Semester in New Zealand – Picking up Rocks – By Matthew Breeze. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Semester in New Zealand – Picking up Rocks – By Matthew Breeze. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

When you walk do you sometimes pick up a rock and look at it? Maybe toss it into a nearby pond or lake. I know that I do. When I was little I would pick up rocks all the time, sometimes I would find a rock that really grabbed my interest. These would be brought home to my Mom or Dad and I bet some of them are still around in some drawer somewhere that hasn’t been cleaned out in ages. Rocks speak to people sometimes. People take pictures of rocks, climb rocks, we even eat rocks! Salt I mean of course. They are under our feed on walking paths, above our heads when we look up at a mountain. They surround us and come in all different shapes and sizes. Some people spend a whole lifetime looking at and studying rocks. Geologists devote their lives to rocks and the stories they can tell us humans.
Where would humans be without rocks? We have used them to build homes and preserve our food, salt once again, to keep safe and to kill each other. They tell stories of the earth’s past and creation that amaze people. The oldest


[This is the rock from the rock beach that I learned how to do a traditional Maori flax weave on.]

pictures and writings that people ever made are on rocks. There are myths and legends built around rocks, whether they be Greek myths or indigenous peoples legends or religious ceremonies centered on a single rock. Our history as people is tied to rocks no matter where we come from. Rock is a generic term and can be a boring word to describe things that amaze and inspire people, but it is also a wonderful word that has the ability to describe a thousand different pieces of the earth that look and feel so different. Everyone has an image in their minds of what a rock is. Rocks have the ability to connect people to the land, to their place or their homeland. Here in New Zealand I have been picking up rocks almost everywhere I go.


[This story has to do with using traditional Waka canoes one day on the trip.]

They all tell their own story and remind me of an interesting or cool place that I visited. They provide a great memento that I can look back on when I get home. I have become a child again, bringing rocks home to my parents.


[This is most of my NZ rock collection so far.]

On the very first week of the trip here in New Zealand our Maori Professor told us all that rocks are the perfect gift to bring home to our families. He then told us to go down to the rock beach below where we were staying and find a rock. A rock that spoke to us, a rock that when you picked it up and held it you would know that it was the rock you wanted. I not only did this for the task that he would have us do later that afternoon with our rocks, but I have kept that in the back of my mind everywhere I have gone while I have been in this far away land.

Sometimes I pick up four or five or even ten rocks and look at them, carry them, and then toss them away before I pick up or see a rock that really speaks to me. I always know it is the right one because I know that I do not want to give it back to the earth. Then I take a picture of the rock, usually with a scenic background of the area where I am, so that I can always go back and look to see where I picked the rock up from if I forget.

I may forget where I picked it up, but I know for certain that I can tell a story about each rock that I have picked up. A story about what it meant to me at the time, or who I was with, or something interesting. I think this is also why I use to do this as a child, so that I could more easily remember something cool that I had done or a cool place I had been. In this way the rocks have become more than just rocks for me.


[A raging river rushed in the background of this memory rock.]

They have become a symbol of a place and a time that for one reason or another I wanted to remember at the time.
Rocks seem to have a sense of permanence. Maybe this is why great rulers build huge tombs like the pyramids or huge buildings to be remembered. I just want to remember my time in New Zealand and if picking up some rocks and bringing them back home is a way for me to do that then I am happy with that.

Having these small pieces of earth in my possession has not only allowed me to hold on to memories and remember spectacular landscapes or new experiences, it has also given me a connection to place. Looking over the little rock collection I see the places I have been. All of those places are places that I have never even come close to before. I have picked up many rocks on the north shore of Minnesota, but I have been there many a time before. These rocks are from places that are eight thousand miles from my home! Each and every one of them seems so different than rocks back home, even if they may not look that different.

Holding a little chunk of New Zealand in my hands makes me feel more connected to this lovely land that I am visiting. I think that when I go home I will once again pick up rocks when I walk around, and some of them I may even take home with me. Rocks can speak to us if we take the time to look at them, pick them up and hold them. They can be symbols of memories, good luck charms, or really anything we want them to be. Maybe all of us should grab a rock or two when we travel, whether we travel around the world or in the backyard, rocks can speak to us if we give them the time.

About Matthew Breeze. I am a junior at the college of St. Scholastica this year and I am majoring in Global, Cultural, and Language studies with a minor in Spanish and a minor in political science. I will be returning to St. Scholastica in December. I am originally from Bemidji, Minnesota, but I have come to consider Duluth as my second home.
I have a passion for politics and I hope to someday work for the State Department or the Foreign Service working in international relations in some way shape or form. I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. I have been to Canada and Mexico, but I really haven’t been anywhere different than the United States. The city in Mexico I was in was a tourist trap and Canada looks like my northern Minnesota home. I have a family connection to New Zealand as well as the general desire to visit. My grandfather was in New Zealand for rest and relaxation during World War II. The stories of his time in NZ have been passed down through the family and are one of the biggest reasons that I decided to do a study abroad semester in NZ.

