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Time July 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s been my privilege and pleasure to share my experiences on this blog over the course of my stay in New Zealand.  My experiences have been forever organized and cataloged into a neat little package forever preserved on the internet (or at least until IFSA decides they need to free up some of their bandwidth).

My life has been forever.  Before studying abroad, I was working two jobs, going to school full time, volunteering, etc. basically turning myself into a zombie that was going through the motions of life, without really feeling any of it.  I won’t make the same mistake again.  Incredible opportunities and experiences are all around us at all times, but if you fail to notice them, they can disappear.  Since I’ve returned to the States, I’ve been very alert.  It’s my way of kindling a bit of New Zealand as it has truly become a part of me.  Sure I have a job now.  Yes, two days after we returned I had to go up to New York for a conference for said job.  Certainly, I work hard.  However, I also reserve time.  Time for myself, time for my family, time for my friends – all things I had previously neglected.


Before leaving for the trip, I had made a to-do list.  Let’s see how I did:

Things I did:

  1. Interview Maoris – I took a class on Maori Politics, stayed overnight in a Marae (Maori meeting house), and talked to loads of people, both Maori and Pakeha, about their impact and history in New Zealand.  One of my favorite things that I learned from the Maori was the ‘Hongi.’  This is a greeting in which you press your nose and forehead lightly to the nose and forehead of someone else, close your eyes, and if you’d like, shake hands.  I’d put up a picture but we weren’t allowed to have cameras in the Marae, so this stock image off of Google will have to do. hongi
  2. Skydive.  I did it!  In case you missed the blog, here’s a link to a video of my dive:
  3. Bungee-Jump.  Again, mission accomplished I didn’t get to do:
  4. Surf.  The combined forces of a shark attack in Auckland, and the dropping temperatures of the ocean as winter approached kept me out of the water.
  5. Zorb.  There’s only one place in the country that you can zorb, it turns out!  Unfortunately, I was never really near it, and it just didn’t pan out.
  6. Make an effort to find Brett and Jemaine of Flight of the Concords.  Well, I made the effort, but failed in finding the comedy duo.  Luckily, I’ll see them this September when they come to Philadelphia!


Honestly, I’m not even remotely disappointed about the things that I didn’t get to do – it was such a perfect experience that nothing could/did take away from it.  Besides, I can just do them the next time I go!


New Zealand was undoubtedly the best experience of my life.  I made friends from all over the world whilst on the other side of the world!  I feel that I have a much better understanding of this funny little planet, and I’m able to see things on a much more global scale than ever before.  We are all connected, regardless of location, and this trip enabled me to notice and appreciate it.


I’m home in the U.S. again.  I’ve started a new job, met up with old friends, and things are more or less the same as when I left.  However, my attitude has completely changed.  I am happier, more energetic, and appreciate life more than I ever have before, and I owe it all to my time abroad.  Thank you for everything, New Zealand.

Ka kite, ka kite, ka kite ano.  We’ll see you, we’ll see you, we’ll see you again.


Take care,



Bula, baby!

Time July 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Immediately following our departure from New Zealand, we had a bit of a layover in Fiji….for six days.  Fiji is a straight shot north from New Zealand, and only takes about three hours to get there by plane.  It’s a tiny island nation, formerly occupied by Great Britain (until the 1970s), but has its own language (Fijian), and currency (Fijian Dollar).  Luckily for us, everyone we met also spoke English, and the Fijian Dollar is worth about half of a U.S. Dollar, so it was a fairly inexpensive stay.


In all honesty I didn’t know a great deal about Fiji before going there, outside of knowing that there is expensive bottled water that comes from there.  First and foremost, there is an important distinction to make between ‘Fiji Water’ and ‘Fiji water’.  The first is what you have likely seen in various stores.  This is bottled from natural springs that have been taken over by an American company called JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery.  Then there is ‘Fiji water’ which comes out of the tap – do not drink it.  Ironically, 53 percent of Fijians don’t have access to clean drinking water, and have to either pay top dollar for Fiji Water, or drink the contaminated water that is available to them.


This water situation was the first insight I had to how impoverished the country is.  I had always had this idea that it was a pristine tropical paradise, and certainly, parts of it are.  Just look at it!



However, the popular image does not reflect the disturbing poverty that the majority of the country lives in.




What is particularly unsettling is the fact that these villages are situated right next to multi-million dollar resorts for tourists.  Sam and I were staying in a small hostel, but we did have to walk over to one of these resorts to buy sunscreen, and in a mere hour of walking we saw the shocking disparity of wealth.




This dichotomy between rich and poor, visitors and residents, pervaded throughout Fiji.  I sympathize greatly with the native people of the country, and I’m not sure that I can be argued that they haven’t been taken advantage of.  Despite this gnawing sense of inequality which was to be found all around us, we tried to enjoy the country in the little time we had there.  That looked exactly like this.


Hammocks are about as common as air in Fiji, enjoyed by all people regardless of their socioeconomic background.  I’d reckon that we spent about two full days in them if you added all of the time up.


If swaying around via ocean breeze isn’t your scene (and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be) you could always explore your surroundings.  Beautiful coasts are in massive supply.  Even our new friend here ventured outside the hostel with us.




All in all, Fiji was a surprising, diverse, and conflicted place, from my perspective.  I’m very glad that we had the opportunity to see the country, and it certainly made me appreciate what I had in New Zealand more, and what I would return to in the United States.


Take Care,





Goodbye Dunedin.

Time July 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Of course, I knew that I would have to leave sometime, but  I suppose that I just began to not believe it.  However, denial would not be enough to stave off a deportation officer.


Since we spent so much of our time in New Zealand traveling the country, Sam and I decided to spend our last few weeks exploring all of the places in our hometown that we’d been putting off since we first got there.  Better late than never, right?


We had already been to the Otago Museum on our campus earlier in the semester, but due to it’s enormous size, we were unable to get through the whole thing in one shot, so we figured we would just swing by some other time.  Five months later, we frantically made time for the final visit among exams.  The museum holds an eclectic mix of just about everything you could imagine.  Busts of Greek philosophers?  They’ve got it.  Pistols from the Victorian Era?  Check.  Jimmy Hoffa’s remains?  No, but they’re working on it.  I’ll highlight some of my favorite parts.


There’s a room in the museum which is filled with living butterflies from all over the world.  The room spans three stories, with multiple bridges and catwalks connecting random parts of the room together.  It’s also flippin’ hot and humid in there (the room is complete with a waterfall), because apparently, that’s what butterflies are into.  It was a nice escape from the bitter cold outside the museum.

1-butterfly-place 1-waterfall


Within the more conventional-ish parts of the museum, there are lots of life-sized mannequins.  I must admit – these freak me out.  There’s just something about seeing something that looks like you trapped in glass that doesn’t bode well with me.  Anyway, though frightening, I thought that this one was pretty cool.  He’s the likeness of a Samoan warrior back when they used to make their armor and weapons with the teeth of sharks and fish corpses (is that the plural form of corpse?).




Dunedin’s Botanical Garden was a site that we had walked by dozens of times, but never actually ventured into, as we figured we would probably go there a thousand times during our stay.  We were absolutely wrong, and in a last ditch effort, we finally went there.  Unfortunately, it was winter at this point, so nearly everything was dead, except the greenhouse plants, and this nifty commemorator of the garden’s 150th year of existence.




A little slice of Mexico in New Zealand.


A pond was situated in the garden as well, which was crammed full of ducks, most likely because the Botanic Gardens kept them well fed.  One of my favorite things about New Zealand were the abundance of free and public services, events, and utilities.



Sam and I found some pretty neat vantage points of the city on our last day in New Zealand.  We went around to random tall buildings, took the elevator to the top, and took pictures.  Here’s a photo of the infamous hill that leads up to my flat.




At the conclusion of our last full day in the country we came to love so much, we had a pot-luck dinner with the remaining residents of a few of the flats in our complex (many people had gone back home by this point, and the following day all of our leases expired).  We ate entirely too much, recalled memories we had made during our stay, talked about our future plans, and knew the extent to which we would all miss each other and New Zealand.  It was a beautiful and appropriate conclusion to the most extraordinary experience in my life.




The next day, we got up early, loaded our bags into our neighbor’s car, had a very emotional farewell with our friends outside the flat, and were reluctantly dragged to the airport.  It was, appropriately, a gloomy day, and New Zealand cried with us as we left.  The following events were a melancholy blur, but we took a plane from Dunedin to Auckland, waited in Auckland for several hours, and eventually landed in Fiji, where we stayed for six days before returning to the United States.  More on that next blog, which will be followed by a final reflection on the experience as a whole.

