The Political Science Program at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMU-K), with the assistance of the University’s Division of International Studies & Programs, is pleased to introduce its Pacific Studies Program 2015 - a collaborative initiative between A&M-Kingsville and the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. The Pacific Studies Program (PSP) is being co-directed by Dr. Nirmal Goswami, Professor of Political Science, TAMU-K and Dr. Elaine Webster, Director, Summer School and Continuing Education, University of Otago. The PSP will include graduate and undergraduate students traveling to and staying in New Zealand in July of 2015, attending classes at the University of Otago, and visiting multiple sites through field trips in the greater Otago region. Areas of focus include history, politics, economics, culture, sustainability and environmental policies, etc., with reference to both the greater Pacific region and New Zealand. You are all invited to cyber travel with us as we learn about the uniqueness of New Zealand and the surrounding region. This blog will document our experience. You are welcome to post comments.

Hoggies NZ Slideshow

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Finding “Extra” in the “Ordinary”

 The “Maoris,” New Zealand’s indigenous population, translates simply to “ordinary” as that is how they described themselves to foreign settlers in the 1800s. Today we had the opportunity to do something the exact opposite, something extraordinary. We experienced something that even many here in New Zealand do not. We visited a marae
Before our marae visit, University of Otago’s (UO) Mark Brunton, a Maori himself, talked to us about: a marae; Maori culture; society; and structures. A lot of this knowledge was pertinent to our marae visit. A marae is an important aspect of each Maori tribe, or iwi. A marae is essentially a complex of buildings that always include the following:

  • A wharenui, the main meeting house
  • A wharekai, the dining hall
  • A wharepaku, showers, toilets, etc.
  • An atea, the area in front of the main meeting house, usually grassy
  • A waha roa, the gate or main entrance to the atea

Maraes can also include a school (kura), a worship house (whare karakia), and a graveyard (urupa). At the presentation we were taught the “welcome ceremonies” or “rituals of encounter” (powhiri) in Maori culture. This last bit was the most crucial for our visit. 
After the lecture we were driven out onto the Otago Peninsula to visit the Otakou marae. Once there we participated in the powhiri. We lined up, women first, as Maori culture dictates and we were all slowly led through the waha roa, up the atea, and into the wharenui. Throughout the walk a mana whenua, or one of our hosts stood right outside the wharenui and would perform a karanga, or a call. Claire Porima, a Maori lady associated with UO, led us in with a karanga of her own. Once inside, a separate host began the whaikorero, or the speech-making portion of the powhiri. This was followed by a waiata, or song, sung by his group. A waikorero was then given by Mark Brunton as a part of our group and then altogether we sang a waiata we had been taught just for this occasion. Gifts were exchanged and then we all participated in the traditional greeting which includes shaking hands and pressing your forehead and nose to those of the person you are greeting, breathing together so that you are united by breathing the same air. This is called hongi and is very different from the less personal and distanced handshake we are familiar with. Last was the kai, or the sharing of food that also denotes the end of the welcome ceremony. The kai is the “final balancing out” of the powhiri and the visitors are now, for their stay, a part of the family. 
While eating we met with and talked to our hosts and then listened to Donna Matahaere-Atariki, a local Maori leader, speak of stories of her specific iwi and discuss current issues relevant to not only her iwi but to all Maori people. The entire experience, introduction to Maori culture, meeting with our Maori hosts, and especially the traditional welcome, was something that really needs to be experienced first-hand. It was a rare experience that we will  remember as one of the most extraordinary ever. 

-- Arianna A.

Coconuts, Bananas, and Socioeconomics

University of Otago (UO) Professor, Dr. Sarah Walton, began one of our  classes by referring to a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called Women in Business Development Inc., (WIBDI). This NGO started in 1991 and focuses on creating economic opportunities for local populations in Samoa. The reason this is a prime example of socioeconomics is because WIBDI uses Samoan culture and traditions as a “backbone” for many of its programs.  WIBDI emphasizes social impact rather than only profit. It creates goods with an entrepreneurial spirit, however the end goal is ethically-based social advancement. The NGO supports products like coconut oil and dried banana snacks by working directly with home-based rural residents, especially women, making these items.  
WIBDI worked with local cultures without intervening in family values and roles. This approach, sometimes, led to issues like tensions with male family members when women generated high incomes. WIBDI addresses these types of consequences as well. WIBDI, in essence, is an example of how a business endeavor can go beyond commerce to help small populations in difficult circumstances become economically self-sustaining, and still retain cultural traditions. 

