10 December 2018

What New Zealand has taught me about community

Leah Emerson
Study Abroad student

Coming from a small town back home, Leah was pleased to find a sense of community in Christchurch city.

One of my first experiences in New Zealand was being welcomed onto a marae (a Māori meeting house), and spending the night there.

The experience helped me understand the depth of Māori culture.

Māori have a very strong connection to the Earth and appreciate its value. I think the whole world could learn from that, to think of the world more as something that we are a part of rather than something that we own.

They also value community. In each community, they used to all sleep in one house – which is what I experienced during my visit. The feeling of all sleeping in one space builds a community.

My second trip to a marae was as a Kiwi ambassador, at the Youth Leadership Summit in Christchurch. This was once again incredible. We enjoyed a hangi, which is food cooked in a pit in the ground in the traditional Māori way.

The Youth Leadership Summit involved students from Marjory Douglas Stoneman Highschool in Parkland, Florida, and students from the Student Volunteer Army at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. I was a photographer at the events and got to see some amazing things.

It was very interesting to draw on the similarities of creating positive change from tragedy between the Parkland students who had survived a mass shooting at their school back in the US, and New Zealand students from the Student Volunteer Army, which was formed after the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011. Many of the speakers spoke about ingenuity and perseverance when faced with hard times.

The community in Christchurch seems so much greater to me after learning about the Student Volunteer Army and other response efforts post-earthquake.

The community seemed to band together, and my view of Christchurch is much more like a small-town, even though it is a city. The Student Volunteer Army and the University of Canterbury continue to help the community long after the immediate impacts of the earthquakes.

My programme went together to Bottle Lake Forest Park to plant trees. In the area there are many pines, which are not natural species of the area. We planted some native plants, including cabbage trees. This will keep the eco-system closer to its original form. Students in the programme plant in the same patch every semester, so we get to see the progress other students have made over the years.

It comforts me to know that this community is so supportive. Coming from a relatively small town myself, I am used to a high sense of community in a town. It’s been great to see that exists here also.

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About the contributors
Leah Emerson
Study Abroad student

Leah Emerson is studying a Bachelor of Science at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, USA. She is in New Zealand on a Study Abroad Programme at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.