Take Care,


Cooking Down Under

Time June 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Sam and I have always enjoyed cooking, but up until this semester, we never had the opportunity to do it on a regular basis.  Now with a kitchen to ourselves (or more to ourselves, anyway) we were able to pursue all of our culinary endeavors, most of which ended up being a huge success.


Certainly, food is often times just that – food.  It’s sustenance that keeps you alive, no flair or extravagance needed.  Our one flatmate, Alex, perceived ‘food’ as just that as he survived on a diet of eggs and yogurt.  Regrettably, this mentality is all too common among my generation, as most college students I know never even attempt learning to make anything outside of cereal and sandwiches.  I believe that food, while vital to survival, is also a form of art dealing with the senses of sight, smell, and most importantly, taste.  Sure, you can live on pizza for a semester, but where’s the fun in that?


Throughout our time in New Zealand, we’ve made quite a variety of dishes.  Naturally, we used some recipes we learned back home – just because you’re on the other side of Earth doesn’t mean you have to abandon what you like to eat.  This meant that we wouldn’t have to be without quesadillas, chicken picatta, stuffed pork tenderloin, french onion soup, etc.  However, due to geographic differences, ingredient availability and prices varied.  Good luck finding cilantro in New Zealand (no, coriander is NOT the same thing, despite the fact that it comes from the same plant), or a lime that doesn’t cost more than a house.  While problematic, this did not prevent us from making food that we were used to.  It simply meant that we would have to get creative and substitute the ingredients we wanted for the ingredients we had available.  When cooking Jambalaya, we used venison (deer) sausage instead of the Andouille we would use back home.


Most people have never heard of ‘Cajun food’ here.

We substituted lemons in recipes calling for limes.  Vegetables like bok choy were used to replace iceberg lettuce in salads.  Though a bit different, all of our favorite dishes still turned out great, and made us better and more adaptable cooks!  Of course, not every recipe needed substitutions.  For instance, our lemon-pie-bars and chocolate-chip-and-sea-salt-cookies went off without a hitch.



Naturally, we didn’t just stick to what we knew – we made and enjoyed the food New Zealand had to offer.  One of the most popular pizza toppings we’ve seen over here is cranberry, cream cheese, and chicken.  Sounds a bit strange, I know, but actually tastes amazing.  We enjoyed it so much that we made one of our own!



Considering New Zealand is a multi-cultural country, it’s hard to say what food is distinctly unique or indicative of the country, but lamb is a popular food here, as there are more sheep than people, and we have had our fill of it!  Steaks, chops, meatballs, ice cream, etc. if there’s a way you can eat lamb, they’ve done it here.


All in all, we’ve had a pretty great time cooking and eating in New Zealand.  Switch up your go-to recipes sometime – it’s a nice challenge and can produce some pretty great results!


Take care,



Exam Week(s)

Time June 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have blogged quite a bit about traveling/exploring/having-fun-in-general in New Zealand.  It should be noted that I have actually been studying and taking classes the whole time, though you wouldn’t know it from what I post.


I have really loved taking classes here, primarily because of the independence you are given as a student – back home internal assessments (assignments, essays, projects) make up the majority of your grade, with maybe 20% of your grade riding on your final exam.  It’s totally different in New Zealand, as there are far fewer assignments, and your exam becomes paramount for your grade.  The lowest percentage an exam was worth for any of my class was 40%, the highest 60%.  It’s fairly common for Law students to have their grade for the class 100% based off of their exam performance.  Is this approach stressful as exam weeks come up?  Sure it is!  But if you attend lectures and tutorials, read everything you were supposed to, and genuinely work hard, it will all be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!


Of course, all good things must come to an end, and exams are well underway.  An interesting difference between how exams run in the states and how they operate here – back home, you typically take your exams in the same room your class was in, with your teacher present and monitoring the room.  No big deal.


Here, things are on lockdown.  First off, your exams will likely be in a building you have never even heard of.  The school is aware of this, and has made a map to help guide your lost soul to the correct interrogation room.  Once you finally find the right building and room, you present photo ID to the centurions- I meant, proctors – are given a specific seat number for a specific row in the room, fill out a form in duplicate saying that you won’t cheat, disclose information from the actual test, rip tags off of mattresses, etc., and verify that you are indeed who you claim to be by listing (several times) all first name aliases you have used while studying with the university  (seriously).  No one is allowed to exit the room within the first hour or the last 15 minutes of an exam, because they are afraid that people could congregate, and disclose answers and other information if there were a big rush to the door, which is understandable for multiple-choice tests, but a little frustrating for history exams (which are my only exams), because even if you were able to talk to someone on the way to the door, you would never have enough time to revise the essay which you must write in pen.  If someone ever successfully cheated on an exam at the University of Otago, they deserve a medal and are probably named James Bond.


Dramatization of real life intimidation.


Fortunately, the exams are spaced out over several weeks.  Unfortunately, all of mine are clumped together at the end.  This was a wonderful thing at first because it gave me a chance to travel a bit more, relax, study, and relax more for two weeks.  However, now that they are all here, I am plagued by studying as well as the stress/sadness of packing, and saying goodbye to everyone.  Wish  me luck!

Take care,


It Takes Two

Time June 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I couldn’t dance for the first twenty-one years of my life.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, or that I didn’t try – I most certainly had the will, and unfortunately for those around me, I have given it a whirl many times.  However, I’m basically a fish on land out there.

Point of reference:

It’s embarrassing.  So when we perused the different classes available at our University, and Sam proposed we take Argentinian Tango, I decided then and there I would no longer suffer the affliction of Disaster Dancing, and change my ways.  I can proudly say now, that I can do at least one style of dance in a non-horrific manner.

Please note:  We were always hard at work in our actual lessons, so we don’t have any pictures from them.  These totally-authentic-100%-NOT-staged photos will just have to do.



Watch out, Dancing With the Stars


Okay, maybe it was really more like this:



It didn’t all start off so smoothly.  Most people in our class had some dancing experience.  This means they had higher expectations of their partners.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal, as Sam and I went into this thinking that we would be each other’s permanent dance partners – we were wrong.  Since there were far fewer males than females enrolled in the class, we had to constantly switch partners, so that everyone had a chance to dance with a partner of the opposite sex.

While unexpected, this ended up helping me out greatly for several reasons.  First off, it made me far more aware of what I was doing, as I didn’t want to embarrass myself more than necessary.  It also made me work harder so that I could keep up with these experienced ladies, and eventually I got to the point where they didn’t have to wear steel-toe boots when they danced with me!  It also enabled me to improvise more.  That’s one of the beautiful things about Tango – yes there are set moves (ocho’s, weight changes, the cross, back-ocho’s, to name a few), but there is no order that you have to do them in really!  Once you have the pieces you can assemble them however you’d like.  Constantly switching partners ensured that I would never get caught in a routine, and kept me on my toes (literally).

Several weeks went by and the lessons ended.  However, we weren’t ready to end it just yet, so we signed up for the second part of the class.  This time, there were far more males in the class than females, so again, we rotated.  This time around, our improvisation skills really came into play, and before long, the whole thing became second nature.  Tango is really a menagerie of individual steps all strung together in any manner the leader wishes.  Sure, for performances people put together a routine, but at your average tango gathering (and yes they exist, even here in New Zealand!) it’s all very impromptu and random, but always fun.

I’m very pleased that I took this class, one of the many offered at this school.  The range of classes available was quite intimidating really- including anything from bone carving and just about every style of cooking class imaginable all the way through fencing, salsa dancing, and harmonica lessons.  Though there were many options, I couldn’t be happier with my selection, as I have a new skill…now I just need to find an opportunity to use it!

Take care,



The Haka

Time June 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In order to see the Haka in all of its glory, watch this

(link to video:

That is the All Blacks (New Zealand’s national rugby team) performing a haka.  In this case, the haka is essentially a war challenge – you don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of these (New Zealand won this match 23-13).  The All Blacks have performed a haka before every game they’ve played since 1888…they’re ranked as the number 1 team on earth by the International Rugby Board, having only been beaten by five countries in the team’s history.  Perhaps it’s all because they intimidate the dickens out of their opponents each and every game!

However, hakas aren’t all threatening and war-entangled.  The word ‘haka’ in Maori simply means ‘dance.’  There are hakas for just about any occasion, be it a wedding, home-warming, funeral, acknowledging achievements, or simply for amusement, complete with varying scripts of words with the accompanying dances.  The haka is distinctly Maori, and thus, uniquely New Zealand.

With that in mind, one of our neighbors, a native New Zealander, Ed thought that all of the international students in the complex should learn one.  It seems that you can’t properly experience New Zealand without having learned a haka.  He had one of his Maori friends, Tristan, drop by and teach us one – the ‘Ka Mate.’  This is the same one that the All Blacks do, and probably the most famous (and one of the easiest!).  It goes like this:

Ka mate, ka mate!  Ka ora! Ka ora!

