By Aaron Kirchoff Rushville Republican
---- — Half-a-world away, RCHS graduate Ashley Hedrick is having the time and adventure of her life. Hedrick, a student at Earlham College, is with 14 other students studying abroad in New Zealand.
“Going on this program was probably one of the best decisions that I’ve made,” Hedrick said. “Even though Rushville is a great place to live in with its small community, leaving the country and really experiencing how the rest of the world works has really allowed me to grow up and mature.”
The adventure began right away for Hedrick.
“The first really memorable moment for me was landing at the Wellington Airport and realizing that I have finally made it out of the polar vortez and I am starting the first real adventure of my life,” Hedrick said.
Fans of Lord of the Rings would recognize Tongariro National Park. Hedrick and the group took a 3-day hike through the park, which is the location where the Lord of the Rings films used to shoot the scenes from Mount Doom.
“The movie did not do the location justice. Every step you took and any direction you glanced towards there was just another breathtaking view, whether it was tiny carnivorous plants growing in the swamp lands or clouds wrapping themselves around the mountains,” Hedrick said.
Little did Hedrick know that she would also find the “end of the rainbow” on her trip.
“On the second day of the hike, a friend of mine Zoe Wolfe from Kokomo, and I walked over to a waterfall that wasn’t too far away from the hut where we were staying,” Hedrick said. “While we were there, the clouds were moving in around Mt. Ngauruhoe and dousing us in fog, but with the sun still shining. Through the mist, a rainbow appeared right in front of us. It was so close we couldn’t see why we shouldn’t follow it and stand at the base of a rainbow. I mean, how many times does that opportunity come about? So we ran about a quarter of a mile into the valley and stood at its base.”
Earlham College has several study abroad programs available to its students. This semester the college offered a trip to New Zealand, Jordan, London, Northern Ireland and a boarder program to study immigration on the U.S./Mexican border.
“The great thing about these programs is that to go on them costs the same as it would to be on campus. The only added expenses are the plane tickets and any spending money for recreational activities,” Hedrick said.
Hedrick and the other students are carrying a full course load of four classes. Environmental Issues of New Zealand is where the students learn about native flora and fauna of New Zealand as well as the evolutionary history of other natural elements of the country.
“We are dissecting the conservation issues that New Zealand is now facing and how to mitigate these issues while considering the country’s economy as well as social issues that have arisen between Europeans and native Maori culture,” Hedrick said. “We also keep a natural history journal documenting any species of plant or animal that we find.”
Geology of New Zealand is a course that examines the unique tectonics of the country and the relationship to the geological hazards such as volcanoes and earthquakes.
Cultures of New Zealand is a lecture based course where different speakers present different topics at each session.
“We have learned a lot about the culture of the Maori. Included in this class was the Whanganui River trip where we spend five days canoeing down the Awe (Whanganui River) with native river guides,” Hedrick said.
“Every night, we stopped at a different location and had to do a welcoming ceremony that involved speaking and singing Maori, but after we were officially welcomed into their homes, the fed us very well,” Hedrick added. “The trip really taught me more about their culture and lifestyle than any book ever could and I also made some lifelong friends with many of the guides.”
Field Seminar is a course that the students learn by doing.
“I am lucky enough to have been placed at the Bushy Park Forest sanctuary, which is a mainland island protected by a predator proof fence. Specifically, I am monitoring the population of stitchbirds which were once extinct on the mainland, but have been reintroduced from small populations located on offshore islands,” Hedrick said.
The trip has had a big impact on Hedrick and she wants to encourage others to take the opportunity to experience new things.
“I recommend that everyone, no matter what their age, should find a way to get out and experience the world. There is nothing else like it,” Hedrick added. “Getting outside of your comfort zone truly helps you understand who you are and, in my opinion, there is nothing more important than knowing who you are.”
Contact: Aaron Kirchoff at 765-932-2222, ext. 114