( I did actually write this on the 9th, but couldn’t post until now because my laptop had been refusing to connect to the wifi here)
July 9, 2014
Kia Ora, or hello! So it’s been a few days since my last entry (mainly because of wifi issues, but I’ll get to that later) and some of you may be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to…so here we go! I asked my wonderful faculty sponsor for this blog some things that she would be interested in hearing about, and boy do I have some great answers for you Sarah!
Week one *cue dramatic music*:
I think this is the first time since arriving that I have had a chance to stop, relax, and really think about everything that I have been up to these past 7 days, and man no wonder I’ve been so tired! Since UMW doesn’t have any exchange or direct enroll programs set up with schools in NZ, I had to find a third party provider to go through, which turned out to be Arcadia. If it wasn’t for Arcadia I’d have been absolutely clueless! Once we arrived in Auckland that first day a group of 21 strangers came together to become each others travel buddies, support groups, and best mates as we set out to begin the greatest adventure of any of our lives.
That first day was a bit rough. Jane, our lovely program director, told us from the get go that the only real mission was to keep us awake and moving until 8 pm. Now, hyped up on excitement about being in New Zealand we all thought that was a piece of cake…and then noon struck. We found ourselves poking, kicking, tapping, and slapping each other trying to stay awake! It was without a doubt the longest day I think I have ever experienced in my entire life! Most of that first day was spent with out programs directors walking through the city and learning cool little tid bits about New Zealand, but it wasn’t until after dinner that night when they let us free to roam that it really sunk in that we were here! I spent my first night at the top of the sky tower overlooking the city of Auckland with some of my newly discovered best mates.
Orientation lasted for a few days and we didn’t spend them all in Auckland. So, the next morning we got on our bus and drove off to Matamata, or more commonly known as Hobbiton and Rotorua (Sarah you’ve going to love this part!). Rotorua is a small town on the North Island of NZ and is known for its geothermal landscape. This is mostly due to the fact that it is one big caldera (for those of you who don’t know, that a pretty freaking big volcano!). After the eruptions all those years ago, the magma cooled and formed a very bumpy looking landscape that I was absolutely mesmerized by! For those of you who know me you are probably thinking that big volcano + cool landscape= Alex’s favorite place everrrr, and normally you would be correct. Except for the small fact that because of all of the hydrogen sulfide it had a lovely pungent smell of rotten eggs. Yum!
Despite the smell though, Rotorua was amazing! On our third and final day of
Arcadia orientation we visited Wiaotapu, a geothermal park! In that hour and a half walk around the park I saw some of the most beautiful sights! From highly acidic pools that were lime green, geysers, and steaming pools of water lined with gold, this place was unbelievable!
Once we left the park the highlights of the trip, up until this point, happened: zorbing and a visit to a Maori village!
*fun fact!: Zorbing is basically going into a giant hamster ball with two friends and being pushed down a hill.
*fun fact!: The Maori and the natives who first came to New Zealand. They have a very deep-rooted sense of identity, and still today hold seats in the NZ Parliament so that they may have a say in how politics affect their people.
While at the village we were able to get a better understanding of the Maori beliefs, past way of life, language, and customs. I really enjoy learning about other cultures and ways of life, so this was an experience that I really treasured and am thankful to have had.
Sadly, our close group of mates had to disband and go our separate ways for classes. Thanks to Arcadia though we will be seeing and doing things with each other throughout or semester. Most of us have planned trips to the other schools, hikes together for long weekends, and other plans to meet up and experience NZ together. In fact, in two weeks a whole group of Arcadians from the North Island are coming to stay with those of us here in Christchurch.
While orientation was fun, it never really felt like we were on our own because we were each set to a schedule of events and activities. It wasn’t until the driver dropped me and only me off at Lincoln University did it hit me: I’m on my own. My four flatmates and I share a one-story house, or should I say ice box, right off campus. So far we have moved all of our things in, gone grocery shopping, met a few other international students, and gone to explore Christchurch once. In another few days I’ll have more to say about the flat and Lincoln, but right now we are still in the initial stages of moving in.
