Having studied abroad in New Zealand herself, Ashley Mountfort the BCA Dunedin Resident Director (RD) is the perfect person to guide students through their semester abroad. We asked Ashley to tell us a bit more about herself, what she loves about being an RD and advice she has for students thinking about studying in New Zealand.
Interview with a Resident Director: Ashley Mountfort
Q: What do you most enjoy about being a Resident Director?
A: I enjoy the different challenges and new adventures! I love meeting new people, especially the variety of students who come through. No two students are the same and each semester group has a different dynamic. This keeps my on my toes, since I try to I organize excursions and activities are tailored for each group and individual student. This programme belongs to THEM, so I put high value on ensuring everything is of top quality. I enjoy being innovative to make that work each semester. 😊
Q: What is your favorite travel memory?
A: I have so many! One favourite travel memory on my list involves my small group of nine students in the Fall of 2016. They clicked together right away as a new family. On our bus ride down to Dunedin from Orientation, I plugged-in my iPod for some music for the group to enjoy. While I expected most of the students would snooze along parts of the 5-hour journey, they proudly proved me wrong. They sang along to the songs, with much enthusiasm, and generally keeping on key, the ENTIRE RIDE HOME. The driver loved it so much as the “karaoke bus” created such a positive atmosphere for everyone. It was beautiful!
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give a student thinking about studying abroad?
A: KEEP AN OPEN MIND AND GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE! Culture shock and homesickness are normal. However, this happens the worst for students who come and refuse to try anything new, meet new people from other cultures, etc. Why travel so far and expect everyone to be and do like an American?
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: I have one gorgeous dog who LOVES students! 😊
Q: When you go to a café in Dunedin what do you order?
A: A FLAT WHITE coffee and an injectable donut 😊
Q: Did you study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to study abroad?
A: I studied abroad HERE at the University of Otago in 2011 for one semester. I went directly through my home university (Alma College, MI) rather than through a program like BCA. Though I now wish I had the option to go through a program! I was inspired to study abroad for exploring the outdoors, meeting people from other cultures, exploring more of my Scottish heritage and challenging my independence.
Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: Anything with coconut and/or chocolate fudge.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I like to spend time outdoors, at the beach, working with animals, playing with my son, and baking goodies for BCA students! 😊
Q: What suggestions do you have for the best ways to learn from the local community when you travel or study abroad?
A: Read up on what’s available to get involved with. Even if you’re unsure, just go and try it out! Ask the locals! Don’t lean on roommates and friends to go with you; just go and meet new ones. Get out of your comfort zone from Day 1!
Q: Why have you chosen the field of international education and what impact do you seek in your work?
A: My life was impacted in multiple ways from my own international education experiences as a student. This ignited my passion to create greater experiences for future groups of students. I always ask myself “what would I have liked to see or do more of?” and I try to implement that to my best abilities into the BCA program.
Q: Before you travel to a new place what research do you do to learn about the host community, local cultures or the impact of your visit?
A: Check what local customs and laws are! For example, it’s considered VERY rude to sit on a table in New Zealand. Also, ask locals (if you can) about products that may or may not be available as you might like to pack your own supply. For example, New Zealand doesn’t really have dryer sheets as we normally dry our clothing outside.
Q: Social change means many things to many people, what does it mean to you?
A: Tolerance, respect and acceptance; being able to have a civil conversation even when disagreeing with someone else. Also, not being afraid to stand out as a catalyst for positive change.
Q: What do you believe are the pressing social justice issues facing your communities today?
A: Poverty and mental illness hidden behind stigmas and facades. We do volunteer work and group discussions around these topics each semester as we explore ways to leave this place better than we found it.