Kathryn Rohlwing - “Maori studies in New Zealand”

Kathryn Rohlwing

Kathryn Rohlwing hails from Gainesville, Florida and attends Wake Forest University in North Carolina in the US. She’s spending one year at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

It’s officially been two weeks of classes at VUW and the realisation that O-week (and all the free food involved) is over has set in. It seems like only last week, but I guess it was a month ago, that our study abroad orientation advisers spent close to an hour lecturing us on all the ways Americans fail at New Zealand universities. They made it sound like we would be wholly unprepared for the rigorous structure of classes and would be traumatised by the sight of our grades after our first essay was handed back. In short I was nervous about the start of the trimester.

As it turns out, it was mostly unwarranted. There were a couple brief moments of culture shock when I saw the size of the lecture halls and the number of students that managed to cram in them, and though I was prepared for it, the thought of having a final exam worth 60% of my grade made me squirm a little; but overall, I have found the lecturers to be very nice, the homework load to be manageable and the essay requirements reasonable. But I guess I’ll find out if this confidence is warranted or not after the first assessment; maybe I will find myself bursting into the hysterical tears they warned us about.

I tried to pick classes, or I guess I should say “papers,” that are not offered at my home university, so I decided on Maori Society and Culture, The Peopling of Polynesia and New Zealand Social Perspectives. The Maori (a word I still cannot pronounce properly) papers have been particularly interesting as I knew very little about the culture and its development.

My favorite part of the classes so far was in Maori Society and Culture when we visited the marae for a powhiri. Having never heard the Maori language before arriving in New Zealand, the speeches were one of my favorite parts and I found the powhiri to be a very warm and welcoming ceremony.

Of the three papers I am taking, it’s strange to think that the one that has triggered homesickness the most is The Peopling of Polynesia. While the majority of the languages, islands and cultures introduced in this class are new to me, much of the support for the arguments on the pattern of settlement relies on archaeological evidence. I realised that this semester is the first since freshman year (first year) that I have not taken an archaeology class and I am starting to notice how much I miss it.

I had thought that the places I would miss first would be my hometown in Florida where I spend my vacations and the ZSR Library at Wake where I practically live during the semester. But today as I was reading about excavations that had taken place across the Pacific, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island in Florida where I spent the summer excavating slave cabins and an old sugar mill. There was something about that island, probably the remoteness and the unbearable heat, that made me a little crazy, but also got under my skin. I miss being covered from head to toe in dirt picking minute pieces of misty glass from the sifters. I miss eating oranges from the trees above the excavation units and sitting on the dock at night watching the bioluminescence. Most of all I think I miss seeing the river outside my window, the smell of baked ziti in the oven and Danger Island playing in the common room.  It’s weird the places your mind starts going when you are sitting half-way across the world reading about foreign cultures.

Going back to foreign cultures, the Maori culture itself and its relationship to New Zealand society as a whole is fascinating. I am enjoying learning about its origin and history, but I also cannot wait until the end of the semester to hear about the ways that the culture has revived itself. The attitudes and practices here seem to be very different than the ones surrounding Native Americans in the States and I am interested to see, in greater detail, how different or how similar they are.

Overall, I am enjoying the start of the trimester and I am hoping that a trip to Scorching Bay tomorrow will pull my mind away from Kingsley and back to Wellington.