A Photographer’s take on studying abroad

by staff photographer Amandalyn Dorner

Everyone wants the chance to travel ­— to gain new experiences, make new friends, learn about cultures and create memories that will last forever.

During the spring 2014 semester, UNA’s Study Abroad Program advertised for a two-week trip to New Zealand, which I came across by a poster in the Commons. The trip announced a visit to Hobbiton, the Shire film set from the brilliantly acclaimed “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the same location they used to film “The Hobbit” 10 years later.

As a filmmaker, photojournalist and devoted fan to great works of art, I was hooked. I had to go to New Zealand. Seven months later I was packing my bags to fly across the Pacific on a 13-hour flight into a 17-hour time difference — it was a whole new world and I had a goal.

I wanted to film and photograph as much as I could while taking every opportunity to capture the beauty of New Zealand — because what are the chances I will be back?

The landscapes were unreal. There was marvelous beauty behind every corner and around each turn. It became difficult not to just hold the shutter button down for the entire two weeks, fire-shooting everything I saw. Still, I never went anywhere without my camera. It was attached to me like a well-advanced prosthetic limb.

Behind my camera, I experienced a journey through New Zealand I never imagined myself having. I filmed and photographed crystal blue oceans, snow-covered mountains, the greenest grassy fields and more than enough sheep to last a lifetime. The nature of this majestic country, that I only thought existed in stories like Tolkien’s, had a fresh, organic grace that grabbed me through the lens of my camera and left me feeling more connected with the earth. There was something about my exploration that made me feel whole, or maybe more like a hobbit.

Two weeks later (by the luck of the universe), I returned to the U.S. with hours of footage, a ton of pictures, unforgettable experiences and a family of fellow world-travelers that I will never forget. As I attempted to recuperate from the exhausting time difference, I realized there is nothing else I would rather do than travel and be one with my camera.

If you have any interest in studying abroad with UNA, visit the study abroad page at una.edu/study-abroad.