Our Daily Trojan Photo Editor, Mariya Dondonyan, received the opportunity to be sponsored by Contiki this last spring break and join in on the company’s Sun and Steam tour to photograph the northern island of New Zealand. Our focus was on finding the importance of traveling while students are still in school and the benefits it could have on our lives.
New Zealand is an incredibly gorgeous, tropical country with the kindest locals and warmest culture. The vibe of this country is always in high spirits and full of adventure. While on Contiki, many ‘Me Time’ adventures were offered for the travelers on board including activities as relaxed as cave tours and aquarium trips to extremely adventurous ones like bungee jumping, white water rafting, and sky diving. In addition to ‘Me Time’ optionals, Contiki offers their own inclusions that give us the opportunity to learn more about that country’s culture and local environment outside of tourist-y attractions.
One of the towns we visited was Rotorua because of it’s important hub of Maori culture. We recognized and respected their culture and traditions today as we visited the Tama-te-kapua house which is a Maori meeting house. We took a stroll through Ohinemutu to the Te Papaiouru Marae, the town’s village center and listened to stories, songs and chants and learned about ancient Maori mythology and beliefs. There was a great sense of richness and depth of Maori culture in the air and it was refreshing and enlightening. After our culture learning, we enjoyed an amazing Maori hāngi dinner and traditional dance concert. Some of the foods we tried from the hāngi were sweet potato and chicken cooked on hot rocks in an underground pit – just as they have been for centuries.
One of my favorite outdoor activities we did as a group was white water rafting. A big group from Contiki chose to go together and we quickly made our way over to the park. Everyone grabbed a wet suit, prepped with helmets and water booties, hopped into a car and made our way over to the river we were rafting. It was intense. We rafted over the highest commercialized waterfall in the world. We all held on for dear life as we just fell vertically down this raging waterfall with six of us on a raft. Water went up my nose, I just kept my eyes shut for the entire way down, and hoped we wouldn’t flip over. Happily, we just plopped right back out of the water and made it out alive! Our guide was one of the coolest guys on our trip, and he made our raft do some insane stunts through the other rougher rapids. At one point we all jumped out of the boat and held onto the bottom as we fell through a smaller waterfall. It was challenging, but the most adventurous fun I’ve experienced yet. Well worth every moment.
All this adventuring and culture exposure opened my eyes to life outside of the classroom in Los Angeles. There are countless of reasons why students should try to travel often while in school, if not to learn first hand about other cultures and educate themselves in the world they live in, but to also learn more about themselves as individuals. When we travel, we are exposed to distinct cultural perspectives and we earn a better understanding and appreciation for the nation’s people and history. Traveling gives us the opportunity to witness and even experience a new way of life and become more open minded. Traveling has also proven to help with getting greater job opportunities because what we learn and the characteristics we develop while being abroad makes us better candidates for leadership positions. When we’ve returned with a new perspective on culture, a new list of language skills, a willingness to learn, and an eagerness to explore, we’re only building on the best qualities that will translate into an incredible employee in the work field. Lastly, college is the time for ‘finding yourself’ and there’s nothing quite like being on your own in a foreign country. Students who study abroad or travel while in school become explorers of their new nation and really discover curiosity and excitement that they may harbor. We have the chance to discover ourselves, all while gaining an understanding of a different culture. It’s the most beautiful learning we can do.
Contiki offers loads of trips and adventures around the globe for students, and the best thing about them is that even if you decide to travel alone, you won’t be alone for long. In each tour, you’re with about 25 other young adults around the same age group and you all become explorers together through your journey. It’s incredibly simple to make friends with the other travelers on Contiki and even along your journey when you meet locals. These are friendships you often take back home with you and keep forever. Now Trojans, that’s how you truly build an international network.
So travel while you can and travel while you’re young! See the world, make new friends, learn first hand about other cultures and ways of life, and lastly, learn about yourself and figure out what you truly want in this world. The world is your oyster, go explore.