Alumni Spotlight: Laurel Tamayo

Laurel Tamayo is a student at Chapman University and studied abroad with ISA in Wellington, New Zealand in Spring 2019. Laurel talks about how her time in Wellington strengthened her passion for sustainability, advanced her knowledge of documentary filmmaking and ignited a newfound appreciation of nature. Similarly, Laurel was so moved by New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 that she made her own short documentary about it. We reached out to Laurel to learn more about her unforgettable semester in New Zealand!

What inspired you to study abroad in New Zealand, specifically in Wellington?

I didn’t know anything about New Zealand before college, but when I was looking at study abroad options, I noticed a lot of people in my Environmental Science & Policy major had studied there. I discovered that New Zealand was known for its beautiful nature and being environmentally conscious. I researched the four cities in New Zealand and Wellington stood out to me because it was nicknamed the “film capital of New Zealand,” as well as being the actual capital. This was the perfect opportunity for me because I’m specifically interested in environmental policy and I’m a Documentary Film minor!

Wellington Harbour was one of my favorite places to walk to in my free time! Wellington is very compact and I could walk to almost everything in the city

How does New Zealand’s approach to sustainability differ from back home?

While I was in New Zealand, I joined Generation Zero, a youth climate activism group that lobbied for the Zero Carbon Bill. This binds the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the year 2050. I collaborated with local students to plan creative ways to involve and educate more people about the importance of this bill. It was powerful to learn from people who had the same passions as me, but had different ideas of how to solve environmental issues just because we were raised in different cultures. This bill, now called the Climate Change Response Amendment Act, passed a few months after I came back to the United States.

Aside from policy, I noticed that restaurants and stores were more sustainable than in America in terms of having less plastic and offering many vegan options. At the university alone, there were countless clubs related to sustainability, and there was even a sustainability committee that was made up of representatives from each one. There was a vegan club, plastic-free club, thrifting club, climate change activism group, nature club, and many more. I was able to be the sustainability committee representative for the vegan club, which meant that I went to meetings with representatives from all the sustainability clubs, and we collaborated on events. We organized a plastic-free, fair-trade, vegan dinner which was an incredible experience!

Tell us about your passion for film! What did you learn about the film industry while you were studying in Wellington?

Filming the mountains in Fox Glacier Park during a hike

I’m a Documentary Film minor and my main passion in life is to help people understand environmental issues through documentaries. While I was in Wellington, I saw signs for this Doc Edge film festival, which was specifically for documentary films! I signed up to attend the forum where I got to take master classes about how to increase the impact of documentaries and many other topics. I got to network with professionals in the field and met a woman who told me about her job as an Impact Producer. I had never heard of that position before, but I was instantly intrigued and that became my career goal. I’m still in touch with her today, more than a year later, and she’s given me so much guidance on navigating the industry. Because of her help, I am now working on the impact campaign for the I Am Greta documentary, a film about Greta Thunberg, the girl who started the global climate strikes!

What’s something you’ve learned or discovered during your time abroad that you can’t stop thinking about?

During my time abroad, I went on a road trip and camped for the first time in my life! My family members are very much not outdoorsy people and I grew up in the city. New Zealand has such diverse landscapes in such a compact area that we were able to hike through a rainforest to a glacier, drive past the ocean and see dolphins, mountains, and lakes all in one day! We camped in the middle of nature, away from light pollution and under a sea of stars. This was an unforgettable experience that helped me discover my love for nature and adventure.

Top of Roys Peak! One of the best hikes we went on during our road trip

Tell us about the 
short documentary that you made about New Zealand’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic! What inspired this?

A few months into the pandemic, I had heard that New Zealand was on a super strict lockdown and that it was working. I decided to reach out to some of the friends I made during my time abroad to ask them how they felt about it. What struck me the most was that they were happy to stay at home because it meant helping their neighbors not get COVID. They talked about how Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, would always talk about New Zealand being a “family.” The government let science lead their decisions and, for the most part, their lives have gone back to normal.

6. How did your views of international and/or domestic politics shift while abroad?

I just learned about what the world could be like. Before my semester abroad, I only knew the US way of thinking. I thought we were the best at everything. But after seeing how New Zealand responded significantly better to things from a mass shooting, COVID, to how they’re handling the climate crisis, there’s so much we can learn from them and other parts of the world.

Inspired by Laurel’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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