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Class Provides “Awesome Experience” in New Zealand

Family and Consumer Sciences’ Nilufer Medora used a lifetime of experience in world travel during the past summer to plant the CSULB banner in New Zealand.

Medora, who joined the university in 1987, led 20 students from July to August on a three-week, short-term class titled “A Comparative Study of Children and Families in New Zealand and the United States.” The group traveled all over the nation’s northern island from its northernmost city of Paihia all the way south to the capital city of Wellington.

“It was an awesome experience for the students and me,” said Medora, an expert in cross-cultural research who received her 1983 Ph.D. in family studies from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “It was both a cultural and an emotional experience.”

The journey to learn more about social service agencies included visits to Maori and Kiwi schools. “Maoris are indigenous people of local origin and Kiwis are from Europe,” she explained. “We mingled with the Maori people and spent a night on a Maori 'marai.' I found the Maori culture fascinating. We saw a very good example of how two cultures can get along. They live with each other while maintaining separate heritages. It is biculturalism in action.”

Medora said she had two goals for her students on her second trip to the island nation. “First and foremost, I wanted them to get out of California,” she said. “I wanted them to experience a different culture from California, Nevada or Arizona. Also, I wanted to them to experience a culture that wasn’t too different. India would have been too dramatic a change. New Zealand was a nice halfway point.” 

Most of the students who signed up for the $4,200-per-person odyssey were Family and Consumer Sciences' majors with a sprinkling of other disciplines and one student from San Francisco State. Participants were asked to read textbooks, keep journals and conclude with an evaluation and experiential exam.  

“It was an eye-opening trip,” she said. “I could see how their sense of self changed in just three weeks. Students came out of this experience more confident and self-assured. They learned how to negotiate and resolve conflicts. They came out with better social skills, too. After all, you need social skills if you’re going to be on a bus with a lot of other people for a long time.”

Professor, Students at New Zealand

Travel plays a big role in Medora’s career. Visitors to her FCS office are greeted by a display of postcards from all over the world. “I feel blessed to have traveled as much as I have,” she said. “But I found that I love the New Zealand people especially. They are both laid back and welcoming. The Maoris have an especially warm culture.” 

She expressed thanks to College of Health and Human Services Dean Ron Vogel for his support. “If it hadn’t been for his support, the trip never would have happened,” she said. “This university needs more programs like this. With a little more support, I think our students would have had an even fuller experience.”

Medora has been active in Partners for Success, which nurtures newcomers to the university, since 1997. She began her education in her native India with a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in sociology. Her American education continued with a master’s in child development from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She began her teaching career at Montana State University in Bozeman.

Medora encourages her faculty colleagues to participate in travel programs. “Do it,” she said, “but remember it takes more than a year to plan. I know I could not have planned this trip in any less time. My second piece of advice is organization. I had to be very organized or else things would have fallen through the cracks. “

Medora plans to return to New Zealand in 2009 and this coming January begins a semester teaching in the CSULB London Semester Program at the University of London. She looks back on her summer trip as a life-altering experience. “I am as proud of taking these kids to New Zealand as I am of any of my degrees,” she said. “It gave me a sense of achievement. It was rewarding and enriching.”