When you step off the plane in Christchurch, you might wonder if you're in England, rather than New Zealand. The English influence on aspects of life in Christchurch is surprising but adds a unique flavor to this city on New Zealand's Southern Island.
Whether you spend time between classes punting along the Avon River, explore Hagley Park and Christchurch Botanical Gardens, or use Christchurch as a base to strike out and explore the rest of the island, you'll have plenty of options while spending a term, semester, or year studying abroad in New Zealand. Even better, Christchurch is home to institutions that offer the same quality world-class educational as the rest of New Zealand, so you'll come away with valuable academic experience alongside memories of exploring beautiful New Zealand outside the classroom.
Culture & Immersion
Kiwi culture is incredibly warm and friendly, and that’s a major bonus for students who are studying abroad. Its vibrant student culture makes it easy to join social events and meet people, and there are plenty of pubs where you can share camaraderie and trivia on any given night. Christchurch is an extremely walkable city, so it’s easy to explore all that the town has to offer, and there are brilliant outdoor attractions very close by!
Beyond the overall Kiwi culture, you may have a chance to experience Maori culture as well. If you have the opportunity to visit a Maori village, definitely take it!
Culture Shock & Support
You might think that since New Zealand is an English-speaking country, culture shock wouldn’t be a concern in studying abroad here. While it may be true that you won’t be experiencing a language barrier here in Christchurch, New Zealand is still a distinct country with its own set of cultural norms that American exchange students might find difficult to get used to. From driving on the left side of the road to the prevalence of meat pies to the fact that the seasons are reversed, there are likely to be all sorts of little things that remind you that you’re no longer at home. And that’s okay!
Culture shock is a normal part of travel. It’s possible that your university will have resources for international students to help address culture shock issues, and you should definitely take advantage of them. Read up ahead of time on local etiquette to avoid making any faux pas, and talk to your fellow exchange students -- odds are that they’re feeling the same kind of homesickness and culture shock that you are. The more you and your fellow students talk and support one another, the happier all of you will be!
The lifestyle of New Zealand is laid-back and outdoorsy. Getting outside, exploring, hiking, camping, and kayaking are all major activities among kiwis, and they’re activities that you should definitely join! While the easiest way to get out into the countryside is by car, you don’t necessarily need your own -- there are plenty of online forums where you can find travel companions for weekend or day trips. There’s a reason why Lord of the Rings and many other movies have been filmed in New Zealand -- the scenery is truly epic. Make sure you get out and enjoy it!
Insider Tips on Studying Abroad in Christchurch
Much of Christchurch was destroyed during an earthquake in 2010, and they’re still rebuilding. For you as an international student, this means two things. One: there’s a lot of new, improved infrastructure in the downtown area that makes Christchurch a great place to get around, explore, and see everything. Two: take your school’s earthquake preparation information really, really seriously, just like you would if you were in San Francisco or Tokyo.
Direct enrollment at a university is exactly that -- you’re applying for and enrolling in that university as an exchange student, without any intermediaries. All your application materials go to the school, and you pay your tuition fees to the school as well. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch offers direct enrollment options for international exchange students. The direct enrollment option can save you money and offers flexibility in course choices, so it's a good option if you're on a tight budget or don't want to be constrained by your home university's requirements.
Direct exchange is when your home university has an exchange agreement with a university elsewhere in the world. This option gives you most of the benefits of direct enrollment, without having to navigate the application and financial aid processes on your own. If your home university has an exchange agreement with a university in Christchurch, you'll be able to enroll and attend classes in Christchurch, but you'll keep paying your regular tuition at home and you'll automatically receive credit for your courses abroad.
A third-party provider is an external organization that arranges study abroad programs. Studying abroad through one of these programs can make the whole process much smoother and less stressful, since these organizations can help coordinate everything from visa applications to finding housing. Providers do charge a fee, so this isn't necessarily as affordable an option as direct enrollment, but for many students the price tag is worth knowing that someone else is taking care of all the details.
Inexpensive housing is available through most universities, either in residence halls or in shared student apartments. Depending on which type of program you're enrolled in, you may or may not be responsible for arranging your own accommodations, so check with your study abroad coordinator! Outside of designated student housing, you can also find a shared flat through online housing forums, just like in much of the US. Rent for flats is typically charged by the week, rather than by the month, and can range between about $100 and $300 per week depending on location and amenities.
Public transportation within Christchurch is readily available and easy to use. The public bus is inexpensive and goes to most parts of the city, and there’s also a public tram that makes a loop around the city center. Traveling between Christchurch and other cities in New Zealand is also doable by public bus lines.
If you’d like to get out into the countryside, your best option is to find someone with a car who wants to go to the same place or places as you. There are plenty of online message boards to request travel shares, and the local visitor information centers may also have tips on how to get to some of the more out-of-the way places that you might want to see.
Cost of Living
Cost of living in Christchurch is fairly reasonable. Rent is comparable to many other cities in New Zealand, and less than in many cities in the US--you can expect to pay between $150 and $300 per week in a shared apartment with flatmates. The US dollar is strong compared to the New Zealand dollar, so the exchange rate will also help you out!
Because New Zealand is an island nation, most of their consumer goods are imported. This means that your basic toiletries and packaged comfort foods may be significantly more expensive than you’re used to. A tube of sunscreen can cost between $10 and $20, and contact lens solution runs around $20. If there’s something from your home country that you simply can’t live without for the duration of your stay, you might want to pack extra!
Groceries might also run a little more expensive than you’re used to -- particularly fresh fruits and vegetables that don’t grow locally. Bananas are about $3/kilo and apples are around $4/kilo, but fruits like peaches can be up to $9/ kilo. However, if you focus on local rather than imported foods, your grocery costs should be about the same as they are in the US. Christchurch also has great farmer's markets, where you can buy local produce directly from the source! In addition, any town with a high concentration of students has an array of cheap eateries, and Christchurch is no exception. Meat pies, fish and chips, pizza, and Chinese food are all tasty and affordable student staples. Kumara fries are a local specialty, so be sure to check them out as well!
There are several visa options for studying abroad in New Zealand, from a visitor visa to a fee-paying student visa to a working holiday visa. Which one you choose to apply for will depend on the particulars of your program of study, so check with your study abroad program to figure out the one that makes the most sense for your situation.
Can You Work While Studying in Christchurch?
Whether or not you’re permitted to work while studying in New Zealand depends on what type of visa you have. At most, you’ll be able to work part-time, up to 20 hours per week, while school is in session, and up to 40 hours per week during times when school is on break.
New Zealand’s immigration website has excellent information on the permissions and restrictions on working with a student visa.
There are several scholarship options for studying abroad in New Zealand. Some are merit-based, and some are need-based, but all of them are worth exploring to make your dream of studying in Christchurch into a reality.
- The New Zealand International Undergraduate Fees Scholarship is a merit-based scholarship available to international undergraduate students.
- Break Out is the most comprehensive source of scholarship information for New Zealand. This searchable database includes over 2,200 awards, scholarships and grants for individuals.
- A number of grants and scholarships are available to ISA program participants, including add on if you receive other prestigious scholarships such as the Benjamin A. Gilman international scholarship.
- The various nonprofit USAC study abroad scholarship opportunities aim for students to gain international experience.
- We also have our own resource on more Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships