Final NZ round-up

By Vanessa Maloney (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

I have to admit that over the summer this blog got pushed to the back of my mind, but (finally) here are my last reports on my year abroad. I am now back in good old rainy Manchester so writing this last entry is an excellent excuse to look back at some sunny pictures and imagine myself on a South Pacific beach!

First things first… before I talk about the more recent events, I just wanted to upload some of my Canoe Club pictures as promised. These are pictures from weekend trips throughout my second semester. Some of the most fun that I had in NZ.

Rafting a seven metre waterfall at Kaituna
Rafting a seven metre waterfall at Kaituna
Kaituna - Taking the leap
Kaituna – taking the leap


the milky way visible from our campsite!
The Milky Way visible from our campsite!
Peaceful scenery on the Mohaka
Peaceful scenery on the Mohaka
Thankfully we were only looking at this waterfall!


Part 1 : Leaving New Zealand

Exams finished at the end of June and I had two weeks before my flight to properly say goodbye to this country that I have come to love so much. Although the weather at this time of year is a bit dull, I set out on a little road trip to Taupo/ Turangi, on to a kayak trip organised by the Uni Canoe Club and then went on to another friend’s family bach on the Coramandel peninsula.

It was such a nice way to say goodbye and I couldn’t believe how hard it was to leave some of my friends behind. I must admit that the last few days in New Zealand were very difficult for me and there were some teary goodbyes. However, I found comfort in reminding myself that if I had never signed up for study abroad I would never even have met any of these people or had any of these experiences int the first place.

One last bach trip on the Coramandel peninsula
One last bach trip on the Coramandel peninsula


Part 2 : Island Paradise

Instead of going straight back home, I booked my flight to go via Rarotonga (Cook Islands) and then to LA. I was in the Cook Islands for five weeks doing a placement as a teaching assistant in a primary school. I flew an hour from the main island to a small island surrounded by a beautiful blue lagoon (population under 2000) called Aitutaki.

Aitutaki has got to have been one of the most incredible/fulfilling/surreal experiences of my life. It is impossible to explain this island to anyone who hasn’t been there. Just to try to paint a picture, here are a few bullet points…

  • There are roosters wandering around the airport (roosters also served as my alarm clock every day at 6.30)
  • Goats and pigs roam around the streets. Kids sometimes have fun by chasing a pig around the school field.
  • I saw whales from the golf course.
  • Literally everybody drives a motorbike (even 80 year old grannies!).
  • Everybody says hello to you in the street, and when you meet people it feels like you are old friends.
  • You will regularly be invited to a ‘feed’ – a massive feast where I have literally never seen so much food. I often saw people put cake and dessert on their plate first and then pile main course on top , so you literally eat through to your dessert.
  • I got used to drilling a hole in a drinking coconut to refresh myself on a hot day.
  • People gossip and news travels faster than what seems humanly possible. Talking is the main hobby in a place where there’s not a lot else by way of entertainment.
  • Nobody will let you walk! You cannot go for a walk without somebody insisting that they give you a lift on their bike, even if its only 50 yards.
  • Families are big! When getting a lift into town from my neighbour, it would be normal for him to wave to at least 5 of his cousins or nephews.

Some of the people that I met on Aitutaki are the friendliest, warmest, most open-hearted people that I have ever met, and I will never forget the kindness they showed me.

Island paradise
Island paradise
Me with Mama Tutai at the new school's opening - wearing the dress that was made for me
Me with Mama Tutai at the new schools opening – wearing the dress that was made for me
Mama Noa and one of her grandchildren
Mama Noa and one of her grandchildren
The mural I helped paint in the newly built pre-school
The mural I helped paint in the newly built pre-school
School Assembly
School assembly
If you've ever wondered how many kids you can fit on the back of a truck...
If you’ve ever wondered how many kids you can fit on the back of a truck…


Part 3 : Homecoming

After a stopover in LA, I finally flew into Heathrow to greet my family. I loved seeing them again and had a permanent smile on my face whilst I was catching up with family and friends. It was quite surreal seeing everybody in 3D again as I was so used to seeing them inside a computer screen!

A nice airport welcome from my sister
A nice airport welcome from my sister

I must admit that it has sometimes been difficult settling back into English culture. I found it hard to get used to a less laid-back lifestyle, the lack of sun and the sheer amount of people. Going into central London was a stressful experience, especially after coming straight from Aitutaki where the population was so small.

However, I am starting to settle back in again and I’m doing my best to continue some of my hobbies (e.g. kayaking) and attitudes from NZ back here in the UK. Sometimes I think back to New Zealand and almost can’t believe how incredible it was. Sometimes it feels like a dream, until I talk to a Kiwi friend online or see an All-Blacks game on TV and remember that it was actually all real!

