Aotearoa: A campus celebration of New Zealand

December 6, 2022


In mid-November, the University hosts a week of learning and lighthearted events for International Education Week. This year’s celebration — Aotearoa New Zealand — brought to campus a visit from the country’s ambassador and more than 100 Richmond community members with Kiwi connections.

Aotearoa is the Maori name for the country, as noted by UR’s partners from the University of Otago, who presented during the week.

Ambassador Bede Corry made Richmond his first campus visit, since his recent appointment as New Zealand’s envoy to the United States and was accompanied by former UR exchange student Amy Rutherford, now Education New Zealand’s regional director for the Americas, the Middle East, and Europe.

Corry gave a luncheon talk and took questions from attendees. Among the audience was UR alum and international education advocate Carole Weinstein, as well as a dozen faculty who taught about Aotearoa New Zealand this semester. Rutherford spoke about education diplomacy, noting the partnership between her two alma maters, Otago and Richmond.

Indigenous peoples and environmental rights were the focus of a lecture by law professor Jacinta Ruru from the University of Otago, with a panel including leadership studies professor David Wilkins and Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe.

UR’s partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting brought NYU legal scholar Lauren-Brooke Eisen to campus for a talk on incarceration practices in New Zealand, including indigenous accommodations.

Visiting Otago scholar Teri Higgins introduced the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, highlighting his often-playful cultural references. And biology professor Kristina Ramstad of the University of South Carolina Aiken, a leading researcher who studies the flightless, ground-dwelling kiwi, talked about the vulnerability of the birds and the challenges of studying them.

Richmond-area businesses also introduced New Zealand-inspired experiences to the week. RVA Goats brought six sheep from their “chew crew” to the Forum to interact with students. These sheep sustainably clear invasive plants throughout the region, including on UR’s campus. And Proper Pie, a Richmond-based eatery founded by New Zealand native Neil Smith and his wife and co-owner, Nikki Price, offered a kitchen demo and a well-attended station at the IE Week fair.

As a group of UR students prepares for a fully funded EnCompass trip to New Zealand in May 2023, the faculty leaders of the trip, biology professor Kristine Grayson and chemistry professor Jon Dattelbaum, were joined on campus by zoology professor Philip Seddon from Otago, who gave biodiversity presentations on predator-free New Zealand and visited classes throughout the week. 

“Our weeklong engagement building global and local partnership works because of key units that go the extra mile,” said Martha Merritt, dean of International Education. She cited the Center for Civic Engagement, which hosted a talk by professors Todd Lookingbill and Tim Barney on why Aotearoa New Zealand is so often left off maps.

The event also featured Heilman Dining Center’s celebrated international dinner. D-Hall begins their planning nearly a year in advance, enjoying menu suggestions from visiting exchange students. This year brought the robust participation of exchange student Ella McKee, who proposed a gumboot toss that was featured on the local news.