(I may die! I may die!  I may live!  I may live!)

Ka mate, ka mate!  Ka ora! Ka ora!

(I may die! I may die!  I may live!  I may live!)

Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru

(This is the hairy man)

Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā

(Who brought the sun and caused it to shine)

Ā, upane! ka upane!

(A step upward, another step upward!)

Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!

(A step upward, another step upward, the sun shines!)

It took some doing, but we eventually had all of the words (more or less) down, and began incorporating the motions.  Now as we’ve established already, not all hakas premeditate war, battle, combat, gore, etc.  One thing about this particular haka: it does Many of the motions involve you smacking yourself.  This isn’t simply to make a noise – it is actually to harm yourself so that you get your adrenaline pumping.  Seeing as we weren’t about to head out into battle, we toned it down quite a bit, but after about an hour of pounding on your chest, legs, and forearms, you get a bit sore.  Regardless, it all came together.

Check out some members of the Queen Street Complex (including yours truly) performing a haka:

As you will see, there were a few ladies in the mix.  Some hakas are gender specific, and some are mixed.  Our instructor Tristan said that there is a good deal of conflict and debate revolving around which is which.  He didn’t seem to care much, and was happy to teach whoever was willing to learn.

Take care,



Winding Down

Time June 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As George Harrison, and so many others, said – “All things must pass.”
With this in mind, I have 19 days left in New Zealand.

I can’t explain the myriad ways in which that makes my soul wretch and squirm.  Saying that this whole experience flew by is a gross exaggeration.  You blink and five months pass.  Pardon me, I don’t mean to complain, and I wouldn’t have even had this morbid realization, if it weren’t for all of the signs in my life pointing to the end of this trip.

Classes ended yesterday.  This is more upsetting than you may think, as I really loved going to school here.  Each of my classes provided every single assignment and deadline on the first day, which meant that I was able to work completely at my own pace.  No surprises, no stress – beautiful!  My favorite part about the actual studying part was that there was little to no busy work to ensure that we were on the right track – my professors simply trusted us enough to do all of our work and reading on our own, and to consult them if any issues came up.  I’ve learned a great deal this semester due to this approach.


Which means I’ll get to spend some more time with my favorite place on campus- the library.

Planning out the end.  My e-mail inbox is full of messages regarding flight times, departure instructions for leaving my flat, and end-of-the-year surveys.  Not only do I have to leave, but I have to meticulously plan my exit!



Goodbye Parties.  Earlier this week, IFSA-Butler had its farewell dinner.  This was particularly startling/sentimental as these were the people who I first met here, and who we’ve experienced so much with along the way.  The food was excellent, but at the same time, so bittersweet.


Our flat complex also had a party to celebrate the end of the year.  Over one hundred people came from all around, and nothing was broken – I’m calling it a success!  Likewise, this was a melancholy affair, as I’ve spent most of my time with my awesome neighbors, and in having this party we were acknowledging that we would all leave each other soon.  Yesterday the first of our kin left.


I’m not entirely sure whose scalp is in this photo.

I hope that I’m not coming off as ungrateful here.  I have appreciated each and everyday here, through the snow, to missing our flight at the conclusion of Easter break.  It has all been a part of the overall experience which I feel has changed me and made me more aware of the world and the other people who live in it.  I love this country in its entirety, for its triumphs and flaws, and I have been able to enjoy so much of what it has to offer.  Not everyone is fortunate enough to go to college, and certainly far fewer find themselves in a position to travel the world as they study.  I am one of those very privileged few and I am so sincerely thankful and feel lucky in the purest sense of the word.  But, please New Zealand – can’t I stay just a few more months?

With this all being said, I DO have 19 days left here, and I’m certainly not going to waste a second.  Sam and I enjoyed a lovely evening last night in an Italian restaurant, which are a very rare thing to find here.  We’re heading off to go see penguins and maybe some albatross on the beach today.  I hope all is well with you.

Take care,



Southern Snow

Time May 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s important to balance your expectations and the reality of a situation.  When in New Zealand, it is crucial to try to focus on the latter of the two.

The illusion:

New Zealand is a tropical paradise.  It is ideal for days spent outside on a beach somewhere basking in the sun, eating ice cream, and basically enjoying general warm merriment.

The reality:


Yes, it’s true that a great deal of this country is full of warmth, sunshine, and smiles.  But remember, New Zealand is about one thousand miles long from top to bottom, meaning there is no universal climate.  Dunedin is on the 45 degree latitude line.  For a point of reference, so is Montreal, Canada, just in the northern hemisphere.  This means, it gets pretty darn cold here, and today, we saw the first snow of the season – an entire centimeter has fallen upon us.  The Pennsylvanian in me did not bat an eye at this, but as it turns out, a dusting of snow is all it takes to derail business as usual here.

Perhaps most shockingly – CLASSES WERE CANCELLED.


Now, to the credit of many professors, not ALL classes were cancelled, but a considerable amount of students were able to get a bit more shut-eye than they would have otherwise.  My first class WAS cancelled, unbeknownst to me, so I went to class and sat there in solitude for 15 minutes.  The thought that classes could even potentially be cancelled had never occured to me.  While it was all a textbook non-event for me, it became obvious that others did not see it that way.

It seems that Chirstmas came early for the student community.  Normally my walk to my first morning class is a sullen one, with few people around, and a penetrating silence.  Today, people were sledding down hills on trashcan lids, running around the streets, having snowball fights, building snowmen, or simply walking around and taking in the sights.  It made me happy to see something that so many people back home think of as a pest, to be totally appreciated and celebrated here.  It’s amazing what a little frozen precipitation from the sky can do.


Now, as I’ve said, New Zealand is a long country with climates varying greatly as you travel.  The University of Otago (my school) is the oldest and one of the largest universities in the country, so lots of people aren’t actually from here, and clearly did not pack for the weather:


I’ve seen people walk around here in shorts and dresses on cold days, but come on!  That can’t be healthy!

I think what I find so funny about all of this is that New Zealand’s regarded as a small country (it’s about the size of Colorado with the same population size), yet since it stretches out across so many miles, something as commonplace as the weather can be vastly different between different people and their locations.  It’s also strange how it snows regularly down here, yet no one seems to have snow shovels/plows.

From the sounds of it, everyone is nice and warm back home.

Take care,




Time May 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So, I’ve found myself aboard various boats lately, much more so than I ever have before.  Why is this?  I haven’t the slightest clue.

Two trips I would like to talk about on the previously mentioned vessels include the Milford and Doubtful Sounds.  Oi, I’ve got some explaining to do.

Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are both ‘sounds.’  “WHAT IS A SOUND?” You may be asking yourself.  According to the good people at Wikipedia, a sound is  “a long, relatively wide body of water, larger than a strait or channel, forming an inlet or connecting two larger bodies of water, such as two seas, or a sea and a lake.”  In short – it’s water that runs through some land and connects two big bodies of water.  Now you know what a sound is!

…unfortunately, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are both actually fjords, so I, uh, made you learn all of that for nothing.  Now, I know you may be saying, “Jake!  Why are you such a jerk?  Why do you string us along and make us learn inapplicable definitions?  Why?  Why?!  And what is this ‘fjord’ that you speak of?  Did you make a typo?  I’m not sure I can even pronounce that!”  The reason, my dear tormented-reader, is that I wish to enrich you with knowledge, because that’s what I do.  Also, everyone still calls these two particular places ‘sounds,’ and now, whether you are on Jeopardy or at your next dinner party, you will be able to tell everyone that these famous ‘sounds’ are actually fjords!  Oh right.  A fjord (pronounced f-your-d) is “a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity.”  Basically, a big ol’ hunk of ice, over millions of years, cut through a chunk of land, so that humans could later squabble over definitions and geological.  Glaciers are sort of jerks, huh?

So, regardless of what you choose to call them, they are both essentially (now) long stretches of water meandering through enormous mountains.  These are also known as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENES OF NATURE I HAVE EVER HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF SETTING MY EYES UPON.



Now, as I have mentioned, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are different places (though not terribly far apart from each other), and I visited each of them on different weeks.  It can take 3-5 hours to drive out to them from Dunedin, depending on the weather, as you don’t want to go careening down the windy roads on a rainy day.  We were fortunate to experience these two unique places on two VERY different occasions.

We first visited Milford, the slightly smaller, but much more famous ‘sound’ (it was considered the world’s top travel destination in an international survey by the 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor), on that same weekend that I tried bungy jumping and all of those other death-defying feats – but that’s a different blog entirely.  I’ll save us all some time.  It rained a whole lot.  It rained as we boarded the boat.  It rained as we took off into the yawning chasm between the mountains.  It rained as we rounded the wind turbine, which pelted those fools (me) who decided to stand on the top deck of the boat with such a fury, that it’s a wonder how I held on to my glasses.  Yes folks, it rained, and apparently, it usually does, as Milford Sound only sees about sixty days of sunshine in a good year.


