Like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Homer’s Odysseus, our Ulises embarked on an epic journey of discovery. Ulises, a well deserving Chicago area high school senior received a scholarship from Farther Foundation to travel with American Field Service (AFS) to New Zealand this past summer where he challenged himself with rugged outdoor adventure, immersed himself in the native culture and provided volunteer service to the local community. Here is some of what Ulises wrote for us upon his return.
“Welcome to the ‘land of the long white cloud.’” While I waited for my luggage after a long thirteen-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, a New Zealander greeted me with these words. The land of the long white cloud is a perfect name for New Zealand. When we were descending, everything around me was clouds. Little did I know that I would be spending the next seven weeks surrounded by a long white cloud and that this experience would change my life forever.
I arrived on June 28, two days ahead of the time in the United States. I had traveled into the future during my flight. Turangi was the place where I would spend three weeks of outdoor adventure activity. I met New Zealanders, also called Kiwis, Brazilians, Germans, and other Europeans. Everything I did during these three weeks was completely new to me, activities such as hiking, bush bashing, camping, canoeing, zip lining, whitewater rafting, high and low ropes obstacle course, and rock climbing. These are only some of the mind-blowing activities in which I participated. Throughout these twenty-one days of adventure, I constantly kept thinking about the wonderful opportunity I had and how this was less than half of my experience. Although I did not want to leave the outdoor adventure center, I had to leave to meet my host family in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Palmerston North is near the southern tip of the north island. I took a 4-hour bus ride to Bulls, New Zealand where my host mom picked me up. I spent a couple of days getting to know the area and my family. I then started the second part of my journey, which was community service. I had two volunteering opportunities. The first was at Ross Intermediate School. Here, I assisted the wood works teacher by helping with his classes or fixing things around the school. Examples of such tasks were to assemble tables for the school’s science fair, build computer tables for the school, and build a filing cabinet. The other opportunity I had was as an ecologist’s assistant. When I was not at Ross Intermediate School, I went with Anwyl, the ecologist, to help her teach a class about nature. I went with her to various forests and beaches. I helped guide the students through various activities and taught them about nature myself. I taught them about the forest and its different layers, insects and their habitats, and waves and the magnetic sand on the black beaches. Both of these experiences were amazing and I did what I loved. I constantly worked with my hands and was surrounded by nature.
Aotearoa, meaning “land of the long white cloud” or New Zealand, has inspired me to make changes in my life and plans for the future. I have an aspect inside of me that I can share with my peers and use to encourage them to make the decision I made a couple of months ago. Now with this experience, I plan to take advantage of what I have here in Chicago — the possibilities of adventure. I plan to volunteer more in my community and help others the way I helped in New Zealand. The adventure to “the land of the long white cloud” allowed me to gain an unforgettable experience and make significant changes in my life and in my plans for the future.
Ulises is one of 16 students who received Farther Foundation scholarships this year enabling them to participate in unique and life changing experiences across six continents. Inspired by experience students become active and engaged learners, full of potential and more fully aware of the world and its opportunities.