Student Stories: Wildlife and fisheries science major studies in New Zealand

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Not many students get to go to Craigieburn Forest Park or Mount Cook, but as senior Sara Mueller learned, Lincoln University in New Zealand is one school that builds field trips such as these into each semester.

This allowed the State College, Pa., native to add traveling and sightseeing to her curriculum last spring as she continued her studies as a Wildlife and Fisheries Science major abroad.

As a student who conducts aquatic ecology research at Penn State, Mueller was well prepared and excited for her Insect Bio-Diversity class in New Zealand. "It was my favorite," she said. "We did an insect collection, which I got to bring home with me afterward. It was nice to see what New Zealand has to offer."

In addition to the field experience that her class trips gave her, there was a two-week break during the semester when Mueller hopped on a bus and toured almost the entire South Island by herself.

She managed to squeeze a lot into 12 days: Stewart Island, eating a famous Ferg Burger in Queenstown, horseback riding, tours of where the movie "Lord of the Rings" was filmed, and to kick it all off -- a hike on a glacier.

"We were flown to the top in a helicopter and got out and hiked around for hours. It was amazing to look down and see a valley below," Mueller said. "I thought to myself how nice it is to know that I can do something with my major that could influence the thing I'm standing on right now -- and that's kind of cool."

After finals she had time to explore the North Island, where she stayed with the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. She was introduced to their language and customs with traditional dinners and cultural performances, which included songs and stories.

Mueller came away with a lot of knowledge and a new appreciation for environmental planning and the differences in wildlife and management styles between New Zealand and the United States.

"Nine thousand miles is a long way to go for your first semester away from home," she said. "I felt much more confident coming back -- it was the true test of my ability to be independent."

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Last Updated April 14, 2014