14 November 2008

Ask Sarah v 6.0
My travels have led me to central Europe, about 15 years ago. As a history major before becoming a teacher and administrator, I was intrigued by what I found historically in Vienna, Graz, Munich, and Rothenberg.

My question for you is whether you have had the opportunity to visit ancient sites in New Zealand and what types of places they are. I know very little of this beautiful country, but would like to take this opportunity to hear from someone who is spending so much time there.

Any cool locale's description and maybe a picture would be great.

Thanks for taking the time to help me out.

J A Shannon, Principal
Dixon High School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 6:
I too got to spend three amazing months touring around Europe. My junior year of college I spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. When I wasn't packing on the pounds via mass consumption of pasta and gelato, I got to make the rounds to a number of the surrounding countries and see a really good cross section of all that area of the world has to offer.

As far as interesting "ancient sites" in New Zealand, they are actually few and far between in the techincal sense. Not much here qualifies as "ancient" seeing as the country is barely 250 years old. Ancient churchs, relics, etc. just aren't to be found. Really the only window into the past here is the land itself.
On a random note not necessarily related to history, there are absolutely no native mammals to New Zealand. All the sheep, possums, cows, etc. were brought over by the settlers in the 1800's. Before that the land was ruled by birds, as they were the only creatures that could get to the land mass once it broke off from Gondwana way back in the day. The cool thing is, the birds developed their own food chain/system of predators and dominant species equivalent to the mammal food chain. Also, as the Kiwis like to tell me, there is nothing in the entire country that can hurt you. No snakes, no bears, no poinsonous spiders, nothing. The worst you have to worry about are the annoying sandflies, which are about on par with mosquitoes (only without West Nile or Malaria). Kinda throws it in the face of Australia, which is lucky enough to house 8 of the ten deadliest snakes species, tons of sharks, crocodiles, several species of killer spiders, and one of the deadliest animals on the face of the planet, the box jellyfish (Go here to see the full list of nasty critters Aussies have to deal with: http://www.yesaustralia.com/Curiosidades-animaising.htm)

Now let's see...cool NZ locales...hmmm...how about the ENTIRE COUNTRY. The natural landscape is unlike that anywhere else on earth. The amazing, infinite variety of beauty is truly indescribable. And while I'm not professional photographer, I'll do my best to give you a glimpse. Enjoy!

11 November 2008

Ask Sarah v5.0
It has been so interesting reading about your adventures in New Zealand--especially when your mom came to visit! As an educator I am interested in the schools in New Zealand. I have the opportunity to work with a VIF (visiting international faculty teacher from New Zealand for three years at NC elementary school. She has said that the New Zealand schools have strong literacy programs is this true? What can you tell me about the New Zealand school system.

Kim Cooke
Marvin Ridge High School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 5:
Kia Ora Kim. Glad you got to get to know a kiwi...not too many of them pass through the Southern heartlands, so consider yourself lucky! As far as the school systems go, unfortunately my experience with anything other than the University level is pretty limited. The most I can tell you is that all the "school" kids (as the term school refers only to grades k-12, which are actually called "forms" rather than grades...confused yet?) have to wear really horrible blazer-kilt-clod hopper shoe uniforms, and get out much earlier than any school I ever went to or was familiar with. That being said, I have heard from time to time that NZers do invest a lot in literacy...if a child is struggling with reading they will provide tutors or additional instruction free of cost to the parents. Other than that, that's about all I can tell you, I'm afraid.

There are a number of interesting differences at the University level that I noticed, so just to beef up this posting a bit, I'll share those. Firstly, Uni admin is much more deeply involved in the planning of it's students degrees. At the University of South Carolina, where I received my undergrad, it was basically up to you to pick your courses, make your schedule, etc. As long as you paid your money, the University really couldn't care less whether you were taking the appropriate course or on track for a timely graduation.

At the University of Otago, however, they are in there every step of the way, almost to the point of frustration. They have an entire week of "course approval" where you must visit professors from each department which you want to take a class in, where they either approve or don't approve your attendance; then after you've got signatures for each class you have to go to another advisor who makes sure you are taking what you need for your degree, puts it in a computer system and makes sure there are no schedule clashes, and then may or may not sign off on your schedule. If you wish to make any changes to it once that's all done, you have to go through the entire process AGAIN...it was actually quite irritating, for someone who was used to getting online at an assigned time and switching their schedule and enrollment as often and whenever I wanted. I suppose it's a good thing though, as it shows the university actually values the students' educational journey and not just their bank accounts.