Swinging in the rain.

Despite this deluge, our spirits were not dampened (pun intended), as there are waterfalls that stream down the mountains that are only visible when it rains.


In contrast to my visit to Milford, my trip through Doubtful Sound lasted over a full day, rather than a few hours.  We stayed in cabins aboard the ship, and had several wonderful meals during our stay – it was a class act.


Also unlike Milford, our day on Doubtful Sound was absolutely beautiful, clear, and warm (by Dunedin standards).


One of my favorite parts about this particular cruise was that, since it was an overnight event, I was able to go outside and look at the stars.  I have never seen them so bright and numerous as they were that night, on account of the absence of all man-made ambient lighting.  Sam and I stared into the sky for hours, admiring for the first time what was always right in front of us.  Perhaps that’s what it’s all about.  I’d like for you to see this, but no picture I could take could capture that moment and all of its glory – I’d much rather you find it for yourself.

Take care,



Time May 8th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Please Note: this blog is not for the faint of heart.


I’ve been doing some fairly dangerous activities lately.  Most of these involve throwing my body off of some safe area into a dangerous free-fall, with my life being rescued by some piece of fabric or rope.  This is also known as ‘fun’ in New Zealand.


“It’s not about the destination – it’s about the journey!” said several of your elementary school teachers.  It should be noted that these venues of potential-horrific-fatality are not within walking distance.  That means that we’ve had to employ the use of rental cars to get to them.  Just a reminder – THEY DRIVE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD HERE.  When both the destination AND the journey are life-threatening, it may be time to reevaluate your life choices.


Okay, maybe it wasn’t THAT scary.


We survived every drive we’ve taken over here,  without inflicting any damage on our bodies or the car, which I think deserves a gold star and a Congressional Medal of Honor in itself.  However, we weren’t about to get complacent with ourselves.


The Nevis Swing – Think of that swing you used to get pushed around on as a kid.  Recall how the warm spring air powdered your face as you declined from the swing’s peak.  The scent of fresh cut grass and stray rays of sun creeping out from behind an overcast sky create an atmosphere of security and freedom.  This is the stuff of happy memories…..


Now, invert all of that, and you have this:



That’s a 120 meter (or 130 yard) drop, which casts you out 300 meters toward the other side of that rocky canyon.


Sky Diving– Whilst up in Auckland over Easter Break, we decided it was an opportune time to jump out of a plane.  After an hour long drive, we arrived at ‘Blueskies Skydiving.’  I guess the pleasant name is meant to make you forget that you’re about to plummet 13,000 feet towards earth from an airplane.  Before we knew it, we were all suited up and flying up to optimal altitude.


That’s one cool-looking dude!

Once we hit 13,000 feet, they announced that Sam and her highly-trained-professional would jump out first.  They evaporated out of the plane, leaving myself and Tony to start securing all of the straps and bracing for the leap.



A fun little detail about this particular skydiving agency (and from what I gather others): they dangle you out of the plane before the jump.  That’s right, it’s not a simple “1,2,3 – GO!” sort of thing.  You see, your back is attached to the front of your own jump-instructor, and there’s not a whole lot of room between the two of you (you get to know each other VERY quickly).  This being said, you can’t just head out of the plane whenever you like.  The exit requires coordination, and this is established by the person in the front sitting on the edge of the plane’s open door, and then slowly scooting out of the plane, with your partner taking the place of where you were sitting.  So for a few seconds (or was it a few hours?), you just sort of hang outside of the plane, until your partner decides to jump.  This was really the only scary part of the whole ordeal – the rest of the way down is a truly amazing and beautiful experience.  You can watch my descent here:

We met a 60-year old woman who had just did her first jump when we landed.  She plans on returning and getting her certification so that she can jump without someone on her back.  Amazing.


The Nevis Bungy Jump – Yes, this took place at the same place, on the same day in Queenstown as the Nevis Swing.  The Nevis is the name of the river over which you are doing these foolish tasks.  We actually did the Skydiving about a month before our day at the Nevis, but for the sake of variety, I’ve arranged them out of sequential order.  Sue me, Jack.

New Zealand’s A.J. Hackett commercialized bungy jumping in the 1980s.  Though he was by no means the inventor, he did popularize the activity worldwide, which this area of Queenstown is named after him, with all of it’s big-dropping glory.  Naturally, the largest bungy jump in all of ‘Australasia’ is run by A.J. Hackett, and I did it.

After a long bus ride up a rather large mountain on one of the narrowest-winding roads I ever did see, we were put into harnesses, and taken over to the bungy.  The Nevis isn’t simply a ledge that you jump off of – you have to take a cable car over to a much larger suspended cable car which hangs above the river.

Yeah, you have to go out to THAT thing way out THERE.

Once you’re aboard the mother ship, you have to wait your turn to jump.  They have the heaviest people jump off first, which made me wait and steep in anticipation as I was second to last, clocking in at 73 kilograms of pure, unadulterated muscle.  One person out of the ten on board chickened out.

It was finally my turn.  I tried to brace myself as…..wait, I’ve got a video of this too (isn’t technology great?)!  You can watch the whole thing for yourself here:


I’m not sure if participating in such activities is the exhibition of immense bravery or the display of sheer stupidity.  Regardless, it was all good fun, and considering I never really do anything particularly dangerous, it was a nice change.  Though I am exaggerating certain aspects of all of these experiences, I really did feel safe in each one, and would recommend you to try them sometime!


Take care,


1,400 Kilometers for Easter: Part 2

Time May 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

And we’re back.

If you missed part 1, you can read it here:

If you choose not to do so…that’s fine too.  It’s not like that would hurt my feelings or anything.  I’m not crying.  I promise.  Just read the rest of this blog, I’ll be fine.

On Easter (EARLY) morning, we took a shuttle bus to the airport in Christchurch, to catch our flight to Wellington, the nation’s capital.  Funny thing about Wellington, they have this in their airport:


Also, this is what you see when you land there.

They take air-travel VERY seriously here.

Clearly, Wellington (also known as Welly-wood) loves Lord of the Rings.  I have a confession to make, but you musn’t tell anyone or I may face deportation:  I’ve never seen a single Lord of the Rings film.  You see, they came out around the same time as the Harry Potter movies.  Seeing as I was already reading the Harry Potter books at this time, I found myself only able to devote myself to one magicaly-inspired-franchise at a time, and well… Harry won.  All the same, I appreciate Wellington’s pride and enthusiasm in the LOTR series, and was inspired to visit the Weta Cave.  This place is home to Weta Digital, a company started by Peter Jackson, which as done the digital effects for films such as ‘I, Robot,’ The Chronicles of Narnia,’ ‘Avatar,’ ‘X-Men: The Last Stand,’ ‘The Avengers,’ and of course, every ‘Lord of the Rings’ film.  While this list and the work of Weta are rather impressive, the Weta Cave was….basically a glorified gift shop.

Well, as it would turn out, that was the ONLY disappointing part of Wellington, which would end up tying for first place for my favorite place in New Zealand (we’ll talk about the contender in my next blog).

Over the course of our stay in Wellington, we were lucky enough to do some pretty awesome things.  Examples of such include:

  • Petting Red Pandas at the Wellington Zoo –  The zoo in itself was really great.  It is about the same size as zoos I’ve been to in the United States with far fewer animals.  While this sounds disappointing at first, it also means that each group of animals are allotted a greater amount of space, and leaves more room for attractions and information relating to the exhibited animals.  And of course, we booked a ‘close encounter’ with these little guys.



  • Taking a tour of the beehive- 
    No, not that kind of beehive.  It’s just a nickname for one of the parliamentary buildings.  We were able to see (and sit) where all of New Zealand’s legislation is dealt with!  Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed inside the building, so here’s one from the outside:


The resemblance is uncanny.

  • Watching a film in Peter Jackson’s movie theater – Yes, the LOTR director owns a movie theater, and it’s called the Embassy.  Every LOTR film premiered there.  Unbeknownst to Sam and myself, it’s also a severe understatement to say that this place is ‘fancy.’  With its solid marble interior, gourmet concession bar, actual wine and champagne bar, and leather upholstered seats, the place screams ‘class’ in a very sophisticated manner.  As we never got the memo informing us of the hoighty-toighty nature of the place, we went in seriously underdressed.  That’s right – everyone else there was dressed to the nines, suits, dresses, the works.  Regardless, I don’t think people judged us too seriously, and we had a great time!



  • Climbing Mt. Victoria – Once you reach the summit of this small mountain, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of all of Wellington.  Getting to the top is a rather different story.

