Simon Hird / / Geography / / University of Auckland / / NZ
It’s been a while since my last post so I apologise for that but this semester has been pretty full on, I promise…
One thing you will no doubt experience whilst studying abroad, are the countless comments you’ll get about this crazy ‘holiday’ you’re going on. Let’s not take away from what an incredible experience it is, but let me assure you it’s not all mountains, waterfalls and beaches. The level of work may not be as rigorous at the University of Auckland as it is back at Manchester, but regardless it is a world top 100 University and the work is still to a high standard. So, whilst time spent working may at first appear to be less whilst abroad, when this is combined with adjusting to academic differences, a new environment, the desire to travel every weekend and get involved with as much as possible, this can produce a busy schedule.
So here’s a run down of what I have been up to this semester:
The first month absolutely rushed by. Assignments and deadlines came, piled up, and passed as I began to get into the swing of how to do university at Auckland. The are definite parallels to how university works at Manchester but the specifics are slightly different (I will dedicate a blog post to academics and the differences I have encountered here so you can get the gist properly). The mid-semester break came around so fast – the end of August, I started mid-July. I was off on holiday before most of my friends had even started back at University in the UK, which is kind of a nice feeling knowing you’ve almost gotten ahead, even though it was at the expense of a very short UK summer.
I spent my first week (of two) of mid-semester break in the Cook Islands on this tiny island called Rarotonga. Rarotonga has got to be the closest thing to paradise I have ever experienced. The Cook Islands were somewhere I had dreamt about going to for years and they did not disappoint. We stayed at this little Hostel called Backpackers International (less than 3 minutes walk from the beach) where the 12 of us from Auckland made up well over half of the guests. The island itself is pretty small but not quite enough to be entirely walkable, so we decided to rent a car. There is one main town in Rarotonga and we scoured it for car rentals, but the only ones we could find that would carry all 12 of us were a 20 year old Nissan Micra convertible and a minivan. The car wasn’t in the best condition, it actually had a hole in the floor so you could see the road rushing by below you, and the seatbelts were merely there for aesthetic value – but it was perfect for the island. We spent the next few days exploring the beaches, reefs, little towns and the jungle hills in the interior. I was taken aback with how low-key the tourism is there considering this was one of the best times of year to go. The beaches (which pretty much run around the entire island) were often deserted or only had a few people on them. At times there were more dogs on the beaches than other people… One of the days we hiked straight across the island up into the hills. The trail was more like a tunnel through a sea of thick green tropical vegetation before it opened up at the top for some epic views over the island.
On our last evening in Rarotonga we watched the sunset on the beach before heading back to the hostel, to pack our stuff and head towards the airport. By this point we had dropped off the cars and so had to hitchhike into town. Everyone is so friendly in Rarotonga and all 12 of us got picked up in probably less than 15 minutes (some of us actually got a ride from the Minister of Health of the Cook Islands!). We had our last meal on the island and reflected on this incredible place before catching our late evening flight back to Auckland.
I had a couple of days in Auckland to re-group (mainly doing laundry and catching up on admin stuff) before I was headed out on my Geog 330 field course to Gisborne. This was the main component of the 3rd year paper Research Methods in Physical Geography, where I would be carrying out the fieldwork I had planned and researched during the first half of the semester. The piece of research I had planned involved using a drone to produce a 3-D model of a stream in the upper part of the Waipaoa Catchment. Aerial photography has been something I really wanted to try and I thought it would be interesting to tie in my love of photography with geography. The 3-D model I would produce using drone imagery would then be compared to a model from 10 years ago to assess the Geomorphological change in this highly dynamic catchment. Gisborne itself is relatively isolated out on the East Coast of the North Island but our research was even more remote, up a valley only accessible from the road by truck or by foot. Most of the time it was the latter and we found ourselves wading through rivers and hiking up the unconsolidated braided river channel as we carried out our data collection. The week involved a lot of hard work but I had fun for sure – plus it’s always good to get out of the classroom to learn and a good way to make some new friends. I also got to witness the sun rising from the most easterly city in the world (as claimed by NZ Tourism), which I think is pretty cool.
The end of the semester was stressful as always. Regardless of whether this year is pass/fail for me I still felt under pressure to do well. In the second half of the semester I had 2 essays due, 4 GIS labs, 1 project, 1 presentation, 1 report and 2 exams. I think it’s only fair to admit that I did find the latter stages of this semester difficult. A few personal struggles and periods of being unwell combined with the workload did get a bit too much at points. But once I spoke to some of the staff both here and back at Manchester, I had some really great support to help me get back on track and I finished this semester with some solid grades. I guess the advice I would give is that even during the incredible experience that is studying abroad, you can still have hard times. The study abroad offices know that and it is so worth your time letting them know how you are doing because there’s so much that they can do for you.
So now the semester has come to an end. No more assignments and over 3 months off to travel, which I am super excited about. To start of the adventures me and some friends have headed out to Australia to travel for ~5 weeks to work our way up the East coast, starting with Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road.
I guess a lot of you thinking of studying abroad next year will have put, or be putting, your applications in by now so good luck with that! I’ll try and put out a few more specific blog posts about academic differences and accommodation soon so you lucky people who get to study at the University of Auckland are well informed.
Again, apologies for the long post this time round… I seem to be making this a habit.
P.S. If you guys want to see a few more photos feel free to check out my Instagram: @simonhird
the Instagram run by study abroad students at The University of Auckland: @studyabroad_auckland