Our last day in New Zealand started with a walking tour of Christchurch, a city still reeling from the devastation of the 2011 and 2016 earthquakes. Christchurch lost over 1200 buildings, nearly half of those in the city center, and over 200 lives during the 2011 quake. Seven years later, construction along every corner, pop-up temporary businesses, rubble strewn about, and the constant noise of demolition and re-building are reminders of Christchurch’s history and future. Alongside the Bridge of Remembrance and memorial wall, our wonderful guide, Laura, provided our students with a clear picture of what it was like to experience the earthquake in 2011. She explained not only the immediate devastation, but the aftermath of a city that didn’t have basic infrastructure for drinking and wastewater, or a city that wasn’t prepared for the long-term impacts on mental health, or people that were now disconnected from their sense of place. Due to safety issues in and around the city, residents could no longer visit their favorite coffee shops, walk their dogs along the river path, or even recognize a familiar landscape. Instead, they saw large crevices in the earth, mud (liquefaction) seeping up from below, and rubble everywhere.
Although Christchurch is a reminder of the impact of natural disasters on a community, it is also a reminder of the tremendous spirit and innovation that can come out of the devastation. We explored “gap filler” projects, which are innovative projects that literally popped up throughout the city center. They highlighted community, innovation, and collaboration to create a more vibrant and attractive community despite the physical status of the buildings around them. Projects included a hip pop-up mall made out of shipping containers, ping pong tables alongside walks, and even a life-size video game on the corner of a busy intersection (see the pic of our students playing this one). The projects were engaging and inspiring.
In the afternoon, we ended our walking tour with a service project working with wonderful folks (Jane and Jon) from Greening the Rubble. Greening the Rubble is a non-profit that works to turn areas where damaged buildings were removed and are now vacant into green space that provides an opportunity for residents to re-connect with their city and build a sense of place again. Our students spent the afternoon helping finish a Whare, a structure that represents the Maori’s framework for well-being. It consists of four sides that are symbolic of the four dimensions of Maori well-being—spiritual, mental, family, and physical health. Additionally, we planted beautiful gardens and painted rocks with messages of support for those visiting and looking for a place of solace. It was an afternoon of hard work, collaboration, and reflection on the importance of a sense of place and our well-being. This afternoon also was a time of pride for us as the instructors. Seeing our students literally dig in, give back as a group, and once again engage in discussions about the course topics was beyond rewarding—it was transformative for us as well.
Teaching a study abroad course is always a challenge for everyone. We saw this particular course as a challenge and opportunity for us all to learn, to stretch beyond our comfort zone, and to grow in our ability to process, understand, and communicate information about science, health, and our culture and others. Over the 16 days, we saw each of our students grow in so many ways – self-confidence, open-mindedness, intellect, acceptance, teamwork, and even patience! Every day we saw our students push themselves outside of their comfort zone and explore, and every day our students conducted themselves respectfully throughout their travels. Although there were minor road bumps (as expected in international travel), we couldn’t have asked for a better group to have represented LSSU and the USA. We are grateful for the opportunity to have introduced these 18 students to new ideas, new cultures, and the travel bug!
We hope you have enjoyed following along with our travels. We have enjoyed sharing them! Ma-te-wa!