Growing up in Northern Minnesota, I became accustomed to the dark and frigid winters. In the land of Ice hockey (sorry Canada), I instead picked up cross country skis and took to the trails hidden underneath the towering pines and oaks. This quiet winter wonderland of Scandinavian Americans is my home. So, when the option of studying abroad came to the table, naturally, I was interested in the Scandinavian destinations: Sweden, Norway, Denmark. Additionally, I had to study at a location where I would attend a university—one in which biology courses were offered. A list of viable programs was generated, and at the top of the list was a program in Sweden. Conveniently, it met all of my requirements; I could have stopped the search right there, but something drew me to scroll down the whole list. There were plenty of decent options, but nothing caught my attention or piqued my curiosity until I got to the very bottom of the list. It was a program in Christchurch, New Zealand of all places: Christchurch Direct Enrollment – University of Canterbury. As I sat there pondering the land of hobbitses (i.e. “Middle-earth”) this curiosity transformed into a deep desire to explore this isolated land. I dropped all commitments to study in Scandinavia and refocused my attention to this program. Now, after successfully taking part in this program, I can confidently say that was one of the best decisions I’ve made—here’s why.
First, this program centers around direct enrollment at the University of Canterbury (UC). This is great for a couple reasons; for one, it is easier for students to take classes that will count towards one’s major(s)—in my case, I needed to take a microbiology course and I had no problem “finding” one that was offered at UC. On that note, classes at UC are on par with the difficulty of academics I experienced in the United States—of course, someone might find the classes easier or harder than what one has experienced in the US, but on average I would say most students will feel adequately prepared. That being said, the academic format is slightly different than what one might be used to in the US. Primarily, in most classes, there are few assessments of your learning (i.e. “homework”) throughout the semester; in most classes your final grade will heavily depend on your grade on a Final paper or exam. That being said, the grading scale is different than what I was used to in the US. For example, the grade range of an “A-” corresponds to 80–84.9%. The second reason direct enrollment at UC is great is that it allows you to connect with other students that are not in your program—kiwi students, international students, fellow biology nerds. These connections can happen in class, and they can also happen through the myriad clubs and organizations offered at UC. For example, those who are keen on trekking through the beautiful landscapes New Zealand has to offer should join the Canterbury University Tramping Club (CUTC), as outdoor gear can be rented by members, and the club takes frequent trips together. In short, studying at a UC keeps students “on track” for their respective major(s), and it allows for optimal social opportunities.
Another reason this program is a good choice is that the IES program has great staff at all levels. Before I even left for New Zealand there was work to be done—paperwork, preregistering for classes, etc.—the IES staff who were responsible for answering my last-minute questions and concerns before I left for NZ were always timely and helpful (thank you Maria!) I felt confident that there were a group of people who wanted me to successfully study abroad. When I got to New Zealand, I was not surprised that the staff were equally as helpful and genuine. The program director, Candice—who was just starting as the new director—was very kind and easy to talk to. I never had the need to discuss anything serious with her, but if the need had come up, I would have felt completely comfortable discussing it with her. Moreover, she was a great person to chat with, and you could tell she actually cared and was interested in each student’s story. Upon talking with her and sharing my pre-dental plans, she was even able to set up a meet and greet with a local dentist! There was also a “right-hand man” of sorts, Fraser, who occasionally helped Candice. Fraser was a fun, witty, guy, who was quite adept at quick quips and sarcasm; but more than that he was also very helpful—and he took wonderful photos/videos of the group. I am not entirely sure he is a permanent staff member, but if he is around if you end up in this program, make sure to get to know him too.
In terms of the housing options offered, there were not a lot of options. In the semester I went, all of the students in my program were housed in the Ilam Apartments—a large block of apartments, or “flats”, that house most of the international students at UC. This was nice because it was easier to meet other international students, but conversely, not many kiwi students lived in these apartments—so the only avenues for meeting kiwi people were through your classes or the clubs/organizations. I think it would be interesting to live in a homestay housing situation, to really integrate into kiwi lifestyle via a willing family. That being said, I was happy with my flatting situation, as my flat mates and I got along nicely, and we often went into town together. However, even though I had a good flat, I know some other students in my program didn’t have the same situation. So, it can be a bit of gamble as to whether your flat situation is pleasant or not. Despite this uncertainty, even if your flat situation is not what you hoped for, this is hardly a dead end—as mentioned earlier, there are other venues for meeting people, and extreme flat annoyances can often be resolved with the help of IES or the University of Canterbury. I should also mention that these flats are arraigned with five single bedrooms, two bathrooms each with a shower, and one shared living room and kitchen. For a student such as myself, who was used to sharing a small room with several roommates, I found the accommodations relatively spacious.
Last—and arguably most Important—is what New Zealand had to offer. When I was considering New Zealand, I honestly didn’t really know too much about the country—I knew Lord of the Rings was filmed and produced there, I knew they were crazy about rugby, and I thought I heard there were a lot of sheep there. Well, I wasn’t wrong, but this initial assessment barely scraped the surface of what New Zealand is. First of all, New Zealand is chock-full of amazing scenery. From snow-capped mountains, to dense forests, to massive fjords, there is something spectacular everywhere you turn. For those who love the outdoors, look no further than New Zealand to satisfy your need for fresh air and natural beauty. Then there are the people of New Zealand—kiwis; they are generally very laidback and kind people. This laidback attitude and lifestyle was somewhat familiar to me, as there is a similar way of life in Minnesota. But more than that, it made it easier to be an international student learning about the country/culture, as the kiwis were never rude or confrontational in our interactions. I can recall one instance in which I was riding the bus into the city center with a couple other IES students; we were at the front of the bus and were chatting about our experience abroad—it was clear we were international students studying abroad—and when the bus stopped at its destination, the bus driver turned around and said, “I think it’s so great that you guys are here studying in New Zealand, good for you guys,” or something along those lines. We were all pleasantly surprised and began chatting with the driver. I think this interaction summarizes the people of New Zealand quite well. I should also note that English is one of the main languages in New Zealand—along with te reo Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language—so if English is your first language you will feel comfortable communicating with people and understanding most written instructions.
Overall, this program was a fantastic experience; the country is beautiful, people friendly, and the opportunities for amazing memories—practically endless; this Northern boy is certainly happy he went South.