June 26, 2015

The Final Entry

Well, here we are. The final entry.

I've learned so much and met quite a few amazing people here this semester. I definitely have to thank the team at IFSA Butler, our Student Services Coordinator, and all the other IFSA Auckland students for the amazing memories. Funding from Education New Zealand via their ENZTA travel award and NZUEA Uni study award helped considerably, as well. 

It's amazing how much you can learn, both about another culture and about yourself, when you leave behind every norm you've ever known for a new country. It's also incredible how distance from home, both physical and in perspective, can make you really evaluate the kind of person you were, are, and want to be when you arrive back home. 

I've condensed my New Zealand experience down to three bits of advice for future study abroad students reading this that in my experience were overlooked. So, in no particular order...

...1) It's okay to spend money on things, no matter how silly they may seem, that make you feel more comfortable/more at home in your new country. 

Before I left I was advised time and time again to make a budget, that the cost of living would be higher because I was headed to a city, etc, etc. At the beginning of the semester, though, I think I took this advice a bit too seriously.  From the start I cut out small but expensive things from my grocery list, things like the occasional Diet Coke, for example, that also for whatever reason remind me of home. Then around the end of March I felt homesick for a couple of days, not for home itself but for the familiarity that comes with knowing the ins and outs of a culture, and I believe I made it a bit worse on myself by trying to save money and not buying little things that would have been comforting. It's one thing to maintain a budget so you don't blow all your savings by going out every night, for instance, but when it comes to spending money in ways that will increase your comfort level with your new country don't be stingy. 

...2) Appreciate the little wonders as well as the big adventures. 

Especially if you're studying in a larger city like Auckland it can be easy to get sucked into the ebb and flow of daily city life. It can be easy to miss out on the sounds of the city if you are constantly attached to an mp3 player/phone, and it's easy to forget to look around every once and awhile as you're walking from place to place. The point of Uni is to cultivate knowledge and enhance reasoning and questioning skills, but sometimes not everything needs to be questioned. If you take a moment to just plainly observe, without judgement or question, the scenery and people that are surrounding you you may be surprised by how much you notice about your surroundings from a new and interesting perspective. 

...3) Don't forget the old along with the new. 

You're going to be advised countless times to "try new things" and to "step out of your comfort zone" now that you're going to a new country, a new Uni, and a place with new people and possibilities. Don't forget, however, that you're already a person with interests and skills and that most and/or all of those interest and skills can also be pursued while abroad. Having new and exciting adventures is great, and you'll meet some great new people and get to do crazy things, but the friends you may become closer with are the ones who share your core interests. Those are the friendships you'll probably make for life. Pursuing your core interests will also help you feel the most at home in your new surroundings the quickest, so don't forget to pay attention to the parts of you that already make up who you are.

So here we are! We've come to the end of the journey, for now. 

To finish up I'll leave you with two songs; 'Thunder Clatter' by Wild Cub and 'Mother & Father' by Broods (a New Zealand duo). I heard 'Thunder Clatter' for the first time on my ride over the bridge to Auckland City. Somehow, even though the lyrics aren't totally relevant, the song still manages to capture all the excitement of being here while at the same time the melancholy of leaving. 

'Mother & Father' is just a great song. It also somehow captures my hunch that this is not where my adventure will end. 

Thanks to everyone who made this semester amazing! Ka kite 'aka'ou. 

I don't want to wake up lonely,
I don't want to just be fine. 

June 2, 2015

Uni vs. College

27 days.

I can’t believe there are only 27 days left.

Finals season is upon us at The University of Auckland (UoA). Now that I’ve been here for almost an entire semester, I thought I’d do a comparison between college in the US and Uni in NZ for anyone reading interested in studying abroad in here.

UoA Crest
(via google images)
One thing I’ve found from talking to the kiwis here is that the Uni experience, itself, is viewed in a slightly different way than “the college experience” in the States. In the States, college is portrayed as this massive growing experience where you move away from home and learn to live on your own, whereas in NZ it’s seen as more of a ‘next step’ to further one’s education in the specialisation they will eventually secure a job.

