Alumni Spotlight: Nneka Walker

group of friends

Why did you decide to study abroad with the Education Abroad Network in New Zealand?

Nneka: New Zealand was always the number one country on my list. As an Environmental Studies major, the country's beautiful landscapes and environmental practices always appealed to me. I chose the Victoria University of Wellington because the school had a more variety of environmental courses than the other schools. Wellington seemed like a perfect city, and it's not just because it's New Zealand's capital. It was not too big or too small. Everything was within walking distance, and public transit was easy to get used to.

I had plans to study abroad with TEAN for a whole year before my departure. Their website and catalogs in my college’s study abroad office really appealed to me. Prior to applying for TEAN, I became excited from the various Youtube videos, stories, and reviews from TEAN alumni. A TEAN ambassador also visited my school and intrigued me with stories of her experience with TEAN in Australia. The program was more affordable compared to others, and there was so much included in the fees, include pre-semester excursion to Fiji. Basically, after researching all study abroad programs for New Zealand, I knew TEAN was the perfect fit for me.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

serene park

Nneka: Wellington was vastly different from the U.S. I felt safe and could walk anywhere from my house, including the university, downtown, the grocery store, and any source of entertainment. TEAN made it even more special for me with extra events. I went fine dining for the first time with TEAN on numerous occasions, and pre-excursion in Fiji and orientation in Auckland made my experience more memorable by exposing me to Pacific Island cultures.

Also, the country side of New Zealand was absolutely beautiful. I never seen so many sceneries with pure green grass, mountainous landscapes slightly covered with white clouds, and clear rivers and streams. I watched Lord of the Rings for the first time while overseas, and it was amazing to see the actual filming locations and the same images of New Zealand as in the movies! My favorite moment is when my flatmate won two tickets to the Hobbit Fan Event in Wellington and I took pictures with Jed Brophy, who plays Nori the dwarf in The Hobbit!

How has this experience impacted your future?

Nneka: My goal for New Zealand was to take advantage of every opportunity. Personally, I gained confidence in meeting new people and being more outspoken. As a result, I made tons of lifelong friends from various parts of the world, including Kiwis and Pacific Islanders. As an Environmental Studies major, I chose New Zealand to gain knowledge on the environment from a global aspect. I enrolled in two classes related to my major and conducted outside research by attending Energy Expos, climate change conferences, seminars on-campus, etc.

the hobbit premiere

My Senior research paper will reflect on my findings and featured in a book that will further my academic career. Apart from my major, I took one course on Maori culture and another course on music and dance in Oceania. Both of those courses were engaging and taught me that I now apply to my everyday life. Since I’ve been home, there were several occasions when the subject of Maori or Oceania appear either on TV or in public, especially when Princess Kate and Prince William visited New Zealand recently. I could tell my family and friends nearly everything about the Maori culture.

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

Nneka: Make Kiwi friends. New Zealanders are really friendly, and it pays off to step outside your comfort zone. I joined the International Buddy Programme and the Christian Club at the Victoria University of Wellington and attended Arise Church downtown. I made lifelong friends whom I made several memories. My friends invited me to trips and events, introducing me to new places and new people. They also show you secret locations or places most memorable to them.

During our two-week break from school, I spent time with my Kiwi friends while other international students traveled. The advantage of having Kiwi friends is eliminating any loneliness from being financially unable to travel or other fun activities like your friends from America or other countries. The funniest and best part for me in New Zealand was knowing that my Kiwi friends were also on a tight budget.

Instead of spending loads of money on skydiving or backpacking across the country, I spent time in Wellington having coffee or inviting friends over to watch movies and bake chocolate chip cookies. Also, if I traveled to another city, my Kiwi friends knew of people who offered a place to stay. Even you may not have the budget to do the same as others, you will have travel buddies the next time you visit New Zealand.

Based upon my experience, I highly advise anyone who plans to study abroad in New Zealand to take advantage of the opportunity by meeting new people. It mainly helps when you join clubs of interest and socialize with your classmates. That is the best way to make new friends, and they will be waiting for you once you decide to visit New Zealand again.