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There and Back Again

Time July 24th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“If there weren’t any other people, there wouldn’t be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people.  That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren’t you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest.”

Robert Penn Warren,  All the King’s Men

Now that I’ve been home almost a month and finally finished recounting my adventures abroad, it’s time to reflect back over the semester and close the blog.  I cannot believe how quickly it went by.  It seems like just yesterday I was starting to think about packing and writing a draft of my predeparture blog on scrap paper during slow shifts at work.  It’s now five months later, and I don’t know where to begin.

Being back home is a difficult feeling for me to describe.  I haven’t even quite reconciled it with myself.  In a lot of ways, it is like I never left.  The routines of home slid right back on comfortably and “reverse culture shock” is not a real thing, at least for me.  New Zealand was like a dream, and whenever people ask me about it, I struggle to find words that adequately capture the essence of my experience.  Usually, I just cop out by saying it was amazing and I loved it.  Which I suppose actually summarizes my semester quite well.

This is not to say that I do not enjoy talking about New Zealand at every given opportunity.  Just that I’m more likely to talk more animatedly about little anecdotes or stories than the broad picture.  I haven’t quite found a way to give an extended narrative account of my time out of the country.  Which is probably actually okay, since no one really wants to hear you drone on about your travels unless they’ve been there, or are soliciting you for information to plan their own trip.  And it’s probably better that I don’t dwell on everything about New Zealand, because then I would miss it even more.  I think the key to avoiding the reverse culture shock is the same as adjusting to a new country initially: stay busy, and remember the aspects of life at home you enjoy rather than pining for what you want back there.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my friends, family, and dogs and that means I am (for the most part), too distracted to want to head back (though I did experience a moment of depression when The Hobbit trailer came on and I realized I had no idea when I would be back in Middle Earth again).

Home has been great though.  I’m so lucky to have a great family and friends who I’m so close to that you can just pick up right where you left off as if you were never separated.  I can only hope that the friends I made abroad will prove to be similar in that respect.

I truly believe that everyone should study abroad.  It doesn’t really matter where (though I’m obviously an advocate for New Zealand…or Australia as you can seem almost all of either country in a single semester if you plan it out well), but just go out and do it.  Force it to fit into your schedule. Take out the extra loans to pay for it.  You will not regret a single penny of your time. I could have graduated in three years had I not gone abroad, but then I would have missed out on an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It sounds so cheesy, but you really do grow and learn a lot about yourself.  It’s impossible not to, since you’re completely immersed in a brand-new place in which you have no connections.  You have to learn to define yourself outside of who, what, and where you know.  Which is why I’ve included the Robert Penn Warren quote at the beginning of this post.  New Zealand rejuvenated me.  It opened my mind and recharged me for the future.  I may have lost studying abroad as something to look forward to, but the rest of my life has barely begun.

I’m so happy I chose New Zealand, and I will come back again one day.  I did see most of the country, but there are still places I need to see, like the entire west coast, the Catlins, Kaikoura, Nelson, and the Otago Peninsula (I know, I know…it’s a huge sin that I never made it out there since it’s roughly a twenty-five minute drive from campus).  I also will be here in the summer; winter is gorgeous in it’s own way, but I’m more of a shorts and a tank top kind of girl.  I don’t particularly care to walk around with a blanket on (which I wore like a cape, according to my flatmates) indoors.

Thanks for bearing with me and reading through all of this.  I enjoyed writing it and hope I was effectively able to project how much I loved this semester and can inspire others to travel.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Tolkien quotes, in homage to my favorite author:

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”


The Land Down Under

Time July 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Australia…where to being? I should probably start with a disclaimer: I loved Oz, but I was there for only one week in one city, whereas I living in New Zealand and traveling around for almost five months.  There’s an inherent bias there that means if I’m forced to pick a favorite, New Zealand wins by default.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Australia; it was a vacation, though, whereas New Zealand started to feel like home.

Anyway, after spending one day in Auckland, we flew up to Australia.  Getting there is an ordeal in itself; however, the two three-hour flights were filled with food and movies so the time passed relatively quickly.  The same couldn’t be said for for our one-hour drive from Cairns to Port Douglas.  I’m pretty sure our shuttle driver had never driven a stick shift before and I was more terrified during that ride than I was at any point during the bungy jump experience.

We arrived at our lodgings at around eight at night and immediately set off in search of food.  We settled on buying sandwich materials from the grocery store since none of us was feeling (or looking or smelling) good enough to go out.  During our evening exploration of Port Douglasm I was in a constant state of awe as to the beauty.  Every cliche island sight, sound, and smell you can imagine was present within a very small area in this town.  It felt like the perfect marriage between Hawaii and Florida (not as old of a population as Florida, nor as flat, but with that friendly feel and cute, quirky charm).  Now, part of my idolizing of Port Douglas may largely be attributed to the change in temperature and scenery.  After going through winter in Chicago and New Zealand, the heat, humidity, beaches, and palm trees were unreal.  I could not be more excited for the tropics.

Our first few days were low-key and relaxing.  After having spent the past two weeks traveling all over New Zealand with very minimal downtime, it was a welcome relief to stay in one place and have a break from living in suitcases.  We explored the many adorable shops and restaurants of Port Douglas in addition to spending a substantial chunk of each day on Four Mile Beach, which was about a four minute walk from our resort (though we somehow managed to get turned around on the first day so that the four minute walk instead took around forty-five minutes. We followed my brother’s directional instincts after that incident). During our days at the beach, we hopefully canceled out all the dining out we were doing by walking along the beach.  My family and I also worked on our tans quite a bit (though, in my case, I was just trying to become the color of a normal person instead of a corpse).  It was wonderful.

After several days of tranquility, we were thrown back into adventure mode with our long-awaited snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.  This was an experience I’d been looking forward to for most of my life; up until around the age of thirteen, I was dead-set on becoming a marine biologist, so snorkeling in the only reef you can see from space had always been pretty high on my bucket list.

Unfortunately, this was one aspect of the trip that didn’t quite live up to my expectations, largely as a result of factors beyond anyone’s control.  The day we were scheduled to go was very windy, making the  water rough and choppy and stirring up the sand.  It also was the lowest tide of the year, so the reef was significantly above the water where we were snorkeling.  This made navigating around it a bit difficult; there were several moments where I stopped just instants before I would have crashed into the reef.  It also smelled awful because coral creates its own sunscreen when the tide is low to protect itself from drying out in the sun.  Apparently, scientists are currently working on understanding how coral does that, and want to create a pill that humans could take once a month and be protected from sunburn for a month.  How cool would that be?

Despite the negatives, it was still an amazing day and I am so glad we were able to go (though I will need to go back in the future to properly dive the reef).  The colors of the coral were much brighter than that which I’d seen in the Florida keys and we saw a fair number of fish, though I think the rough water was making them hide out a bit more than they ordinarily would.  There was one fish that was keeping pace with the glass bottom boat as we rode along which was pretty entertaining.  We also were lucky to come close enough to touch a sea turtle.  I gave him a mini photo shoot with the underwater camera.  Hopefully at least one of those photos turns out when we finally develop the film.  In the future, I’d get a good waterproof case for my digital camera because I’m concerned that the lack of a flash on those $20 disposable ones means they won’t really turn out.

Our final day in Australia was easily the best.  I succeeded in bullying the rest of my family into taking a tour through the Daintree Rainforest, as it would have been shame to not check it out. If you’re anything like my siblings, you won’t see anything particularly interesting about it on paper, but in actuality, it’s not an activity that absolutely cannot be missed if you ever make it to that part of the world.  It’s the oldest rainforest in the world and Cape Tribulation is the only location on the planet where two World Heritage sites (the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest) meet.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and we have that rainforest to thank for many medical breakthroughs that have been made over the years.

That being said, it’s difficult to say if what made the day so great was the forest itself or the company.  There were two couples in addition to the guide with us and we all enjoyed each other’s company greatly and spend the day sharing various anecdotes and stories.  We decided that between our Aussie guide, Chris, and our Kiwi guide, Graham (from back in Queenstown), you’d have a greater wealth of knowledge and experience than multiple sets of encyclopedias could offer you.

Anyway, it was a fabulous conclusion to an amazing week.  I’m sure we could have spent a significantly longer time there, though we did succeed in hitting all the big “must-sees” in Port Douglas.  I definitely need to go back to Australia and see what the rest of the country has to offer, though I would go back to Port Douglas as well because it’s drop-dead gorgeous.  I don’t feel like there is any way that you could dislike Cairns and Port Douglas unless you don’t like the beach or warm weather.  I’d heard there was some good hikes around the area as well, but we weren’t really equipped for it and after New Zealand, we felt entitled to some laziness.  Australia also has a lot of animals and plants that can kill you if you’re not careful, and we weren’t educated enough to trust ourselves to recognize that.

Which brings us to one funny story.  Apparently, Australians have a story about “drop bears” falling out of trees that they use to scare children and naive tourists.  None of us were quite gullible enough to buy into that, but the one other American guy had a funny comeback.  After the Australian couple and our guide explained the story, this guy said, “So, you just told us about an hour ago that eight out of the ten deadliest creatures in the world reside in this country.  Why on earth do you need to scare anyone with a fake monster?!?”.  It was such a great day.

Now, for key differences between Australia and New Zealand: first of all, Australian currency makes no sense.  The fifty-cent coins are huge and the two-dollar ones are smaller than a penny.  New Zealand money is really easy to learn and intuitive in comparison.  Kiwis also seem to be a bit friendlier than Aussies, though that’s not to say that they’re unfriendly by any means (especially in comparison to how those from other countries sometimes view Americans…).  Also, Kiwis will tell you that Australia is really expensive, but I think that’s only because their dollar is weaker than an Australian dollar.  For Americans, it’s roughly equal and most items are priced significantly lower than in New Zealand.  I really loved both places, but New Zealand holds a special place in my heart.




