Tuesday, November 25, 2014
   
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A semester in KIWI country

2008 grad experiences New Zealand.

Jordan France first heard of New Zealand in a high school world geography class.

Until then, the 2008 graduate of Gothenburg High School had little international travel experience.

“I remember geography teacher Mr. (Steve) Reeves talking about the country being famous for it’s beautiful landscape,” France said.

At the time, he never dreamed he would see those panoramas first hand.

Fast forward three years and France, now a Creighton University student, decided last January to get the most of his collegiate experience by studying abroad.

“I chose New Zealand for its reputation for being the adventure capital of the world and its unique location with easy access to the rest of the South Pacific,” he said.

By late June, France was en route to the other side of the world.

There, at Auckland University of Technology in Wellesley and through a program called Australearn, he took four business courses that transferred to his major in marketing.

“The coolest part was living in an international student dorm that was comprised of roughly 600 kids from every corner of the globe,” he said, noting that only 48 of the students were from the United States. “I moved to New Zealand not knowing a single person and ended up making close friendships with people from all over Europe, India, South America and the Middle East.”

In addition to studying international business courses, France also took an ecotourism class which he said was fascinating as it revolved around the ecology of tourism and how to create sustainable vacation destinations.

Hands down, the highlight of his semester-long experience, was traveling to Western Samoa, one of 10 islands of the nation of Samoa, for a week.

France explained that the villages of Samoa still function under a tribal system with large families that welcomed he and his friends into their homes.

“In a place that has dial-up Internet in very few select places, we were legitimately cut off from all forms communication while we were there,” he said.

During the second night, a 6.1 earthquake occurred 150 miles off the coast. Jordan and his friends heard tsunami warning sirens and panicked, along with villagers, who remembered a deadly tsunami that killed community members in 2009.

“Being with three Americans, a guy from Poland and two girls from Sweden, we were absolutely frozen in terror with what to do,” France said.

They grabbed valuables and climbed through a Samoan mountainside to get to higher ground “with no clue where to go.

Locals then took them to the home of a village chief who gave them a place in the floor of his home to wait out the warning.

“It turned out to be just a warning, but the ocean waves the following week were massive as a result of the earthquake,” France said.

 

Other adventures, while in Samoa, included viewing giant sea turtles, catching and eating yellow-fin tuna they cut up and ate as raw sushi, and seeing a whale shark—the biggest living fish in the ocean.

“Our Samoan boat driver pulled his 15-foot dingy within inches of this creature that stretched twice the size of the boat we were in—quite an exhilarating experience for a kid who normally sails the rugged waters of Jeffrey Lake,” he said.

On weekends on the mainland of New Zealand, France and his friends hiked through national forests—several where movies like the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” were filmed.

His favorite place was Milford Sound, on the South Island, which is a fjord with jungle-like mountain cliffs and hundreds of waterfalls.

France was in New Zealand when the Kiwis won the Rugby World Cup.

“I got to celebrate in Auckland, the main center of the cup. It was absolutely bonkers, he said.

Probably the biggest learning experience for France was realizing how the technology revolution has brought his generation together.

“Whether you are from India, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or the small farm community of Gothenburg, we are all very passionate about where we are from and we all want a better and brighter tomorrow,” he said.

Everywhere in the world, he said untrue stereotypes are held against other cultures.

“And nine times out of 10, these stereotypes are proven wrong after merely sparking a conversation with someone of a different nationality,” France said.

France said he’s now ready to see what else the world has to offer, especially after making such a diverse group of friends.

“I want to see how they live their everyday lives,” he said.

 

The New Zealand experience has also helped him realize what is beyond Nebraska.

“The Midwest is God’s country but international travel shaped my character in many positive ways,” France said. “Your best friend could be out there and you’ll never meet him or her unless you lower your personal barrier and explore.”

France said he appreciates where he’s from even more than what he did before a semester abroad.

“But there are friendly communities just like ours everywhere in the world,” he said.

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