Laurel Tamayo 21, Environmental Science and Policy major and Documentary Film minor, participated in a spring 2019 semester abroad program in Wellington, New Zealand.

About MeLaurel atop Roys Peak, a mountain with a lake behind it with several small islands througout.

My name is Laurel Tamayo, and I’m a senior Environmental Science and Policy Major and Documentary Film Minor. I decided to study abroad in New Zealand after learning about how environmentally conscious the country was! Wellington was perfect for me because it’s the “film capital” as well as the actual capital of New Zealand. This allowed me to explore my passions for environmental policy and film!

Environmental Experiences

During my time in Wellington, I joined a few university clubs relating to veganism as well as solving the climate crisis. I also took a “New Zealand Environmental Policy and Governance” course. These opportunities allowed me to be surrounded by people my age who were interested in solving the same issues as me. They had ideas and attitudes that were so different than mine (in a good way) because of the communities in which they were raised.

I was a part of a group that advocated for the Zero Carbon Bill, a law that would legally bind New Zealand to have net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. I felt so empowered by the other students who came up with creative ways to engage people in the process of getting the bill passed. The local students always made me feel included and wanted to hear my ideas.

Light blue houses lined up along the coast with green trees behind them. All houses look the same.


I did a lot of research about Wellington before I arrived, but there were so many additional opportunities that I learned about once I got there. One of them was the Doc Edge Film Festival and Forum. I took masterclasses and met filmmakers who were passionate about making change through film. I talked to people from around the world and learned about the various jobs involved in documentary film. I also met someone who was pursuing a career I hadn’t even previously heard of but sounded perfect for me. Ever since then, they’ve been providing me guidance on how to follow the career path even a year after I met them!

My Identity

I was raised in Hawaii and I lived in Orange to attend Chapman. I am of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Spanish descent. New Zealand was where I experienced and witnessed the least amount of racism. While I was there, the only racist remark I heard was from an American student who was in my study abroad cohort. I was the only non-white person in the cohort, and I felt so uncomfortable because she had said something racist about Asians. I looked around expecting someone to tell her to stop, but no one did.

Sunset with some cloads nestled inbetween a valley of mountains.About a year later during the pandemic, I checked in on one of the local friends I made in New Zealand that was Asian. I asked him if Asians were getting harassed there or being blamed for coronavirus, and he said “no, this isn’t America.” Living in another country gave me a whole new perspective of what life was like outside of the U.S. When Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color (BISOC) study abroad, they may feel more or less accepted in their identity compared to their home country. I found that New Zealand made me feel safe and allowed me to make friends with people from many different backgrounds.


My time abroad has shaped the way I understand issues today. During the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand’s leadership has been admirable and united, in order to keep their citizens safe and happy. I decided to make a short documentary about it that you can watch here: Learning from New Zealand

Laurel participated in the ISA semester abroad program at the Victoria University of Wellington. You can check out this program and others on the Global Gateway. Students apply two semesters in advance for all semester abroad programs.