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.