Student Stories: Despite quake, New Zealand impressed her


Attracted by the country\’s unique wildlife, Melanie Torres spent her spring 2011 semester studying abroad in New Zealand, where she had many amazing experiences and more than a few surprises.

The senior Wildlife and Fisheries Science major in Penn State\’s College of Agricultural Sciences has loved animals since she was a little girl. \”I grew up watching Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin and other adventurers who travel the world while teaching others about what lives in it,\” she said. \”I wish to emulate them and have taken up my major as the first step toward my dream.\”

The Easton, Conn., native decided on Penn State for its reputation and the \”life-changing\” opportunities the University offers to its students.

\”I wanted to visit New Zealand because birds, reptiles and insects were the major occupants of the country until Europeans brought in domesticated animals,\” explained Torres. \”Pest species such as rats, rabbits and even cats and dogs have joined the settlers and invaded.\”

\”The endemic wildlife species are having a difficult time coping with the changes, and I was curious to see how the country was taking on these pressures and how the Kiwis planned to work towards a more sustainable future.\”

During her stay, she took a full load of courses, including environmental policy and planning, ecology and entomology.

The entomology class forced her to spend a lot of time learning about the world\’s creepy crawlers. She collected, killed, pinned and identified various specimens. She also visited South Island and the Auckland Zoo, where she saw many native bird species including penguins, fantails, silvereyes and many others.

\”I learned all about New Zealand — it was quite a journey, from the politics and environmental issues to the in-depth science, and even social and cultural aspects,\” she said.

During her free time she participated in some extreme sports, such as bungee jumping, sky diving and black-water rafting in the Waitomo Caves.

\”Sky diving was amazing — I\’m definitely doing that again,\” said Torres. \”We were able to experience so much of what New Zealand has to offer. We even saw the country\’s famous glow worms.\”

However, this trip of a lifetime was not all fun and games. On Feb. 22 — the day she arrived — a magnitude 6.3 earthquake devastated parts of New Zealand. \”Being told mid-flight that the plane had to turn around because all connections with the Christchurch airport had been lost due to an earthquake was absolutely terrifying,\” said Torres.

\”The entire semester was racked by aftershocks that disturbed us during the day and awakened us at night.\”

She and other students spent about two weeks helping with the relief effort while the university was closed. And another large earthquake took place in June during finals week.

Last summer, Torres completed an internship with the Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut. After graduation, she plans to enroll in graduate school but said she would not pass up a good job if one is offered. She is hoping one day to have her own TV show, travel the globe and educate the masses about animals and how to help with conservation efforts.