All in all, Wellington was really fantastic.  I think my favorite part about it is that it is a city without the whole ‘big city’ kind of feel to it.  There is a strong sense of community and shared identity among people in Wellington, which does not come at the price of sacrificing all of the entertainment attractions in most other cities.  My only critique – the wind is ridiculous.

We said our goodbyes to this lovely city and boarded an overnight bus to Auckland on the other side of the North Island, which was to be our last stop before returning home to Dunedin.  ‘A bus’ has taken the lead on my list of ‘Worst Places to Sleep, Ever.’

Anyway, we arrived in Auckland(home to about a third of New Zealand’s population) in the early morning.  We stayed with our Kiwi-host (Lydia)’s family, as she is from Auckland originally.  Throughout our stay we were introduced to new and exciting things like the feijoa fruit, ‘black sand’ on the beaches of Karekare, and the world of mountain biking.  We were also fortunate enough to see American rock group Wilco play a show in a quaint little venue in the city.




Well, this concluded our Easter Break.  The only thing left to do was to take a few  buses to the airport and fly home.  We left nearly three hours early for the trip that was to take a half of an hour (we’re very punctual people).  However, we learned the hard way that Auckland’s transportation system is less than reliable, as a variety of buses arrived significantly later than scheduled, or simply didn’t show up at all, causing us to arrive at our flight gate 9 minutes after the last-call for check in.  This forced us to wait an entire 24 hours for the next flight.  Normally, this would have been rather upsetting to me, but this trip had affected me and my happiness that I didn’t even care.  It was all part of the adventure.  The adventure continues.


…and so do the backpains!

Take care,



1,400 Kilometers for Easter: Part 1

Time April 26th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


Easter Break just concluded a couple of weeks ago, but now that we’re pretty much all caught up, I can tell you all about it.  However, as I started writing this, I realized it would be entirely too long to fit into one blog.  In order to do this trip justice, I will have to split it up into two blogs.

Below you can see the exact route Sam and I took across New Zealand.  Though I still have about two months left in New Zealand, I truly believe that through the course of this week, I had a genuine Kiwi experience that surpassed all of the enormous expectations I had for this trip.  Everything from here on out is simply a bonus.

If I had a nickel for every map I posted on here…I would actually only have about 20 cents.

Dunedin – At about 6:00am on the morning of Good Friday, April 29 we boarded our bus to Christchurch.  The 4 hour and 30 minute drive was to take the bus about 6 hours due to the fact that the bus has to stop and change bus operators rather frequently under New Zealand law.

Oamaru – We stopped and changed bus operators, as that is New Zealand law.  You can read about this place more thoroughly in my previous blog, anyway.

Christchurch – Finally, something to actually talk about!  Well, not really.  Seeing as it was Good Friday, the town was completely void of human activity.  Furthermore, Christchurch suffered a horrendous series of earthquakes two years ago, and a great deal of the town is still in ruin.  These two factors combined gave the town an eerie-post-apocalyptic sort of feel.  Stephen King would have loved it.


Cue ‘Twilight Zone’ theme song.

Oh, and another thing – we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay.  In our previous expeditions outside of Dunedin, we had always found hostels with great ease, and didn’t think anything of endeavoring into the unknown of Christchurch without knowing exactly where we would stay.

Fun Fact: Not only is Christchurch a MASSIVE city, it’s also incredibly spread out.

Sam and I walked around for a few hours with all of our luggage before we found an open hostel.  Unfortunately, it was also completely booked up.  However, the manager, in a typical New Zealander fashion, let us use his phone to call other hostels to stay at.  This would be the first act of kindness we would see in this city over the course of our short stay here.

Now, a great deal of Christchurch has been repaired.  In spite of this, there are still several blocks in the center of town that are still in shambles.  The destruction is so bad that this entire area is fenced off.  It’s a rather grim sight to behold.  Well, it would have been, anyway, had people not plastered the fence with little cards and pictures of hearts and photos of people smiling.  ‘Smile For Christchurch,’ seems to be the prevailing motto of the the city’s reconstruction.


As I’ve said before – a large portion of Christchurch was destroyed in the earthquakes, and remains that way today.  This was once one of the busiest areas of the city:


However, this does not mean the there is no longer a main hub in central Christchurch.  They’ve simply moved it:


Behold the Container Mall.  Following the initial quakes, rubble and debris was moved into these shipping containers and removed from the site.  In a brilliant connection with the devastation, and a commitment to healing and moving on, the Container Mall was born.  It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it has become Christchurch’s hot-spot.

This little guy was playing Beethoven among other insanely-impressive things. 

So cool.

Other forms of optimism can be found across the city.  Free salsa lessons are given on top of the wreckage of what was once a building.  Turning nothing into something:


People decorate the fences surrounding the destruction with some nostalgic characters who have put smiles on millions of faces:


The Anglican Cathedral of Christchurch, an icon of the city, was not spared from the quakes.  Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban was invited to assist in plans for rebuilding the Cathedral.  While he was at it, he came up with the idea of building a Cathedral out of cardboard, to serve as a monument to the events which occurred, and the city’s response and the hope it has become enshrouded in:


Art imitating life.

Christchurch was an incredible way to our Easter break.  The spirit of the people who live there, as well as the country’s response and aid in the wake of the tragedy were truly inspiring, and revived my faith in humanity.  This positive attitude stayed with us for the remainder of our trip, and I expect it will for quite some time from now.

This was just the first leg of Easter break, but we’ll end up in Auckland and return back home to Dunedin by the end of my next blog.  Until then, take care,




Catch Up

Time April 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


As you may have noticed, my blog typically focuses on topics rather than my daily experiences.  While I enjoy writing in this way, lots of experiences fall through the cracks as they don’t conveniently fit into the specific topics I write about.  This blog will cover some of the events that I have yet to discuss but really enjoyed, and felt compelled to tell you about.  These will date from the beginning of my trip up until Easter Break, which ended two weeks ago.  I will then post a blog about Easter Break later this week, and we’ll be all caught up to present day.  Deal?  Great!

  • Trips to the Beach – There’s a lovely beach called St. Clair just a 15 minute bus ride away from my university.  Sam and I went there a few times when we first moved in to our flat.  Unlike most beaches I have seen in the United States, many people take their dogs for walks on the beach of St. Clair.  The natural beauty of the place makes even my amateur shots look somewhat decent!
  • Open Mic Night – Sam and I befriended an absurd amount of people from Denmark.  Naturally, one of them is a percussionist/trombone player.  We all got together and played some songs at an Open Mic Night at the bar on campus.  Yes, there is a bar right in the center of our campus.  We serenaded the crowd with the soulful sounds of Bill Wither’s ‘Use Me,’ and some contemporary pop-songs.
    Keep an eye out for us at the Grammy’s. 
  • Oamaru – A few hours north of Dunedin lies a small town called Oamaru.  We took a weekend trip out here because Oamaru is home to a Blue Penguin colony – the smallest penguin species on earth!  Well, we saw them, and boy howdy were they cute, but we found something else of interest in the town.
    D’awww!Oamaru used to be a rather industrialized town, and quickly became viewed as a service-center for New Zealand’s agricultural goods.  In light of its growing status through the Victorian era, it developed an excellent port and railway system.  However, the economic growth trickled down, causing the port to close, and Oamaru found itself in hard times.  Sounds like your standard rise and fall story of a little town, eh?  Here’s where it gets interesting.  Some people in the town took the decaying industrial scenery around them, and turned it into something positive.  Thus, a genre of literature, music, fashion and style was born: Steampunk.  The best way to understand this bizarre phenomenon is by viewing it as ‘a Victorian person’s idea of what the future would be like.’   Basically, think of robotic people wearing top-hats, like in this picture of Steam Powered Giraffe – a prominent American Steampunk musical group:


    The community seems to embrace this offbeat lifestyle – penny-farthing bikes are all around the town, and even the playground boasts the style of Steampunk.  The world is a bizarre and wonderful place.


I am perpetually seven years old.

  • OUSA Sports Week – In the beginning of the year, Otago Univeristy Students’ Association (OUSA) held Sports Week.  They split the student body up by their area of residence, be it a set of flats or dormitories (they are referred to as ‘colleges’ here). My group was called UniFlats, which is the company that owns our flats. These groups then played various sports (netball, rugby, football ‘soccer’) against each other.  Myself and some friends from my flat complex chose to play on UniFlat’s volleyball team.  Seeing as none of us have really played volleyball before, we expected to be pretty terrible.  Luckily, this was not the case, and we won all four of our games.
    Just look at that form!So, those are some of my favorite random snippets of previously unmentioned life in New Zealand.  I feel like I could write a blog about every single day here – even on the most routine of days I find myself intrigued by the most random of things over here.  Hopefully have and will continue to give you an idea of what life is like in New Zealand.

