I exercise no hyperbole when I say that the four months I spent at EcoQuest Education Foundation were some of the most special, joyous, transformative, fun, and wonderful of my life. I hardly know how or where to begin expressing just how much this program meant to me.
EcoQuest is a unique program in so many ways, for it offers an entirely different perspective on New Zealand’s culture, biodiversity, and ecosystems, among others. As a student, you are immersed in the country and culture from the moment you arrive. While field studies are the core focus, a multitude of other subjects are covered, contributing to a broad and multidisciplinary curriculum. Some of the topics include politics and policy, history (of the country, of legislation, of the people, etc), geography, the Māori language, indigenous studies, industry, sustainable tourism, and research. It does feel like something from every background is incorporated. There is an emphasis on hands-on learning – the “classic” college model of lecture courses is entirely subverted here in that many lectures or activities take place outside, and there is ample time spent on field exercises. Additionally, a good portion of the program is spent interacting with local knowledge and people. Within the first week, my class was invited onto the local Marae with a traditional welcoming ceremony, which was a deeply humbling honor. You are treated as family, not only with the local Marae, but also by the incredible staff who work in Whakatiwai.
The research component is primarily designated by the Directed Research Project that encompasses the final five weeks of the program. It is certainly an educational experience, providing an insight into what intensive data-collection followed by writing a report about your findings is like. My project concerned the presence, activity, and roost preferences of long-tailed bats in the Hunua Ranges. The work was busy and intensive, involving long hours in the field, night work, lots of Excel spreadsheets, and diesel coffee. But I wouldn’t trade the experience in for anything. It was a unique, exciting, and extremely rewarding project to work on, as well as incredible to be able to work on a project of that caliber. We got to be part of something bigger, that had a great deal of significance. It was challenging in the best way possible – this also goes for the program as a whole.
The places that we saw and the things that we did continually rendered me speechless. Ever since returning, I have been continually confronted with the challenge of how on Earth one is meant to describe it – particularly when trying to describe the landscapes we saw. How can any language be trusted to convey the wonders and majesty of New Zealand’s stunning vistas?
These will be experiences that I cherish for my whole life. We were given the opportunity to see and do so much more than I ever could have anticipated. I went into the program hoping to immerse myself in field work and the country, as well as see and learn as much as I could. EcoQuest gave me the opportunity to do all of this, and more. I cannot recommend this program enough. It offers endless opportunities of a lifetime, and memories that last just as long.
Ana Schlanzky, Cornell University class of 2020
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences