Wellbeing in the Whenua of Aotearoa

Hoonan_9_3As we traveled through the whenua of Aotearoa, wellbeing emerged as a central theme for our study abroad. We began to discern what provoked our health and happiness, and what detracted from it. Through this comprehensive analysis on an academic and personal level, studying in New Zealand allowed me to discover the importance of wellbeing—something so fundamental that I had never before considered.
I began the program thinking that my previous experience abroad would boost my capacity to endure trying situations, and that my curiosity and determination to do so was indefatigable. But,  my curiosity and determination faltered. The constant travel paired with hostel living drained my curious nature, and as a result my desire to explore weakened as the weeks progressed. I was left with some angsty poetry, a few cracked ribs, and tonsillitis, thinking that my ailments were the root of my distraught, and that they were a blockade against enjoying my time abroad.

But this is ridiculous. Would I really let my sickened state paint my study abroad experience in a negative light? Sure, it was tiring. But my lack of determination and creativity—both aspects of wellbeing—is not the fault of the program. The culprit is travel. Study abroad or not, living out of my suitcase, changing locations, and staying in hostels for 2 months is exhausting. It’s the nominal price I must pay to experience the world. While I’ll continue to pay the price every once in awhile, I also must take time to be home so that I can restore my wellbeing, my determination and curiosity that drives my desire to travel. This study abroad taught me that in order to be curious and explore to my full potential, I must have the determination to, and that determination lies in my roots, my home.

That being said, I know I want to travel. There is so much out there, as New Zealand so perfectly articulates. In two small islands—approximately the size of Colorado—there are a plethora of places only understood by experience. New Zealand is a gem rich in culture, nature, and growth, and there is no better location to analyze the health and wellbeing of an individual and their community. The dense tree fern forests, upon the Orakae Marae, beneath the waves of the Tasman Sea—these things promote a deeper sense of one’s surroundings unattainable through textbook readings and lectures, and evoke the curiosity instilled in many people, including myself. It is thanks to places like New Zealand that I want to travel. But due to my travel in this country, I now I know what it takes to do so, and I recognize the importance and love for my home.

It took traveling to eleven cities in nine weeks in white mini vans under the scorching sun to recognize this. And that alone was worth the physical and mental stress provoked by travel. Tack on the awe-inspiring meetings with Maori people, walks through fern forests with UW’s pun-producing, plant-identifying landscape architect Iain Robertson, ingenious writing assignments sculpted by our public health professor, Josephine Ensign, and a plethora of locals proud to share their perspective on New Zealand, and you’ve got one well-rounded, enriching, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The New Zealand: Community and Environmental Health program.Hoonan_9_2 Hoonan_9_1