The 2019 APRU programme I had the privilege of attending over July was not only the highlight of the year so far, but also an exceptional life experience. With two exams the day before flying out, I hadn’t had much time to think about expectations. I was open to everything that was going to be thrown my way, ready to meet new people, hear their stories, and share my own.
What first seemed like a long time, when it came to saying goodbyes twelve days later, definitely did not seem like remotely enough. I left the programme feeling educated, empowered, challenged, connected and ready to apply my new skills at home. Our twelve days in Oregon consisted of workshops on communication, the design process, scientific and systemic thinking. We were split into groups and tasked with a challenge from one of the three community partners. I was in the environmental degradation group and was tasked with the challenge to reduce food waste in Lane County by our community partner BRING Recycling. We tackled this issue by developing an annual education programme for elementary school kids to educate the youth of tomorrow about the importance of reducing waste and composting today.
Overwhelming at times, the experience from this programme helped me realise the different components that make up leadership and community development. I was also able to refine skills in research, communication, presentation and organisation through the various activities we did each day. I can safely say that I was constantly challenged: whether that be through learning patience when trying to communicate with people from different countries, developing, researching and refining our solution on a tight time crunch, or actually presenting our idea to all the community partners and attendees, I learnt how to adapt to different situations.
One of the key takeaways from this programme was learning how to make global issues more accessible in order to tackle the problems we are most passionate about. Before attending this programme, I often found myself with this energy and drive to make change happen but never fully understanding how to make a tangible difference. However, through working with real-life community partners, I was able to zoom into particular aspects of the issue and tackle things in smaller segments than get overwhelmed by the big picture. I learned how to set and achieve smaller goals, successfully work with a team of like-minded individuals, all while consistently applying an interdisciplinary lens to the issue; I was then able to apply that skill through my degree here at the University of Auckland. This programme both reinforced my current skillset in a real-world setting and also exposed me to global perspectives from all the other group members. Everyone had something to bring to the table. Being able to learn from each other and combine different elements from ideas around the world was something truly unique.
In addition to the programme itself, one of the most rewarding aspects of the whole experience was developing new connections. Once strangers, the fifty-five other individuals I met were nothing but phenomenal. I was blown away by not only their amplitude and passion for making a difference, but also their constant kindness, generosity, and support. We all enjoyed the planned cultural excursions, as well as our own little discovery trips around Eugene, having shared both the stress and joy and everything in between. It’s surreal to think I now have a base all around the Pacific Rim, just as anyone coming to Aotearoa would have a place to call home here. I would highly encourage and urge every single student to make the most of this opportunity. University is all about learning and putting that knowledge into practice. This experience has not only allowed me to do this in an international setting but also exposed me to various other opportunities in my field of interest and connected me with lifelong friends who share similar passions and are no doubt the change makers we need right now.