John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

I Escape to New Zealand: But What About our Students?

March 7, 2016huhnInsights0

John Gardner

John Gardner copyI write this during an “escape” from the winter 2016 political primary season and all the crazy, vitriolic, anti immigrant, anti Hispanic, misogynist, hateful anger brought to the fore by Trump, Cruz, Rubio and other figures in the Republican party. My escape is for two weeks, mostly in New Zealand and several days in Australia on the way home. My wife, Betsy Barefoot is my partner on this escape, and everything else. This is our third visit to New Zealand in five years. I need to just remind myself what a different kind of life and culture can be produced by another former British colony and English speaking society, which has made very different choices than us.

I have the professional, personal, financial, and calendar freedom to escape.  This differentiates me from most all of our college and university students. And given the freedom afforded by the internet, SKYPE, global phones, I can work from New Zealand—and am—almost as effectively as I can and do from the United States. And all without loosing any aspects of my livelihood or letting down any of my professional responsibilities.

For our students who are as disturbed as I am by the current discourse in our Republic, how can they escape, reflect, re-center, get some detachment and insight and resolve to push on to make a difference? What are their outlets for escape?

  • conversation with fellow students and faculty staff
  • sleep
  • music—listening and/or performing
  • drugs
  • alcohol
  • the arts – patronizing or creating
  • service work/volunteering
  • weekend drill in the National Guard
  • spring break travel for service, learning and/or debauchery
  • reading
  • surfing—either on the internet or in an ocean
  • vigorous physical exercise
  • going “home” (for residential students)
  • taking on the troubles of others
  • eating
  • gambling
  • watching intercollegiate and pro sports
  • playing sports themselves
  • hunting
  • fishing
  • prayer
  • yoga
  • retreating as in retreats
  • playing board games
  • power watching TV and films

Are you offering your students any opportunities for time out?

  • For reflection?
  • For quiet?
  • For peace?
  • For solitude?
  • To talk with you to help sort our all the craziness in our national order these days?

How do you extend such invitations to your students?  Individually, en masse, directly, obliquely, generally?

Where do you offer them campus space for reflection, peace and quiet?

I remember how important it was for me as an undergraduate to be invited by my professors to their offices for conversation and/or their homes for a meal with their families.

I had a lot on my mind. Trying to decide on how to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War without fleeing the country. Trying to decide what to do about several very important relationships. Trying to find something to study in graduate school for a draft deferment when I did not have a major as an undergraduate.

I found the ideal graduate field for a no major guy like me: American Studies. And the draft found me anyway and so I volunteered for the US Air Force and did my duty!

So I have escaped to New Zealand again. What appeals about this place to me:

Like us, they have two main political parties, one more conservative than the other. But the dialogue is civil.

  • There is universal health coverage.
  • The country is safe.
  • No one is allowed to have handguns or automatic weapons.
  • There is no “concealed carry” or “open carry” or “permits” for legal possession of handguns. In my county of 30,000 people in the US there are over 1600 such permits.
  • Abortion is legal.
  • Capital punishment has been abolished. And homicide rates are very low.
  • Little if any visible evidence of poverty.
  • No mobile homes.
  • Very few churches (is there a correlation here?).
  • Businesses aren’t using Christian slogans to sell anything. There truly is separation of church and state.
  • Almost every yard is neat and well cared for no matter what the standard of the dwelling
  • There is no litter on the roads—amazng!
  • American music and films everywhere.
  • New Zealanders are fascinated by the Oscars (which I can easily live without).
  • They are fanatically anti-nuclear and pacifist.
  • They remember when the British generals made dumb decisions and sacrificed thousands of young New Zealand men to die in World War I and are resolved not to get into entangling alliances again.
  • They are so “left” they even drive on the left side of the road.
  • No one is talking about building a wall to keep immigrants out—although there is a strict immigration control.
  • The government executed a national act of reconciliation for its abuse of indigenous persons (which we have never done towards our own Native Americans or descendants of our former slaves.
  • The government also formally apologized to one nation’s, (China) mistreated immigrants to New Zealand during the gold mining boom era.
  • The place is truly beautiful. An outdoor person’s paradise.
  • And the climate, for the most part, more gentle than ours. And it’s their summer during our winter.
  • There is a guaranteed minimum wage of around $15 an hour.
  • Restaurant servers don’t need to depend on tips. And hence tipping is not de rigeur.
  • Workers are guaranteed a month’s vacation with pay.
  • The population is visibly less overweight than ours.
  • People describe their identity in terms of what they do outside work, not through their work.
  • Like me, people are amazed and disturbed that the level of US political discourse has sunk to hitherto unimaginable levels. What we do, say, create, matters to these people.
  • The police are largely invisible.
  • Everyone is very polite. And I mean really polite.
  • I can go to a concert of Australian aboriginal music, performed by aboriginal musicians playing to an entire audience of raving and cheering whites.
  • National arts treasures, like the national museum in Wellington do not charge admissions fees.

And there’s more. I will return for another visit-and probably another “escape.”

So this is what I went to college for. So I could have the sense to select a mate of comparable education and interests to mutually appreciate an escape like this.

To be able to afford a two week escape ten thousand miles away from home.

To have a career where I could “work” from New Zealand on those occasions when the spirit moved me.

I am going to return home somewhat restored and resolved to do what I can in my own personal and professional spheres of influence to further the cause of attaining social justice for more American college and university students.

We all need healthy escapes, including our students—as occasions for reflection, regeneration, recommitment and resolve.

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