Missouri State University - West Plains

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Missouri State-West Plains Student Success Story

New Beginnings … Endless Possibilities

Gabby EdmondsonGabby Edmondson

Gabby Edmondson may have traveled over 8,000 miles to pursue a college education, but she's also educating others about her home country, New Zealand.

The freshman general studies major came to Missouri State-West Plains from Christchurch, the largest city on the country's South Island, in summer 2014 on an athletic scholarship to play volleyball for the Grizzlies. Since then, she's answered a myriad of questions from inquisitive classmates and community members who were excited to meet the first New Zealander to ever don a Grizzly uniform.

"Just the other day, a friend told me she didn't know anything about New Zealand until she met me," Gabby said with a smile. "A lot of people don't know much about our country or that it's even a different country than Australia, so I've been educating them a lot about New Zealand."

The island country, which is part of the British Commonwealth, sits in the southwestern Pacific Ocean about 900 miles east of Australia. One of the last stopping off points for researchers traveling to Antarctica, it's one of the most isolated areas on the planet and was among the last areas to be settled by humans. As a result, it boasts a distinctive array of animal and plant life that make it prime tourist destination.

Because of its isolation, Gabby said New Zealanders travel a lot. "We go on overseas trips to Europe, America, etc., and it's very common for us to study away," she explained. "I have a friend in Florida playing volleyball and another friend in California playing basketball. My sister is in New Jersey on scholarship at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She has had a good experience in America, so I thought it would be nice to do the same, come to a school where I could play volleyball and get an education at the same time."

Despite the common British heritage of both New Zealand and the United States, Gabby said there are some very marked differences. "Although the language is the same, the food is very different. Here, there is more fried and processed food. At home, I have a lot of fruit, and we eat more home-cooked meals. It's quite expensive to eat out there. We only do it once in a while."

She also noted that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road instead of the right, and they have to pay more for clothing. "Clothes are really cheap here. A pair of Converse shoes here may cost about $45, but in New Zealand they're $90," she explained. "The number of pickup trucks people drive is very interesting too. They look hard to drive. They're just so high off the ground." She admitted she's not been allowed to try to drive one – yet!

But Gabby also noticed some similarities, especially in the educational systems. New Zealand offers primary school for children ages five to 10, intermediate school for children ages 11 and 12, and high school for youths ages 13 to 18. The curriculums, she said, must be very similar because she felt "up-to-speed" with the coursework in her college classes.

Gabby said one of the reasons she chose to come to the United States to attend college was to gain "a more global view. I hoped to see different places, and the best part about being on the team has been the traveling we do. You see a lot of different cultures even in the United States. You get to experience a greater diversity. We have many Polynesians, Europeans and Asians in New Zealand, but very few people from other cultures."

Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said the global view goes both ways at Missouri State-West Plains due in large part to the athletic program's international students. "Our international student-athletes have brought a wide range of cultural experiences into our university and community over the years. We have had 28 volleyball international student-athletes from 14 different countries, and they each have brought a variety of backgrounds, interests, talents and values that give our local students a diverse perspective of the world. In turn, our local students give the international students a new viewpoint, increasing their views of the global community, as well."

Gabby agreed. "The athletic programs attract international students and benefits both those of us coming in and those who already live here. Each of us gets to see how the other lives, and through our interaction, we learn about our different cultures. For many of us, our perception of America is what we see in the movies, but when you get here, you find it to be a completely different experience. The courtesy and hospitality shown here has been a great surprise. It's been a lot of fun."