Now that I’ve given you guys a watered down version of my past few days (even though that seems like a pretty long description), time to reflect on some other aspects of being abroad. Before leaving UMW I had heard a lot about culture shock and the brick wall that a lot of students hit at some point in their first week or so. I’m not sure if it was because Arcadia eased me into everything pretty well or because NZ is an English speaking country, but I really haven’t experienced much of anything along those lines. In fact, I think the only two big things that come to mind is my struggle to attain wifi and the fact that I need to look right THEN left when crossing the street to avoid being run over. Other than that nothing else in glaringly different. Or at least, different enough to classify as “shock”.
A big area to cover when talking about an experience abroad is food! I will never again complain about the prices of groceries in the US. Ever! The first day that my mate and I were walking through the store I couldn’t believe the prices that we were seeing for things! Everything is more expensive here than back home. At UMW I could probably get all of my groceries for around $40, give or take, but here I was spending close to $80! The same can be said at restaurants as well. When you account for the fact that you don’t tip in NZ when going out to eat the prices even out, but to just glance over them and see the cost of a meal 3-4 dollars more expensive than the states can catch anyone off guard. A big thing in NZ for students my age are these nifty things called Takeaways. Rather than sitting down for a meal, most young people will go to a takeaway shop, grab a sandwich or pie (which here mean meat pies), and be on their way with it. I kind of like that though just because of my personality. The food here is quite similar to what can be found in the US, but with a few more sushi and Thai shops.
My classes here at Lincoln don’t start until next Monday, so to pass the time some mates and I have planned trips all around the Christchurch area so that we can get familiar with local spots to hang out and things to do. We just pile into my friends car and drive until we find something that looks interesting to one of us. I really enjoy exploring a city like this because then you really get to know not only the area but the people you are with as well.
While I am on the topic of classes though, boy am I nervous for mine! I just don’t understand Kiwi’s and their way of going about school! Everyone here is so laid back about classes and whether or not you actually attend them, meanwhile one exam is worth around 60% of the final grade!!!! How can people be chill about that?! The thought of that much riding on one exam or project freaks me out!!! Other than those aspects though I think classes are similar. I won’t really know until starting them Monday though, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…and wish me luck!
The one interesting thing that I’ve found though is that none of the “American stereotypes” have been applied when in a conversation with a local Kiwi or other international student here at Lincoln. That may be because I have been around mostly Americans the past few days and have only just started becoming more familiar with the other students here on campus, but I was expecting some type of comment about Americans at some point in the past week or so. Not so much from a Kiwi, but more from the other internationals. Most of the Kiwi people I’ve meet have been very laid back and relaxed and haven’t really cared about where I am from or anything, just what I think and what I do.
There is honestly so much that I wish I could share with you all, and after writing this post I’ve realized that I need to post more regularly than I have been just because I have so much to tell. This trip has been a dream of mine for years and to finally see it all unfold into reality is so surreal. The landscape is breathtaking! Up on the North Island there are mountains in the most random places and fields everywhere else. While more commercial and populated than the South Island, there is so much to stop and look at no matter where you are. I’ve only spent 3 days on the North so far, but will be spending two weeks there in a month and a half. But then there is the South Island. There are times when we are riding the bus into the city and I look out my window and in the distance can’t tell where mountain stops and cloud starts. The plaines stretch for miles until they run straight into the mountains that dominate the skyline. I have never in my life seen a more beautiful place, and I have only been to two sections of the country so far.
I could go on and on and on about the beautiful landscape, the friendly people, and the amazing time I’ve had this first week, but it is around 2 am here and I am about to crash at any moment. Now that I am all moved in and sorted expect blog posts a big more frequently. There is way too much going on to not post more frequently! I would just like to say thank you to all of you who are reading these, and especially to Sarah for your help with some of the questions to cover! I really hope that you are all enjoying the stories and pictures!