-- Dakota R. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mothers’ Darlings

For our 6th lecture, we learned about a unique aspect of WWII. We mostly know about the war from an American perspective. During this lecture we learned about what it was like for New Zealand and the impact stationing of US servicemen had on New Zealand. The arrival of Americans, overwhelmingly men, had a dramatic consequence, both economically and socially.This was something the Pacific had never experienced before. Many US men developed relationships with local women. This was a very different experience for both the natives and the US men stationed in the Pacific. For the Americans, it was a new found freedom for them to not have to worry about the scrutiny that came with being a white man involved with a woman of color, and for indigenous women, it was different to be treated well by whites. As a result of these relationships, both casual and serious, there were many children born out of wedlock. Due to the times then, many of the marriages between the US servicemen and Maori women were not legal. In some cases, if the woman could prove that she was at least 51% white they were allowed to marry and permitted legal entry into the US. Unfortunately this was very rare and many men had to leave their families behind once their New Zealand posting was over; many men were not even aware that they fathered children. Most of these children were raised by the women left behind.

-- Catrina G. & Ema G.


Tony is owner and operator of Kiwi Shuttles. He's driven us to the Otago peninsula to see penguins and also to Queenstown to go skiing. He is also a long-time Dunedin resident, originally from Samoa, an entrepreneur, and an avid rugby fan and rugby coach. In addition to getting us around the South Island safely, Tony has also helped introduce us to some of Dunedin's local food and sports. On the way back from Queenstown I mentioned to him that I hadn't yet tried any local seafood. To my surprise, after arriving in Dunedin he stopped to pick up a freshly fried order of fish and chips, mussels, and oysters for us to enjoy. Also knowing we hadn't yet been to a rugby game, he offered to pick us up and take us to watch our first rugby game here in New Zealand. The next day he drove us to the Harbour Hawks vs University of Otago game at Forsyth Barr Stadium, bringing along some pineapple bread (a pastry with pineapple filling) for us to try. We were also joined by his daughter, Kala, whose fiancee plays on the Harbour Hawks. It was a fun experience watching and learning the game of rugby. Tony's generous sharing of kiwi culture with us has been very cool and much appreciated!

--Aaron H.

The Past Preserved

On our fourth day of class we had the pleasure of listening to Professor Colin Campbell-Hunt. Professor Campell-Hunt is actually not a wildlife expert but has a background in economics. He developed an interest in wildlife preservation because his late wife never had the opportunity to complete her dreams of establishing an eco sanctuary that regenerated New Zealand’s original, fauna and flora. After the lecture, we took a field trip to the sanctuary to experience its beauty first hand. 

The goal of Orokonui Ecosanctuary (www. is to preserve selected tracts of land and restore them to how they once were in this part of New Zealand. The Ecosanctuary is an impressive 307 hectares, surrounded by a customized fence designed to keep pests out.

-- Mikayla R.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Inspired Skating

On July 22, a few of the girls and I went to Dunedin Ice Stadium to test our ice skating skills. Most of us had ice skated at least once before but it’s been a while so we were a little nervous about stepping on the ice. Those nerves quickly diminished once we started skating. Even though we stumbled and tumbled, with the bruises to prove that, it was a lot of fun. Our ice skating skills got better the longer we skated; we even got helpful tips from a man who worked at the ice stadium. I didn’t quite catch his name, but he was a very cool elderly who skated like a professional. We talked to him a little and he told us that he and his partner competed in an ice skating competition in Japan a couple months ago and won third place. He proved that age is just a number! We were inspired. 

-- Ashley M.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Resource Management Challenges in Pacific Island Nations

Our fifth class, by U of Otago professor Jenny Bryant-Tokalau, focused on natural resource management issues in Pacific island nations. She spoke about the unique challenges faced in the region due to human actions. Nations such as Papua New Guinea(PNG), Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Caledonia, amongst others, are rich in natural resources. For example, nickel in Caledonia, phosphate in Nauru, and copper and gold in PNG and Fiji. The ways extraction of these minerals have been carried out have been very harmful to the environment. Larger, powerful countries have exploited natural resources and weak regulatory circumstances of these small island nations. Challenges these countries face include climate change consequences such as rise of sea level. When sea levels rise, major coastal population centers will be under water, forcing residences to flee. The change in water temperature and rising sea levels will also affect fisheries and regional fishing patterns that rely heavily on annual currents. Unfortunately, populations in these countries do not have many ways to earn livings so something of this magnitude can truly hurt these small populations. Tourism, too, has been a double-edged sword, it generates revenue but has multiple negative effects. But, there is hope! As more people learn about these places, just as we have, we also develop an understanding of policy issues, which, in turn, will allow us to figure out what we can do to make things better!

