Alumni Spotlight: Colleen Bernal

Colleen is from the USA and is entering her fourth year of college in autumn 2016.

Why did you choose this program?

Over the past year I have become more aware of my actions and how they effect the environment. I wanted to chose a program that would allow me to expand my efforts in being more "green". Picking up rubbish along the harbor and beaches in Auckland, New Zealand, fit my goals perfectly.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program provider was able to assist me with all of my planning beforehand: obtaining background checks, giving information about visas, booking flights, etc. My job was to make sure everything was in order and checked off. Once in New Zealand, I was able to plan my down time and weekends.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

If you are worried about traveling alone, don't be! Traveling alone was one of the best decision I made while planning my trip. It gave me the freedom to do as I chose and allowed me to engage with the coordinators and other volunteers from around the world. I was able to learn about myself and explore a new country, on my own time and in my own way.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I was working on the Coastline Conservation Program in New Zealand. Every morning I woke up around 06:00 in order to be at the boat by 07:15. From the hostel, it is about a 40 minute walk, and I'm a fast walker! You might think waking up early is a bit of a drag, but trust me, seeing the sun rise every morning was always worth it. After arriving at the marina, we would leave the dock and begin our day, which consisted of getting coffee and a muffin! Then the real work began. We would walk around with nets to pick up rubbish in the water. After a quick sweep around the city, we would set out for the rest of the afternoon. Depending on the weather, we would go to nearby islands to collect rubbish. Some of our destinations even included Rangitoto and Waiheke! We would spend the day maneuvering over volcanic rocks and wadding in rivers, picking up rubbish along the way. It was a hard day's work, but always a lot of fun!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

I did not have any big fears coming into the program. I came in with an open mind and ready for anything. However, if I had to chose, I would say making my way through an international airport on my own was the scariest. My advice is to arrive early and always make sure you have your passport and boarding pass on hand. Take time to read the signs and double check your gate, sometimes they can change!

What was the best part of your trip?

The best part of my trip was the location. Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand, and it has everything to offer: tons of activities, ocean views, tasty restaurants, and friendly locals. I loved that the hostel was right off of Queen St. It made traveling easy, and I felt very safe. I got the best of both worlds in Auckland: the city life, as well as rural, breathtaking views.