I have known I wanted to work with the environment in some capacity since I was a young girl taking trips to the Bronx Zoo as often as possible. I followed Southern Boulevard right to Fordham University where I have spent the last 4 years of my life, and where I will receive my degree in May. Though I never questioned my Environmental Studies track, I could never really pinpoint why I chose this course of study until spending a semester abroad in Auckland, New Zealand.
Having grown up in East Coast suburbia and living in New York City the past few years, I have never been inspired by the sustainability, or lack thereof, that surrounds me on a daily basis. However, I realized the meaning and importance behind my field of study while I was abroad; in New Zealand, I found passion.
Spending an extended period of time in a country that prides itself on a small population, an active indigenous culture, and pure natural beauty, made it easy to remove myself from the business-centric lifestyle of New York and really focus on why I chose to study the environment. That reason is to preserve the natural beauty of the world. During my time at Fordham, all of my internships and work experiences, though sustainability-based, have very much been experiences in the world of business. In such an enormous city where everyone is on their own schedule and wants the lifestyle seen in movies, nothing really motivates change quite like money does. Emphasis on disappearing landscapes or conservation efforts would never be enough to encourage the adoption of clean technology, but as soon as a cost comparison hits the right person’s desk, the process is initiated. For someone who’s happiest while hiking and has never been enamored with the bustle of the city, this has been more than frustrating for me.
While in New Zealand, I understood what it would be like to be in a place where everyone holds the preservation of hiking tracks and heritage sites at the utmost importance. I distinctly remember hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track within a month of arriving in New Zealand and being humbled by how well-kept the track was. Even staying in a hostel the night prior to and following our hike, the focus of almost every common task and process was how to have the least impact on the land. More surprisingly is that each of the 4 classes I was enrolled in while at the University of Auckland had some aspect of sustainability to them, which I’ve only found in my major-specific courses at Fordham. From Principles of Marketing to Introduction to Spoken Māori, sustainable practices and beliefs were a common theme.
It would be very easy to say that I found my passion in New Zealand because of the breathtaking vistas and unique wildlife, but when it comes down to it, it was the people of New Zealand who inspired me the most. Never in my life had I been in a place where every individual person, regardless of career or lifestyle, truly cared about the environment around them. Furthermore, comparing their national policies about sustainability to the domestic ones I’m familiar with further emphasized the inherent differences in the way these two countries value the natural land within their borders.
Before traveling abroad, I felt very stuck in that the work I was doing made no tangible difference to the overall combating of climate change. To put it very simply, not many people in New York City believe in my course of study and think it’s viable in an ever-changing world. I have always believed strongly in my path, but since looking at post-grad prospects, I have become weary of how difficult it is to stay in the metro area and have a career focused more on the environment than on making business deals. Now, with the added perspective that there are places in the world where most people believe in this and implement sustainability into everyday life and business practices, I know I’m not fighting alone. Perhaps staying in New York to work will not directly bring about the change I wish to be a part of, but even if it shares an appreciation of the outdoors with one other person who then shares it with another and another, the mindset in my own country could become more similar to that in New Zealand.
In my opinion, the abroad experience is a great time to find passion. For many students, this is the sole semester of college where the focus is more so on appreciating the entire experience as opposed to only worrying about classes, but also work and clubs. Whether it’s environmental passion in New Zealand , literary passion in Scotland, or economic passion in China, each country has an interesting perspective on every field of study that probably can’t be found by just staying in the US.
To me, passion without purpose is not passion at all. After 21 years of searching, I found a purpose in the commitment of the people in a small Pacific country on the other side of the world. I cannot wait to see how this passion is shown through my work in the years to come.
Lily Hurley was an Environmental Science major at Fordham University and studied abroad with IFSA on the University of Auckland program in Auckland, New Zealand in Spring 2016. She served as an alumni ambassador for IFSA.