    Take care,



Time April 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

When one travels to the other side of Earth, one expects to find a place rather different from their point of origin.  What has been most striking to me about New Zealand is how much it has in common with the U.S. of A.


Let me paint a mental picture for you.  It’s my first day in my new flat.  The bus pulls up to the place I will live for the next five months.  I fill my lungs with a long inhale as I gaze upon the building.  My new home.  An experience unlike anything I’ve ever known.  As I fling open the front door, I toss my bags into my bedroom, hardly giving the place a second glance.  I wanted to see everything in the house!  I wanted to meet my new flatmates with whom I would live in a way I had never thought possible before.  Voices were audible from the second floor, and I sprinted to greet them.  With a few bounds I ascended the stairs, and ran into the room I heard the voices coming from, and lo and behold there’s……


my Kiwi flatmate, eating Pizza Hut and watching HBO’s ‘The Wire.’


In short, things didn’t start out the way I planned.  I was not immediately floored by the stark contrast between my host and home institutions.  However, over time, I did come to realize and identify the differences between the two countries in light of their undeniable similarities.  I’ll break these differences down into a few categories:


The Extremely Obvious Differences:

  • Language – Yes, they speak English here.  However, the various accents are quite different from most other English-speaking countries, as they are rather separate from most of the world.  Here’s a video made by a few Kiwis that demonstrates my point:

    You’ll notice that the main difference lies in the pronunciation of vowels- they all kind of sound the same.  ‘Yes’ is pronounced as ‘yis’, ‘chips’ – ‘chups’, and ‘apples’ ‘ipples’.  You’ll notice that almost all vowels take on an ‘i’ sound, and anything with the letter ‘i’ sounds like a ‘u’.  Confused yet?Other words are pronounced with emphasis on different syllables than ours.  For instance, Kiwis refer to the herb ‘oregano’  as ‘ore-ah-gah-no.’Spelling also accounts for a great deal of difference in language.  They left the letter ‘i’ in ‘alumin’i’um’ so it is pronounced ‘al-oo-min-ee-uhm.’


You wouldn’t believe how much better it tastes with that extra ‘h’.

            Other things have just totally different names, or different terminology.


Capsicums = Peppers



I mean, it makes sense.


On top of all of this, there’s the slang.  Here’s a brief list of some of the most commonly-used slang terms/phrases I’ve heard here:

Cheers’ – Typically used in place of ‘thanks.’  I have yet to hear a Kiwi say ‘thanks.’  Always cheers.

‘Sweet as’ – If you watched the video above, you heard the term ‘beached as.’  That was making fun of this.  Really you can say ‘(whatever) as’.  The whole idea is that it’s an unfinished metaphor.  So if I were to say your shirt was ‘sweet as’ that would be a complete sentence, and a compliment.  Knowing this will keep you from getting offended if someone behind you says the term.  They’re not talking about you, or your bottom.

‘Heaps’ – An abundance.  Lots of something.  ‘There’s heaps of sheep out there!’

‘Keen’ – Similar to saying you agree to something.  If you were to ask someone if they were ‘keen to head down to the Bee Gee’s concert,’ you’d really be asking them if they would like to accompany you to a complete waste of an afternoon.


  • Transportation –  Again, you think you know the subject, but it’s all different here.  I’ll start with the big one:  They drive on the other side of the road.

    While you may have known that, this also means that they walk on the other side!

    I’ve only walked into the wrong side of this gate once!  My shins still aren’t over it yet…nor is my pride.


    Also, cars here tend to be much more compact/fuel efficient than back in the States, although I think that is true for most countries.

    Sam’s there for scale.


The Less Obvious:

  • Prices – Think about the knowledge you have attained throughout your life in regards to how much things cost.  You have spent years upon years formulating what the true value of a dollar is.  Now, FORGET ALL OF THAT.  That’s what it’s like in New Zealand.  You can buy five beautiful porterhouse steaks here for about $15.00, something completely unheard of in the U.S.  They’re practically giving them away!  Now, how much would you venture a few limes would cost?  I mean, the steak was basically free, so limes must cost like, 50 -75 cents, right? 

    After this discovery, I realized that I don’t need limes ever again! 

    So, that’s pretty much like a horror movie, right?  It couldn’t get worse than that!

    Wallets everywhere shriek in terror.


    So, basically, prices are unpredictable here – it’s a living and learning process.  Really, we just keep spreadsheets of where we think we can get things for the best deals, and hope for the best.


  • Food – Really, there are few things that can be identified as ‘New Zealand’ when it comes to food.  The food available here is a mixture of Pan-Asian, Indian, and English cuisines.  However, you can find food from just about anywhere here.  Sam and I have tried Danish, Malaysian, and Japanese food here in the past couple of weeks.  It’s amusing to see the ‘American food’ in the international aisle:




The same, but different.


Also, they don’t refrigerate their eggs here!  While this seemed very odd to me, my friends from the Netherlands and Denmark assured me that it was safe and common in their native countries:



  • Socialism – I could spend a lifetime writing about this (and indeed thousands of people have), and hardly graze the surface here.  That being said, this slight mention will fail to encompass the complexity of the subject in every way.  I very well may have been better off omitting it altogether, but it’s really too important to leave out.Really, socialism is at work in the United States, and has been for well over a century (see Social Security, collective taxation, government subsidy programs, etc.).  The main difference between the U.S. and New Zealand’s socialism is health care.  In New Zealand, every human is covered by Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC).  This no-fault insurance plan enables anyone to receive medical treatment and attention at any time.  This system seems to be the pride and joy of New Zealand – as far as I can see, no serious suggestion by even the most conservative politicians has been made to do away with the ACC or its role in the nation.This idea of people being cared for seems to exist in most aspects of life in New Zealand.

    And above all, people care about others not getting eaten by sharks.

    Sam and I have seen frequent ‘random acts of kindness’ to the point where it doesn’t seem so random at all.  People here are constantly watching out for one another, and ready to lend a helping hand when they can.  There seems to be a greater respect among all people here, which is evident in the fact that minimum wage is so high that tipping is actually frowned upon, college education is heavily subsidized by the government, and nearly all crosswalks and intersections have accessibility technology to aid individuals with disabilities so that they may independently travel with greater ease.  People would prefer to  help rather than harm each other here.  Perhaps this is why the majority of police officers choose not to carry firearms in this country, and it’s entirely common to see people leave their front doors unlocked or completely open at all hours.


    All my life in the United States I have heard all sorts of prejudice against socialism, most of it mindless dribble that Joseph McCarthy could have very easily been charged of saying.  I’m not sure I will ever understand this mentality as anything other than people fear what they cannot understand.  Well, they know socialism in New Zealand, and having had the privilege of seeing it in action, I think it is a beautiful thing.  You don’t have to take my word for it though – the World Bank rated New Zealand the most business-friendly place on earth in 2005, the United Nations index declared New Zealand to be the third best country to live in circa 2010, andthe Fraser Institute named it the most free country in the world this year.  Clearly, they’re doing something right.


Any country on earth will have its positive and negative aspects.  Nowhere is perfect, despite the fact that any nation has patriots within it who will claim their country is – and that’s fine!  However, I need something more.  I live under the philosophy of Socrates, in that the only thing I know for certain is the magnificent depth of my own ignorance.  With this in mind, I can not proclaim any nation to be superlative in any category, but I can enjoy the various benefits one may offer, adapt to its hindrances, and compare and contrast them from my previous experiences.  I hope that you can do the same, if you don’t already.

Take care,



Time March 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Classes started a few weeks ago, and I am now familiar enough with mine to give you an idea of what they’re like.



I just really love school.


I’m taking four papers (aka classes).  This is the most that international students are permitted to take, as the school thinks that any additional pressure will make us crack like the fragile-culture-shocked-pathetic-eggs that we are (citation needed).  On a serious note, one class here is worth 4.5 credits at Temple, and most American universities, opposed to the standard 3, meaning the classes here are more demanding, and therefore, people tend to take less of them.