Middle Earth with the Family

Time July 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

When my family arrived in Dunedin, I was once again faced with the issue of having too much time to fill in a city that is not ideal for tourists.  While there was less time to worry about making interesting (three days as opposed to seven with Brigid)m the weather was cold and wet for most of their stay, nearly even eliminating the botanic gardens as a form of entertainment.  We did, however, have the benefit of the weekend so we were at least able to visit the farmer’s market.  There, my brother paid $5 for a future heart attack in the form of a “bacon butte” sandwich (it’s white bread filled with bacon and onions).  My mom and sister wisely followed my recommendation and tried those delicious crepes.  We’ll have to try and recreate those at home.  I think my family didn’t dislike Dunedin (my brother claimed it was his favorite place in New Zealand, weirdly enough, because it was “raw”) but it can be hard to enjoy unless you’re living there for an extended period of time.  My family’s favorite adjective to describe the city was “soggy”.  And during their stay, that description was quite accurate.

For me personally, being in Dunedin was the low point of our trip.  I was feeling very conflicted throughout our stay there.  On one hand, I was ecstatic to see my family again, but on the other, I was quite depressed to have the reality of my semester abroad, which I had been researching and planning for since I was in high school, be over so quickly hit me.    I really didn’t fully realize how much I would miss the country and my friends until the end was upon me.  I almost wish we had left Dunedin sooner because it dragged out the good-byes too much and made me dwell on what I was losing rather than what I would gain with my return home.

After too many days in Dunedin, the trip really began with our move to Queenstown.  I was able to do the full Taieri Gorge railroad trip (we’d done about half of it on the International Student Welcome Day through the university), before we made it into Queenstown.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t take many nice photos this time because it was (for once) too sunny to avoid a major glare off of the windows and water.

Upon arriving in Queenstown, I had Fergburger for the last time during this stay (but not the last during my lifetime).  My family didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought they would; I think I forgot how much of an adjustment there can be from American ketchup to the much sweeter New Zealand tomato sauce.  The next day, we woke up early for a 4WD trip through parts of Queenstown and Glenorchy.  Since it was a Lord of the Rings-centric tour, my brother and I were extremely enthused, but my sister and mother also enjoyed our day, largely due to the fact that our tour guide was an incredibly cool guy.  My family dubbed the tour guide, Graham, the “most interesting man in New Zealand”.  And if that’s a real thing, he definitely should be a contender for that title.  The man has done everything from climbing to the top of Mount Cook (before the peak fell off)m to being president of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Association, working for AJ Hackett (the commercial bungy creator/owner), traveling all over the world, to playing the bagpipes for Bill Gates, and meeting Orlando Bloom.  He was a never-ending source of stories and entertainment.
After spending another day wandering around Queenstown, we headed up to Christchurch for a day.  Our brief reprieve from unpleasant weather ended there with rain all day long.  There, we witnessed the power of an earthquake, as the entire city centre is still blocked off and filled with rubble.  As Midwesterners who are far from any fault line, it gave us firsthand illustration of the potential destruction that can result from that type of natural disaster.  It is, in many respects, a ghost town and many of the shops and restaurants were vacant.  Luckily, we were only there for once night before boarding the shortest flight of my life to Wellington.

Wellington was an interesting city.  To me, it felt like what a combination of Seattle and Chicago would create on a miniature scale.  However, we only had two days there, so my opinion of it may not hold much weight.  We visited the brilliant Te Papau museum (though I did not care for the dinosaurs with moving eyes) and did another Lord of the Rings tour.  Like the others, this tour was fun and were were accompanied by two Aussie boys who put my perceived nerdiness to shame.  One of the guys was wearing a flat sheet like and elven cloak and writing his graduate thesis on Tolkien (which makes my little honors thesis look like nothing).  It was a fun day, but I wish we had had more time to explore the city itself.

After Wellington, we headed up to National Park (yes, that is the name of a city; I didn’t believe my mom until we were actually there) to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (AKA climbing Mount Doom).  We were once again lucky enough to have an incredible guide, but especially unlucky with the weather.  We tramped slightly less than halfway through the trail (roughly 8 kilometers) before being forced to turn around from the 70 km/hr gales of wind that were nearly throwing us off of the top of the mountain.  The rain and snow was not pleasant, but I did take some fantastic pictures in the moody weather (and it also was a more “Lord of the Rings”-like experience).  You can definitely tell why Peter Jackson chose to make that area Mordor.  Parts of are quite spectacular and surreal, if in a desolate and dreary way.

Following National Park, we continued to move North and spent an evening in Rotorua.  While the city itself was very cute, the smell was overpowering.  The sulfur from the hot springs permeated the air with the scent of rotten eggs, which was disgusting.  It even made its way through the cracks in doors and was in the room we slept in (I pray to God for the sake of all the people I encountered the next day that the smell doesn’t stick to you).  That was the one city in New Zealand that I can say with absolute certainty I could never live in.

After Rotorua, we headed up to Matamata and visited Hobbiton.  This was the segment of the trip that my nerdy side was particularly excited form and it did not disappoint.  Seeing all the little hobbit holes and Bag End and the party tree was delightful.  And I’ll have to come back someday once they’ve finished expanding the set.  The Green Dragon (the Shire pub from Tolkien’s works) will eventually be a working pub and I need to grab a beer there.  I really enjoyed visiting this place; it was gorgeous even aside from it’s significance to LOTR.  As one of my friends from home said when he’d saw that I went there, “You have reached your nerd climax.”  Too true.
Our final stop in our tour of New Zealand was in Auckland.  We only had room for one day there, but it was just as well since it was pouring rain most of the day anyway.  We mostly just wandered around the city, grabbed some last-minute souvenirs, and visited the Sky Tower.  But, I’m glad we spent some time there because it meant I was able to grab coffee with my kiwihost, Mike, one more time before we “permanently temporarily” parted ways.  Coffee in Auckland, Dunedin, and Wellington is comparable, but Christchurch, Rotorua, and National Park have room for improvement on that front.

All in all, it was an amazing trip, but a ridiculous amount of traveling in a very short period of time.  I almost would rather have seen fewer places and been at all those locations for longer because it would have allowed for more vacation time rather than commuting from place to place for so many hours.  However, all that traveling really allowed us to appreciate staying in one place once we made our way to Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia…



Finals at Otago

Time July 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So, I only just now realized how much time has passed since my last blog post.  That may lead you to assume that was a result of more crazy travels, but that was not quite the case.  At least initially.

After returning to Dunedin from my Queenstown adventures with Brigid, I had two days before the start of final exams. I was unlucky (or maybe actually lucky) enough to have to sit exams on the first two days of testing.  I then had two days off, another final, one more day off, and then my last exam.  Ordinarily, I would do little to no preparation for my finals, if I even had any to take in the first place.  This is because as an English major, I generally exclusively write final papers that take the place of an exam.  And on the off-chance that I do have an actual final, it’s usually not difficult because I’ve been reading and discussing the material all semester, rendering cramming unnecessary.

That was definitely not the case this semester.  As a result of me frequently blowing off classes during the second half of the semester, and also partially a result of the complete lack of class discussion (and thus the elimination of any real engagement with the material on my part)m I was not nearly as comfortable with my class subjects as I would be at home in Valpo.  No longer was studying optional; I absolutely needed to make up for lost time.  However, the one good things is that I became familiarized with the Kiwi way of learning: avoid class all semester, then live in the library for the entire exam period.  I actually had an easier time than many since my exams were so early and close together.  Mike and I spent a lot of long days in the Central Library and St. David’s preparing for finals, but his first exam was the day of my last one so he had at least twice as many hours to log into studying.  At least there was always someone to keep me company and go on coffee breaks with.

Now, even the actual exams themselves were outside the realm of familiarity for me.  I’m used to professor who teaches the class being the one who administers the exam in our usual classroom; at Otago, the setting is more like that of a standardized test in that you have a proctor who you’ve probably never seen before in your life, in a room that none of your classes or tutorials were even in during the semester.  There are a few things you should know (that I didn’t) before going in to take your test.  (1)Arrive in the location early and make sure you know exactly where it is.  I was that jerk who walked into every exam moments before the clocked started and make a ruckus.  (2)Bring your student id.  I only had mine with me by chance for the first one.  I’m assuming that requirement is because the proctors don’t know you so, in theory, it would be very easy to cheat.  (3)Be careful where you sit, and make sure you’re exactly where they tell you to go.  At least one person in each of my finals (NOT me, thank you very much) started taking the wrong test, since usually there are multiple courses testing out in the same room.

Overall, I prefer the finals and class system at home.  The fact that finals at the University of Otago are worth so much more than the internal assessments (I’d heard of exams holding anywhere from 50-90% of the semester grade), coupled with the fact that class attendance holds no value, encourages students to cram and then you don’t actually learn or retain the material.  It’s so easy to ignore classes and just copy down notes that there is minimal incentive to actually to and sit through 50 minutes of a lecturer talking at you.  I have a new appreciation for the discussion-based classes I have at Valpo.  Here, I never actually learned the material.  Mike kept thinking it was strange that I repeatedly came out of my exams describing them not as difficult, but as “annoying.”  That was because, thanks to my cramming, I knew the works well enough, but didn’t care about any of them enough to want to write on them.  I had nothing brilliant or interesting to say about anything we had read, so the in-exam essays were a very tedious way to spend three hours.

Anyway, I apologize for this rather boring post.  But seeing as I did come here under the guise of academics, this aspect of being abroad needed to be addressed.  I look forward to sharing my travels with my family through New Zealand next!


Watching American Baseball in an Irish Pub in New Zealand

Time June 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

And my friend Brigid’s long-awaited visit to New Zealand has come and gone all too quickly.  Her arrival (and subsequent departure) were, admittedly, touched with some bittersweet feelings on my end.  Because her coming here, while so much fun, also means that I am nearing the end of my time in New Zealand.  And it’s become the same way with my family, who seem to be under some kind of agreement to alternate messaging daily, always including a countdown to when they, too, will be here.  Again, though I am far beyond excited to see them, I also can’t help but also be depressed at the thought that my days in this country are severely numbered.  These feelings of apprehension must be being converted by my subconscious into those of anxiety; I keep having extremely weird and slightly unsettling dreams about going home.  The most nightmarish one for me was one in which I walked into my house and Jazz completely ignored me.  Quite pathetic, I know, but for me, a very real concern.

