinion there is underlying racial tension between native New Zealanders and Pacific Islander immigrants.
He opened up about how he has struggled with finding a sense of belonging throughout his life. He never fully felt like he belonged in the Tongan community because he doesn’t speak the language, but he also doesn’t feel completely welcomed in the Kiwi community because of his Tongan heritage. In addition, he felt that racial minorities aren’t treated with the same respect as whites. He also explained how schools are unequally funded based on which ethnicities are most prevalent in them. This is a common issue in the US as well, especially in areas like Tuscaloosa that are still drastically racially segregated.
It was really interesting to analyze how the North and South Islands of New Zealand have different perspectives on race. This reminded me a lot of how the northern and southern regions of the United States have different opinions on race relations as well. A few days ago we returned to the North Island by taking a ferry to Wellington. So far I have gotten the impression that in some ways Wellington is a lot like Auckland, while in other ways it is more similar to Christchurch. Like Auckland, Wellington appears to be more tolerant towards those of different races. But like Christchurch, a larger portion of the population is white. Over the next few days, I am interested to learn more about how the locals here in Wellington feel in terms of race relations.
One of the main differences that I noticed between the US and New Zealand with regards to race is that racial tension is a very hot topic in the US and is discussed pretty heavily in the news and media. However, it seems to be less debated in New Zealand. The man we talked to at the ice cream shop said that there is underlying tension, but Kiwis are very non-confrontational, so it rarely gets discussed out in the open. I think this is one reason why New Zealand has the appearance of being very open and accepting of all races and ethnicities despite the underlying issues. Because it doesn’t get discussed often, it could be easy for outsiders or tourists like us to not notice the discrimination. This shows why it is so important to ask the locals important, relevant questions regarding issues such as this. And it is imperative to approach a new culture with openness and curiosity in order to fully comprehend their society and its values.