School of Business courtyard, UoA.
(via google images)
The University of Auckland is a fairly large commuter school so students still tend live at home, though some do go flatting around the city.  Since students tend to live at home, they also bring with them to Uni the same friend group they had in high school unlike in the States where it is expected that you will make new, lifelong friendships in college. In addition, because many students commute, Uni operating hours are quite different from college hours in the States. Most buildings at The University of Auckland are open from ~8am to ~8 pm, give or take a couple of hours in the evening, depending on if the building is an office or a study space like the library. The general library on campus is only open until 10pm on weekdays, which was something to get used to coming from a college where late-night studying is a necessity. Due to the commuter nature of UoA, again, most students come to Uni, work done during the day, and go home, so there is really no need to have the library open for any longer. There’s also another commons study space that’s open until midnight, but to my knowledge there are no buildings open longer than that.

General library, UoA.
(via google images)
Kate Edgar Commons, additional study space.
(via google images)
University study is also formatted differently than study in the States. In the States there are generally far more assignments all worth a lower percentage of your grade, which is good because it keeps you constantly interacting with the material. It’s bad, however, because it can lead to more “filler” assignments from Profs and just an overall higher workload that discourages individual exploration of one’s topic because you’re always focused on the work the Prof has given you. Here at Uni there are far fewer assignments all worth considerably higher percentages of your grade, which is slightly scary, but in my opinion completely worth it. This way you are able to focus when you need to, but also able to relax not having to constantly be doing assignments. You then also have free time to explore topics on your own. In the States, college becomes life because at least in my case once the semester starts there’s little time for anything else. Here I was actually able to have a life outside of studying, and can confidently say that I learned quite a bit anyway. The only downside to this system is that students have to be completely self-motivated to not put assignments off until the last minute and stay in contact with the material in the time between assignment due dates.

In my first blog post I noted the considerable size difference between Franklin & Marshall College in the US and The University of Auckland (2, 324 vs. 30, 771 undergrads), and throughout this semester I’ve definitely noticed a difference in Uni based on the size.  F&M is a small liberal arts college where, because it’s so small, there are a variety opportunities to try out different subjects, activities, or pursue hobbies in addition to your formal education. Here at Uni, there are students in all subjects not just pursuing hobbies but specializing for a career, leaving no room for students less committed to casually explore something (like an additional major in Music…) on a whim. There’s also less room for lecturers to be as flexible as they could be if their class size was 10 students rather than 100, so I’ve felt generally less babied here than I sometimes feel at F&M.

School of Music courtyard, UoA.
(via google images)
One final considerable difference between Uni and college in the States is, well, the price. College in the States is outrageously expensive. Uni in NZ is considerably less expensive, and students in some income ranges even qualify for a weekly allowance to help with non-academic related costs, like food. It’s actually astounding how different the price is.

Overall, I can definitely see pros and cons to each system. At this point in the semester my leanings favor the Uni system here. Sure it takes a great deal of self-motivation to not procrastinate and stay in contact with the material, but it’s totally worth it to be able to have a life outside of academia. I’ve enjoyed being able to pursue my interests at F&M in greater depth because of the small size of the college, but thinking back on how stressed I’ve been at times due to the massive workload (which, granted, was somewhat self-imposed) I seriously question how I kept my sanity. I’ll have to remember this freedom when it comes time next semester to eat, sleep, and breathe schoolwork back at home in my last year (!) of college. 

May 24, 2015


Greetings! Since this weekend is Memorial Day weekend in the States I thought I'd blog about a similar New Zealand holiday that occurred back in April.

Saturday, April 25, New Zealand celebrated ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). Originally, ANZAC Day was held to remember the soldiers who fought and died at the battle of Gallipoli in World War I. Since that first observance of ANZAC Day 100 years ago (this year was the centennial), ANZAC Day has transformed into a day to commemorate all soldiers of battles since Gallipoli who have fought and died for Australia/New Zealand. For this day I attended a ceremony at dawn in front of the Auckland Museum, held at that time of day for the symbolism (although death is dark, with the light comes freedom). During the ceremony a pipe band played, an 100 person choir/small band performed, soldiers past and present walked the grounds, and there was a helicopter flyover in commemoration.

Helicopter flyover.
The ceremony overall was very powerful, but my favorite part was when the choir and band performed “I Vow to Thee, My Country”. At first as I was listening I thought “hmm…this sounds vaguely familiar” even though I didn’t recognize the title of the song, but then I realized, I did know it! “I Vow to Thee, My Country” is a hymn taken from part of The Planets suite by Holst, and I played The Planets last semester in orchestra. Crazy.