Anyway, enough of that an on to more concrete and interesting aspects of the past few weeks.  Brigid arrived late on a Thursday.  Mike and I took his car to pick her up at the train station and we managed to squeeze her giant suitcase into the trunk (I swear, she brought more clothes for her two-week visit than I did for me entire semester).  The next day, Friday, was the start of the weekend for me since I have no classes (not that I really bothered going to any of them during this week anyway; it was all review and I am not overly concerned with how my performance on finals will be), we had the entire day at our disposal.  Unfortunately, I quickly came to the realization that while Dunedin is an excellent place to spend a semester abroad, it is not an ideal location to vacation at for a long duration.  I was already running out of ideas for entertainment by about 3 pm.  To be fair, we did get up and start moving quite early in the day since was on a hybrid Chicago/NZ time, but still.  I rapidly became very concerned with how I was going to keep her trip interesting so that it was worse coming all this way.  At least the weather was cooperating (on this day) so the botanical gardens were a great way to keep us entertained for a few hours.

Saturday, our main event was the Speights’ Brewery tour in the evening. During the day, we walked to the farmer’s market with Porter and a few of my neighbors so that we could try some of those absolutely delicious crepes that they serve every week.  They never disappoint and on our way home we stopped for some coffee(thanks to Mikem I am officially a connoisseur of most cafes in Dunedin), before just hanging out in the flat before our tour.  While the tour itself was on the boring side (unless you’re really into learning the mechanics of brewing beer or the history of the factory), it becomes totally worth it during the last twenty minutes when the taps are opened up.  If you’re a lightweight like myself, that is more than enough time to warrant spending twenty dollars in preparation for a fun night in town.

As a result of the festivities from the evening before, that Sunday was extremely low-key.  Brigid and I, along with Porter, staked out positions on the couch and proceeded to watch the entire first season of Supernatural.  I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed of that feat.

On Monday, we attempted to atone for our apathy from the day before by going on a hike (that is what people go to New Zealand to do, right?).  We did the trail that leads to the Ross Creek reservoir.  Though it perhaps does not offer quite as stunning of a conclusion as either Signal Hill or the Pineapple Track, there is a waterfall along the way which makes it the favored route in my book.  As with the first time I did this trail with Jenny, I brought along my camera only to have the battery die after I had taken only about three pictures.  You’d think I would learn eventually, but apparently that’s one lesson I’ll need to be taught at least once more.  That evening, we went to trivia night at The Bog, an Irish bar, with Jenny, Kristen, Mike, Sherry, and Tim.  It was a really enjoyable night, even though our only real collective forte was Entertainment (surprise, surprise).  We placed thirteenth our of 21 teams so there’s definitely room for improvement.  One of my favorite comments came from people watching before the start of the game from some random guy sitting at the bar.  He said (and I quote), “So, we’re watching American baseball in an Irish pub in New Zealand.”  Maybe you had to be there to find that statement as funny as we did, but NZ culture is, in a strange way, summed up in that statement, particularly in the Scottish town of Dunedin, with its constant influx of international students and visitors.

On Tuesday we did probably the most touristy activity in Dunedin by our participation in the Cadbury Chocolate Factory tour.  Now, I’m really not one for factory tours, but I was desperate for novel activities at this point.  I also had heard that this tour was really fun (some people even likened it to the fictional Willy Wonka factory) but I was not all that impressed with it.  But again, that could just be because my desire to know how chocolate bars are made is so limited.  Also, the “free” chocolate included in the tour was not of the varieties that I particularly care for.  In New Zealand, chocolate covered marshmallows(usually in the shape of a fish) are quite popular, but I am more interested in a solid block of chocolate than that.

Wednesday, we went with Mike to St. Clair’s beach for the afternoon.  It was absolutely beautiful, as usual, but quite a cold day, so we watched the surfers from the warmth of a cafe along the coast.  As Thursday was Brigid’s last day in Dunedin, we had made plans to explore the peninsula, but were foiled by a complete lack of cooperation on the part of Mother Nature when the heavens opened up for most of the day.  We did go to town for a bit in the evening, but it was a relatively quiet night, presumably a consequence of the final examination period commencing.

Friday, we left (relatively) early for Queenstown and checked into our hostel at around three in the afternoon.  I then finally made my dream of bungee jumping a reality by making our booking for the following morning.  There could be no turning back now.  We grabbed dinner early at the Cow (again, they ensured my continued patronage with their excellent choice of music: this time it was the Beatles and Aerosmith…and the food was good too) before chilling at the hostel for a bit before checking out the nightlife in Queenstown.  Brigid and I begann the evening by checking out the Below Zero Ice bar (which is apparently the largest on in all of Australasia).  It was a bit on the expensive side ($35 for entry, one cocktail, and one shot) but it is something of a novelty and the inside was so ‘cool’ as to classify it as money well spent.  I (of course) forgot my camera but Brigid took a few pictures on her phone that I will try to post eventually. I’d recommend visiting it, if only to have the opportunity to smash your ice glass.  Later in the evening, we were lucky enough to be adopted by three local, non-creepy Kiwi guys who taught us how to play pool and took us around to all the best bars in the city.  It was a really great night, even with them taking every opportunity for further psych out Brigid by sharing every horror story they’d ever heard about bungee jumping once they learned that was on our agenda for the next day.

Saturday was the monumental day of my first-ever (because there will be more) bungee jump.  For monetary reasons, we chose the Kawarau Bridge jump (also, it’s pretty cool to say you’ve been on the first ever commercial bungee jump in the world.  And the LOTR cast supposedly all made the jump, so also kind of an added bonus).  It’a 43 m above the Kawarau river, and I actually think it’s a more striking location than that of the other big jump so I’m really happy we did it because the pictures turned out incredible.  They made Brigid go first (to her horror) and she only needed a tiny shove to get off of the platform.  Next was another girl (ironically, also from Chicago) who was traveling by herself, then finally, me (I swear, they made me wait the longest just because I was the only one not terrified).  I had no issues making it off the platform (in a beautiful dolphin dive…thanks to all those years of swimming) but once I was in the air all the fear that I probably should have been feeling earlier kicked in and I screamed a sound I never want to hear myself make again (but probably will when I make it back here to do the 134 m Nevis jump).  It was amazing. Even with all the anticipation and expectations that I had been building for the past few years, it still exceeded them.  Everyone who goes to  New Zealand should be obligated to try it.  And buy the pictures.  They’re priceless (but don’t purchase the video unless you want to provide an opportunity for blackmail).

The rest of the day in Queenstown was just basically us exploring the little paths surrounding the city and buying a few souvenirs from the many, many shops littered throughout the city center.  I introduced Brigid to Fergburger (you can’t come to this city and not at least try it; waiting in line is practically a rite of passage in this town) and went  out for a bit but Brigid had an early start for Milford Sound in the morning and I had to head back to Dunedin for my finals.

And that about sums up our week!  I also briefly will mention that our IFSA-Butler Farewell dinner was the Thursday before I left for Queenstown.  It was a fun to see everyone and the food was (as usual with these events) spectacular, but it was also depressing to think we’d already reached the end.  This semester has flown by and my only consolation at the moment is that I’ll have a few more weeks to travel with my family before completely saying good-bye to the place that has become home.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures! The ones of me bungy jumping were obviously not taken by me, and are all at the end.



Volunteer Day and Marae Visit

Time May 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

I hope this rapid-fire burst of blog posts is making up for the deafening silence that you all were getting from me earlier in the semester.  My tendency to be a perfectionist with assignments and actually going to class (more of an achievement here than at Valpo, where it’s undeniably compulsory) made traveling and such more difficult than it seems to be for other people.  I’ve spent a lot of weekends in Dunedin (more so than I thought I would) just hanging out with people and doing silly activities that aren’t exactly conducive to exciting blog posts.  Which I was a bit worried about for awhile…am I not fully appreciating my experience abroad? Will I have regrets when I come back home and there are holes in my knowledge of New Zealand?  However, my concerns about such aspects of being abroad were appeased after having a conversation with one of my friends who was abroad in Germany this semester.  She’s had the opposite experience; she was traveling almost every weekend and very rarely stayed in Reutlingen and said she regrets the fact that she was just beginning to forge strong connections with people until right before she left.  I, on the other hand, feel like I’ve met some really wonderful people who I will hopefully stay in touch with long after I leave this country.  So, to everyone who’s wondering if you have to have the funds and time to travel during your entire experience abroad, know this: you really don’t.  There’s a lot that you will take from a semester abroad that is not necessarily going to be reflected in the number of postcards or t-shirts you acquire.


Anyway, moving on to events of this weekend!  Our weekend opened with a bang Thursday night when our flat hosted a “Fright Night” themed party.  Now, you may be wondering how Thursday was our big night rather than Friday; I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but every single person in our flat has no class on Fridays, so we’ve all been spoiled with three day weekends the entire semester (something that I never have achieved, and never will be able to achieve at Valpo).  We all decided to dress up, if a bit reluctantly (myself included….I’ve just never been really into costumes), but, looking back at the pictures, I’m so glad that we did because it ended up being lots of fun and we took some pretty funny photos.


Friday was rather low-key, but then Saturday was our IFSA-Butler volunteer day.  We left Dunedin at a totally reasonable hour (9 am) and arrived at the Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary about a half-hour later.  Now, for whatever reason, this particular event had a substantially smaller showing than any of our other program activities ever had.  There’s roughly 40 of us all together, but only 13 people made it our for this day.  I don’t know if it was because people were busy with finals or traveling or what the deal was, but they really missed out on a great day and I feel sorry for anyone who couldn’t come.


That’s not to say that I was thrilled during the entire experience.  When we arrived there in the morning, it was pretty cold and windy and I don’t think anyone was particularly excited to plant for two hours.  However, it ended up not being rough at all since the planting sessions were rather sporadically done for probably about twenty minutes to one half-hour at a time.  Also, when you were concentrating on the work rather than the cold, it was not bad at all.  We were also (as usual) sustained on a diet of coffee and chocolate, which was more than enough motivation for all of us to go on.  It was also a particularly fun group of people who were there, so we all ended up having a great time joking and laughing and playing in the mud.


Our group was also lucky enough to be given a free mini-tour of sanctuary during a break from our work digging holes and planting trees.  We saw tui and bellbirds and a few others whose name escapes me.  Unfortunately, our visit to the sanctuary came just days before they were set to receive a few of the rare Takahe.  Luckily, we had seen them less than week before in Te Anau, so that wasn’t as much of a disappointment as that otherwise may have been.