My Classes/Papers/Whateveryouwouldliketocallthem:

  • The History of Māori Politics (1830-1996) – This class is by far the most important to me.  It provides me with insight into the Māori that I would otherwise would have not gained, and enables me to learn about the series of complex occurrences and issues which have shaped the Māori’s history and situation today.  The class is taught by a sarcastic, humorous,  part-Māori man, which makes it something to look forward to.  I would very much like to take a class similar to this one on Native Americans when I return home.  
  • Issues in United States History – This class is not at all what I expected when I signed up for it, but I still enjoy it!  Please don’t judge me – I’m not an American that can’t bear to be away from America.  Seeing as I’ve never left the country before, I was curious to see how people on the other side of the world discuss the United States and its history.  Well…my teacher is an American, which basically nullifies my reasoning for taking the course.  However, he is not your average professor, nor is it an ordinary class, which is sub-headed as ‘Freaks and Normals.’  The course is about disability and how it is viewed in the context of religion, various eras of history, film, music, location, and our every day lives.   The question of ‘what is normal?’ runs throughout the course.  My retort to this inquiry is ‘non-existent.’
  • Interpreting Artworks –  In all honesty, I took this paper to fulfill a general-education requirement back home.  Luckily, I am interested in its contents, as it is an art-history class.  As a person who has no physical artistic ability, I appreciate that I am at least able to talk about art fairly well!  A fun fact I’ve learned in this class: the metric system didn’t exist until the 18th century.  Prior to this, measurements varied by person, place, and time, and basically made life RIDICULOUSLY COMPLICATED.  Conservative estimation places the dawn of human beings about 100,000 years ago.  This means we went about 99,700 years before it was decided that there should be a standard system of measurement that didn’t involve body parts.  *Burries face in hands.*


Believe it or not, this piece ‘Three Standard Stoppages’ by Marcel Duchamp expresses similar sentiments toward humanity:  WHAT WERE YOU ALL THINKING FOR SO LONG?  MEASUREMENTS ARE VERY IMPORTANT.


  • Totalitarian Regimes (1922-1945) – AWESOME class.  People often ask me what my favorite period of history is.  While I don’t like to view history as a list of names and places confined to a set time period, this epoch of devastation, psychological terror and influence, and shift away from traditional ideals is one of the most interesting to me.  My professor is an Englishman who has lived in Romania, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand for extended periods of time, leaving him with one of the most interesting accents I’ve ever heard.  Right now we’re learning about Mussolini and his rise to power in Italy – something I have previously not learned much about.


There you have it!  I set up my class schedule so that I have all of my lectures on Tuesday and Thursday.  I have tutorials (smaller classes) on some Mondays and Wednesdays.  This means that I typically have four day weekends.  Hooray!   School is a bit different from home, but in my next blog, I will compare and contrast various aspects of New Zealand living with American life.  Here’s a picture of a pretty building on my campus:



Take care,



Time March 7th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

 rug·by  /ˈrəgbē/ (noun): Pure violence, carnage and gore.  Good, wholesome, family fun.


Last week I went out to a rugby match with some friends.  The Otago Highlanders (our team) versus The Chiefs from Hamilton (not our team).  Having never seen a game of rugby, and having a very faint idea of how it works, I was going into this blind.  By the end of the night, I feel that I have ascertained a decent idea of what rugby is all about.


Rugby matches – you’ll hear them before you see them.  Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen musical acts ranging from the musical stylings of heavy metal’s Iron Maiden and Metallica,  to vintage Punk’s X and Reverend Horton Heat.  Such bands, which I would consider quite loud, cannot hold a candle to the noise generated by rugby hooligans (a term of endearment).


Upon entering the stadium, and having our eardrums ruptured, we found our seats.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention.  Our seats were located in a section of the stadium renowned as THE ZOO.  These are the cheapest seats in the house as a result of what I presume to be a catch-22 scenario: the seats are cheap, so they are purchased by broke-rowdy-college students, and the seats are cheap because people with money don’t want to sit with broke-rowdy college students.  The title of the section is embraced by its constituents, many of whom dress up like animals.



It is also customary, apparently, to not use your seats in the way you have been taught to your entire life whilst in the zoo.  Rather, you are to stand on top of it.  I don’t see what is beneficial about doing this, but when in Rome…


I quickly learned that the Rugby match, while the main course of the event, is by no means the source of all the entertainment available at a rugby match.  Without even looking at the sport aspect of things, the following were present for the stadium’s amusement:


Bagpipes:  Keeping the whole ‘Highlander’ theme going.  These lads and lasses marched around the field before the game started.  They walked up to the Chiefs (the evening’s opponent) and blared their pipes at them for a solid five minutes.  


These Blue People:  We’re still not quite sure what they were, or why they were there, but they basically danced around the stadium the entire game.  Uhm… that’s about all I can say about them.


Objects Floating around the Crowd:  Whether they were wooden boards, beach balls, or people, many things passed over my head that night.  Anything that was passed through the crowd that had legs was escorted out of the stadium by a very friendly police officer.


The Referees’ Uniforms:  Blinding.


Pyrotechnics:  Fire was shot out at times lacking any discernible significance.


 A Chicken in a Denver Nuggets Jersey:  This falls into the same ‘?’ category as the blue people above.


Despite the myriad distractions from the game, I did manage to watch quite a bit of it.  Here are a few rugby basics, as far as I can understand them.  I apologize to any rugby enthusiasts who may read this – I’m not usually so insulting:

  • There are two teams in a match.  Each team attempts to get rugby ball (which looks like a giant egg, about twice as large as an American Football), into the in-goal zone, or end zone.  
  • You can pass the ball…backwards.  A forward pass automatically turns the ball over to the other team.  You have to go backwards to go forward.  I’ll let you mull that one over.
  • The opposing team’s job is to prevent the other team from getting into the in-goal zone and scoring.  They are allowed to do this by pretty much  any means necessary, though I understand murder is frowned upon in most leagues.  Players constantly walk this thin line, as they bludgeon the dickens out of one another:
nanu clump

Because, who REALLY needs those frivolous pads?


In the end, our team quite a bit.  Seeing as I’m not a native, this wasn’t particularly crushing to me, and it most certainly did not detract from the excellent night I had.  Rugby is loud, vibrant, and confusing, and I loved it all.

Take care!


Flat Living

Time February 25th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hey ya!

Today marks the second week of moving into my flat!  It’s still in one piece, as are the people living in it, which is more than many other flats on campus can say – this week was the annual event referred to locally as O-Week, or Orientation week.  It’s an exciting time, as most students are moving back into the town (Dunedin), and the school organized some awesome and diverse events, featuring anything from professional rugby matches (which I will write about in my next blog), to hypnotists, concerts (this year featured Macklemore – I didn’t go because I don’t know any of his music), and food festivals.  Needless to say, it’s a time of celebration for the student body.  With that in consideration, many students over-indulge in the festivities, and things like this result:


Apparently this couch did something so irreconcilably heinous that this was the only form in which justice could be served.


As a tea-totaler, or non-drinker, I’ve seen lots of things like this in the past week, as well as back home, and reached a conclusion:  I don’t understand people my own age.

This is my flat:


There are six of us living in it, five Americans (Myself, Sam, Kelsey, Danyelle, and Alex) and one New Zealander (Lydia).  We all get along quite well, I think (no one has told me differently!).  We’re all fairly mellow, and everyone is considerate of one another.  Lydia (our Kiwi host) is a huge help, as she’s lived here for quite some time, and has been able to field just about every question we’ve thrown at her.

It’s a newer building, particularly in comparison the other flats in the area (remember, I go to the oldest University in New Zealand!).  Our little slice of heaven has three floors.  Most people enter the flat via the first floor, which holds a bathroom (or water closet, if you’re a native), Sam’s bedroom, my bedroom, and the laundry closet (it’s literally a closet with a washing machine on the ground and a dryer bolted to the ceiling).



The second floor is the place to be, as it’s home to our kitchen/dining/communal area.  Everyone in our flat, save for Alex, loves to cook, and we’ve cranked out some excellent food here so far, including quesadillas, French Onion Soup, pot roast, honey-crusted-chicken stir fry, and Shepherd’s Pie to name a few.  The kitchen is a bit small for so many people, but we make it work.  Our communal area has a few couches and a television that has the charming touch of a coat hanger sticking out of it to act as an antennae.  There’s also a bathroom and Kelsey’s room on this floor. 


Technology at its finest.


The most interesting part about floor number three is that the water-heater is there.  Aside from that, there’s a bathroom and three bedrooms.  Yippee!

The flat sits on top of a large hill, surrounded by nothing except other flats.  This is actually enormously beneficial for us in a number of ways:

  1. Peace – As you have seen from the image above, things can get pretty rowdy, especially around campus.  Since I like to think of myself as an old-soul, this is not particularly appealing to me.  The distance from campus allows me to retreat from the… eccentric activities… whenever I choose. 
  2. Exercise – When I say that the flat is on top of a large hill, I’m not talking about a little bump in the road.  What I’m referring to is an incline so steep that one misplaced step when descending it could lead to your untimely end.  On the up-side, it’s a great workout for your calf-muscles.  I should think that the intensity of the hill also prevents the intoxicated hooligans from ever reaching the summit, which is just fine with me.

In short, my new place is the cat’s pajamas, and so are the people who live in it.

Take care!



