Learning Through Travel

It’s week three of the Indie Travel Challenge. This week’s prompt is about learning while traveling.

I had the good fortune to be able to study abroad in college. I chose New Zealand because 1) they speak English there and 2) I had heard the beauty would blow my mind (it did) and I love the outdoors.

As an anthropology major, studying abroad seemed appropriate, maybe even necessary. If I was going to truly learn about new cultures I would have to experience them firsthand.

In New Zealand you only take 3 or 4 classes a semester. So my course load was quite light compared to the US. I took an introductory Gender Studies course, a Māori culture course, and Anthropology in Health. I loved the Anthro course and the Gender Studies one. I feel I learned a lot in both and my research paper for Anthro in Health, on Prozac and gender, was illuminating and fun to do (also, probably the best academic paper I ever wrote).


The Māori course was an introductory one as well. It was held in one of the biggest lecture halls at Uni Otago because it drew in all the study abroad students. So I sat in a big room with hundreds of other foreigners listening to lecturers who somehow made learning about Māori culture boring. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the things I learned but I got them mostly from reading the book, not listening at the lecture. The tutorial (a smaller, once a week class meeting) wasn’t much better. If you’re going to study abroad in Dunedin – do yourself a favor, don’t take Māori 102! If I had done it again I definitely would have taken either Māori language (which I considered) or another Anthro course, and just bought a book on Māori culture to study on my own.

In addition to traditional classes, I also took advantage of the courses offered by OUSA, the Otago Uni Student’s Association. They offer all kinds of classes, from car maintenance to dance to coffee making, and at reasonable price. I just had a look at their list and sadly, exactly none of the classes I took are available now. But there are still some good ones.

My first OUSA course was Bone Carving. If you’ve been to New Zealand you’ve no doubt seen the beautiful and intricate bone carvings for sale. It’s a traditional Māori practice that I got to experience firsthand. My instructor was not Māori but had carved for a living for something like 11 years or more, so he was quite good – and a great teacher to boot. We picked our designs and got cracking on turning a cow leg into something beautiful.

I truly enjoyed the bone carving class and felt a powerful sense of accomplishment for the pieces I made (I think it was 4 or 5). It is not too difficult to begin and I couldn’t recommend doing it enough. One thing to note about the culture surrounding bone carvings is that you shouldn’t buy or carve one for yourself.  It’s thought to be bad luck. This is why I don’t have one (but would have loved to get or carve myself a hei matau or fish hook – but I couldn’t bring myself to go against the cultural norms so blatantly).

The other classes I took were a short Māori Language class – it really only covered very basic stuff like pronunciation and greetings, but I enjoyed it anyway – and a Polynesian Dance class, which I also enjoyed but wasn’t able to come to the performance at the end due to earlier plans. I don’t remember any Māori language beyond kia ora (hello) and I didn’t retain any Polynesian dance moves either. However these were still worthwhile classes as they allowed me to dig deeper into cultural practices.

I’m really glad I took all the classes I did in New Zealand. I am really failing in that respect in Korea, I guess. I was taking Korean language classes but am currently on a bit of a break. The only other classes that are readily available to me are martial arts classes, and I’m honestly not that interested. We had hoped to find archery classes but it doesn’t actually seem all that common here despite what we read.

I hope to take some cooking classes in other countries that I go to, and perhaps one here in Korea as well. I’ll always look into what I can learn wherever I go, but probably most of my learning will be done outside of a classroom setting.

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