Lea leaps into adventure of a lifetime
As an anthropology student and a seasoned traveller, Lea Kilgenstein combined the best of both worlds by writing a thesis on the role Māori culture plays in New Zealand tourism and travelling to Aotearoa to complete it.
“I was travelling before I started studying and was always super interested in learning about different cultures. It made sense for me to take Cultural Studies,” she says.
Lea was in the final stages of her Bachelor’s in Anthropology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in her hometown of Munich, Germany, when she started her thesis. With her interest in New Zealand tourism piqued, she decided to come on a working holiday and finish her degree from here.
Lea says she didn’t know much about New Zealand’s formidable reputation in adventure tourism before coming here but now she is immersed in it, working winters as a snowboarding instructor and summers as a kayak guide.
Her first job, back in 2018, was as a tour consultant with ANZ Nature Tours which runs tours for German speakers. She then moved on to Flying Kiwi, where she encountered other guides who recommended the Adventure Tourism courses offered at NMIT. “They all talked about how good it was, so that was really the incentive for me to do it.”
Study leads to “endless opportunities”
“There was an element of good luck that I got the opportunity to get into adventure tourism activities in New Zealand, which then kick-started my education experience,” she says. “My initial goal was a working holiday but once I got into the industry and started studying, I could see there were just endless opportunities to do more and more. I didn’t really plan this as a career, but I love it now.”
Lea completed the Certificate in Adventure Tourism and Guiding and was about to leave for Switzerland to work as a ski instructor when Covid-19 hit. “I decided to stay and do the second year which actually worked out really well.”
“Everything on the courses was a highlight. There are so many new things I’ve now done, even climbing, although I’m scared of heights, and in summer we did sea kayaking which I absolutely loved.”
While the Certificate provided a general introduction to adventure tourism activities in New Zealand, Lea says the Diploma allowed students to specialise in areas they wanted to focus on. “The courses were really cool,” she says. “We spent the majority of time on outdoor activities and got to a lot of places you wouldn’t end up going by yourself.”
But there were written components too, including papers on flora and fauna, writing up lesson plans on how to guide people, and health and safety management. Lea even took an introductory course in te reo Māori.
Although she grew up in the heart of Europe, Lea loves the life that New Zealand offers her now. “There is so much nature here and so few people.”
She believes the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship of the land, is a real point of difference in Aotearoa’s tourism industry compared to other parts of the world.
“It plays a huge role here. It is all about protecting the environment into the future,” she says. “I think it is good there are certain lines you can’t cross, places you can’t go. New Zealand is the way it is because concepts like this are an integral part of tourism.”
A great place to study tourism
Lea says she’s had a great experience studying in New Zealand, learning more about the country, and being able to make a contribution to the tourism industry.
“I have gained skills, been introduced to new sports, and met lots of like-minded people.”
Her international education experience has challenged her, “but in a good way”. “There were plenty of intensely personal experiences which have allowed me to become a much more confident person.”
When the ski season ends and her role at the The Remarkables wraps up, Lea plans to spend the summer as a kayak guide in the Abel Tasman National Park. And while she might return to Europe at some point, the 27-year-old describes New Zealand as her second home and knows she will find opportunities to come back.
To other students wanting to experience New Zealand’s unique approach to tourism, she recommends coming here to study. “It’s a pretty special place. For me it was totally worthwhile.”