Have a great week and a lovely Memorial Day, everybody!

May 18, 2015

Weekend Update

Hey hey! It’s starting to get colder, cloudier, and rainier here, the telltale signs of NZ fall. It's funny; except for a little less colour in the trees fall still feels, looks, and smells like fall. Even though I’m on the other side of the world, it's amazing that fall still smells like fall.

Anyway, this Friday I went to my first ever rugby game!

IFSA group from the stands. 
The Auckland Blues played the South African Bulls in a Super Rugby mach. The Super Rugby union is one step down from the All Blacks, New Zealand’s most famous and all victorious international rugby team, and consists only of teams from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. I was surprised there weren’t as many people there as I was expecting, but I guess the hype is not the same if it’s not the All Blacks.

Met one of the players...just kidding, it's a mask. 
Then Sunday I spent the morning planting trees as part of a volunteer activity on Motutapu Island with my IFSA Butler group.

It rained a bit in the morning, as it has pretty much every morning since the start of fall, but the small shower cleared up by the afternoon. After we planted we headed down to the shore for a “Sausage Sizzle” aka the classic kiwi bbq – a sausage on a slice of bread with tomato sauce, the perfect way to end a beautiful day.

Off to the water to dip my feet in.
What a nice day...

May 2, 2015

Mid-Semester Break, Part 2

The morning after I landed in Auckland and completed the first week of mid-semester break my parents landed to visit for the second week!! While they were here we took a tour of the North Island hitting places close to Auckland, then flew to Wellington and drove back up the island to visit places along the way. Over the week we…

            …visited Shakespear Regional Park, the same park in which I had my orientation, for a picnic and a walk to help get over jet-lag. 

            …visited the Waitomo glowworm caves.
Outside the cave.
The tiny strings are the glowworms which, as it turns out, aren't
exaaactly worms....but I won't reveal any spoilers here for anyone
wanting to go on a glowworm tour in the future.
            …visited Port Waikato for the black sand beaches. The west coast of New Zealand is covered with these black sand beaches, while the beaches along the east coast are regular white sand.

Port Waikato beach.
            …flew to Wellington where we rode the cable car, explored the city, and ate at seemingly every café we could find.
At the Wellington airport! Sign reads "Middle of Middle-Earth"
Golem inside the airport!

Om nom nom, mocha.
…drove past Tongariro National Park where we saw the massive Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom ;) ), Mt. Ruapehu, and Mt. Tongariro.

Tongariro National Park. 
Photographer Dad, in his natural habitat.
            …visited Taupo, where we hiked through a geothermal hot spring area, past Huka Falls, stopped for a coffee next to a helipad, and explored around Lake Taupo.

Lookout over Lake Taupo and Taupo.
Huka Falls.
            …visited Rotorua, where we were bussed to our Hobbiton tour (!) in Matamata, saw bubbling muds, geothermal vents and got a massive burger at the Fat Dog Café.

Frodo/Bilbo's House.

..."the only ale for the brave and true
is that from The Green Dragon!"
            …ended our tour back in Auckland and spent the last couple of days visiting the Auckland Zoo, Skytower, Auckland marinas, and, most importantly, the chocolate café. Om nom nom.
Auckland, from 186 meters up in the Skytower.

I was pretty bummed they had to leave so early, but one week was simply not enough time to see all there is to see here in NZ. I would’ve liked to bring them to the South Island as well, but there just wasn’t enough time. Speaking of time, I can’t believe it’s May already. This semester’s gone by too fast.

April 29, 2015

Mid-Semester Break

Kia orana kōtou kātoatoa! (Hello everyone!)

There has been quite some time since my last update, sorry about that! My two week mid-semester break finished up a week and half ago and since then I’ve been studying for Marine Science and Cook Islands Māori exams, finishing up an orchestration for a small chamber orchestra, and generally getting back into the swing of things at Uni. This update, though, is going to cover the fun travels I had during mid-semester break.

So! On Sunday, April 5, my IFSA Butler friends and I met at 4:00am to catch a 5:00am bus to the airport were we boarded our short flight to Queenstown, New Zealand. 

Queenstown, South Island
(via google.com/images)
Air New Zealand flights are so nice. The staff are very friendly, the planes are more spacious than the planes in the States, and they even offer you a complimentary bag of chips or a cookie on most flights. We were even offered the complimentary snack, regardless of the fact that our flight was only an hour and a half long and was earlier than most people even wake up, let alone eat. Luckily I was able to sleep on the plane. 