We were all also able to get our animal fix in since the rangers had a little dog, Jess, who was a Border Terrier mix with them during the entirety of our working experience.  She was very friendly, and ecstatic to have a dozen people all offering to pet her throughout the day.  Jess was a retired working dog; when the sanctuary had bigger issues with pests, she was responsible for catching the stoats, rabbits, cats, and possums that plagued the native plants and wildlife.  Since the sanctuary has been pest free for over five years now, her “job” was (thankfully) no longer a necessity, so she gets to spend her time being adorable.


After we concluded our work at the sanctuary (around 12:30 pm), we were loaded back into the bus and headed over to a Marae for lunch.  It was a really nice experience; we always love free food and it’s always so interesting to hear about the different traditions and stories that each Marae holds.  This one had some particularly impressive carvings on the front; I was obsessed with the dolphin on the front (as you’ll probably notice from the number of pictures I post of it).  There were also some GORGEOUS views out in front of the Marae of a beach that I need to get back to at some point before I leave because it’s looks absolutely unreal.


We headed back to Dunedin at around 2:45, were home by 3:30 and then left with the rest of the day.  A few of us actually commented on how we were sad to be done already; it was such a lovely day and honestly definitely one of my favorite IFSA-Butler activities to date.  It really makes me sad that in less than two weeks, we’ll already be having our farewell dinner and then the semester will really be drawing to a close.  This was our last major event, and thus slightly bittersweet.  BUT I shouldn’t be getting too sad yet; my countdown until Brigid arrives is down to 4 days and I AM SO EXCITED!! So, be prepared for an epic post as I rediscover Dunedin and Queenstown!

Also, the beginning of this album has a few more pictures of the Dunedin Botanic Gardens.  Enjoy!



Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

Time May 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, props to me for actually being on top of things in this blog for once!  With the schoolwork finally slowing down (and before the cramming for finals begins…), I’m finally having enough downtime to report on my latest adventures in a timely manner.  So, here it goes:

Sunday morning, the majority of our IFSA-Butler cohort woke up bright and early to be on the bus by 6:30 a.m.  Even though I showered and packed the night before, I still managed to be counted among the stragglers who ignored the “be there at 6:20” notice and instead arrived moments before the bus left.  Once we were all settled, most people fell right back to sleep, with some occasional chatter, for the roughly five-hour drive to Manapouri.  We arrived in Manapouri around noon, were fed a quick lunch (which made me not as grumpy after sitting uncomfortably in the bus for too many hours), and then we were boarded onto a boat for another foty-five minutes, complete with free tea and coffee (which I took full advantage of), and then we were loaded onto yet another bus for one last thirty minute ride (which had nothing but sandflies to offer), before we FINALLY reached the Navigator, which we were to call home for the evening and following morning.

Once on the boat, we were quickly rewarded for out traveling.  After showing us our rooms (which were adorable and clean, if a bit snug for four people, though a couple people were lucky enough to be upgraded to first class because there was too many os us), we were given a quick snack of muffins and fruit.  We then had about two hours to wander around the ship and take pictures before it became too dark and wet for us to risk ruining our cameras.  The crew then fed us (again!) delicious soup and bread.  Probably in preparation for the next activity, which would take place in the cold rain.  We were given two options: (1)kayaking through Doubtful Sound (2)riding a tender boat through Doubtful Sound.  I originally (as in, before I actually knew what the weather was like in the fjord) was all for kayaking, but the realities of water and my camera led me to choose the boat instead.  Which was not the greatest plan, since it was, by this point, down pouring and I couldn’t take any pictures anyway.

So, I’ll do my best to describe the boat trip without having any photographic evidence of that activity.  The boat could hold eighteen people, and fifteen of those on the boat were a part of the IFSA-Butler program.  I honestly wish I had pulled my camera out because it was absolutely priceless to look across from me and see the identical expressions of misery on everyone on the boat.  Each person had their hood pulled up, and we were holding a poncho over our legs in a (bad) attempt to keep them dry.  I was lucky in that I wore shorts, but people wearing jeans were completely drenched by the time we made it back to the Navigator.

However, I paid my dues in other ways.  Let me preface this with the following: if you ever study abroad in or visit New Zealand, buy a rain jacket that HAS A HOOD.  I almost didn’t even bring one at all (thanks, Mom for that last-minute shopping trip) and that would have been a HUGE mistake.  Clothing here is, for the most part, quite a bit more expensive than in the states, so try to bring everything you need from home.  Anyway, continuing on with the story, I had on shorts, a t-shirt, a polar fleece zip-up with a hood, and then my (hoodless) rain jacket.  I stupidly wore the fleece hood up and thus, while it did initially keep my head and hair dry, it acted as a sponge in the rain and eventually all that water went through the hood and halfway down my back.  By the time we made it back onboard the ship, my entire upper body was soaked.  At least my feet were dry, thanks to my waterproof hiking boots (which were also a last-minute purchase…I was clearly beyond prepared to leave the country).

Okay, so I’ve probably made this little excursion sound pretty miserable (which it was, to a certain extent), but it also was really interesting and I would have been really upset to have missed out on it.  We were lucky enough to see a raft of penguins, (yes, that is what it’s called, not a flock) and they were adorable.  I guess it’s highly unusual for them to swim that far into the fjord, but the ocean was rough and they were taking shelter there.  Those waterproof feathers would definitely make sitting in the rain less problematic.  Our guide also told us a lot about the different mosses and trees that lined the water and even stuck his entire arm into a cliff without hitting any rock; that’s how many layers of moss can grow.  Pretty interesting stuff, though I probably was not as fascinated by those little tidbits of information as I would have been if the weather had been a bit more accommodating for us.

Once we arrived back in the boat, people were given the option to jump off the boat into the water.  I did not take that offer; I was already cold and wet enough and I don’t think that I’ll be kept up at night back in the states at the thought of not having swam in Doubtful Sound.  But, the people who did it enjoyed themselves (some even claimed they felt warmer afterwards; yeah, I’m sure that was the case…) and good for them.  The rest of us changed into warmer clothes and then claimed a table for dinner (after scarfing down some more tea and coffee first of course).

Dinner was delicious.  There was more than enough food for everyone, even with the forty starving college students taking full advantage of free food.  There was also six different desserts, and by the end of the meal, I was really happy that I was wearing sweatpants.  We were collectively overfilled, and me and a couple of other people who went to the slideshow presentation following the meal sat at the backed and groaned as if we were in labor for a good forty-five minutes after.  There is no way to describe it better than a food baby.  I think the fact that we all eat minimally while we’re in our Dunedin flats leads to all of us gorging ourselves when we’re at any of the program events.

We went to bed shortly after the presentation (after a few quick games of Connect Four and cards), and we woken up about 20 minutes earlier than we were told (they said 6:40…it was more like 6:15 in reality and you all know how I feel about waking up before 7 AM) we would be when the ship’s engine turned out.  Our porthole’s cover was vibrating like a jackhammer but once we shut that, a few of us were able to get a couple more minutes of sleep before getting dressed and heading down for breakfast.  There was (yet again) an impressive spread of food but I was still pretty full from dinner the night before and thus probably did not appreciate that food as much as I ordinarily would have since I was still pretty full from the night before.

Following our last meal aboard the ship, we were lucky enough to see a small pod of dolphins swimming near the ship.  There was one baby, a mom, and a couple of juveniles and, though my camera failed to take a good shot (though maybe I should blame that on operator error rather than the electronic itself) other people were able to take some really nice photos.  They were beautiful and even put on a little show for us when they started surfing and jumping in the ship’s wake.  That twenty minutes made the entire trip more than worthwhile in my mind.  I don’t think I’ve ever grown out of my love of dolphins, and I’ve swam with them before, but this was the closest encounter that I’ve ever had with wild ones.  We also saw a few seals on the ride back to the dock (but, in case my family is wondering, I refrained from whipping my sunglasses in the water with them).

Once we left the Navigator, we were in for another bus and boat ride back to Manapouri.  We stopped for lunch in Te Anau and then went to a bird sanctuary, where I proceeded to make a fool of myself (as per usual).  This sanctuary held three of the very endangered native Takahe and we were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to see them up close and personal in their enclosure as long as we were quiet.  Somehow, I ended up walking toward the front of the group, and I managed to face-plant after tripping on a dip in the ground. I then proceeded to start laughing loudly, which was going totally against the grain of being quiet so that we could see the birds.  Not my finest moment.  There’s a reason my family calls me “Dick Van Dyke” and my dad’s favorite way to describe me is as a “bull in a china shop.”  We did see the Takahe (though they were pretty shy) in addition to some kia, a native New Zealand mountain parrot (and according to the lady working, the smartest bird in the world, which I thought was the African Grey but I could be wrong), a wood pigeon, an owl, and some other little green parakeet type things.  It was a fun little side trip, but by the time we boarded the bus, a cumulative lack of sleep had caught up with everyone and the bus was pretty quiet the entire way back.

Anyway, that about sums up the second half of my weekend!  This trip was definitely one of the best parts of the IFSA-Butler program so far and I am so happy that we were all given the chance to experience the overnight cruise.  It’s a pretty expensive endeavor to book on your own, and probably would not have been possible for many of us unless it was included in our program.  I should have a quick turnaround with blog entries again next time; we have a Marae visit and volunteer day this Saturday, so that should be fun.  And then, a week from this Thursday, one of my best friends in the world, Brigid, will be flying in from Chicago and spending two weeks in New Zealand!  I am beyond excited to see her and explore some of the places in Dunedin and Queenstown that I didn’t before.  We’ll be doing the Cadbury Chocolate Factory tour, the Speights Brewery tour, visiting the peninsula, and FINALLY I will have someone brave enough to go bungee jumping with me!  It’s going to be amazing.  As most things in New Zealand end up being.



