Travel Log 5 “Conversations” By Abby Spooner. Dunedin, New Zealand
This weeks reading topic of cultural values parallels many of my course lectures and conversations I have had over the past week. For example, my Maori class is currently exploring the Maori worldview. Maori is the native culture of New Zealand and I have found that this class is one of the best ways to learn what New Zealand culture is at its core.
The Maori cultural values we have been discussing in lecture offer tremendous insight into the way Maori culture has influenced the modern culture of New Zealand. It was particularly interesting to hear about how Maori practices have been implemented in a hospital setting. The Maori have tremendous respect for their elders and the dead. As a result there are often rituals that must take place where the person died. Many of the local hospitals and police departments have specific rooms and assist and accommodate the Maori traditions and views on death. When someone dies, the family may remain with the body for up to six days in the hospital. This is done to ensure that their body is not alone as their soul passes on. An American hospital may not accommodate for this ritual due to the structure of the health care system. In the US families are often pushed out of the patient rooms after a final goodbye in order to make room for the next incoming patient. That simply would not happen in New Zealand, especially when the person who died was Maori. This example really shows New Zealand’s ability to not treat health care as a business but rather a service where traditions are recognize and accommodated for. Although this was not the intended conversation Studying Abroad/ Learning Abroad intended for the activity, the lecture did prompt me to relate Maori worldviews to those of my own culture. In addition, many of the values discussed in lecture were also highlighted on the “Ten Cultural Contrasts” list. My one example of the hospital shows many Maori values such as respecting elders (4), tradition (1), and spiritual growth (2). I left the lecture feeling as though I had a fair grasp on the Maori values and worldviews. However, New Zealand is not 100% Maori. As a result I was eager to discover how Kiwis of non-Maori decent viewed and valued to world. To do so I decided to talk to one of my new Kiwi friends Abbie!
Abbie is a bourn and raised Kiwi. She grew up in Auckland and is now doing postgraduate work in environmental studies. Over the past few days I have had several conversations with her about the Kiwi worldview. I began our conversation by bringing up my Maori class discussion. Abbie was able to elaborate on her cultural view of Maori as a non-Maori emphasizing the respect many Kiwis uphold for this native culture. This was interesting to hear, especially when it is compared to an Americans view of a Native American. In the US we hold little respect for Native Americans both currently and historically. However, here in New Zealand almost everyone knows the basics of Maori culture and a bit of their language. The two cultures are able to embrace one another without one over taking the other. The way Maori and non-Maori value each other speaks volumes for their value of tradition (1) and equality (6). This conversation was a great way to connect my Maori class on worldviews to everyday life in New Zealand.
An additional topic during my conversation with Abbie was the issue of mental illness in New Zealand. It was interesting to hear about this issue from another point of view because in my opinion, the US also struggles with the difficulties surrounding mental illnesses. This discussion has a great deal to do with the cultural value of confrontation vs avoidance (10). In the US I believe we are beginning to move towards a state where confronting mental illness is accepted and encouraged my many. As a nation we may not be completely there but I feel as though we are moving the correct direction. However, when Abbie talked about the view of mental illness in New Zealand she talked in hushed tones and referred to it as one of the countries greatest struggles. She explained that cases of depression and suicide are high, particularly within the farming culture. Farming is one of New Zealand’s largest industries and as a result, farmers make up a large portion of the population. Many are under a high degree of pressure to raise live stalk or crops in order to provide for their families. Within the farming community, particularly within the male population, there is a social stigma of avoidance, causing many to act as though they are fine when in reality they need serious help and counseling. Both the US and New Zealand struggle with mental illness for a variety of reasons; However, based on my conversation with Abbie it seems as though New Zealand is struggling to change the cultural and social views on this issue like the US has begun to do. It will be interesting to see how this issue develops within the next few years in both countries and around the world.
While writing this blog I kept thinking of Hess’s question in Studying Abroad/Learning Abroad, “Does cultural relativity lead to a deterioration of values or, indeed, to moral chaos?” I don’t think his question I meant to have the same answer for everyone. Through my Maori lecture and conversation with Abbie I have found that considering other cultural values has not deteriorated my own or caused moral chaos. However, I do feel that by carefully considering these cultural differences in commonalities my worldview has altered. It is often challenging to see the world through the eyes of another. However, by emerging myself in the culture and soaking up everything I can for everyone I meet, I feel I am slowly gaining the knowledge needed to see the world in a different light- from the eyes of a Kiwi.
After taking the time to consider different views of cultures that are not my own, it is interesting to examine the different aspects of American culture back at home of which I am not a part. Upon consideration of this notion I immediately thought of the Humanities department. As a Physical Therapy major I enjoy my challenging science and math schedule. However, this semester I have taken a break from that and am now enrolled in all humanities papers (that’s what the Kiwi’s call courses). It has been a challenging change to get used to but it has prompted me to consider the humanities department back at Quinnipiac. It is an entire section and population of the school I have never been exposed to or apart of. It’s interesting to think that I traveled to the other side of the world to experience a new culture while there are parts of my own culture I have yet to explore. I believe that if I were to sit down with an individual who was an English or history major that I would be surprised to find an entirely different view on the academics at Quinnipiac. The value in this experience would be to experience a part of my own school I have never considered to be there before. It is almost as if we have cultures hidden within cultures. The experience I have had as a health science major is vastly different from an English major, and I am just starting to get a taste of that through my drastic change in course content.