New Zealand: Getting There/Orientation

Time February 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by



I’m on the other side of earth.

Yeah, it still hasn’t really sunk in for me, either.

I’ve only been in the country for five days now, but they have been absolutely incredible and surpassed all of my expectations.  I’ll talk a bit about how I got here first, though.

Sam and I flew from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last Sunday.  We stayed with our friends who live out there named Cecelia and Chris.  It was my first time on the west coast, and I can’t understand why.  It was a wonderful/totally surreal time.  There was a skatepark ON Venice Beach, meandering canals, parrots, and more cross-dressers than you could shake a stick at!  While we were walking along the canals of Venice, we came across a young lady standing in a cardboard box.  She was handing out flowers to passersby (under the supervision of her mum).  Undoubtedly, the cutest thing I ever did see.  There’s a place in Los Angeles called the La Brea Tar Pits, where they excavated (and continue to do so) a giant tar pit and made a museum to display their findings.  During our short visit, we were lucky enough to eat (probably our favorite past-time) fish tacos, our first In-N-Out Burgers, Argentinian tapas, and lots of avocados.




This brings us to the 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland.  While the plane and our seats seemed rather spacious in the beginning, by the seventh hour things started getting a bit claustrophobic.  However, we arrived in New Zealand after stealing a few hours of sleep.  Even though we felt disgusting and uncomfortable, seeing the country for the first time made us forget about all of that, and we took in the beauty of our new home.




We landed in Auckland around 8:00am where we met the IFSA-Butler team (the people who run the program I used to get to New Zealand) along with the staff of the YMCA camp from Whangaparaoa.  I will refer to this conglomerate of people as the Orientation Crew from here on out, if that’s quite alright with you.  Great!  Below is a map that I will reference so you can get an idea of where I went.




The star on the map marks Auckland.  The Orientation Crew brought us to the YMCA Camp on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula (marked by the small circle above the star on the map) after we landed.  There were 43 of us, the majority would study in Dunedin (like me!), but about ten were going to Christchurch following the four-day orientation.  Naturally, we were all exhausted from the plane ride, so the Orientation Crew decided that the reasonable thing to do was to take us out kayaking in the ocean, cliff jumping, and then heading out to a water park.  While this idea seemed unpleasant when they announced it on the way to the camp, it ended up being the best thing for us, as we all collapsed in our beds at the end of the day, and got a fantastic night’s rest.  The camp itself was quite beautiful, overlooking the ocean, and surrounded by a hill upon which many sheep grazed.  Here’s a look:




Over the course of our time at the YMCA Camp, I was lucky enough to experience and try many things for the first time.  This included new activities like archery, orienteering, and ‘touch’ rugby.  I am reluctant to believe that such a thing as touch rugby exists because while deliberate injury was forbidden, this did not diminish the inherent violence that comes with the sport.  However, I made it out with nothing more than a nice gash on my face.   I was also introduced to some new food at the camp, like beans/spaghetti on toast, various ‘hokey-pokey’ (or honey-comb) flavored sweets, and most importantly, L&P, a soft drink similar to a blend of Sprite and Ginger Ale.  These things aside, it doesn’t seem like there is a distinct New Zealand cuisine.  Rather, it is a blending of culinary practices from the UK and various Asian countries.




Now, a bit on the Maoris.  The Maoris are the first known inhabitants of New Zealand, and traveled via canoe from Eastern Polynesian islands to the country sometime around 1250-1300 A.D.  Despite their recent arrival (historically speaking), they have a very rich history and tradition that has enjoyed enormous success and suffered major blows, particularly upon the introduction of Europeans.  Today, the Maori people preserve their culture so that it will continue to grow, and so that non-Maoris may learn about their way of life.  However, they are a fully integrated people.  A wonderful woman named Mrs. Simons (a second mother to me), had asked me if the Maoris were an assimilated people.  For example, do they use cell phones and other modern technological devices?  I did not know the answer prior to my departure, but I was soon to find out.  Our group was fortunate enough to visit a Marae, a Maori meeting place committed to the preservation of the tradition.  I was especially lucky in that I was one of the two ‘elected’ chiefs of our group.  As a chief, I lead our group up to the Marae, where we removed our shoes, and entered the building.  When inside, an exchange between the Maoris and our visiting group ensued.  Myself and the other chief made speeches in the Maori language speaking of gratitude to our hosts, accompanied by songs performed by our entire group.  It was a truly unique experience, and I am certain that I will not soon forget it.  We were taken on a tour of a replica of a traditional Maori village, and watched a group of Maoris perform various songs, dances, and recall stories.  While the Maoris do a great deal of work to honor their history and make it available to others, they participate and enjoy most aspects of life that non-Maoris do, to answer Mrs. Simons’ question.  The founder of the Marae we visited, Thomas, was consistently using his cell phone, and wore suit pants, dress shoes, and a button-up shirt all through our visit – a far cry from the traditional dress.  We bonded a great deal with the Maoris over the course of our visit, and learned more than we could have hoped.  Leaving the next morning was an emotional experience.  We sang a song to the Maoris as we drove away on our bus.  Ka kite, ka kite, ka kite ano.  We’ll see you, we’ll see you, we’ll see you again.



Clockwise: The Maoris doin’ their thang, Myself giving a speech, Sam looking fierce.


Just as soon as we left the Maoris, we arrived at the airport to fly to Dunedin, our home for the next five months.  We sat next to a young man on the plane from Malaysia whose name was Colin.  He’s going to Otago for the next four years, and only brought one suitcase!  From that point on, we’ve made a great deal of new friends and acquaintances of people from all over the world.  More on that in my next blog,  where I will also go into detail about my flat, Dunedin, and my new school.  Until then, take care.



Pre-Departure and Such

Time January 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello there,
My name’s Jake, and in two weeks, I’ll fly out to Los Angeles, where I will board the plane that will take me to New Zealand.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, this is what New Zealand looks like:


Very nice, eh?  Well, I’m expecting some major culture shock when I get there, as the most exotic place I’ve ever been to is Tropical Wyoming.  This is what that looks like:

If this doesn’t scream ‘Tropical-Paradise-Island-Beaches-Sand-Fun,’ I don’t know what does.

I’m not sure it’s possible to be more excited than I am to get out to New Zealand.  It’s just about as far away as you can get from my current placement (Lansdowne, PA), and from the sounds of it, completely different from everything I’ve ever experience.  Will I miss my friends and family?  Of course.  Will ever get another opportunity to travel so far, and experience a place so thoroughly?  Doubt it.  That’s why it is crucial that I live in the moment (and country) while I can.  Every moment I spend missing home is a moment spent missing out on my experience abroad.  I don’t plan on missing many moments at all.

As excited as I am, the whole thing just doesn’t seem quite real yet.  I suppose that is because I don’t have a point of reference to compare my expectations for New Zealand to.  I’ve read about the country, and seen many pictures and videos, but I don’t think that I’ve been anywhere that’s like it, so it’s largely unknown to me, and will remain so until I get there.  However, it does feel like things are winding down here at home – I just worked my last shift at one of my jobs last night (I have/had two).  I was a waiter at this restaurant for three years.  I’m keeping my other job as a counselor at a day care center up until I leave.  It’s strange going around and carrying on with my daily routine, knowing that in just a few weeks, I won’t anymore.  I’ll be in a whole new place, surrounded by new people, and live a new life.

Actually, not everything will be new.  I should tell you that my travels abroad will be a bit different from that of others, as my girlfriend of nearly five years, Sam, is studying abroad with me.  This photo pretty much sums up our relationship:

Sam and I gave all of our family members New Zealand flags for Christmas.  It’s kind of funny seeing them all hanging around town – people probably suspect there’s an uprising afoot.

I’m expecting a lot from New Zealand – I expect life to be more tranquil and egalitarian there.  However, I know that all places have wonderful and less-than-wonderful things about them, and I am opening myself up to it all.  I have a to-do list while I’m there as follows:

  1. Interview Maoris and learn all I can from them.  The Maoris are the indigenous people of New Zealand, who traveled there from Eastern Polynesia on canoes.  How awesome is that?
  2. Skydive.  How can you have the time of your life, without risking your life?
  3. Bungee-Jump.  See number 2.
  4. Surf.  I’ve never done it, but feel like I should.
  5. Zorb.  If you haven’t heard of this, it’s essentially the act of running down hills in a giant plastic bubble.
  6. Make an effort to find Brett and Jemaine of Flight of the Concords.   For those of you who don’t know them, you should watch this.  You’ve been warned – this will most likely become your life after viewing.

I think that’s about it for now!  I’ll update once I’m over there.  IFSA Butler is having a four-day-long orientation for us, so I won’t have internet access until after that, so you’ll hear from me around February 10ish.  Take care!