Alumni Spotlight: Melanie Allegretti


Melanie is a graduate student at the University of Utah, studying physical therapy. She received her Bachelor's in engineering from the University of Southern California in 2016. She loves being out in nature, which inspired her to study abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand in 2014.

Why did you choose this program?

I talked to a ton of people about their experiences abroad, and while everyone had nothing but great things to say about Europe and Australia, no one had been to New Zealand! When I saw that my school offered an exchange with Otago, I knew that was where I wanted to go. Dunedin had a small, college town vibe, which was completely opposite from the metropolitan city vibe of my university.

New Zealand is well-known for their picturesque landscape, which was a great selling point for me! I have always loved skiing, and over the years, I was blown away by the pictures taken by my favorite skiers when they visited in New Zealand. I wanted the opportunity to explore all of the beauty it had to offer!

What did your university assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My university provided me with the basic information about studying abroad, but I was tasked with applying to the university and searching for classes and getting them approved by my university.

The University of Otago set up housing for all of the study abroad students. We were placed in houses with other foreign students and one New Zealand student (AKA "kiwi host") to help with our transition!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

New Zealand was my greatest adventure. Don't be afraid to take risks! Take a trek on one of the Great Walks, throw yourself off a bridge with a bungee strapped to your feet, drive on the wrong side of the road! Make friends with the Kiwis that live next door or the ones in your classes, because they are awesome people.

Explore the country, but don't forget about Dunedin. There are some amazing places right in your backyard.

I got to walk through botanical gardens just to go to the grocery store! The time you spend there will never be enough, so say yes to as much as you can.

Bring warm clothes! Dunedin is pretty far south and coastal, so while the summers are pleasant 80-85 degrees, winters can be very cold (it can even snow). Also, New Zealand homes lack insulation and do not have central heating, so your jackets, sleeping bag, and heated mattress pad will be your best friends.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Most people have class Monday to Thursday. You might utilize your three day weekends to explore this beautiful country, or you might spend it with friends in Dunedin.

Weekend activities ranged from nights out in downtown Dunedin, to flat dinners, to beach days, to cheering on the local Highlanders rugby team! There's always something to do.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was pretty apprehensive about living with guys. My flat, like most, was co-ed, and while it took some adjustment, it was a great experience, one that you don't typically get in the US.

My biggest fear was probably getting lost or stranded somewhere! It is always good to be prepared with cash and the number for a cab company when traveling.

On my first trip, I realized how nice and accommodating the Kiwis are and all of my fears dissipated. I also learned that sometimes you just have to go with the flow. My roommate and I were stuck in a small town that had lost power from a storm, and the only open place in town with food was a gas station. So we grabbed some chips and garlic bread, checked in to our powerless hotel and rode out the storm!

What made this trip meaningful for you?

The pictures I took were beyond beautiful, but what gives this experience meaning are the moments shared with all of the people I met. When I share my photos with friends, there are always stories that go along with them. The people and the experiences are what give those photos life.

You may see a photo of me holding glacial ice, but I see the 5-hour bus ride that my roommate and I took, to stand in the rain at a glacier! I see our sopping clothes hanging in our powerless hotel room as we eat gas station garlic bread and PB+J sandwiches for dinner for three meals in a row.

But those are the moments worth remembering, the moments that are meaningful.