“Everyone should study abroad,” says recent Landscape Architecture graduate Valerie Brej. In Fall semester 2010, Brej studied at Lincoln University in Christchurch, on the south island of New Zealand. Returning to the United States with a new perspective, she “realized that I had been living in a bubble.” Brej believes that traveling abroad opened her mind to new ways of living and doing things that she feels every student could benefit from.
While at Lincoln University, Brej took four classes: Design Theory, Building Construction, GIS, and a studio that could either focus on urban agriculture or cultural issues. Brej says that the studio environment was very different from what she had experienced at UIUC. At Lincoln University all of the Landscape Architecture students were in one large room, which was completely open except when studios were in session and then temporary partition walls were pulled out. Computer work was also stressed less at Lincoln University although, when it was required, some of the software they used was unfamiliar to Brej (for instance, VectorWorks was preferred over AutoCAD).
Brej most enjoyed her free time, and feels that her experiences outside of school were just as enriching as the time spent in school. Each weekend Brej and her fellow international students would travel away from Christchurch and explore. Since New Zealand is a relatively small country, requiring only three hours to drive coast to coast, Brej was able to see and experience a large portion of it. Weekends were spent hiking in nearby Aurther’s Pass, surfing at the beach, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and camping.
Brej hopes to go back to New Zealand one day; she loved the culture there. While somewhat familiar, it differed in ways that were meaningful to her. For instance, she was fascinated by the sustainable ethos and way of being that pervades New Zealand culture—their way of life had been sustainable well before “sustainable” entered popular culture in the United States. Brej enjoyed the New Zealander personalities as well. People are independent-minded and not defined by their job titles, a marked contrast to culture in the United States. Brej says this allows people in New Zealand to live and pursue their callings. She also says that, because of this, New Zealanders tend to be excited by what they do, and that excitement is infectious. “When everyone else is excited, it is easy to get excited yourself.”