Alumni Spotlight: Pauline Brenke


Pauline is a Journalism student from Hamburg, Germany. For her fourth semester, she went to Auckland in New Zealand where she studied at Unitec Institute of Technology.

Why did you choose this program?

My University in Germany required a semester abroad before graduating, which basically initiated the whole me-going-abroad-thing. I got to choose from a lot of different places to go to, and it was very hard to decide. I first thought about going to Barcelona, then I thought about South Africa, then it was Peru for a while, and eventually I decided to go to New Zealand.

I chose to go there because I was excited and curious about living in New Zealand. The University I went to, Unitec, felt like a great place to study in since they were very open, very international, and also offered interesting classes that could be useful for my degree. They also offered scholarship for students from my University.

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

My University in Germany helped a lot with the whole application process. I got told what to send where, who to send it to, what to include, what to take care of – they basically guided me through everything! They have also been of great help when it came to deciding where to go, in the first place.

Also, after I sent my application to Unitec and got accepted, they sent me a list of things that needed to be done; my Program Supervisor was available for questions almost 24/7.

Even though I got help with finding an accommodation, I had to organize it and take care of it myself. I also had to book my own flights and a shuttle/taxi, etc. to get to my accommodation. It wasn't a big deal though; if I had questions, I always had a supervisor at Unitec to contact.

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

Don't assume that doing a semester abroad is going to be just a vacation. Of course, it depends on what University you're attending; in my case, I did have a lot to do. We had a bunch of assignments to hand in and projects to finish.

There definitely are less busy times where I went on weekend trips; you can also go on longer trips during the mid-semester break. I would recommend to plan some time before or after the semester to travel around a bit. Then you don't have to worry too much about it during the semester in case you have more to do than you expected.

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

I went to University four times a week. The days were really short since every lecture is only for 2-4 hours depending on the lecturer I had. If I had time in between classes, I usually went to the gym on campus or spend time at the library. It was a really nice and open area which had a little convenient store in it as well as cafes and restaurants to buy food and drinks. The rest of the day, I had free time and did stuff with my friends, like going to the beach, Auckland City Center, or just hanging out at home.

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

My biggest fear was homesickness. I lived a year in the United States before, and I missed my family and friends a lot while there. So I was a bit scared that it would be the same when I go to New Zealand to study. However, I found that for me personally, the one and only cure for homesickness is people, people, people.

During my first day here, I woke up totally jetlagged, and I started to miss home. But then one girl who lived in the same hall as me knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to join her to go to the city. I went with her, and she became one of my best friends over here.

So even if you're scared and tired, just step out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to your classmates or roommates the first day you arrive in your new home.

It will first help you to distract yourself from feeling homesick, and after a while, you'll just benefit from the friendship and the fun times you have together!

What is your favorite story to tell about your stay in New Zealand?

I am lucky to say that I have many great and unforgettable experiences made since literally the day I arrived in New Zealand. One of my favorite moments, however, was at the orientation day for international students at Unitec University.

That day, all the new international students got to participate in a traditional Maori ceremony. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and are an important and very meaningful part of their culture. After a few Unitec students performed this really cool and powerful Maori dance at the orientation, we all got to say hello to some of our future lecturers, important staff from Unitec, and Maori people who led the ceremony. We all lined up and greeted each and every one of them with a handshake and our foreheads and noses touching.

When I got to the leader of the Maori ceremony, she explained to me that this was called “the breath of life” and goes way back to the beginning of Maori history. I don’t know what it was about this special greeting but this was the warmest and most sincere welcome that I have ever experienced.

If you're planning to go to New Zealand as a student, backpacker or even just as a tourist, I just encourage you to take time to learn even just a little bit about the Maori culture. It is full of tradition and history, and it is important to be acknowledged as part of New Zealand culture.