Kayla Merritt

Kayla Merritt

Journal Entry #1 - Movies

Hi! It seems only fitting to start this blog as I did my last study abroad blog, with a thank you to those reading this besides my mom! (& the awesome professors who have to read this so I can be graded) So thanks for being here! I’m really excited to begin my three weeks in New Zealand, and what better way to prepare than to watch New Zealand movies? Our first assignment was to watch three films made in NZ. so here’s my take on Pork Pie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and An Angel at my Table!

The first movie on my list was Pork Pie. I watched this one as I packed my suitcase and it definitely got me excited to start this adventure! This was my favorite movie, possibly because it felt very much so like an American comedy. The movie followed three unlikely friends as they made their way around New Zealand. It had a bit of a Baby Driver feel, since they drive around in a little Mini Coop that one of the characters had stolen. So while they are driving to avoid the authorities, they are also trying to get one of the characters to the love of his life so he can fix their relationship. Along the way they pick up a girl who hates her job at a fast food joint and wants an adventure. The ensuing chaos was very entertaining! I loved watching as they dealt with typical human conditions like love and loss, but also found that the geography around them added to the story as they went through things. For example, as Luke and Keira progress in their relationship they are on a train transitioning from one landscape to another. This movie was my first introduction to the amount of variation in the NZ landscape so I’m really excited to get to see it in person! I’m also a huge sucker for a happy ending so Pork Pie really pulled at my heart strings!

The next two movies I watched as I made my way across the Pacific to spend a few days in Sydney, Australia before hitting the smaller islands to the east. The first was Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which was pretty hysterical. This movie is about a young boy named Ricky, who has struggled through the foster care system and finally feels like he’s found a home…until his foster mother suddenly dies and his case worker won’t let him stay with his foster father (who isn’t really sure he wants to keep him anyway.) So Ricky decides to run away into the bush, prompting Hec to go after him because Ricky is a fat city kid who definitely won’t last out there on his own. The two end up staying in the woods, running from the authorities, who think Hec kidnapped Ricky. As they travel the two form a close bond and neither wants to return to the real world. The bush that they travel through is a much smaller area than in the first movie but still has great variation and incredible beauty.

This movie had another happy ending and many others similarities to Pork Pie. There seems to be a theme of civil disobedience, as characters in both movies run from the cops and for the most part, have the support of the people in their evasion of capture. Close relationships are also a common theme, as friendships are built and maintained in both movies. These themes made me really excited for my trip, because one of the major goals is to form relationships with Kiwis and get a sense of what is important to them. These two movies suggest that they are really passionate about causes and place great importance on family and friends.

The last movie I watched was An Angel at My Table, which is based on the life of Janet Frame. Frame is one of New Zealand’s most famous authors, although to be honest I had never heard of her. Watching her childhood unfold in a very rural town in New Zealand was very interesting though. She experienced a ton of trauma at a young age, which contributed to a breakdown in her early 20s that was misdiagnosed as schizophrenia and led to treatments of electroshock therapy for SEVEN YEARS. But despite, or maybe because of, all of these traumatic events, she wrote and published novels, short stories, and poems. Frame seems to embody a type of perseverance that is very important to New Zealanders. This movie was hard to watch at times as she struggled through life, but I learned a lot about one of New Zealand’s most famous people.

These three movies provided a great background for what to expect in New Zealand, culturally and physically. I’m so excited to hit the ground running and experience this country for myself! Check back here for weekly updates, hopefully I’ll be able to keep you entertained with my shenanigans! (While focusing on getting educated of course 🙂

Historical Analysis - Blog #2

So somehow this first week in New Zealand has FLOWN by. It’s been so exciting to get to know all the Alabama students on the trip, in addition to all the amazing activities we’ve done and the Kiwis we’ve met. A couple of days ago, my cousin texted me asking what my favorite thing was that we had done so far. I reflected on the experiences of the last few days and responded, “This is so nerdy, but we went to a place called the Waitiangi Treaty Grounds and learned so much about New Zealand’s history which was so fascinating.” 

Daryl, our bus driver, and another Maori tour guide gave us a brief overview of how New Zealand was discovered, first by the Maori people and then again by European settlers. As we heard the stories, I was struck by how little I knew about New Zealand (and really the South Pacific in general). 

World history is an incredibly huge subject to take on. It would be pretty much impossible to learn everything about every country and/or culture in the world. However, based on my experience in New Zealand so far I think the American version of teaching history is relatively short sighted. History is written by the victors and historically the United States has been able to dictate relevance. The two men that were teaching our group about the Waitiangi treaty were Maori men, so their telling was sympathetic to the native people. I think if I had read a New Zealand history book the story would be slightly different and sympathetic to the British story.  I don’t think that a multi-faceted attitude is applied in a historical context nearly enough. 