-Ashley M. and Anthony G.    

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Migration in the Pacific Region

Last week, one of our classes was by U of Otago Pacific and Indigenous Studies professor, Dr. Michelle Schaaf. In her lecture, we learned about the immigration of pacific island peoples to New Zealand, learned the 3 different pacific island regions of Melanesia (e.g., Fiji), Polynesia (Hawaii) , and Micronesia (small coral islands), learned the different (sometimes offensive) and proper ways of  identifying them, and learned about the discrimination they experienced. Our professor, who was of Samoan descent herself, showed us short video clips of old commercials, political cartoons, statistics, and a documentary regarding immigration - all of which we immediately related to the same discrimination minority groups in the USA have, and sometimes still do experience. Migrants came to New Zealand with the belief that it was the land of milk and honey, but, instead, quickly faced the reality of  a land of salt and vinegar,” and of complications and temptations. In the 70s, immigrants experienced whats called “the Dawn Raids.” During these raids, people suspected of overstaying their visas were subject to aggressive apprehension, often involving physical removal from their homes and the workplace, and asked to show proper documentation on demand. Failure to do so often led to imprisonment and deportation, or the threat of both. During some election campaigns, they were racially profiled as violent people who broke the laws. Many of these people were hard working people, often in physical labor jobs. They came to New Zealand with hopes for better futures for their children, and often would work only to send  money back home to their native countries. This class was so interesting because these topics we discussed are not known throughout much of the world. I know I could personally empathize with the struggles of these people, as could many of my peers. 

-- Tiffany T


Saturday, July 18th. We were finally able to sleep in after our exhausting day-trip to Queenstown. After breakfast, we got ready ready for our next “first.” Tony, our shuttle driver, told us about a rugby match at Forsyth Barr Stadium that day; his son and (future) son-in-law were playing. We headed out, stomachs full and all, with Tony and his daughter, Karla for the stadium. 
Upon arrival, we admired the modern architecture of a New Zealand sports stadium and found our seats. Little did we know this was a semi-final match between two of the better local clubs for a chance to advance to the Otago Rugby Union championship game; this was going to be a good one! The match was between the 
Harbour Hawks - representing the Harbour area of Dunedin and University-representing the University of Otago. Since Tony and Karla’s family was playing for Harbour, they were “our team.” Lights, camera, action. Time for kickoff, even though there were a ton of seagulls chillin on the field. As the game progressed, we annoyed Tony and Karla with our million questions about the game. Rugby is a very strategic sport; it has the nonstop pace of soccer, the roughness of American football (without pads and helmets!) with the technicality of boxing all smashed together as one. It was awesome! Before we knew it, the 40-minute half was over and “our team” was down 11-23. A come-from-behind game was on the way, we could just feel it. As the second half was under way, Harbour kept us on our feet with their continuous scoring and sure enough, they were up 30-28! We were cheering for Harbour as if it were a Saturday night Javelina game. Unfortunately, Harbour lost the match 33-35 but the closeness and intensity really had us, Tony, and Karla on the edge of our seats. The rugby match was a great experience for us all and really gave us a good idea of why Kiwis love this sport so much. I predict a rugby club at TAMUK is in the near future. 

-- Anthony G. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Uni Flats

We are staying in “Uni Flats.”  These are small houses owned by the U of Otago and used for student housing; they are located all around the campus. We have two of these flats. Each of us have our own room. The flats have kitchens, common areas, TVs, washers/dryers, and wifi. We are also within walking distances from clubs, cafes, shops, etc. Our “flat” housing arrangements are sweet! To make ourselves feel at home, we even hung a Javelina sign outside!

Little Blue and Yellow Eyed

Today, after we attended class and lunch, we went to view the penguins on the Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin. The drive there was beautiful, with the road running around Otago Harbor. After we reached the Penguin Reserve, we hiked to the "hides.” These hides are camouflaged, bunker-like structures (similar to hunting blinds) that allowed us to view the penguins without disturbing them. On our way to the first hide we saw a little baby blue penguin, the smallest breed of penguins, in a nest built for them on the side of a hill. From first hide, we saw two yellow eyed penguins - a male and a female preening each other because they had just returned from feeding in the ocean. Our guide said this is how they bond. After taking pictures and videos, we continued on the trail and saw one more penguin under a bush. On the way back, we stopped at another location and watched several blue eyed penguins waddle to their nests from the ocean. In addition to the the penguins, we saw amazing views of the ocean, cliffs and rolling hills with sheep! This was one of the most beautiful places; we ended the day with a homemade, authentic meal of lamb and vegetables prepared for us by Andrea McIvor of Unique Hangis Catering, Dunedin. 