Also, just an interesting note to close out with...when grading work--which they actually call "marking"--rather than starting at 100 % and taking off points for incorrect answers, everything starts from zero and you accumulate points. Probably some outgrowth of the obsessive political correctness influencing NZ social policy and politics, something like it is "better" to reward good work by adding points then punishing bad work by taking points away. But who knows, now I'm just philosophically digging. Sorry I couldn't be more detailed about the school system as a whole; if I get the chance I'll definitely do some research and post again with more info. Ciao for now!

07 November 2008

Ask Sarah v4.0

Question 5:
I would like to here about the contacts that Sarah has had with the native New Zealander’s. I have always been fascinated by their culture. Thank you!

Elaine Justice
Principal Queens Creek Elementary School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 5:
Hi Elaine, great to hear from you. When you say "native" New Zealanders, I assume you mean those of Maori heritage, correct? It's a really interesting situation here, as far as that particular demographic is concerned. Approximately eighteen percent of the population claim Maori lineage, however due to colonization and urbanization and a very flexible definition of what qualifies a person as Maori means that there are virtually no people left of "pure" Maori blood.

That being said, since the latter half of this century the New Zealand government has taken many, many steps to help keep the Maori culture alive. Maori is an official language of the country, they have their own political party w/ seats in parilment, most public signs and documentation are in English and Maori, the list goes on. The story between the Maori and the settlers is very long and very complicated; I'd suggest doing a quick google or wiki search as there's no way I could possible even brush the surface of it all in my little blog.

As far as my own personal experiences with the culture, besides the folks I've met through university and travel, I've had to opportunity to visit a Maori marae, which is essentially like a community center or meeting house, only with a sacred, religious bent. From my understanding, all sorts of activities--from cultural presentations and performances, communal meals, important meetings, community events, traditional ceremonies, etc.--all happen there. There are a number of rules and traditions that have to be followed within the property, such as removing your shoes upon entering; food can only be consumed in certain areas; and visitors must be formally invited and greeted in a tradition fashion, usually involving a greeting speech in Maori and a song "exchange" between the visitors and the hosts.

An interesting Maori practice that has made it's mark throughout the rest of the world is the Maori haka, thanks to NZ's champion rugby team, the All Blacks. The haka is a traditional chant/dance that was performed by Maori warriors prior to battle, as a means of intimidating the enemy (this is not the exclusive use though; there are many other types of haka, including welcoming, entertainment, and so on.) The rubgy team performs this dance before pretty much every game, which I got to see first hand when I saw them play in Dunedin. It's really pretty intimidating to watch, particularly when it's gigantically beefy rugby players performing it; here's a YouTube link if you want to check it out for yourself:


I could go on with facts and factoids about NZ's Maori, but this posting is already getting a bit lengthy, and I'm sure an encyclopedia or other sort of book can give you much better description of the culture's history and nuances. Another suggestion is to look for the movie "Once Were Warriors." It's a NZ-made film about contemporary Maori; interesting perspective on the Maori's current social status and a great example of Kiwi culture. If you get the chance add it to your Netflix list (boy do I miss Netflix. No equivalent here yet).

03 November 2008

Ask Sarah v 3.0

Question 4
Greetings Sarah! Congratulations to you as you enjoy your time as a Rotary Scholar in New Zealand . I have been a Rotarian for 25 years, and this past spring helped to host a Rotary Group Exchange Team from Nigeria as they visited throughout western North Carolina . I know you are having a wonderful time.

This past spring, while I was in Washington at a conference, I had the opportunity to visit the New Zealand Embassy. They were most gracious, and the food was outstanding! Finally, I have been a avid fly fisher for over 20 years, and I know that some of the best fly-fishing in the world is in New Zealand. Perhaps you will want to try some fly-fishing before your leave! I hope I have to chance to visit New Zealand some day.


Amazinglingly Insightful Answer 4:
Hi Duane, it's great to hear from a fellow Rotarian. I have heard the same thing about fly fishing here...unfortunately it's not something I've done here (or anywhere, really), but I have done some fishing out in the Pacific. I was lucky enough to take a trip out on a catamaran, and really all we had to do was drop the line in the water, wait two seconds, and reel in the catch. Now that's my kind of fishing! Plus I won the prize for biggest catch.

And as far as the NZ embassy in DC goes, I too had a good experience with them...to make a long story short I managed to lose my passport and visa the week before I was due to depart for NZ, and got to spend the day before my flight in the waiting room of the embassy while they processed a rush visa for me. They were incredibly kind to do so, and the moral of that story is ALWAYS know where your documentation is. Hopefully you will get to take a trip out here someday...If it's in the next year look me up, as I liked it so much I've decided to stick around for quite sometime. Thanks for reading!