As I listened to the telling of New Zealand’s founding and other significant events I was amazed that I had never heard of any of it. I didn’t know of the Treaty of Waitiangi or the civil war or the suppression of Maori culture. This is one of the shortcomings of American education. An emphasis is placed upon western powers to the detriment of other countries. While New Zealand is relatively small and remote, I think neglecting to mention them at all limits American students and our ability to appreciate cultural diversity. 

Again, it would be impossible to teach everything about every country, but a brief history for more of them would be beneficial. When visiting a local school, I got to talk to some students. When I asked if they had to study American history they told me that they don’t learn all of it but some of the important events and presidents come up. They also learn about Maori history, Australian history, and many other South Pacific countries. This is, in part, because of the prevalence of these cultures in their country. This basic knowledge of other countries gives them greater international context, which can only be beneficial to them. 

The Canterbury Museum in Christchurch also had a poignant exhibit that highlighted my lack of education on New Zealand’s history. This exhibit described the contributions and experience of New Zealand in World War I. Of course I knew that New Zealand had participated in WWI as part of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, but they were secondary, not really given any attention as they played so slight a part. However as I walked through the exhibit, I learned that 80% of the New Zealand soldiers that participated in the war voluntarily enlisted. EIGHTY PERCENT. In comparison, in the United States approximately 10% of soldiers volunteered. New Zealand also lost about 18,000 soldiers in the conflict, which in pure numbers is comparably small to other countries, but in percentages is a huge number. Many Americans also have little to no knowledge of the battle of Gallipoli, which was a huge defeat for the Allies. This isn’t taught in our history books because it was fought primarily by Australian and New Zealand soldiers and does not fit the ideal narrative of American and British superiority. The dismissal of New Zealand’s contributions in World War I (and beyond) does a disservice to students because it leads to a failure to fully understand the global ramifications of war. It also furthers the idea that victors write history, which neglects to identify areas in which we as Americans can improve. 

  I know this seems harsh on the American education system, but I truly believe that this is something that needs to be addressed. It seems to me that New Zealand has a better global perspective because of their knowledge of at least some aspects of other country’s histories. This trip has continually opened my eyes to new interpretations of history and I’m excited to learn more in the coming weeks! (I promise my next blog will be more upbeat!!)



Historical Parallels - Blog #3

Alrighty folks, another historically based blog, sorry not sorry! Now that we know my opinions on the lack of American’s knowledge of New Zealand we can have a look at New Zealand’s history and the many parallels it has to American history. While this trip has been filled with lots of fun activities like zorbing and sailing, I’m still loving all of the cultural and historical activities. Like I mentioned in my first blog, the Waitiangi Treaty Grounds was the beginning of my education on New Zealand. Daryl took us to a flag pole in Russell, NZ and gave us a brief overview of what went down to get New Zealand to where it is now. 

In general, we share a native culture that clashed with intruding Europeans, a civil war, and a pattern of systemic suppression of minorities. New Zealand was formed because the Maori people asked Great Britain to intervene with some sort of law and order, because their ports were being overrun with lawless sailors. This prompted the British to draft a treaty to establish New Zealand as their territory. The treaty was translated for the Maori by missionaries, and the imperfect translation led the Maori to sign under false pretenses. In reality, the British took their lands and sovereignty. Sound familiar? The U.S. government has a similar history with the Native Americans. We promised to leave Native American lands to them and ensure they’re sovereignty, but in reality the government continually pushed them out. This led to clashes between the white government and Native Americans. Similarly, the “misunderstanding” between the Maori and British led to the New Zealand wars. This struggle was between Maori tribes and the British. However, some Maori tribes sided with the British which meant that there was in-fighting between the Maori. This divide, and the strength of the British army, led to the defeat of the anti-British Maori. At the end of the wars, the tribes that fought with the British were allowed to keep their land while the tribes that fought against them were stripped of all of their lands. 

At this point the British also attempted to essentially erase Maori culture by forcing all the Maori people to speak English, dress in European fashion, etc. Again, this is very similar to the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. There were also the Indian Wars between white Americans and the Native Americans, where the settlers won and forced the Native Americans off of land that they had lived on for generations. In addition, Americans tried to force Native Americans to assimilate to Western Culture by outlawing their religion, language, and even going so far as to take children from their parents to place them in “proper” schools. The natives in both countries were seen as savage because they were not westernized. 

All of these events significantly impacted the Maori and created a system of oppression. The loss of their lands and culture meant that the Maori were essentially forced into low income areas. They were excluded from many aspects of society and looked down upon by the white population. Darryl even mentioned that there was a period where there was segregation between white New Zealanders and the Maori. This parallels the treatment of minorities in the United States, as we have a history of systemic oppression and segregation. 

