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[YRP Students' Essays] Cross-Cultural Consciousness: Studying Abroad in New Zealand

Do you know about New Zealand (NZ)? NZ is situated in the southwest Pacific Ocean. It is slightly smaller than Japan. The three largest islands are the North Island, South Island, and Stewart Island at the extreme south of the country.

At Osaka Jogakuin College (OJC) we took an intercultural research practicum course. In Osaka we first studied about NZ such as its social welfare, climate, geography, and so on. Then we actually went to Christchurch in NZ for three weeks as the final part of the course. Each of us stayed with a different homestay family. Also, we went to a university there every day and learned bicultural studies, that is, Maori as well as Western cultures. We could communicate with many local people and other foreign students, therefore we could learn things that we had not known. We found that there were many cultural and other differences between Japan and NZ.

We were surprised at many things when we started to learn about NZ, then we could confirm things with our own experience. First, we learned that the weather is a quite and interesting topic for NZers. They always check a weather forecast on TV or in a newspaper, because the weather in NZ is so changeable. NZ is a long, narrow island country far removed from other continents and surrounded by the sea, so the wind blows from every direction and the weather changes fast. This topography makes it difficult to predict the weather. Also the Australian continent and Antarctica have a great impact on NZ's weather. Farmers and others in NZ have never been satisfied with weather forecasts. Not only between farmers but also other people tend to talk about the weather first. They talk about the changing climate as a kind of greeting. There are some varieties of greeting. For example, they might say "It's a lovely day today, isn't it?" or "I'm afraid it's going to rain any minute now." This is a custom of NZers, we learned.

In fact, we talked about the weather with our host family every day and we experienced the changeable weather. One day it was a very hot day and warm enough for us to go to the beach. Another day it was such a cold day that it was hailing. Even in the same week there were great differences in the weather. Then, there were lots of days that the weather forecast expected rain when we stayed in NZ, but actually there were only two days of mostly rain in Christchurch. Therefore, NZers are very interested in the weather forecast, and yet they doubt that it is reliable.

Second, we would like to inform you about New Zealand's social welfare system. If someone is found to be a troubled person, it is usual to help the person in New Zealand, and volunteer work is also active. When people are in need, there are various social welfare mechanisms whereby the nation helps. Moreover, all the people have a social security system to ensure a comfortable life after retirement. For example, persons in wheelchairs go around the towns. There are bumps in the roads that make it difficult for wheelchairs. Therefore, in Christchurch, the roads and the buildings are designed to eliminate bumps and inconveniences to people in wheelchairs.

We were surprised to see this not only in roads but also by the sea. Along the beach of Christchurch, there are roads where people in wheelchairs can closely see the sea.

In NZ it was thought that the happiness of each person in the nation was related to the national prosperity. The development of the country should be for the purpose that each person should live happily. The social security laws that had been provided in the first half of the 20th century provided security in most ways. For example, there are people who cannot work due to sickness, unemployed persons, women who have lost their husband, or people living with various difficulties. So that people like that could live healthily, the country gave indispensable aid not only in giving necessary money but also creating the conditions for people to live in the nation to live healthily and happily. This is based on a philosophy of "social security in equality." Recently, however, the economy is down, so the budget for social security and the welfare system has been cut somewhat. With this the case, first of all it is important to help people who are in the most difficult situations. This is the way of New Zealand.

Next, among the things we encountered that have an impact on NZ life, four things were surprising to us. For example, the telephone bill is very cheap in NZ. Local calls are free, so we could call our friends and host family many times. We do not know whether this is the cause, but people holding mobile phones were rarely seen in the city. In Japan, mobile phones have spread so much that public phones and telephones at home are hardly used anymore. We felt a difference of culture in this. Also, we bought international telephone cards for NZ$5. We were able to talk about 90 minutes by using the card. The exchange rate was about NZ$1 = 50 yen at that time. We could talk to our family for 90 minutes for 250 yen, which was fortunate, but actually we had little opportunity to call. Because, there is time difference with NZ four hours ahead of Japan, and NZers went to bed early. Most Japanese seldom go to bed before 12 midnight, but NZers go to bed approximately at 10, so we could not sleep so early at the beginning. But then we gradually got used to sleeping earlier.

Another thing is that when we went to school, we found that the traffic lights in NZ were very short. By the time we crossed a pedestrian crossing, the traffic lights had changed to red. The time to cross seemed to be about three seconds, so we always had to run. If you cross the pedestrian crossing slowly, you may be honked at by drivers. In fact, we were jeered by a young boy driver, when we went across while talking. You had better be careful.

The most confusing thing was the way to wash dishes. The way is not to rinse the washed dishes. In Japan, as you might know, we rinse dishes individually after finishing washing. However, NZers are different. They store hot water in the sink, put detergent there and wash dishes by brush. Although there are bubbles on the dishes and they keep washing in this condition. They do not rinse dishes with but do dry them naturally or wipe off bubbles with a towel. We got culture shock because the host family did this and we were worried that it would harm our health.

Finally, we studied the indigenous NZ culture of the Maori people, who are like the Aborigines in Australia, or the Ainu in Japan. Maori language pronunciation is similar to Japanese, so we could read it easily. In NZ, there has been an active effort by the older generation and the government to promote the learning of Maori, especially in primary schools. Maori is now a required subject in many state-funded primary schools, and is taught to school children. The Maori have a very rich cultural and artistic tradition. A "marae" is a meeting place where elders often hold meetings, weddings, funerals, and many other family gatherings. We visited Linwood Community Marae and made "putiputi," turning strong leaves into the romantic shape of a flower. Also, we sang a Maori song and danced a Maori dance. Then, we watched "haka" or a Maori men's war dance. In rugby, the national All Black rugby team performs a "haka" before each international game. This is meant to incite the players and intimidate the opposing team. They say "Ka Mate Ka Mate" but we hear "gambatte" in Japanese. It was powerful and exciting. We could learn many things about Maori culture because we talked to Maori people.

In conclusion, we learned about many things. NZers are interested in the weather, their social welfare system is effective, and there are two main cultures. When we went to NZ, there were so many things different from Japan. So, we were confused at first, but we got accustomed to NZ life little by little. At the university we communicated with refugees and asked some questions such as why they came to NZ. In the city, people who we had never seen gave us greetings. We felt happy at their kindness. We stayed in NZ for three weeks, and we were able to have precious experiences. The experiences made our notions change widely and we could broaden our horizons. We learned a lot from these experiences and we really had a fantastic time. If you go to NZ, please do not carry many stereotypes. Then you might be able to understand about NZ life.

Child Research Net would like to thank Osaka Jogakuin College and Ayaka Tsuji and Ranna Hashimoto, students and authors, for permitting reproduction of this article on the CRN web site.

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