Murder Mystery Night and Dunedin

Time May 11th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My apologies to everyone for my failure to update!  Since I haven’t travelled since break, you’d think I’d have more time to update on things, but time slips away quite quickly here to begin with, and when you couple that with the inevitable research essays of an English major, weeks have passed before you’ve even blinked.  I’m already becoming depressed about leaving and I still have about 7 weeks left in the country.  But, anyway, onto the more interesting stuff!
Coming back from break was actually an unusual process in itself.  Toward the end of the trip, I was getting really sick of being in the car and on a schedule, and was rather inordinately excited to return back to Dunedin.  Once back there, I kind of needed to recharge my batteries, so I spent the next couple days in isolation.  My room was dirty, I was out of food and essential toiletries, so I relished the time spent doing nothing.   However, that contentment soon wore off.  As soon as classes resumed, I wished I was still on the road travelling.  Don’t we always want what we can’t have??  But, that weird sort of disenchantment didn’t last, and I was soon happily chugging along to daily life in Dunedin.  But, there are peaks and valleys with everything, and breaks at home always make me feel a bit strange to begin with.  Actually, at home, breaks are usually even weirder.  Because I’m always really excited to go home, but then I get home and I miss my friends at school.  You’re always missing someone and it’s hard to reconcile those conflicting feelings.  I’m assuming that reverse culture shock will end up being an even more exaggerated version of those mini-adjustment periods.  I miss everyone at home so much, but it will be hard to leave this place that I’ve been calling home and the people that I’ve been seeing on a daily basis for the past five months.  But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  That’s still weeks away, and I will stay in denial about that for as long as possible.


Let’s see…my family keeps asking me what I do on a day-to-day basis, but it’s not really all that different from what I do in Valpo.  The weather has become less conducive to long hikes without bundling up and protecting yourself from rain, but Doubtful Sound this weekend should make up for my lack of exciting outdoor activities of late.  I did start running again, which has been really nice.  The Botanical Gardens are lovely all the time, but particularly so when you go early in the morning and have them nearly to yourself.  I’ve included a few pictures of the garden, but it’s not really enough to do them any justice because my camera battery died before I’d gone through much of them.  One of these days, I’ll go back there (with the battery fully charged) and try to capture some of the beauty.  I probably missed the ideal time, since we are now in late autumn and the flowers aren’t looking quite as good as they were a few weeks ago.  I also have been to the gym a couple times recently with Jenny and Mike (how lucky I am to have flatmates/personal trainers?) which was a rude awakening after how long it had been since I lifted weights.  I also may have embarrassed myself (even more than usual) when the first time we went I walked in the opposite direction of the fitness centre when we were out of the car.  I’m never going to live that one down.


I’ve been losing interest in classes the longer I’ve been here.  Which I know is a bad thing to say, but the lecture style is really not something that I’m suited to.  It makes me so happy that I chose Valpo, and I will be much more appreciative of the opportunities for class discussion and the relationships that you can build with professors when you’re more than just a number.  That being said, most of the professors I have are very approachable, if you have time in your schedule to go to office hours.


After a long time, our IFSA-Butler group was reunited for a murder mystery themed dinner at the “haunted” and historic Carey Bay hotel.  It’s since been turned into a restaurant, but they’ve kept the upstairs so that you still know that it was once a hotel.  It was a really fun evening, more so than I was expecting.  It was good to see everyone again and run amok in the old hotel.  I was Rita Angus, a New Zealand painter, and essentially a filler character, but the event was still a nice change of pace from an ordinary evening.  Plus, the food was delicious.  I can cook okay, but I’m usually too lazy to make anything that requires more effort than stir-fry.  And the chocolate mud cake dessert was probably the best cake I’ve ever had in my life.  However, I probably shouldn’t have eaten my entire piece because I felt a bit sick afterwards.  Totally worth it though.


Anyway, since I can’t think of much more recent excitement, I thought I’d just share some random tidbits of life in NZ:


-Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and any other toiletries are significantly pricier than in the states.  If you’re like me, and have no room to include those items in your checked bag, just know you’ll be paying more unless you buy the really low-quality washes from dollar stores.  Also, know that they basically only have rub-on or spray-on deodorant so if you’re like me and that’s not your thing, really try to leave room in your bags for the other kind.


-Garbage bags are also expensive.  The city won’t collect your trash unless you buy special bags and those run at roughly $2 per bag.  So recycle.  A lot.  Some flats even started compost piles, but we’re not that intense.


-Other weird kiwi phrases:

·”Fuss/fussy” does not have the same connotation as it does for us.  Rather than saying, “I don’t care” about something, they’ll say they’re “not fussed.”  I always associate “fuss” with being negative, but it’s not that way here.

·Band-aids are called plasters.  Don’t know where they got that one from.

·Cilantro is called coriander.  This is probably only of interest to people who really love it or really hate it.  I really hate it and was almost fooled into eating it.

Anyway, my apologies for this being so brief after such a long break, but I promise my next one should be SPECTACULAR after our visit to Doubtful Sound!!




Not all those who Wander are Lost

Time April 17th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

My apologies for taking so long for an update!  The period right before and after spring break (or I guess here it’s fall/mid-semester break) was a bit busy, as was this week.  But now, I think I can somewhat adequately relay the AMAZING week that I had.

Over break, I road-tripped through the South Island of New Zealand with seven other people.  The only person I really knew beforehand was Kristen, who is also a part of the IFSA-Butler program and we had hit it off from the start.  I didn’t know anyone else, but that was the case for most of us.  Luckily, we were all relatively easygoing and by the end of the trip, all pretty close (though there was the inevitable split off into mini-cliques that tends to happen in situations such as these).  However, we were all united by a common desire to see as much of New Zealand as possible in six days, as well as a probably slightly unhealthy love for Lord of the Rings.  The advantage to such a big group was that the price to rent the car (actually, a minivan, which we christened Shadowfax, led by a senile GPS called Gandalf) and pay for the gas was really cheap considering how much driving we did.

On day 1, we left Dunedin at (what I consider to be an ungodly time) 6:30 a.m. to catch the ferry to Stewart Island.  Kristen, Dana, and I did not take the ferry because we felt that the $160 price tag on the ferry there and back was not justified for only three hours on the island.  Instead, we explored what there was to see in Invercargill.  Which, in reality, was not all that much but we had fun browsing around all the little shops and getting to know each other a bit better.  We also found a nice bluff that you could see Stewart Island from and decided to do (what we thought would be) a short and easy hike.  However, we found it to be a bit more than we bargained for since there were never-ending flights of stairs and much steeper hills than we were mentally prepared to handle.  We took some great pictures though, and our leg and bum will probably eventually thank us for what was a surprisingly good workout.

After the rest of the group came back from the ferry, we headed off to drive the two additional hours to our hostel at Te Anau.  We dropped off our gear, and then set off in search of food.  I should probably take a moment to describe the hostel itself; though clean, it was definitely in need of an update and there were some sketchy people there.  The room I was in was co-ed, and a few of the guys reeked.  I swear, it smelled like a dirty goat farm in there.  But, we survived the name and were out of the room for the day by 8 a.m.  We spent the day sightseeing, and drove up into Fiordland to see Milford Sound.  Unfortunately, we didn’t time things quite correctly, and we spent the sunny morning seeing various spots in Te Anau and (being that it’s New Zealand) it was a bit rainy and dreary by the time we made it to Milford.   However, that was not a huge issue, because I think it might have kept the sand flies from being quite as vicious as they would have been otherwise.  While there, everyone except Kristen and I (ever the scrooges of the bunch) decided to take a scenic cruise.  I would have taken it had it been a little nicer, but I felt like you could see much of what there was to see by walking around and in the weather of that day, a boat was not going to make much of a difference.

Following that adventure, we headed back to our Te Anau hostel where, thankfully, all the people from the evening before had left.  We all made dinner together and then finished off the night by going for dessert at the Red Cliff Cafe.  Apparently, that establishment was a favourite hang out of some members of the LOTR cast, and they had a signed t-shirt and letter framed on the wall to prove it.  I also succeeded at embarrassing myself by gawking at those particular items of memorabilia for a good five minutes.  I personally can’t vouch for the food since I was still pretty full from dinner, but everyone who ordered a dessert said it was amazing, if a bit pricey.  I also felt like less of a nerd for staring down the autographed items when Dana and Kristen were able to quote the special features from the Lord of the Rings even better than I could.

On day 3 of our adventure we set off at a (normal) time of 9 a.m. and headed up to Queenstown.  The ride was GORGEOUS.  Even I (who acquired the reputation of always falling asleep in the car while being serenaded by the artists on my iPod) stayed awake the entire way there and took pictures most of the way up.  It was also on this particular venture that we discovered our preferred radio station (98.8), which on that day was playing the top 80 of the 80s.  The only issue was that the road was so remote and surrounded by mountains everywhere so it kept cutting in and out (though I can imagine that Alex, the only guy in our group, took greater issue with seven girls belting out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at the top of their lungs).

Once we arrived, we checked into our (much nicer) hostel before grabbing lunch at the famous Fergburger.  We were in Queenstown for three days, and I swear, the line was out the door from the moment they opened until they closed down for the night every single time we walked by (Working there would be the stuff of nightmares for me).  They do make a good burger though, so it probably deserves that much business (my heart will always be with Duffy’s on Anna Maria Island, though that distinction is probably a result of childhood nostalgia as much as it is about the quality of food).  From there, we loaded ourselves back up into the van and drove up the side of a mountain to get a better look at the Remarkables and search for the spot that they filmed the Dimrill Dale in the Lord of the Rings.  We did eventually find it, after a few of us (me) stumbled in some mud in what would be a ski field in a couple of months.  I stupidly drank water from the stream (it was really dusty-tasting, but there were no long-term negative side effects) and succeeded in ripping a hole in my leggings while climbing and laying on some rocks.  My complete lack of common sense was in fine form on this day.

After our outdoor adventures for the day were completed, we headed back to the hostel to enjoy the free (first-come, first-serve) dinner that they offer during the week.  While it was nothing to write home about (just some chilli), it did allow us to justify going out for some DELICIOUS, if a bit expensive gelato later.  It also really made me appreciate Rob Roy’s $1.70 GIANT serving of ice cream back in Dunedin.  We moseyed around Queenstown for a bit, ogled a jewellery shop that had Lord of the Rings paraphernalia before going to bed for the night.

