Alumni Spotlight: Kristen Cardarelli

Why did you decide to study abroad with TEAN at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand?

Kristen: The program I chose to go abroad through, The Education Abroad Network (TEAN), was a huge part of my abroad success. This program offered two of the most vital things I need in life, organization and enthusiasm. Every TEAN staffer I was lucky enough to meet was always willing to help me and they did it with a smile on their faces. I was really stressed out about my abroad decisions and I did more research than I probably had to do. After making countless calls to the TEAN office with my ridiculous questions, I was reassured that I was making the right decision in choosing TEAN and that Victoria University was the best option for me.

Victoria University ended up being the perfect school for me in terms of courses because I was able to take classes to count for my major, Family Studies, as well as my minors, English and Education. I would suggest future abroad students to take KURA 101: Cultural Politics of Education in New Zealand and the Pan-Pacific. This course offers students the opportunity to learn about the native culture, Maori, and encourages out-of-the-box thinking, something I was excited to find in a college course.

The school itself was always clean and easy to maneuver. The classes were varying sizes, which was great for me since I was used to variety at my home university as well. Also, although each professor did not have office hours like they do at my home university, they were all willing to make time out of their busy schedules to meet with me when I asked for a little extra help.

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Furthermore, I could not have chosen a better location for me. Wellington offered numerous student-friendly activities that were cheap as well as adventurous, such as tramping (also known as hiking), Lord of the Rings Tours, heaps of restaurants and more.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

Kristen: New Zealand is an incredible country filled with opportunities for everyone from adrenaline junkies to city slickers. I knew from the moment I began researching where to spend my five and a half months abroad that this small country with rich character was the best fit for me. Wellington felt like home from day one even though I was seven time zones away. I had an initial connection with the people, the culture, and unexpectedly, with city living.

Suffice to say, I accomplished my goal of stepping out of my comfort zone, however, I would never say I was uncomfortable. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would adjust so well to such drastic changes in my life, but I seemed to thrive in the chaos. I learned more about myself everyday I was away, through crazy adrenaline experiences as well as simply strolling through the city. I could not have asked for a better place to learn and grow personally and intellectually. New Zealand will forever hold a special place in my heart, and more specifically, the unique and vibrant city of Wellington.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Kristen: As I have mentioned, this abroad experienced impacted me more than I ever thought it would. Getting acquainted with a new culture enabled me to further mature and become more independent, especially since my flatmates and other friends I met abroad were older than me. Living on my own allowed me to improve my budgeting skills, one thing that every college student should be able to do by graduation. The courses I took while at Victoria University, especially KURA 101, taught me to look at to look at situations with a new perspective and not be so quick to judge people or places without first engaging with or experiencing them, something that is important to remember on a personal and professional level. I believe everyone can benefit from stepping out of their comfort zones and experiencing a new culture. I know that my time in New Zealand enabled me to understand myself at a deeper level, something that will absolutely aid my professional life.

No matter what the destination, every traveler learns through the people you meet and the experiences they have along the way. Honestly, some of the most important things I learned abroad did not occur in the classroom, but took place on my weekend backpacking trips. Complementing in-class learning with real life experiences is the best way for students to make the most of their abroad experiences and learn not only academic facts, but understand themselves in a whole new way.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering studying abroad in New Zealand?

Kristen: The best piece of advice I can offer about studying abroad in New Zealand is to prioritize your weekend and week-long trips while not forgetting about your budget. There is so much to do in New Zealand it is easy to get carried away. Most students want to do it all, but there is simply not enough time or money to do everything in five months. I made a list of the places I wanted to see that were outside of Wellington and prioritized them. After that, I talked to my flatmates and other friends and made plans with those who were interested. It is important to note that the people you choose to make these plans with need to be reliable because you don’t want your plans to be ruined because of someone else.

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Additionally, don’t forget to stay home for some of the weekends. The best thing I did for myself was getting involved in Wellington and paying attention to all it had to offer on both the weekdays and the weekends. I did many fun things in the city for dirt cheap while others went on trips every weekend, spending more money than they had. Wellington and Auckland, in particular, have so much to offer. It is easy to think of it as homebase and feel the need to get out of your “hometown” on the weekends, but if you do that too frequently, you will lose out on the budget-friendly options. Additionally, you want the place you lived to be special to you, more than the other locations you just visited. I built a strong connection with my “hometown” of Wellington simply by having daily adventures in this beautiful and energetic city.