The descent into Queenstown was spectacular. The Queenstown airport is situated in a small crook between immense mountains near the edge of Lake Wakatipu.  All but the tops of the mountains were obstructed by a dense cloud layer during out descent, but once we de-planed and the cloud layer burned off around noon we got an appreciation for how massive the mountains really were, and how small it made the town feel.
Tops of mountains from plane. Silver in the bottom of picture is the left-wing engine of the plane.
Excuse the reflection of my camera in the glass...
Cloud cover from that morning.
Lake Wakatipu and the mountain range, The Remarkables.
I kid you not, that's what they're called.
After moving into our hostel that morning, our first and most important order of business was to visit the CookieTime Cookie Bar (obviously...). I got a banoffee (spiced banana toffee) cookie and one of the best mochas I’ve had in New Zealand thus far, which is saying something. It was slightly colder in Queenstown than I was expecting it to be, so maybe it was just that the coffee was better because it warmed me up.

So hip with my hat...and shorts...?
At noon we boarded a small boat to take a cruise of Lake Wakatipu, the lake that Queenstown sits next to. The lake was beautiful, and we were provided with a delicious burger and complimentary glass of beer or wine for lunch.

Our chariot.
On the cruise!
Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables, and Hidden Island from the ship. The Island (small green bit)
is hidden from most points on the shore, hence the name.
After our cruise we went back to the hostel to nap since we were all pretty tired from waking up so early. Later we met up for dinner, which for me was scallops in a ginger/soy sauce. Oh man, were they amazing. The scallops came with the roe, which the server warned me about once he realised we were from the US. He explained that the scallops might not be what I'm expecting since the US is one of the only countries that doesn't serve scallops with the roe, but I'm glad I tried them because they were really delicious. After dinner we went for ice cream and then headed back to the hotel to crash.

On Monday, April 6, the group split up to enjoy our own activities. Two girls from the IFSA group and myself started out our day with a gondola ride to the top of one of the smaller mountains near Queenstown for a zip-line tour!

From the top of the gondola.
Ready to zip-line!

Heh, that face though...
Afterward we all headed our separate ways for lunch to wait for our friends to finish their adventures. Later the whole group met up again for dinner at the famous “Fergburger” where the burgers were as big as my face. I had my first non-alcoholic ginger beer that night as well, and it was so delicious and refreshing. The US equivalent “ginger ale” doesn’t even remotely compare to how good the ginger beer was.

There's a burger in that huge bag...
One Tuesday, April 7, we took a bus tour to/from Milford Sound, a fjord west of Queenstown, with a cruise into the Sound in-between. The day was sunny and perfect, and Milford Sound was really beautiful. There’s really nothing more I can say about that day, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…

We started with a drive around Lake Wakatipu....
Look, a paraglider!
...then through a valley...

...past the Mirror Lakes...
...down a road through a mountain...
...to Milford Sound!
We saw rainbows...
...and waterfalls.

Twas a good day.
On Wednesday, April 8, the group headed to Lake Wanaka to hike and I stayed behind in Queenstown to do a (incoming: nerd alert) Lord of the Rings Tour!! Hehehe. The guide took myself and two others on a tour of the local filming locations for the LOTR trilogy and to one location where a part of The Hobbit was filmed. The sites were actually not as obvious as I was expecting. It was pretty cool to put some of the movie shots in context and see what is around those locations in real life.

The Remarkables, used for many of the shots
with snow-capped mountains in the background. 
High, snow-capped peak to the right of the picture
used for the attempted walk of the Fellowship over the mountain before they decide
instead to take the route through the Mines of Moria.
We stopped in the little town of Glenorchy en route,
the building on the left is the library...
Glenorchy marina.
Green forest of Lothlórien.
Over the hill to...
And finally, through the farm to...
Beorn's house! (The Hobbit trilogy)
On Thursday, April 9, my Queenstown visit came to an end and I left the group and flew back solo to Auckland because the next day my parents arrived for a visit! At the end of the flight the pilot came through the speakers and did his obligatory "thank you for flying, please come again" speech, at the end of which he said "we welcome all new visitors to Auckland, but if you live here, welcome home". It was a strange moment in which I didn't feel like a student or a tourist or a temporary resident...I really felt like I was home.