Day 4 was another relatively early start as it was the day of the long-awaited horseback ride through Glenorchy and Paradise.  Our ride wasn’t scheduled until 2 p.m. but we made several stops along the way that necessitated us getting moving at a decent hour.  We found the location where Sam first sees the Elephants (Ithilien) which was GORGEOUS but Glenorchy and Paradise were undoubtedly the highlights of the day.  The horseback riding was fun, despite the fact that my horse was (aside from Kristen’s who was even worse) a pain-in-the-butt.  Since I was the shortest person there, I was given the smallest gelding, who had, “small-man syndrome” meaning he had to be kept at the back, away from everyone else so he wouldn’t make a scene or bite the other horses.  That made getting a group picture a bit difficult, but we did manage to succeed.  Aside from that, the ride was stunning and I simultaneously was able to get an animal fix (not that any animal can replace my Jazzy).  The locations we rode through are a filmmaker’s dream as, aside from the Lord of the Rings, they were also featured in the Chronicles of Narnia and Wolverine.  However, it was the Lord of the Rings spots that had everyone on the tour (even those outside of our group) all excited.  Notable locations were the tree that Aragorn almost loses his head on, the spot where Boromir dies, Isengard, and a fence that will be featured in The Hobbit as the marker for where Beorn lives.

Following the horseback riding, we all went out to dinner in Queenstown at a place called “The Cow”.  Despite it’s rather unappetizing name, the food was amazing, and their choice of music even better.  We were there for about two hours and they played David Bowie and the Rolling Stones the entire time.  I think we ordered a dessert just so we had an excuse to sit there for a bit longer.

The next day, we woke up early and drove to Arrowtown.  This place was, hands-down, my favourite location we visited.  Which may have, ironically, been because it reminded me the most of my most beloved childhood memories.  There was a autumn festival going on and all the leaves were changing, and I felt like I was back home at the Frankfort Fall Festival.  We found a fun little path and took turns taking pictures of us climbing trees and jumping in leaves and frolicking around like little children.  There was a tree that stretched all the way across the river, on which I tried to re-enact the part in Dirty Dancing where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dance across the log, but was advised that that was a poor idea, so I only walked out it about halfway.  This is also probably the time to mention that people kept threatening to call me Pippin because of all the brilliant moments I kept having.

After Arrowtown, we went to Wanaka for a few hours.  To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed with that city.  I’d heard great things about it, but it was really tiny and tourist-ey, as Queenstown is (though Queenstown is bigger), but without the same vigour and energy that pervades through all of Queenstown.  But, again, my impression could have been informed by the fact that they day had turned grey, and we were there in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday.

Once back in our hostel, we realized we had missed the free dinner and thus headed off in various directions for some cheap and easy food.  I myself had McDonald’s, but only for the second time since being in New Zealand (and the first time doesn’t count because it was after the Hyde Street Keg Party).  I also tried this place called Cookie Time’s cookie sundae (I was really on a health kick) and it was delicious, but not as good as Granite City at home.  We then all went to bed in preparation for what was already our last day of adventures.

We (again…I swear, I never slept except for when I was in the car) left early and began the four-hour drive up to Mount Cook Village.  It was a gorgeous ride and we were really lucky in that there was exactly the right amount of clouds for us to capture Mount Cook (enough to block out the sun so we could see the snow, but not so much that the peak was blocked).  We did a very brief hike up to the glaciers around the mountain and then turned around and drove to Twizel for what was easily the nerdiest event of the trip.  The eight of us filled up an entire van where we were taken by a very nice (and tolerant) woman to where they filmed Pelennor Fields.  For those of you who have more of a life than me, Pelennor Fields is the giant battle in Return of the King.  So yeah, kind of a big deal for us Lord of the Rings people.  It also is, aside from its fame, an absolutely stunning location and we had some amazing pictures.  They were made even more special when the lady started pulling out masks and helmets and swords for us to all pose in.  She also told us about a British guy who during the tour, stripped down to his underwear, put on the Gollum mask, and acted out some part of the movie.  I’m pretty sure that my brother would do the same thing if given the chance.

From there, we had one more dinner together as a group before beginning the three-hour drive to Dunedin.  It was (as the ends of most journeys are) a bit bittersweet; while I was really looking forward to getting “home” and sleeping in my own bed and not being in a car for hours everyday, I had a lot of fun forgetting about assignments and due dates and real-life issues to just experience New Zealand, and really getting to act like a tourist.  I only wish our break was a little longer so that we could experience each place for a few more days and been less scheduled (note to all considering coming abroad to NZ: the University of Otago is the ONLY university that doesn’t give their students a two week break.  However, it’s also much closer to all the most beautiful spots in the country, so I think you just have to plan more weekend trips rather than one big trip).  Anyway, I had a fabulous time with some great people and am happy to say that I crossed most of the big spots on the South Island off my list.  I’ll probably revisit a few with my family and friends, since I, at the very least, still need to bungee jump, but I now feel like I am taking full advantage of the country. And that’s all for now!  I need to go find my finals schedule so that I can plan a trip to Wellington…

And here’s the largest photo gallery to date!



Don’t Go Hiking in Fiordland with a Sprained Ankle

Time March 23rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s now officially been over a month since I moved into my flat and Dunedin, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around how quickly it all is going by!  I also can’t believe that it took me a month to travel outside of Dunedin, but there’s just so much to get used to and do around campus that I really don’t feel too guilty about it.

Last weekend, one of my flatmates, Jenny, and I went with the University of Otago’s Tramping Club to their Fiordland trip.  Jenny is from Colorado and leads a lot of trips back home, so she signed up to be a leader while here in New Zealand.  Naturally, I signed up for her trip and was really excited for a fun weekend in one of New Zealand’s most spectacular tracts of land.  Our group was assigned the Routeburn track, which is not supposed to be difficult, but still yields some incredible views.

However, with me being me, there was no way that everything could go off without a hitch.  I somehow managed to sprain my ankle the day before I left (I’m blaming a combination of wearing flip-flops in the rain and slipping around with going to kickboxing that evening and kicking incorrectly).  I went to the university health center  on Friday before we left and they gave me a wrap and some ibuprofen.  Now, a normal person would have decided (and rightly so) to stay home and sit this one out.  But, since I’m only here one semester, I decided I could tough it out for one weekend and be minimally impaired.  I mean, a sprained ankle is no big deal, right?  WRONG.

For whatever reason, the relative ease and minimal pain that I was walking around Dunedin in led me to think that I could hike with it, especially since the Routeburn considered to be a relatively easy track.  What I wasn’t factoring in was how much the rest of your body has to compensate for one injury.  My ankle, which was basically useless, transferred a lot of extra stress onto my hip so that by the time we were back home, I was worse off than when I left.  I went through the hike Saturday (slowly, but we did it) decently, but then Sunday I could not made it back without the atrocious amount of ibuprofen that I took (probably damaging my liver more than if I had been home for St. Patrick’s Day…just kidding!).  I also must say that I owe Jenny a huge thank you for sticking with me throughout both days and keeping me from giving up (she only had to threaten to beat me with a stick about half a dozen times).  I should also mention that I woke up on Friday with the cold that went around the flat (of course, I couldn’t have had it earlier in the week like everyone else), and that combined with the higher elevation took a bit of a toll as well.

But anyway, enough about that!  The moral of the story is don’t go on a massive hike unless you’re uninjured.  Everyone else in the group was saying that they were impressed that I went and that they wouldn’t have gone if they were me, but they (and I) would have been right not to go (as my kiwihost, Mike, said, “A normal person, not Meghann, who actually has common sense, would have known to stay home).But, that being said, I am so happy that I went because it was gorgeous and I was able to take probably the best and most striking pictures that I have since I arrived in New Zealand.  We were right among the mountains and the Fiordland has waterfalls EVERYWHERE.  If any of you ever make it there, bring the tiniest water bottle you own because there are streams and water probably every at least every 30 feet and that water tastes better than any bottled or purified water you can drink.  It’s a beautiful and untamed region that really fits the picture exactly of what many Americans envision when they think New Zealand.

I also must sing the praises of the Tramping Club while discussing the trip.  Everyone I met this past weekend could not have been nicer or more enthused about being out and meeting new people.  Our group specifically had seven people, including Jenny and myself.  We had another leader, who was a Kiwi, another American, a guy from Spain, and then two more Kiwis.  There were 78 people on the trip total, so I certainly cannot speak for everyone, but I would assume that the majority of people would all fit that easy-going but adventurous classification.

Let’s see…classes are going well, though the workload is starting to pile up and I actually already turned in my first essay for New Zealand Christianity.  It was more challenging than I expected, not only because it was the first of the semester and I am a bit rusty, but because a fact-based, history essay is not quite what I am accustomed to.  I also have been on the tour of Dunedin’s best coffee places with my kiwihost, Mike.  They have much better coffee here than we do back in the States.  It’s also quite different just in the approach that people tend to take to their coffee drinking.  Unlike in the States, where people tend to order a giant coffee and then gulp it down while in transit to somewhere else, most people seem to approach coffee drinking as kind of an experience in itself.  The cups are smaller and people tend to drink it in the cafes rather than chugging it down and running.  The locations themselves are also much cuter than the cookie-cutter generic Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts that we have at the end of every block.

And now, I have some Kiwi lingo to share for any who are curious.  Now that I’ve been here for awhile, I think I’ve picked up on most of their different terms for things.  For example, Kiwis never say that they ‘want’ to do something or would ‘like’ to do whatever.  Instead, they’re ‘keen’ on going somewhere or doing something.  You also don’t wait in a line in New Zealand; it’s called a queue.  Garbage is rubbish (which, for some reason, still always makes me want to laugh and I don’t know why).  They also don’t throw things away; you ‘chuck’ it (which I think is more fun to say).  And you don’t have ‘lots’ of something; you would have ‘heaps’ of it.  And, perhaps the one that seems the most foreign to me, is calling a jacket a ‘jumper’.  Because when I hear jumper, I think of that overall skirt-type item of clothing that little girls wear.  I also can’t see to adjust to calling fries ‘chips’ or cookies “biscuits”.  But that’s about it.  Except that I should probably say that it’s not only Canadians who say ‘eh’ frequently. It’s definitely a Kiwi thing too.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to report for now!  But I have some exciting adventures planned over the next few weeks, and hopefully now that I’ve gotten a cold and an injury out of the way, I’m now home free!




Signal Hill and Rugby

Time March 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

I can’t quite believe it myself, but already another week has passed in Dunedin since I last posted. Time always has a way of getting away from you when you have a never-ending list of things things that you want and need to do.


