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Life in a Kiwi Garden

Written by Spencer Shelton

This summer, I was fortunate enough to live and work at the Dunedin Botanic Garden, located in Dunedin, New Zealand. As part of the placement, I helped run an international seed exchange, where we collected, cleaned, cataloged, and sent out native seeds to gardens all around the world. I also helped propagate native plants and maintain the garden’s vast collections.Unlike in the US, most of the gardening work in New Zealand is done by hand in the “old-fashioned gardening” style of the 1930’s. The Dunedin Botanic Garden is regarded as one of the top seven gardens in the world, and I was honored to be a part of their team. After working in Dunedin for 8 weeks, I traveled to Australia for a week. I then returned to New Zealand where I explored the west coast and north island.

I lived and worked with three students, one from the Netherlands, one from Wales, and the other from France. They each taught me a great deal about their cultures and exposed me to different cuisines and languages. Living with them was the highlight of my trip, as they each had so much to teach me. The need to find solutions to our language barriers encouraged me to slowly improved my French, though I must admit that my foray into Dutch didn’t last long. At dinner each night, we would play card games and talk about what life was like at home, how our universities were different, and what we wanted to be one day. Our cultures were surprisingly different and I learned a great deal about how they were raised and how they view things like religion and diversity. Interacting with them was an education in its own way and made me a more well-rounded global citizen.

During my time in New Zealand, I journeyed across the southern island. Although the weather was very cold, I kept warm by hiking every chance I got and finding joy in every minute of my stay. I drove along most of the Otago Peninsula and had the pleasure of seeing some of the world’s greatest hidden treasures, from the Moeraki Boulders to Milford Sound to the lighthouse at Nugget Point. These places often left me awestruck and allowed for a lot of self reflection. I found myself able to relax and enjoy myself without worrying about class and other obligations.This self-meditation was much needed and left me feeling incredibly refreshed. In July, I was lucky enough to score a ticket to see the famed New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and I cheered on them on as they defeated the French. I sat in wonder as I watched fans from all around the country come together to support their team and sing their traditional fight songs. The experience was completely different than an American football game, as the French and New Zealand fans got along extremely well and enjoyed talking to one another.

Kiwis, as New Zealanders are called, seem to have a natural propensity to travel, and because of this, I believe they are extremely open-minded and free of prejudice. If I learned anything abroad, it is that traveling and experiencing different cultures makes one a more-rounded individual. I am extremely grateful for CHP encouraging this type of education among its students. Being in New Zealand allowed me to view my life in a new way. Because of the generosity of the CHP and their support through the Ready for the World Grant, I was able to travel to New Zealand and I gained a more positive outlook on life. I learned to relax more and as cliche as it sounds, live in the moment. Most importantly however, I learned to open my eyes to the world around me. I previously thought that one would have to travel to an exotic place like New Zealand to see pure beauty and  nature. However, the more I traveled while halfway across the world, the more I realized how many opportunities existed right in my back yard. There are all kinds of wonders around Knoxville and across the United States. Visiting New Zealand has exposed me to how travel can change my perspective, and I now plan on spending more time traveling and exploring our country as well.