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Source: University of Waikato

At the tender age of 22, Raul Gonzalez is likely too young to appreciate the reference “There can be only one” from 1986 fantasy film, The Highlander. But the Spanish-born Bachelor of Marine Science student is officially the first study abroad exchange student at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus. He is ‘the one’.

Born in Murcia, Raul comes from a family of serious ocean enthusiasts who dive, surf and explore coastlines all over the world. When Raul decided to embark on tertiary study he knew he wanted the ocean to be his focus. At 18 he moved to Alicante, a port city on Spain’s south eastern Costa Blanca, to study marine science at the University of Alicante.

When the final year of his undergraduate degree drew closer, the opportunities to apply for “mobility programmes” increased. Raul enjoyed a study abroad experience in Europe last year but was keen to experience something a little further afield. When two places were offered to study in New Zealand, he jumped at the chance to spend a semester at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus. There were many countries Raul could’ve chosen for his exchange but New Zealand came highly recommended.

“My dad travelled to the South Island about a year ago and loved it,” says Raul. “Also, a friend living in Australia came to visit New Zealand and told me about the University of Waikato having a strong marine research presence in Tauranga.” As part of the University’s Environmental Research Institute, the Coastal Marine Field Station’s reputation in teaching, environmental monitoring and coastal and marine research and discovery is recognised internationally. Raul didn’t need convincing, he arrived in February, will finish up his studies in June and still have a couple of months up his sleeve to travel as much of the country as possible.

Raul is taking three university papers while he’s in Tauranga: Marine 101, Science 303 (with the research component that will contribute to his final thesis), plus the elective Māori 101 ─ an introductory te reo Māori paper. “I believe it’s important to learn about the culture you’re travelling to,” says Raul. “I chose to take te reo Māori because it’s a nice opportunity to learn a language you can’t learn in any other part of the world. I actually find it easier to learn than Kiwi slang!”

In an ironic twist, Raul has crossed the globe to work on a research project involving an invasive species that hails from his neck of the woods. Sabella spallanzanii is a marine fanworm native to the Mediterranean and European Atlantic Sea. First detected in New Zealand in 2008, the fanworm has slowly spread to a number of locations around the country and, to date, has no known predators. The project Raul is working on, with Research Fellow and supervisor Dr Kaeden Leonard, aims to establish whether a native species predator does exist for the fanworm, currently ranked amongst the top six most unwanted saltwater pests in New Zealand.

Sabella spallanzanii threaten the ecological balance of our harbour so our team at the University of Waikato’s Coastal Marine Field Station work closely with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to control Sabella through active targeted surveillance and the subsequent removal of any individuals detected,” says Kaeden. “Results of the research Raul is involved with may indicate that a native predator-driven biotic resistance may be a contributing factor slowing Sabella’s range expansion. The research outcomes could have a very real benefit to the region.”

Even with the short amount of time he’s spent at Coastal Marine, Raul is already keen to work in the biosecurity control field, in either Spain or Portugal, once he’s graduated. But Raul’s OE won’t be all work and no play – he’s already bought himself a surfboard and is building racks to attach it to his current mode of transport, a bicycle. “I’ll look for a cheap car when I go travelling but for now I’ll be biking to the beach. Whatever it takes, I just want to make the most of my time here.”

Keen to follow in Raul’s footsteps? Check out the options to study at the University of Waikato for one or two semesters at either our Hamilton or Tauranga campus as a Study Abroad or Exchange student.

If you’re a Waikato student keen to travel overseas while completing your degree, check out your eligibility for a Waikato OE Student Exchange. Applications are open for Semester A 2020 (closing date is 15 July, 2019).