-- Ema G 

Yellow Eyed Penguins 
A Slice of the Otago Peninsula 

The Man, the Myth, the Lamb.

If you don’t already know, New Zealand is THE place for lamb. There are more lamb and sheep in New Zealand than there are people. So naturally, lamb was on our “to do” list and the Dunedin Farmers’ Market, on a Saturday, was the perfect place to begin our search. What we found in the end was more than we could have hoped for; the man, the myth, and the lamb. 
The man – it was at the Farmers’ Market that we stumbled upon Rob Ottrey. Rob is the Sales and Marketing Manager for a lamb farming company known as Cardrona Merino ( We, of course, bought lamb from him. Long story short, Rob then agreed to stop by our flat later that day to help us prepare and roast the lamb - the traditional New Zealand way!
The myth – According to a number of people we met at the Farmers’ Market, and in other areas of Dunedin, Rob is the lamb guy. His lamb is slow-grown and therefore much more tender, lean, and better tasting than other New Zealand lamb. He also told us that when British royals visit New Zealand, they always ask for “Rob’s lamb.” 
The lamb – At around two in the afternoon Rob surprised us by showing up in our yard with a bag of supplies and a roasting pan. He then took-over our kitchen and showed us how to prepare and create what would be some of the best lamb any of us have ever had. The final product can easily be described as legendary. That evening was one to remember, filled with great food, wonderful friends, fantastic conversation, and the most exquisite New Zealand lamb ever. Thanks Rob!
-Arianna A.


The Dinner 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sustainability in Agriculture

Our second class, by Prof. Tom Brooking, was about the Politics of Sustainability in New Zealand Agriculture. Professor Brooking discussed the cultural anthropology of New Zealand as well as the many ecological challenges  the country faced. He also emphasized current issues New Zealanders are facing. One such issue relates to the trade-offs between the quality of land/water sustainability and profit margins. Many farmers are faced with a choice of expanding production but compromising the quality of their product. As a result, some farmers have chosen to stay local and rely on local clientele to retain the integrity of their products. Another current issue is the rise of international investors investing in New Zealand and driving up the prices of local real estate. However, these investments are largely speculative and do not lead to sustainable and productive usage of land resources.  He also emphasized the importance of traditional family farms and the necessity of supporting them for both economic and cultural reasons. Many New Zealand citizens have adapted to difficult economic circumstances by looking into multiple ways of utilizing their assets, for example, wives of farmers generate extra income by taking in tourists, growing flowers, or designing clothing. An emerging issue that has had a major impact on New Zealand  agriculture was the introduction of synthetics as a substitute for wool. Since synthetics are so cheap, the New Zealand wool industry has been greatly, and negatively, affected by this. 

-Clarissa A. 

A Kiwi Farmers’ Market

Colorful fruits, robust coffee, minced lamb pies and street music are examples of what you’ll experience at Dunedin’s weekly farmers’ market. All food items are organic. Located next to Dunedin’s train station, the farmer’s market is a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike. The morning of our visit was cold, but that did not keep us from showing up. People of all ages were buying boysenberry jams, picking the perfect crabapples for jams, and savoring steaming hot cinnamon porridge. Sausages, goat cheeses, bacon butties (a kind of sandwich), local wines and pizza were some of the featured foods. We met very kind, nice people - some well known throughout the area- who were generous enough to offer cooking help to us (more details about that in another post). At the entrance, you are greeted by a small folk band. Children were holding hands and dancing around them. At every corner there were young people with guitars, etc singing hits ranging from Ed Sheeran to Coldplay. We were amazed at the vibrancy of the Market. After visiting every booth twice, making friends, and enjoying our fill of free samples, we decided to return to our flats for some cooking and mingling amongst ourselves and our new friend, Rob Merino! 

--Tiffany T.

