My semester abroad at the University of Auckland was my first experience leaving the continent of North America. I am from New Jersey and had only travelled outside of the U.S. thrice before - once to Montreal, once to Quebec, and once to Vancouver (all in Canada). In conversations with friends and family, my reasons for choosing to study in New Zealand were primarily the lack of language barrier and the fact that the University of Auckland had a course of study that aligned with my own at my home university. Internally, I was excited to see its notoriously beautiful landscapes, to try my hand at mimicking a quirky but no less fascinating accent, and to uncover the absolute mystery of what experiences might await me halfway around the globe. When you choose to study abroad, you are willingly placing yourself outside of your comfort zone, with the promise of personal growth and everlasting memories. I made the greatest decision of my life so far when I decided to push the limits of that comfort zone breach and spend five months at the University of Auckland.
The courses (or "papers" as Kiwis would say) that I took were informative, unique, and well-taught. I was able to limit my workload to three courses while abroad, and chose Principles of Marine Science (which included a required field trip component - major bonus for an international student trying to travel anywhere and everywhere!), an introductory course on the entire geologic history of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand; connections between this course and my travel experiences were infinite - I was constantly explaining to my travel buddies all of the reasons why NZ's landscapes and natural monuments exist the way that they do, from the Southern Alps to Rangitoto to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to Rotoroa's hot springs to NZ's famous rolling green hills to Lake Taupo and the Tongariro Crossing and beyond!), and Energy and Natural Resource Economics (Steve, as our professor insisted we call him, was my favorite lecturer of the bunch, offering the global perspective of modern energy issues in addition to the specific case of New Zealand). The full content of all three courses included material that I never would have been exposed to, had I not chosen to study at UoA.
As an exchange student, as I alluded to earlier, my goals for the five months were to devote the time and energy to my courses that ensured I would pass and do well, and to spend every waking hour outside of that time trying, witnessing, and absorbing everything and anything new that New Zealand could offer. So I traveled. A lot. I walked the streets of Auckland, trying to get lost and stumble upon something interesting in an attempt to get home. On the days that my lectures ended before noon, I caught a bus Mission Bay Beach or hiked up Mount Eden or found a friend to grab lunch with in Ponsonby. Weekend trips to other cities via Naked Bus or Air New Zealand ($20 promotional fares to Wellington made for the greatest birthday present ever!) were constant. My first trip outside of Auckland happened just two short weeks after arriving; a group of six of us travelled to Waitomo to explore the glowworm caves and were rewarded with a true taste of New Zealand culture. The two-week mid-semester break gave me the chance to travel all around the South Island, where I realized even more how unrepresentative of the entire country Auckland might be. Don't get me wrong; Auckland is an amazing city and cultural center. To be honest, I think living there helped alleviate some of my initial culture-shock upon arriving to New Zealand. Sure, there are many differences between Auckland and home, such as the direction of street traffic, the cleanliness of the streets, and the 'pinging' of crosswalk signals. But a city is a city is a city. You don't get a feel for a country by remaining in its largest metropolitan area. You need to actively experience more - that is my advice to any prospective study abroad student.
New Zealand is the perfect country for traveling. From the easy-going, helpful nature of its inhabitants, to its abundance of unique attractions and natural landmarks, I could not have imagined that a foreign place could feel quite so safe, stress-free, or inspiring. Even if traveling all the way around the country, as I am guilty of doing, is not in your interests, the location of UoA and its many clubs and programs allow you to experience the true nature of New Zealand in so many ways. From the organized adventures of the Great Outdoors Series to the Meat Eater's club and beyond - get involved, take it in, and enjoy!
My time at the University of Auckland was incredibly dear and will not soon be forgotten. Helpful, knowledgable and easygoing staff, an easily navigable campus, and systematic tools for ensuring student success (such as recorded lectures, class Facebook pages, and course representatives) were just a few aspects that reassured me that I made the right academic decision. The respectful mixing of cultures, simple and slower way of life, ease of travel, abundance of unique and rewarding experiences, and development of meaningful friendships (whether they lasted a single day or the full five months) assured me that I made the proper personal decision.
Overall, I rate my experience 10/10. Choose the University of Auckland for your study abroad experience. And take me with you!!!
If you are at all interested in hearing about my study abroad experiences and adventures, I tried to keep up with a blog during my time at UoA for my family and friends. The link is: https://catchmeontheflipside.wordpress.com