Thinking of Studying Abroad in New Zealand?

by David Kingsley

Applying to a New Zealand Program
There are a number of ways for college students to act on the vague notion that they might escape to New Zealand for a while. Participating in a pre-existing direct exchange program at your home university is one option. The main advantage of this path is that you may be able to ante up in in-state tuition rates and spend the difference on Lion Red, Speights, and the other fine products of “Kiwi” brew masters. Often, however, your university’s program may not match what you had envisioned, or it will fail to include a specific university that you found attractive through your research. If that is the case, get online and check out the programs at some other U.S. institutions, Butler University for instance, and explore the offerings of independent study abroad facilitators, such as the Center for International Studies (CIS) and Australearn.

Applying directly to a university in New Zealand is a final option but my judgment, based on talking to other exchange students, is that the services of an experienced provider are indispensable. The blunders you become vulnerable to while attempting to sort out applications, insurance, housing, and course transfers on your own make the fees a bargain, and the orientations that many programs include can go a long way in relieving departure anxiety. If money is your ultimate concern, have a little faith in the process. I went with Australearn, despite the fact that the balance sheet was slanting, and a brief application for aid ultimately netted the Quantas Travel Grant that paid for my international airfare. There are heaps of scholarships out there specifically geared towards getting students abroad. If your free money queries still leave you lacking, sit down with a financial aid advisor on your campus and explore alternative loan options – if you have the will, the store of U.S. student resources can certainly make it happen.

In New Zealand
Once you’ve made it to New Zealand, your experiences will, of course, vary tremendously depending on what university you decide to attend, your length of stay, financial means, and choice of living arrangements. I studied for a semester at the University of Otago, in Dunedin during their winter. Consequently, I spent the vast majority of my time near the tip of the South Island praying that central heating would catch on. Exploring the particulars and peculiarities of Kiwi-land is half the fun. Everyone should flirt with traffic twelve times before they remember that it runs the opposite direction and wonder at why the professors pronounce assume as if it were spelled ashume. Nevertheless, there are a few things I wish that I had known prior to departure:

  • Bring boots! They take up a ton of space in your pack and you may never have been much of a nature enthusiast but, seriously, bring boots. The best of what New Zealand has to offer is out of doors and away from the cities. Thermal zones, soaring mountains, cascading waterfalls, temperate rainforest – it is a geological wonderland. A lightweight sleeping bag and a butane/propane canister stove are also invaluable, but these can be bought just as cheaply in the country. Kiwi universities have a large break between the end of classes and finals. During that time I tagged along with some friends who were going hiking and we spent a week, making use of the backcountry hut system, trekking through river valleys and mountain passes, gawking at mountain parrots, majestic lakes, and dubious cable bridges. It was one of the best experiences I had while I was there. Hit the trails as often as possible, and be prepared!
  • Another good one to know is that the North Island and the South Island may as well be different countries. Many Kiwis I spoke to had never even visited the island they weren’t born on. I assumed before I left that it would be a cinch to hop back and forth between islands. In reality this is an expensive and time consuming venture. Your options are to fly from one destination to another or make use of the ferries that shuttle between Picton, on the South Island and the capital, Wellington, on the North. The ferry is certainly worth the price once the views of the coast and the jellyfish make it a great ride, but you would do well to plan on just one or two major excursions to the neighboring island.
  • Also on the topic of transportation: wheels. Most advisors will steer you away from driving in New Zealand. There are certainly some risks. One of my housemates almost maimed me on three separate occasions, and another friend of mine paid three hundred dollars for a car that died within a week and later, so I hear, got it fixed and rammed it through some parking meters. But there is no substitute for the freedom and convenience of your own ride and, although the public transportation is, on the whole, excellent and fairly inexpensive, there are many multi-stop tourist attractions like the Caitlins that cannot be easily walked. Also, there is nothing quite like shifting through steep curves and one-way bridges on the left side of the road – it’s downright liberating. See if you can go in with one or two friends on a car that has a good chance of lasting six months to a year. That way you can spread out both the expense and the risk. Many of the larger cities have frequent auctions where there are deals to be had. And on the bright side, if you do end up with a dud, you stand a better than average chance of having a passing rugby team give you a push.

That’s the whole deal. Bring an extra memory card for your camera and remember to take ‘er easy. There is no single, better undergraduate experience that I know of.