Matt Jones from Pullman, Washington is on his Fulbright US Graduate Award researching Developing a New Framework for Studying Non-Native Species Dispersal in New Zealand at the University of Canterbury towards his Washington State University PhD.
Why did you decide to study in New Zealand?
I’ve been studying dung beetle ecology as a part of my PhD in the United States. When I heard that New Zealand was in the process of introducing these insects, I was keen to be involved in studying the implications of this introduction from early on. I’ve also wanted to visit New Zealand for a really long time; the Fulbright Program provided the perfect opportunity to do so.
What has your exchange experience been like on campus so far, both socially and academically?
University of Canterbury is a fantastic university with lots of cross discipline collaboration, joint lab meetings, etc. People are friendly and keen to share ideas and help each other with their projects. I’m involved in formal lab group meetings with peers and department faculty as well as informal coffee/meetings with other faculty and visiting scholars.
How did your undergraduate studies in US prepare you for graduate work in NZ?
I’ve been fortunate to work with mentors back home for my Bachelors, Masters and PhD programs who have given me endless freedom in developing projects from the ground up – this has been incredibly helpful in my transition to developing a big project in a foreign country.
What’s it like being an international student on campus?
Attending university here feels very similar to back home. Adjusting was really easy. Things run about the same so, until now I hadn’t thought of myself as an international student! My lab and department are full of people from all around the world, so it feels very normal to join the group.
What is your living situation in NZ?
I am renting a house out by the beach in Sumner with my partner, Summer. We wanted a quiet neighborhood, close to the water. It’s been fantastic. We’re able to surf all the time, and I just hop on the purple line [public transport] into work each day – it’s very convenient.
Describe your experience applying for admittance into New Zealand universities for graduate students.
The process was very straightforward and relatively painless. The staff at University of Canterbury were helpful in making sure everything got processed in a timely manner.
What interesting cultural tidbits have you noticed so far?
It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation with locals in Christchurch without the big earthquakes of 2010/2011 coming up at some point. Those events have shaped the way people live in the city and relate to each other so much. It’s been powerful to see the long lasting effects on the city’s culture years later.
What has surprised you the most about your time in the NZ?
It takes forever to drive places, buying healthy food here seems very expensive, I had no idea so much of the country was covered in pasture, and it’s been much easier to settle in here than I anticipated- people are so curious and interested and friendly.
What advice would you offer to Americans hoping to study at the graduate level in the NZ in future?
Just do it! You’ll settle in so fast! It’s easy here and everyone is so friendly, laid back, and in general … it seems that people have a healthier work/life balance in New Zealand universities than back home.
Have you thought about your plans post-graduation and how will your time in the NZ help your career?
I’ll be returning to my PhD program at Washington State University (about 2 years left). After that, I am very interested in working at a research university or for the Department of Agriculture. My time in New Zealand has introduced me to working in pasture ecosystems with livestock farmers, which I am loving, and has also helped me realize how much work there is to co-managing natural spaces with agriculture. My time in New Zealand has already been invaluable in helping me fine tune my long term plans.
What do you miss the most about home?
Family, friends, gardening … but a year isn’t too long away to really, really miss everything. I have luckily already had some family and friends come to visit- I’m sure that helps!
Finish the sentence: I believe international education is important because there is no better way to to see the world through a new lens than to submerge yourself in another place, especially if you’re allowed to dig in and actively research an original question.
The Fulbright US Graduate Awards are for promising American graduate students to undertake postgraduate study or research at New Zealand institutions in any field. Up to eight awards valued at up to NZ$33,000 are granted each year, towards one year of study or research in New Zealand. Applications close 14 October annually.