As usual, I’ll attempt to address the more mundane aspects of my life before digging into the more exciting aspects.  With two weeks of classes under my belt, I now feel (almost) qualified to make some fair comparisons between Valparaiso University and the University of Otago.  Class sizes here are definitely bigger (for the most part) than what I am used to, but that’s something I was prepared for since this school is serving a student body of 20,000 students rather than the mere 4,000 at my home university.  And for me, being in all 300-level humanities major (senior classes under the three-year undergraduate system in New Zealand) shielded me from the truly gigantic lecture halls that most students here in the sciences are accustomed to.


One thing that I was not ready for, nor am I sure that I really care for, is the fact that almost all of the classes are lecture-based, with a bi-weekly tutorial thrown in, where you may actually get to speak.  Getting talked at for 50 minutes does not seem to be an effective manner of teaching, especially when some people (myself included) tend to clock out right around the thirty minute mark.  To be fair, some of the professors do try their best to facilitate some kind of back-and-forth with their students, but that really is a difficult task to accomplish in a room with 45 students.  The tutorials also are helpful in that you can break into smaller groups and discuss the works you are reading.  While all the professors are very intelligent and knowledgeable in their particular specialty, I prefer the discussion-based classes at VU.


However, I also must acknowledge that there is one class that completely breaks the mode of my three other classes.  My New Zealand Christianity class, one that I added in place of the New Zealand Film paper, is one that I am quite excited about.  There are only nine of us in the class, and the professor is very much a fan of basing the class on actual interaction between himself, the students, and our various guest lecturers.  It’s a taste of home, but on a topic largely foreign to me, so I think I will really be able to take a lot from it.  I also am the class representative, which basically means I am the supposed to present any issues that my classmates bring to me about how the course is running.  I also must meet with the head of the Theology department several times during the semester to share with them how I believe the class to be running.  I can see how this may be necessary in a larger class, but with only nine people in the class, and such an approachable professor leading the paper, I cannot see there being anything for me to do.  I also don’t really think I was the most qualified person for the job either, seeing as I am an American student at Otago for only one semester, but no one else was willing to volunteer, so I stepped up.  At least I’m getting the full range of student experiences through seeing how that works.


The partying in Dunedin (thankfully) slowed down quite a bit after Orientation week.  We also discovered that, strangely, in this city, Friday is not a good night to go out.  A group of about ten of us went out to a bar (after another one of our flat’s Friday themed dinners…we made lasagna and called it “Italian Night” this week), and we made up over 50% of the people there.  However, we largely made up for it by going to the Highlanders rugby game.  It was a completely new experience for me, and a lot of fun.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more enthusiastic crowd at any game for any team I’ve attended in my life (not that I’ve been to a ton; my family would probably spam this page if I claimed to be a manic sports fan), and their excitement was infectious.  The Highlanders won, which I guess they were not supposed to, which made the crowd all that more pumped after the game.  While I can say that I definitely prefer rugby to football, since it is much more fast-paced and exciting (though you wince every time someone gets tackled since they don’t have anything to protect themselves from the impact and they usually end up underneath a pile of people), baseball (and the Chicago White Sox) will probably always have my heart because I prefer the more laid-back atmosphere. However, I enjoyed myself immensely (though I could have done without the girl behind me who kept petting my fuzzy Northface), and will definitely try to make it to one more game before I go back to the states.  At the very least, when my family comes to visit, my brother will probably drag me to a game, since he’s a sports junkie.


On Sunday, I was finally, for the first time, able to take advantage of the beauty that’s right outside our doorstep in Dunedin.  A few of my flatmates and other friends woke up (relatively) early that morning and walked up to Signal Hill.  The walk there was not the most fun of my life (the hills are HUGE and I was reminded of the fact that I am not yet in the best shape of my life), but the views once we reached the top were absolutely stunning.  But, as usual, pictures fail to capture even half of what you seen when you are actually up there.  The way back was much more fun, as we found a mountain bike trail and followed (and fell and slid) that home.  It also worked its way down to the bay so we had a nice view of the water rather than following the road.  It was a wonderful end to the weekend and a good way to ease any lingering mopey-ness I was feeling.  Because that hike embodied all that best of what being in New Zealand has been so far.   I was surrounded by rreat people, beautiful scenery, and filled with a feeling of exhilaration and joy to be alive and lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel and learn so much about myself and others during this time.  And to think, it’s only been three weeks since I left home…

As a side-note, I went a bit crazy with the camera this week, so enjoy the long-overdue shots of campus and Signal Hill, along with a few pictures from the rugby game.




You’re Not in Valpo Anymore

Time March 2nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Week one in Dunedin!  Where to even begin?  There are so many wonderful things about this town and university, so I apologize if this all comes out a bit disorganized.  But here goes my best shot:


First, let’s get out the not so great things: namely, course approval and registration.  Perhaps it’s like this at big state schools in the states as well, but I was unaccustomed to the rat race that registering here is after coming from a school of 4,000 students with classes being picked online after a conversation with an advisor who knows you personally rather than as another number.


The process here consists of first waiting in line to get your course approval form.  That really wasn’t too bad because as an international student, we had our own line so it was much shorter.  Then you had to go find your major line.  That also was pretty easy because no one else was waiting for the English department heads so I quickly was signed off on all courses.  I also was lucky in that since all my classes are in the humanities, she had the authority to sign off on all of them.  But for the people who were taking, say geology and Maori studies classes, there were two long lines which they had to deal with.

However, I should have known it was too good to be true because when I went to register, there was a class and I was sent back out to the advisors in an attempt to work it out.  Unfortunately, I had to drop my New Zealand Film class (which was the one I was the most excited about…) and instead pick up another English class.  However, that did come with some advantages as it meant that I now only have classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  So the three-day weekends will offer more time for traveling (or recovering from the weekend…).


The other slightly unfortunate thing was the amount of money spent on books.  I usually buy most of mine on Amazon (as an English/Humanities major, I tend to have a lot of smaller ones rather than big textbooks) so you can easily get by spending less than $150 here.  That is not the case this semester.  Though the books themselves were not too expensive since I bought most of them at a second hand store, there was no way around the university-printed course readers.  I was lucky enough to need one for every class, so that was another $100 added on top of the $175 on books.


Now, for the fun stuff!  Dunedin is distinctly a college town.  The population is roughly 100, 000 people and about 22, 000 of them are students at the University of Otago.  The best comparison I can come up with (and this will probably only make sense to my fellow midwesterners) is that if you took the University of Madison and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and combined them, you would come up with something resembling Dunedin.  Especially in town and toward the Octagon, you would be extremely hard-pressed to find anyone other than students walking around.  The social scene is extremely active and there is ALWAYS something going on (which is definitely a huge departure from Valpo, where even on weekends, there is not too much.  We watch a lot of movies there).  There are not fraternities or sororities at New Zealand universities, which is really rather nice because I think it opens up the social scene quite a bit.  You’re much more likely to find house parties or big groups hanging out in bars or clubs.  And everyone is so friendly that you can go pretty much wherever you want.


The campus is relatively compact for how large the body of students is, but I still have succeeded in getting lost several times.  However, I am quite directionally challenged so I would not be the best barometer for how easy to navigate the campus is or is not.  And everyone is so friendly that you can always ask for directions.  I just choose not to and instead take the scenic route.  It also means I (for better or worse) feel less obligated to work out because you walk everywhere.  I think I’ve been sore since I arrived in New Zealands…the hills are a killer!  If New Zealand can’t get you in shape, nothing can.  I also must apologize for the shameful lack of pictures of the campus itself; I never seem to have my camera with me on the sunny days, so I will rectify that next week.


Let’s see…the living situation at Otago is a nice departure from the dorms at Valpo.  No longer are you forced to deal with RAs or have “quiet hours.”  With the flats, you’re allowed to be an adult and manage your housing amongst yourselves.  I was very lucky to be placed with some really great people and I think there should be no issues on that front.  Our kiwi host is really great, we have one Swedish student working on research, and then three Americans in addition to myself.  Though I am a bit jealous of the people who have a bit more diversity as far as the countries where their flatmates are from, I don’t think I would trade with anyone just because our flat is such an interesting and easy-going group of people.  We’ve gone against the traditional flow of doing group dinners every night; there’s just too many schedules to accomodate, but we have compensated for that by doing various themed Friday.  Last week was Mexican, this week will be Spanish or Italian.  It’s a nice way to kind of all catch up and relax at the end of the week.  Though it does mean I need to start getting better about cooking for myself, because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cold cereal get old really fast.


With all that being said, I would be failing to give a complete picture if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that I do seem to be experiencing waves of the infamous “culture shock”.  It’s a real thing.  And it’s mostly not even a result of huge cultural differences; more from just dealing with being completely transported from the familiar to the unknown.  I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life, and went to university at a school less than two hours from home.  Though I wouldn’t say I came home frequently, there was always the security of knowing that I could if I chose to.  I also miss my family, friends, and dog quite a bit more than I anticipated, but they’ve all been supportive and I think these feelings will pass with time.  Staying busy and ensuring that I am always focused on the new, positive experiences keeps any real distress at bay and I am looking forward to my first week of classes!

And here are some pictures from the train ride we took during orientation week.  I promise, I’ll eventually have pictures will people in them!



You Can’t Take a Bad Picture in New Zealand

Time February 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After less than one week in New Zealand, I can definitively say that this country deserves all the hype it gets not only for the physical beauty of the country, but also for the friendliness of the people.  I’m a master of building things up to the point where reality can never meet my expectations, but this is one time where my expectations were blown out of the water across the board.  All the stories people told me, all the pictures I looked at, and all the things I read failed to even come close to how incredible everything here has been thus far.

First, let me address the nearly 20 hours of flying.  While not one of my favorite lifetime experiences, the reward at the end of the airtime is well worth it.  I also would recommend that anyone else who goes books their flight from Chicago or Tampa or wherever you are as one continuous flight.  It takes away any worries of trying to grab your luggage and haul it to the next gate.  Even if that is a bit more expensive, you can’t really put a price on peace of mind.

Once we arrived in Auckland, clearing customs was a breeze and everyone was very friendly.  Most people employed in US airports are quite hostile, so that was a nice change, though I imagine if someone were trying to smuggle in plants or fruit or drugs that they would have quite a different opinion.  The country of New Zealand as a whole is incredibly committed to maintaining the integrity of their beautiful landscape and any violation of that is taken very seriously.