My year abroad was beyond all of my expectations. I expected to meet some cool people, but didn’t expect to make friends for life. I expected to travel to some beautiful places and experience a different culture, but didn’t expect this to become such a huge part of who I am. It’s so hard to reflect on my year abroad without sounding cheesy, because all of the cliches are just so true. If anybody is thinking of doing a year abroad, I just want to say that in my experience (although it was by no means always easy,) studying abroad was probably the best decision I have ever made. I cannot imagine my university experience and my life in general without having done it and am so grateful that I was given this amazing opportunity.

Academic Experiences in Melbourne

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

So I’m about half way through my semester here at Melbourne University and I’d say it’s about time to talk about the academic side to my exchange here…

Tomorrow will mark the start of my 9th week here at Melbourne Uni, and with only about 3-4 weeks of teaching period left, I’d say this semester has flown by! It actually scared me when someone said to me the other day ‘so you’re almost done here then’, when I said I was only here for a semester, and I guess it’s true! Well, almost done my actual study period – I’ve made sure I’ve left myself a good month and a bit of travelling time here in Australia afterwards so I won’t be jetting back home anytime soon that’s for sure! So for those of you looking to study at Melbourne Uni, you may be interested to know what it’s like and how the academic aspect differs with Manchester. Well, obviously I can only speak for my subject – I study neuroscience back home at Manchester but am part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne (I will explain why later) – but there may be some general aspects that apply to your degree too.

So firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne. This is an important point to consider because Melbourne uni, like most other Australian and American unis I think, structure their degrees rather differently – instead of having to choose such a specialised degree from the start of your course, you usually only have to apply for a broad degree like ‘science’ and then you will only have to specialise at the later stage of your degree. So, if I were you I’d get in touch with Melbourne to find out what area exactly you should be looking to apply for because otherwise it can get rather confusing!

Another thing I’ve had to get my head around is the fact that their degrees are four years here, and that’s not including an honours. That means their first year here is much like our last year at college before we go to university, their second year much like our first year at university, and so on. This may mean you may find some overlap in the subject matter in the courses you study here in comparison to Manchester but, as I said, this may only apply to my course and I’m not sure what it would be like in other ones. For this reason, I chose to mix and match the level of my course – I’m a second year student and decided to do three second-year level courses here and then one third-year level course. I have so far found this quite challenging, but in a good way. I do feel that when I go back to Manchester I will be better prepared for the demand of work since the third-year courses here are assessed in a similar way to the third-year courses back home; as a science student I am not used to doing many essays, but my third-year course is in fact 80% essay-based. I guess I do feel pretty intimidated by this but am hoping it’ll all be okay with some hard work!

I have found the lectures here a little different to those at Manchester – I think the class size is slightly smaller, but the main difference being the intimacy of the lectures. I was used to having lecturers standing further away in our lecture halls at Manchester (in my classes anyway) – here, however, I find that they are practically on the first row! As a consequence of this closeness, I have to admit that I have found napping in lectures a lot harder! I don’t think I’ve seen a single person fall asleep here at Melbourne! I guess it’s a good thing and has taught me to switch on that’s for sure!

I’d say the assessment, and therefore the workload, is quite different here for my course as well- for starters, I’ve had mid-semester tests, and quite a lot of them to say the least! This has meant that I’ve had to work a bit more consistently throughout the semester, something I have to admit I wasn’t at first used to. I think it works out quite well though as it means there is less cramming at the end of the semester and means you’re probably better prepared. I’ve had a lot of weekly online tests too -something I am used to back in Manchester – but the style of some has taken some adapting to! Here they do things called ‘blogs’, where it’s almost an online forum with several other classmates where you are assessed for your discussion over a certain topic.

Something I have found dramatically different here, though, is practicals. In Manchester, the life sciences subjects are very lab-based. Here, I’ve had a total of 6 practicals in the whole semester, and that really is nothing in comparison to back home! They don’t seem to have a compulsory practical element like Manchester do, unless you specifically choose a practical-based module. It depends what you’re looking for, but for me, I’ve quite enjoyed the fact that I don’t have to do labs so frequently and the ones that I do do are pretty cool! I’m doing an anatomy module and so we’ve been designated four time slots throughout the semester where we spend some time in a dissection room – for me this was a real draw to Melbourne as I wouldn’t have had the chance to do this back in Manchester. I have found it really interesting and am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

So yeah, overall, I would say there are some differences, but in general I wouldn’t say it’s too much of a shock in comparison to the academic lifestyle we’re used to back in Manchester – apparently it’s a lot harder for the American students to get used to because they’re used to a different way of learning. The campus here is great though, such a nice environment to be in – more of a campus feel than a city, little bit more green and so much going on all the time! Although the libraries don’t have as accessible opening hours as those back in Manchester, you learn to work around it and the facilities really are good – I’ve had to get used to working with macs, as that’s pretty much all they use here!!

As a last tip, I’d say make sure you have a good look into all the different course options on offer to you – it is pretty important to make sure you find something you think you will really enjoy! Good luck!