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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

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12 responses to “Semester in New Zealand – Picking up Rocks – By Matthew Breeze. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. McKenna Holman

    Thank god I’m not the only one who collected rocks as a child! In fact, I still have boxes upon boxes of rocks somewhere in my bedroom at home. I used to pick up rocks everywhere I went as a child and as you’ve said, they all mean something different to me. I think it is really neat that you can take these rocks home and look back on all the unique memories you’ve had in New Zealand. Its funny how we see rocks everyday, but sometimes there is a specific one that just really speaks to us and we feel connected to.

  2. Abigail DeLisle

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on rocks! I also collected rocks as a child and still do to this day. I really liked when you wrote: “I always know it is the right one because I know that I do not want to give it back to the earth”. This is exactly what happens when you find a precious rock, you don’t want to give it back nor do you want to give it to someone else/ trade it. Rocks hold a special place in my heart because they, as you mentioned, serve as a permanent in our world that can transfer into a permanent memory as a souvenir. Rocks have a special way of connecting the physical to the emotional by relating the earth to our experience in that location and allowing us to take that physical reminder with us.

  3. Thank you for the interesting essay on the importance and longevity of rocks. I particularly connect with your idea of bringing rocks from a place that holds value for you. In the human rights course that I am currently taking, the class is discussing that the world would be a better place for purchasing less and finding long-term value in the items that people already have. Collecting rocks seems like a very helpful alternative to buying cheap souvenirs from the places that someone has travelled. The memories of physically holding a piece of that place in one’s hand seems so much more powerful.

  4. This article is wonderful! I never thought about rocks in this way. I never considered how much history and meaning a rock could carry. From now on, I’ll never look at rocks in the same way again. I think about how sad the saying “dumb as a rock?” is…Wow! This article also took me back to being a kid, picking up a rock, drawing a face on it, and using it as a pet! I know many people who take rocks or sand back with them from places they have traveled. I think it is a great idea, to take a piece of the land with you to remember.

  5. Diana Mena

    I loved this article! I have never thought about how much rocks influence our daily life. I took a class where I learned about Maori people and the hakas, and I think it’s so beautiful and powerful how much of community their is within these people and how important Hakas are to them. I also learned that they recently performed a Haka being in solidarity with Standing Rock in
    North Dakota. It just amazes me how powerful and strong this act is. This post made me realize how powerful something as little as a rock can have a huge influence in anything. Great post!!

  6. Thomas Landgren

    Thanks for sharing Matt! I too as a child would collected rocks. Growing up on the north shore of Lake Superior my mom would always bring us down to the beach to collect agates and other weird rocks that interested us. Being a kid though I never really looked at the idea of the history or significance of the place or rock. I just picked up the one that looked the coolest. I have never been out of the US so the idea of having a rock that was 8,000 miles way from your home is just insane. Great Article Matt!

  7. Andrew Bailey

    Matthew, very interesting to hear how something as simple as a rock has impacted your journey in New Zealand. When I was in middle school I had a rock collection that my grandmother got for me, so I can relate to how every type of rock is different and how each rock has its own defining characteristics. When you mentioned that rocks are used to build huge structures, I immediately though of tower hall. The sisters used the rocks behind campus to build the school, and by building the school with such beautiful stone, the sisters must have felt much pride. Also, the idea of saving rocks that we find on our journeys as a sort of souvenir is a really cool idea. Rocks all around the world are very different, so they remind us of our experiences and they are free (if we find them in nature)!!

  8. Hannah Schaaf

    Nice post! Rocks have played a huge part of who we’ve become to be. I also like how you talk about the symbolism of rocks. As an rock hounder, I find myself picking up rocks all the time to see if they’re agates. It’s become a fun activity between my friends and family to search for agates. Have you found any really cool rocks? Safe travels!

  9. Natalie AJohnson

    Matthew, it sounds like you had a great semester in New Zealand. I am going to student teach abroad in Spring 2020. I hope I have a similar experience as you did. It awesome how rocks hold such a strong connection to the places you visited. Since you made a strong connection to pyramids I though I’d relate that to the chapter I read from Worlds Together Worlds Apart. Pyramids have strong importance to Egyptians. Tignor explains that Imhotep an Egyptian architect was not satisfied was the typical look of burial chambers so he created them, (59).

  10. Felicity Byrd

    I really enjoyed reading your post! Like yourself, I too have a fascination for rocks and the places they come from as well! As a child, I always picked up rocks, colorful rocks, shiny rocks, smooth rocks, anything that caught my eye really. I had a bookshelf full of just random rocks. As I grew older, and eventually when I met my current boyfriend a few years ago, I learned about agates and agate hunting became one of my favorite pass times, especially living on Lake Superior, which definitely turns up some beautiful looking rocks. It’s amazing what the natural world, and mother earth can produce, and what’s even more amazing is the fascination that it can produce upon us. All across history humans can be seen using rocks for different things, such as the Romans, in the book “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” by Robert Tignor, when they were first building and developing roads with “flagstone paving” (Tignor, p. 267). The Romans also built most structures and buildings out of larger stones, as well as carved many symbolic and otherwise public arts into precious stones. I think it is so enticing to think about how one concept so simple such as a rock, can bring about so much thought, and provide so many different meanings and purposes depending on the context and the person.
    I truly enjoyed reading your article Matthew, it really hit home for me!

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