After retrieving luggage and going through security one more time, the incredible IFSA-Butler staff greeted us.  I was so impressed by their knowledge, their kindness, and willingness to put up with interrogations from students about their country and the University of Otago.  We took a bus from the airport to the YMCA Shakespear park lodge.  I was 99% certain that I would pass out in the bus, but luckily Andrew, one of the IFSA-Butler crew, told us entertaining trivia and stories along the way.  For instance, did you know that the U2 song “One Tree Hill” was written about a place in New Zealand?  I have seen U2 in concert several times and thought I knew quite a bit about them but this was completely new information to me.

Once we arrived at the park, the YMCA and IFSA leaders lost no time in ensuring we stayed conscious.  After a quick briefing, they fed us and then we took a quick “wander” around the park.  Another aspect of New Zealand that is in no way exaggerated:  there is, in fact, sheep everywhere.  I do not in any way doubt that there are more of them than there are people.  I am also probably one of the only people who becomes homesick at the sight of sheep.  At home, I have a Border Collie and just this past year started taking her for herding lessons.  So now, all the sheep make me wish I could have her here.  Jazz might like New Zealand even better than me.

After the hike, we went kayaking around the bay.  The ocean in New Zealand is brighter than anywhere I have ever been; it truly is blue rather than the kind of green-grey that proliferates in Florida.  We paddled out to another beach and climbed a few rocks that were on the beach before jumping into the ocean and swimming around for a bit.  Apparently, there were a couple of giant stingrays joining in on the festivities but I did not see them.

Following the kayaking, we ate dinner and then most of us were ready for bed.  I think I was one of the earliest ones to sleep; I gave up the fight against jet lag and was asleep by about 8:30 p.m.  However, I would recommend that future travelers try to fight it out a bit longer than that as I also woke up at 5:00 AM and had nothing to do until 8 AM and those extra hours awake made me drag a bit on the second day.

The second day was, if possible, even more exciting than the first.  We played a New Zealand trivia game and then, with our same teams, played ROGAINE, which is basically a type of scavenger hunt.  I must apologize to my teammates; I have a strange love of clambering through the denser parts of the brush which kind of slowed things down a bit.  However, I was adequately punished for that with the number of scratches and burs I acquired on my legs during that adventure.  It was lots of fun though and it alerted me to the fact that those New Zealand hills have the capability to whip me into shape better than any treadmill or elliptical ever could.

Next, we had our choice of many different and equally interesting activities.  Among those were archery, mountain biking, sailing, rock climbing, and kayaking.  I chose to do archery and rock climbing because I had never done archery before and though I did a lot of rock climbing in high school, there had not been an opportunity for it in a few years.  My family and friends will be glad to know that I did not shoot anyone in the face with the archery (though I did turn around with a loaded bow to talk to someone behind me…a big no no…) and my aim wasn’t entirely awful.

We then had our long-anticipated rugby lesson and game.  I chose to be a spectator for that (I can only embarrass myself so many times in one day…) but I wanted to learn the rules since it is so huge here in New Zealand.  It’s a cool game and I think I would prefer it to football but my hand-eye coordination is not that which would enable me to ever play it very well.

Following rugby, we had an early dinner before our briefing for the Marae visit the following day.  I should probably mention something before I get much further: at the YMCA Shakespear lodge, you eat like a hobbit.  First breakfast, second breakfast, luncheon, afternoon tea, and supper (or, as it’s actually called, breakfast, morning tea or “kai”, lunch, afternoon tea or “kai”, and then dinner.  You never go hungry, but I am afraid it spoiled me for being a poor college student in Dunedin.  However, we were so active and jet-lagged for much of the time that we may not have gotten through it as well without all the sustenance.  And ALL the food was incredible.  I wish we could have taken their chef with us back to Dunedin.

Our briefing for our visit to the Maori marae taught us the proper etiquette for the visit as well as a general idea of what would occur the next day.  We were also taught two songs to sing while there, and also how to introduce ourselves in Maori.  The language is very beautiful, but the vowels are pronounced quite differently than they are in English and I found it helpful to like the pronunciations as more like to Spanish.

The following day, we said our good-byes to the wonderful YMCA staff before heading out to the Marae.  On the way, we stopped in the Auckland mall to buy cell phones.  I think about 90% of us ended up owning the same phone so we can hope no one mixes theirs up.

Once at the Marae, we were privileged enough to be inducted into their tribe through a traditional ceremony.  It was beautiful and quite moving to be given the chance to see something that not many people are able to.  After that, we had some more tea (I think I have drank more tea since being in New Zealand than I have during the rest of my life combined), before we were granted a tour of the Te Hana Marae and told about their plans for future renovations.  Learning the story of Te Hana was quite an inspiration.  These people took their home, which was essentially a slum, and built it up to something beautiful and unique that anyone who is in New Zealand should visit if they can.

Next, we were granted a tour of their recreated village.  It looks very real, and is kind of frightening at times when they re-enact the traditional hakas.  I would not go to war with them.  However, it was a really amazing opportunity and continued to show off the work of all the people at Te Hana as plans to create their center began less than ten years ago.  This Marae visit was something really special and unique and I am so grateful for having been given the opportunity to see and experience what I did.

Following our visit, we had a brief visit to the very interesting Auckland War Museum before heading back to the Auckland airport so we could make the flight to Dunedin.  There, we had some surprisingly sad good-byes to most of the IFSA-Butler coordinators.  Only one, Leila, would be flying down with us to manage and issues and lead the trips we will be taking during the semester.  The entire staff was so wonderful the entire time and none of us were happy to leave them behind.

However, Dunedin has not disappointed.  The city itself is gorgeous, if significantly chillier than Auckland.  It doesn’t quite feel like summer here; I would place it more along the lines of late fall.  However, that is still warmer than Chicago, so I am not complaining.  I must note, however, that my friends Lisa Muhs and Sarah Robertson who came here before were in no way exaggerating about how cold it gets indoors.  I was freezing last night and it’s not even winter yet.  Lots of blankets and hot water bottles will be in my future.

Anyway, that about sums up my orientation and first peek at Dunedin.  I’ve already met some incredible people, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you as time goes on.  Kia ora!




And the wait is nearly over…

Time February 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My name is Meghann Gallimore and I am a junior English major.  I am beyond excited to spend this spring semester at the University of Otago in New Zealand.  I leave Chicago on February 13th and with less than a week to go, the final countdown has really begun.  However, while all the difficult parts are done (visa, housing, flights, and class credit transfers) there is still a myriad of little things to do. Like packing.  Which I guess is also kind of a big thing, but if I start too soon, I’ll end up pulling half of the items in there back out.  Also, my Border Collie, Jazz, has the unfortunate habit of pulling things out of bags and suitcases.  So that can wait.   In the meantime, anticipation keeps growing, and I’m experiencing some jealousy toward friends who are already abroad in other countries.  New Zealand students are currently on their summer break, so I have been filling in an unusually long interim period between December, when my semester at Valparaiso University ended, up until this point.

When you tell people that you’re spending a semester in New Zealand, there tends to be one of two reactions.  One is, “New Zealand?  Why?  What’s even there?”  Not exactly what I like to hear, but then I get to educate them..  And then there’s my favorite (and usually more frequent) response of, “Seriously? I’m so jealous!  That place is on my bucket list.  Take LOTS of pictures and tell me EVERYTHING when you get back!”  I much prefer that second group of people.  Hopefully this blog will help me to keep that promise.  However, that’s not to say that I won’t talk everyone’s ear off when I return, with every other word coming from by mouth being “New Zealand”.  My apologies in advance.

Ever since I knew that studying abroad was an option in college, my choice has wavered between Australia and New Zealand.  After a lot of research and conversations with friends and acquaintances who had traveled to both countries, I decided that New Zealand was the better fit for me.  However, that being said, I do fully intend to visit Australia while I am on that side of the world.  There is not way that I am missing out on snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef or fulfilling my childhood dream of visiting the Crocodile Hunter’s zoo.

And then there are my reasons for choosing New Zealand.  Much of it has to do with the climate and terrain.  Having lived in a south suburb of Chicago all my live with occasional visits to Florida and Michigan has left my list of outdoor adventures limited.  I am so ready to go mountain climbing, biking, skydiving, kayaking, hiking (or as it’s called in New Zealand, tramping), bungee jumping, and any other number of incredible activities that I otherwise would not have the opportunity to try.  I can only hope that the abundance of things to do  in New Zealand doesn’t ruin me too much when I return to life in the Midwest.

Aside from the outdoor aspects of New Zealand, there also are academic reasons.  As an English major, there is a lot of flexibility with classes so I am able to take a wide variety of classes.  Most of them are literature-based, but a significant departure from the American and British literature centered curriculum that we have at VU.  I’m particularly excited for the Post-Colonial Literature class, which focuses on texts in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, since that will be something different from what I have been reading for the past three years.  I will also be taking a Maori culture class, which teaches us about New Zealand’s native people and should be very interesting.  And finally, I will be taking New Zealand film course.   I originally came into VU with a film minor, but had to drop it because the classes necessary were never offered.  Taking that course allows me to study something I really enjoy but haven’t been able to experience academically in several years.  It also will be interesting going from a school of 4,000 students to one of nearly 20,000.  Aside from the obvious of classes being larger, there also will be a larger body of students in general to socialize with.  Unlike VU, where you cannot walk anywhere on campus without seeing at least five people you know, the larger student body of the University of Otago grants, for better or worse, a greater deal of anonymity.  I can’t say for sure which I will prefer; I like the idea of meeting more new people, but there is something to be said for the security of a smaller school.

I also must own up to one small factor that may have slightly influenced my decision to spend a semester in New Zealand.  Anyone who knows me in the slightest is probably aware of the fact that I have an unhealthy fondness (some may call it an obsession) with The Lord of the Rings and all other things Tolkien.  There is something incredibly appealing about visiting the place where these beloved books were brought to life.  And hopefully, they will still conveniently be filming The Hobbit while I am there…

This semester will be a dramatic departure from what I’ve previously known.  And I could not be more excited about that.  Perhaps fear will kick in later but right now, I’m just ready to begin.  While I in no way mean to diminish those people who chose a country in Europe or another older, arguably more historical location, I believe this is the best choice for me.  Because who knows if there will ever be another time in my life when I can handle 20 hours in a plane.  Or if I will be physically fit enough to climb mountains. Or have the funds necessary to go.  All the pieces fit now and I look forward to sharing this incredible experience with you all.