Studies expand student's view of the world
By Ross L. Trentadue
"I have always wanted to get out and see more of the world. I really wanted to experience another culture," said Jason Braunecker, a Purdue University senior majoring in wildlife, from Ferdinand, Ind. A study abroad program gave him that opportunity.
Photo provided by Shane Hageman
Jason Braunecker, a senior wildlife major from Ferdinand, Ind., sits in front of a helicopter before on top of the Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. Braunecker hiked on the glacier during his study abroad experience.
Braunecker studied in New Zealand for six months. He left the United States at the end of June 2004 and didn't come back until November. Braunecker studied on the South Island at Lincoln University, 30 minutes from Christchurch, New Zealand's largest city. At Lincoln, field trips played a huge role in the classes, and Braunecker went on one every couple of weeks.
"The most memorable one was through my ecology class," said Braunecker. "We did activities such as estimating rabbit populations and aging pine forest stands. It was good to actually have hands-on experience as well as see some breathtaking scenery. I'm applying for jobs that will put me in a variety of environments, so being able to become familiar with a different environment than we see in Indiana was a great benefit of being in New Zealand."
The experience did more than just prepare Braunecker for a career, according to Kelly Westbrook, a 2004 Colorado State University graduate who met Braunecker in New Zealand. "The educational value of studying abroad is two-fold," said Westbrook. "First, it makes you get out of your comfort zone and learn about not only a different culture's view about the world, but it also makes you question your own." That experience, Westbrook said, helped her and Braunecker grow.
"I think Jason probably always had a very strong sense of himself," Westbrook said. "However, Jason also had a smaller view of the world before New Zealand. I think for Jason this experience opened him up to a lot of ideas and views." Braunecker's reflections on his experience tell a similar story.
"I believe my travels to New Zealand definitely made me a better person," he said. "It gave me a better respect for other cultures which I could not have gotten from the United States. As a person I know I grew more and learned more in those six months over in New Zealand than any other part of my college career." In addition to his course work, Braunecker had free time before and after classes began and had two weeks for spring break. He said he hunted and fished a lot, but also snowboarded, hiked, snorkeled, rock climbed and more.
"My favorite activity was hunting," said Braunecker. " I mainly hunted with a friend named Fraser Cooper. When we were hunting, we weren't just following the trails. We went places that most tourists wouldn't get to go just by hiking." His most memorable hunting trip was hunting for chamois, a type of wild goat. They hiked up high in the mountains, through snow on the first day, and camped under a place called Billy Goat Rock. "The scenery was awesome at the top of the mountain where we took pictures of the game we shot; you could see the ocean in the distance."
Braunecker also took a leap off the second highest bungee jump in the world. "This was right up my alley," said Braunecker. "I love heights and adrenaline rushes." The 460-foot free fall lasted only eight seconds, but the memory of the experience still thrills him. "The instant you jump you feel the rush hit you like a brick wall and suddenly you are going what feels like 100 miles an hour through the air," Braunecker said. "The feeling is truly indescribable."
Braunecker's expenses consisted of Purdue tuition, housing and his plane ticket to New Zealand. "The trip didn't actually cost me anything extra than what I would have been paying at Purdue, because I was able to get scholarships to pay for my plane ticket," he said. While his trip was organized through Purdue, he didn't go with a group. Still, Braunecker said he made friends quickly and keeps in touch with some of the friends he made.
"Most of the friends I made are Americans, but I have friends that are from all over the world that I keep in touch with mainly through e-mail." He also traveled to Virginia and Colorado to visit friends he made in New Zealand.
"Overall, as a person, the trip changed my views of the world in general," said Braunecker. "I am more acceptable of a diverse group of people, rather than just the people that I am accustomed to."