The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

November 26, 2012

PSU professor brings children along for sabbatical trip to New Zealand

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Generations ago, indigenous Maori built a settlement in a clearing in a forest on the North Island of New Zealand. By the mid 1800s, Europeans discovered it. It was known as Papaioea, believed to mean "How beautiful it is."

Since July, two Pittsburg, Kan., children have been discovering for themselves how beautiful it is during a seven-month stay while their mother, a native of the country and an English professor at Pittsburg State University, is on sabbatical.

In part, their world has been turned upside down -- they left Pittsburg in early July during one of the worst droughts on record and temperatures hovering at 100, to arrive in winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

"It was chilly and rainy and very blustery," Casie Hermansson said of her arrival with son, Griffin, 11, and daughter, Corin, 8.

Gil Cooper, her husband and the children's' father, accompanied them for the first month, but returned home to take care of the house, the pets and continue his position as an instructor in the PSU Communication Department this fall.

Griffin would have been a fifth-grader and Corin a third-grader at Lakeside Elementary this fall. In New Zealand, their school experience has taken some getting used to. The kids scooter to College Street Normal -- all students do, and park their scooters outside their classrooms -- a couple of blocks from where they live. Griffin is in Year 6, called "senior syndicate," and Corin is a Year 4, called "middle syndicate."

Each day they are required to wear school-issued red sun hats, clothing that covers their shoulders, and school-provided sunscreen because the chance for sunburn is much greater with lower pollution and lower latitudes.

Their school day begins at 8:50 a.m. so they don't have to get up as early, and they have half an hour each morning for tea and an hour for lunch, which includes recess and free time.

In Pittsburg, the family had always led fairly typical busy lives, with the kids in sports, music and scouts, and both parents working at PSU.

"Time is always tight," Hermansson said.

But in New Zealand, children take instrumental music lessons at school, which means one less appointment to keep in the afternoons or evenings, and the school offers sports teams for every season.

"That has left us better able to lead a more relaxed lifestyle," Hermansson said.

While her own Kiwi accent has returned, both kids admitted having some difficulty with the New Zealand accent at first.

"A warning to all of you: pants actually means underwear here. So don't say it in New Zealand. People will laugh," Corin said. Crayons, meanwhile, are called "jovies" -- a brand name -- flip-flops are "jandals" and swimsuits are "togs."

While the kids are at school, Hermansson is on a visiting fellowship at Massey University in Palmerston North, where she received her undergraduate degree. She's conducting research for an article that likely will become a book about adaptations of children's books to film, and has been writing contracted short fiction books for Heinemann Education, the publisher's high-school library series.

In their free time, they have visited Hermansson's extended family on picturesque farms and taken advantage of amenities in a bustling city of 100,000.

On a clear day, they can see north to Mount Ruapehu, a volcano and the area's nearest ski mountain. Because of the area's north-south orientation, the landscape changes noticeably every 30 miles or so -- from floodplain to gorges, to caves to volcanic deserts, all within a two-hour radius.

Perhaps the most memorable adventure for Griffin will be a trip this week to the set of the soon-to-be-released movie, "The Hobbit," a favorite book.

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