First Class

Opening the door to the classroom for our first lecture, my first thought was that I might be in the wrong place: dim lighting, incense burning, uptempo electronic music playing. Not your typical lecture setting. I’d found the right room, however, and after that brief introduction to some of New Zealand’s local dub music, Dr. Brian Roper delivered an informative lecture on New Zealand’s political and social history. In his presentation, he emphasized four aspects of this history for us to better understand New Zealand.
First, the uniqueness of European colonization in Aotearoa (New Zealand) is central to the nation’s history and society. The arrival of Pakeha (white Europeans) created conflicts and consequences similar to those experienced in the Americas. However, Maori were better able to resist and survive colonization than the indigenous peoples in the Americas. Events such as Maori resistance, the signing of a singular treaty between Maori and British, and Maori social movements have led to a much different experience for the indigenous people of New Zealand than that of those in the Americas. 
Second, New Zealand is characterized as a generous welfare state. The lecture highlighted 1935 and 1984 as the key turning points in New Zealand’s modern political history. The 1935 election marked the rise of what Dr. Roper described as a “generous welfare state.” The 1984 election, on the other hand, marked the rise of neoliberalism as the dominant political thought. Dr. Roper highlighted this shift as one that has increased socioeconomic inequality in New Zealand, and is at odds with the country’s generous social welfare policy.
Third, social democratic parties and unions have played a significant role in the country. Much of New Zealand’s political and social history has revolved around the development of a strong union movement. Political mobilization of the working class in the country has been the primary driver of many of New Zealand’s political turning points.
Lastly, New Zealand’s electoral system is a pivotal aspect of the country’s political system. New Zealand has a mixed-member proportional election system.  Parties secure seats in parliament in proportion to the percentage of votes they win in the election. This was interesting to learn about, as it contrasts from our own American electoral system and the first-past-the-post and winner-take-all systems of many other democratic nations. It is a system that is arguably more democratic than many other democracies in the world.
In addition to giving us an overview of New Zealand’s political history, Dr. Roper also discussed some of the nation’s current challenges and also talked a bit about local music. Overall, it was an interesting introduction to our study of the Pacific region and a good start to our classes at the University of Otago.

-Aaron H.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Train Ride Through Middle Earth

On Sunday, we stepped out of our comfort zone and left Dunedin and took the world famous Taieri Gorge Train (built in the 1880s) to Middlemarch.  Our tour started at 9:30 in the morning and did not end until 3:30 in the afternoon. The train departed out of the scenic and historical Dunedin train station. We had an entire carriage to ourselves! The ride was 2 1/2 hours to the village of Middlemarch, an hour to explore the village, and another 2 1/2 hours back to Dunedin. The tour was gorgeous and showcased the diversity and the physical magnificence of the Otago region. From towering pines to large rocky plains, we rode through areas where the Lord of the Rings films were partly shot! This trip was something we were so happy to be a part of. Some students even chose to brave the bitter cold in hopes of snapping pictures of the amazing outdoors. At Middlemarch, a few of us took a tour of the village on a horse-drawn carriage. The village was quaint and cradled by snow-capped mountains, just beautiful. After the carriage ride, we met in tiny cafĂ© where we sampled traditional New Zealand food like pot pies and hot teas. Our time in Middlemarch went by quite rapidly, and before we knew it, we were back on the train and on our way back to Dunedin. The sights we saw are indescribable, they have to be seen to be believed, and we did!

-Clarrisa A.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Kingsville to Dunedin

A two and a half hour drive to San Antonio, then a 3.5 hour flight to San Francisco, followed by 12-hour flight across the southern oceans, the equator and the international date line. Once we arrived in Auckland, NZ, we had two hours to grab our luggage, go through immigration and customs. Then we find out that Aaron’s bag was lost, while he was trying get it resolved, we proceeded to go through immigration. Immigration was a breeze, but by the time we made it to the desk to re-check our bags we were told it was too late to check our bags from the international terminal and we’d have to walk around to the the domestic terminal and drop off bags for our final flight  to Dunedin. This “15 minute” walk in the early morning cold, with luggage, felt never-ending! Some of us fell behind and did not make it to the domestic terminal until minutes before our flight was to leave. We rushed through security, confused and not knowing wether we should board our flight since Dr. Goswami had gone to help Aaron settle his luggage issues. We finally made it to the gate with 5 minutes to spare, still no sign of Dr. G or Aaron, worried, we decided to call Dr. G, as we were about to call, we see Dr. G! As we board our plane we are still not sure where Aaron is. Once we settled into our seats we see Aaron board the plane! The previous two hours of rushing to catch our last flight were extremely stressful; the two hour flight to Dunedin was exactly what we needed to relax after that. The flight to Dunedin was breathtaking. It was amazing to see such stunning landscape and beautiful snow-capped mountains as we flew across the length of New Zealand. When we landed in Dunedin we saw nothing but greenery, farms, and sheep everywhere and it finally hit us... we are in New Zealand! 
-Catrina G.