Personal Discovery: Service Project in Earthquake Recovery Area of New Zealand Inspires Student to Volunteer More Back Home
“It is so much more than a study abroad experience when you come to Christchurch.” – Chloe Ridings, University of Tennessee at Knoxville.By Stacey Hartmann GlobaLinks NewsWire Editor
Rather than shake Chloe Ridings’ resolve to study abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand, the destruction from earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 spurred her to grab the rare opportunity to get involved with the rebuilding of a vibrant, historic city.
“I don’t think I fully understood the condition Christchurch was in after the earthquakes,” says Ridings, 20, a University of Tennessee at Knoxville biology major from Nashville. “I had seen some pictures and videos from the quakes but had assumed that it was only a few poorly built buildings, and that it would be mostly cleaned up before I arrived.”
As part of her study abroad semester in 2012 at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch through GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, Ridings signed up for the “Rebuilding Christchurch: An introduction to community engagement in tertiary studies” course taught by Senior Lecturer Billy O’Steen that’s received lots of attention for its approach to teaching community engagement.
“‘Rebuilding Christchurch’ was an amazing class where I got to learn about the earthquakes and the people affected by them,” Ridings says. “We also got the opportunity to meet other students studying abroad and the local Kiwis. We met every week for two hours and spent time discussing, hearing from influential people in the community, and doing service.”
The class gave Ridings and her classmates a chance to see first hand the impacts of the quakes. The group participated in three projects that revolved around the ideas of caring & helping, connecting, and healing.
“For each, we had to think of a creative way to explain and demonstrate these concepts in layouts that are relevant to our interests,” Ridings says. “We also completed two service projects with the class.”
One project involved taking down fences in a red zone neighborhood. Another involved landscaping a childcare centre in a low-income area of Christchurch.
“By tearing down fences in a deserted neighborhood and helping landscape a school yard, I got the chance to hear the stories of people from Christchurch and see where they are now,” said Ridings, who returned to the United States in November 2012. “I was truly inspired by the woman running North Beach Community Childcare Centre. She was filled to the brim with passion and hope for the future of Christchurch.”
The majority of the students in the course were study abroad students, Ridings noted. “I think it is great that there were so many,” she says. “It showed that international students are interested in getting involved in the community and not just there to stay for a semester/year.”
“I had always thought that all service was good no matter what motives a person may have for why they are serving,” she says. “(Prof.) Billy (O’Steen) made us question this and ask ourselves if there are some forms of service that might be ‘better’ than others. We had long class discussions about this concept, giving me a better understanding and appreciation of service.”
Now, home in the United States, she plans to give more of her time to volunteering.
“I will definitely encourage all of my friends to volunteer more,” she says. “I have found that volunteering brings people together, and that it is okay to have fun and gain something from the experience without it being selfish.”
She strongly encourages other students to study abroad in Christchurch.
“Although the city is destroyed and the buildings have fallen, the spirit could not be stronger,” she says. “It is so much more than a study abroad experience when you come to Christchurch. You get to meet energizing people, hear incredible stories, and be a part of the Christchurch community for the rest of your life.”