June 26, 2015

The Final Entry

Well, here we are. The final entry.

I've learned so much and met quite a few amazing people here this semester. I definitely have to thank the team at IFSA Butler, our Student Services Coordinator, and all the other IFSA Auckland students for the amazing memories. Funding from Education New Zealand via their ENZTA travel award and NZUEA Uni study award helped considerably, as well. 

It's amazing how much you can learn, both about another culture and about yourself, when you leave behind every norm you've ever known for a new country. It's also incredible how distance from home, both physical and in perspective, can make you really evaluate the kind of person you were, are, and want to be when you arrive back home. 

I've condensed my New Zealand experience down to three bits of advice for future study abroad students reading this that in my experience were overlooked. So, in no particular order...

...1) It's okay to spend money on things, no matter how silly they may seem, that make you feel more comfortable/more at home in your new country. 

Before I left I was advised time and time again to make a budget, that the cost of living would be higher because I was headed to a city, etc, etc. At the beginning of the semester, though, I think I took this advice a bit too seriously.  From the start I cut out small but expensive things from my grocery list, things like the occasional Diet Coke, for example, that also for whatever reason remind me of home. Then around the end of March I felt homesick for a couple of days, not for home itself but for the familiarity that comes with knowing the ins and outs of a culture, and I believe I made it a bit worse on myself by trying to save money and not buying little things that would have been comforting. It's one thing to maintain a budget so you don't blow all your savings by going out every night, for instance, but when it comes to spending money in ways that will increase your comfort level with your new country don't be stingy. 

...2) Appreciate the little wonders as well as the big adventures. 

Especially if you're studying in a larger city like Auckland it can be easy to get sucked into the ebb and flow of daily city life. It can be easy to miss out on the sounds of the city if you are constantly attached to an mp3 player/phone, and it's easy to forget to look around every once and awhile as you're walking from place to place. The point of Uni is to cultivate knowledge and enhance reasoning and questioning skills, but sometimes not everything needs to be questioned. If you take a moment to just plainly observe, without judgement or question, the scenery and people that are surrounding you you may be surprised by how much you notice about your surroundings from a new and interesting perspective. 

...3) Don't forget the old along with the new. 

You're going to be advised countless times to "try new things" and to "step out of your comfort zone" now that you're going to a new country, a new Uni, and a place with new people and possibilities. Don't forget, however, that you're already a person with interests and skills and that most and/or all of those interest and skills can also be pursued while abroad. Having new and exciting adventures is great, and you'll meet some great new people and get to do crazy things, but the friends you may become closer with are the ones who share your core interests. Those are the friendships you'll probably make for life. Pursuing your core interests will also help you feel the most at home in your new surroundings the quickest, so don't forget to pay attention to the parts of you that already make up who you are.

So here we are! We've come to the end of the journey, for now. 

To finish up I'll leave you with two songs; 'Thunder Clatter' by Wild Cub and 'Mother & Father' by Broods (a New Zealand duo). I heard 'Thunder Clatter' for the first time on my ride over the bridge to Auckland City. Somehow, even though the lyrics aren't totally relevant, the song still manages to capture all the excitement of being here while at the same time the melancholy of leaving. 

'Mother & Father' is just a great song. It also somehow captures my hunch that this is not where my adventure will end. 

Thanks to everyone who made this semester amazing! Ka kite 'aka'ou. 

I don't want to wake up lonely,
I don't want to just be fine. 

June 2, 2015

Uni vs. College

27 days.

I can’t believe there are only 27 days left.

Finals season is upon us at The University of Auckland (UoA). Now that I’ve been here for almost an entire semester, I thought I’d do a comparison between college in the US and Uni in NZ for anyone reading interested in studying abroad in here.

UoA Crest
(via google images)
One thing I’ve found from talking to the kiwis here is that the Uni experience, itself, is viewed in a slightly different way than “the college experience” in the States. In the States, college is portrayed as this massive growing experience where you move away from home and learn to live on your own, whereas in NZ it’s seen as more of a ‘next step’ to further one’s education in the specialisation they will eventually secure a job.

School of Business courtyard, UoA.
(via google images)
The University of Auckland is a fairly large commuter school so students still tend live at home, though some do go flatting around the city.  Since students tend to live at home, they also bring with them to Uni the same friend group they had in high school unlike in the States where it is expected that you will make new, lifelong friendships in college. In addition, because many students commute, Uni operating hours are quite different from college hours in the States. Most buildings at The University of Auckland are open from ~8am to ~8 pm, give or take a couple of hours in the evening, depending on if the building is an office or a study space like the library. The general library on campus is only open until 10pm on weekdays, which was something to get used to coming from a college where late-night studying is a necessity. Due to the commuter nature of UoA, again, most students come to Uni, work done during the day, and go home, so there is really no need to have the library open for any longer. There’s also another commons study space that’s open until midnight, but to my knowledge there are no buildings open longer than that.

General library, UoA.
(via google images)
Kate Edgar Commons, additional study space.
(via google images)
University study is also formatted differently than study in the States. In the States there are generally far more assignments all worth a lower percentage of your grade, which is good because it keeps you constantly interacting with the material. It’s bad, however, because it can lead to more “filler” assignments from Profs and just an overall higher workload that discourages individual exploration of one’s topic because you’re always focused on the work the Prof has given you. Here at Uni there are far fewer assignments all worth considerably higher percentages of your grade, which is slightly scary, but in my opinion completely worth it. This way you are able to focus when you need to, but also able to relax not having to constantly be doing assignments. You then also have free time to explore topics on your own. In the States, college becomes life because at least in my case once the semester starts there’s little time for anything else. Here I was actually able to have a life outside of studying, and can confidently say that I learned quite a bit anyway. The only downside to this system is that students have to be completely self-motivated to not put assignments off until the last minute and stay in contact with the material in the time between assignment due dates.

In my first blog post I noted the considerable size difference between Franklin & Marshall College in the US and The University of Auckland (2, 324 vs. 30, 771 undergrads), and throughout this semester I’ve definitely noticed a difference in Uni based on the size.  F&M is a small liberal arts college where, because it’s so small, there are a variety opportunities to try out different subjects, activities, or pursue hobbies in addition to your formal education. Here at Uni, there are students in all subjects not just pursuing hobbies but specializing for a career, leaving no room for students less committed to casually explore something (like an additional major in Music…) on a whim. There’s also less room for lecturers to be as flexible as they could be if their class size was 10 students rather than 100, so I’ve felt generally less babied here than I sometimes feel at F&M.

School of Music courtyard, UoA.
(via google images)
One final considerable difference between Uni and college in the States is, well, the price. College in the States is outrageously expensive. Uni in NZ is considerably less expensive, and students in some income ranges even qualify for a weekly allowance to help with non-academic related costs, like food. It’s actually astounding how different the price is.

Overall, I can definitely see pros and cons to each system. At this point in the semester my leanings favor the Uni system here. Sure it takes a great deal of self-motivation to not procrastinate and stay in contact with the material, but it’s totally worth it to be able to have a life outside of academia. I’ve enjoyed being able to pursue my interests at F&M in greater depth because of the small size of the college, but thinking back on how stressed I’ve been at times due to the massive workload (which, granted, was somewhat self-imposed) I seriously question how I kept my sanity. I’ll have to remember this freedom when it comes time next semester to eat, sleep, and breathe schoolwork back at home in my last year (!) of college.