The thing that is the most interesting at this point though, is how New Zealand has moved into the modern era. The students we met at the local high school acknowledged that they learn a lot about Maori history and language.  They even have a traditional Maori meeting house where they start each day. New Zealand seems to be trying to make up for history and reignite the prevalence of Maori culture, in a more successful way than the United States. I think some of this is because the population is less fearful of other cultures. Auckland is the fastest growing city in the country and the impact of immigrants is extremely prevalent. The people there expressed an acceptance of those immigrants. This willingness to have other people leads to a cultural mix that Kiwi’s seem to think is beneficial to their existing culture. The United States has a different attitude towards immigrants, as consistently through history different groups have been the target of anti-immigrant sentiments. Many seem to think that New Zealand is moving towards anti-immigrant sentiments because of the increasing numbers. Outside of Auckland the population is mostly white and rural so Auckland may not be the best indicator of national sentiment. I hope that they don’t follow the international trend however, and create a system of acceptance that the rest of the world can follow. 

Thanks for following along and I hope this was informative! I’m not sure how we’re already at the last week of this trip but I’m so excited to spend it in Wellington with all my pals! Next blog coming up soon, I’m thinking it will be a little more contemporary with some information on social issues. Stay tuned to find out!

Reflection - Blog #3

And just like that, the trip is (almost) over. In a little over 24 hours I’ll be on a plane back to the states after a whirlwind three weeks. Our group covered a significant chunk of the eastern coast of New Zealand and managed to hit multiple cities in both the North and South islands. I have to admit that before this trip I knew very little about New Zealand. I had little to no knowledge of the country’s people, culture, or history. My research prior to the trip consisted of watching three assigned movies and searching Pinterest for the best things to do (and places to eat) in each city on the itinerary. I was fully prepared to be abroad, but the study part was pretty much an afterthought. And while the last three weeks has been filled with great adventures with fabulous people, I’m amazed by how much I’ve learned about New Zealand. This trip was relatively short so of course I still have minimal understanding about vast swaths of the country, but where I am now compared to where I was is pretty impressive. I think my last two blogs highlight how much historical knowledge I gained about New Zealand, and also how learning it’s history made me reflect on American history and education. Without this trip I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have sought that information out. 

As shocked as I was by the historical parallels I was also fascinated by the social parallels. The impact of western culture and globalization made this country that is over 8,000 miles away from home feel very comfortable. Everyone here speaks English (albeit with a funny accent), the cuisine is similar, and Kiwis listen to American music and watch American tv shows and movies. Thinking back that shouldn’t have been that shocking since New Zealand was originally a British colony and to this day is part of the Commonwealth. In many of the cities there was a very distinct British feeling. In Christchurch, almost every aspect of the cities planning was British. This included the parks, the streets and their names, and the river (the Avon)  which runs right through the city. Auckland was the most diverse and international city, which makes sense because it is the largest city in New Zealand. Wellington was the perfect mix of the two cities, where the British influence was there but mixed in with the cultures that represent the inhabitants of the city. 

The other social instance that surprised me was the social issues that New Zealand has been dealing with. In many cases, they are the same ones that the United States grapples with. The most glaring issues that I noticed were immigration and discrimination. As I talked about in my last blogs New Zealand has an unfortunate history with minorities, particularly the Maori. This is still a contemporary issue because of systematic inequality. At the beginning of the trip in Auckland it seemed like that city was the norm, where everyone from everywhere moved freely and openly. However, as we went on it seemed that Auckland was the exception and not completely representative of New Zealand society as a whole. The difference between the U.S. and NZ though is that in the United States we pretty openly discuss these issues now. New Zealanders tend to move away from confrontation, so social issues are just starting to really find a voice with activist groups. We talked to a man in Christchurch named Selwyn, who is Tongan and a Kiwi, who works for an activist group that focuses on acceptance of Pacific Islanders. He noted that racism is a pretty huge issue and that people don’t really talk about it. He also stated that he thinks the South Island is more racist, mostly because they have a smaller population of Maori and/or immigrants so they are more resistant to outsiders. These comments from a local were really interesting and as he spoke I felt that a lot of what he was saying could apply to the United States if different minority groups were switch into the discussion. New Zealand seems to have less of a problem now, but as more immigrants flow in I think they might start to experience a more vocal anti-immigration group. As a smaller country it will be interesting to see if they follow in the United States footsteps and allow that kind of sentiment or if they continue to be peace keepers who accept the new status quo. 

These three weeks in New Zealand have been truly eye-opening. I learned so much about a country and its people, while also getting to reflect on the United States and our culture. I’m so so grateful to have had this opportunity!