Kiwi adventures: Part 1

By Vanessa Maloney (University of Auckland, New Zealand).

Greetings from the land of the Kiwis! I’ts been a long time since I posted so I’m going to split this update into two parts. Here is part one…

Hills, Hobbits and hospitals…

My first month or so in Auckland after the semester started was up and down to say the least…

I settled into the routine of classes quite easily as all of my lecturers are really approachable and interesting and I definitely chose the right courses. It is very hard work doing four modules of mostly 3rd level courses, especially as a couple of my courses had postgraduate level students as well, but as long as you keep up with the reading each week it’s not too bad. I also realised quite early on that when you’re doing study abroad its really important to be organised with your work so that you can make the most of opportunities to travel and have exciting experiences.

As well as anthropology courses I decided to take a couple of Pacific Studies classes. I didn’t realise however that the department is mainly designed for ethnically Pacific Islander students and was very surprised to see that I was the only white girl in the class! I’m sure I at first looked like a lost puppy who had wondered into the wrong lecture hall. Fortunately though, the lecturer and my fellow classmates were very welcoming and actually really appreciated the fact that I wanted to learn about their culture. It is a strange and slightly uncomfortable situation when I am sat in a tutorial having to discuss with my Samoan classmates the British colonisation of Samoa. I feel like I have learnt more in this module than in any other simply because it’s so mind broadening being put in a room with twenty people who have a completely different view of the world from you. It was quite surreal becoming the novelty English girl; the strange and exotic outsider in a class full of people who had their own frame of reference. I would recommend anybody who is studying abroad to really make an effort to step outside of their comfort zone and take the kinds of courses which you can’t take at home.

Unfortunately, just as I felt I had settled into classes I managed to have a nasty fall and break my arm/shoulder. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult having to go through my first broken bone ever when I’m on the other side of the world from my friends and family. Fortunately I had some good friends in my halls who really looked after me in terms of cooking, washing dishes and opening jars etc.. (Thanks Jack and Deirbhile!). Also, the New Zealand medical system is pretty reliable and because it was an accident it was covered by the government so I didn’t even have to use my insurance. Having a British passport also allowed me to get discounted painkillers which was useful. All in all it was a pretty bad experience but after a few weeks I started to get back into the swing of things and tried to not let it ruin my study abroad experience.

Care packages from home included chocolate, plasters and a pair of boots I had forgotten!
Sympathy care packages from home included chocolate, plasters and a pair of boots I had forgotten!

A Kiwi friend of mine invited me on a much needed weekend away at her home in Matamata – a couple of hours south of Auckland. Matamata is famous for being the host of the Lord of the Rings film set of Hobbiton and it turns out that my friend worked there and was able to give us a tour. Even though I’m not a massive Lord of the Rings fan it was a really fun day out and produced a few classic shots of us standing in hobbit doorways… The visit was topped of with a bit of cider and ginger beer in the hobbit pub ‘The Green Dragon’!

Discovering my inner hobbit
Discovering my inner hobbit

From Matamata we also drove east to Mount Maunganui which is a beautiful coastal town with white sandy beaches and a small mountain overlooking it. The long walk to the top of the mountain was certainly worth the view!

At the top of Mount Maunganui
At the top of Mount Maunganui
Strolling along the beach at Maunganui
Strolling along the beach at Maunganui
This is supposed to be winter in New Zealand!
This is supposed to be winter in New Zealand!

First impressions of New Zealand

By Vanessa Maloney (University of Auckland, New Zealand).

Having finally sorted out my flights, accommodation and visa it still hadn’t really sunk in that I would soon be moving on my own to the other side of the world. I was so used to thinking of New Zealand as some far-off dream that as my departure date drew nearer I was still in denial that it was actually happening! In the busy days before leaving I managed to pack in a few emotional goodbyes and then suddenly it was time to go…

The plane journey was long and uncomfortable but I was so excited about arriving in Auckland that the pins and needles in my feet, the baby shrieking behind me and the fact that my TV monitor was broken didn’t seem to bother me.  The stopover in Malaysia was so short that I barely had time to explore the airport, never mind Kuala Lumpur. I did however get a small taste of Malaysian culture in the coconut rice served for breakfast and the short tourism film that Malaysian airlines forced us to watch (complete with a very amusing propaganda-style song about how we were now entering paradise on earth)!

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A very Maori welcome into baggage claim at Auckland International Airport
 Considering the Kiwi reputation for being welcoming and friendly, I unfortunately didn’t have the most welcoming start to my time in New Zealand. Having arrived at my accommodation at 1 am after a whole day’s worth of flying with very little sleep, I was locked out of my apartment building. The duty manager who was supposed to let me in had obviously fallen asleep at his desk and left me and 5 other international students stranded in the lobby. After 3 hours of waiting and calling various emergency numbers we eventually gave up and decided to share rooms in the expensive hotel next door. So… my first night in New Zealand was spent sharing a bed with two Irish people! Although it wasn’t the best start, It actually worked out for the best as you would be surprised how quickly people make friends at 3 in the morning when they are cold, angry and sleep deprived! It seemed like a weird social experiment to see what would happen when you shove a bunch of people from England, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Poland in a room together. Luckily, the results were good (and sometimes hilarious) and we have now formed a team for the orientation week quiz night called ‘the Locked Outs’.

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My apartment block is the building on the left… not bad!

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My first couple of days here were spent exploring the area and trying as hard as I could to get over the jet lag by staying awake past dinnertime! My first impressions of the people here are overwhelmingly positive. New Zealanders seem to have the right balance between being laid back and friendly but also being able get stuff done. I’ve had some really great conversations with people serving me in shops, who are just genuinely interested in why I’m here and happy to spend ten minutes telling me about all the places I should go to. Auckland is a beautiful city.  It makes a nice change to be in an environment where you can travel five minutes from the bustling city center and suddenly be in a nature reserve by the sea.  It is a city built on about 48 Volcanoes. On the downside this means that a walk to the shops feels like a marathon, but on the upside it has some incredible views…

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View across the bay from Parnell – just ten minutes walk from my flat
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You can understand why Auckland is nicknamed ‘the city of sails’

Orientation week itself has been great fun. Some of the highlights included a welcome Haka performance (the Maori war dance) for new students, meeting the infamous ‘chicken boy’ (Youtube it…) from New Zealand X Factor and getting a taste for Kiwi beer and music at ‘Winterfest’. We also arrived in time for the Maori new year celebrations, which involved special markets, art exhibitions and film screenings on the harbour. I took this chance to try the Maori food Hangi, which involves cooking meat in a specially made pit in the ground. It was by far the best lamb I’ve ever tasted and I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to get very fat in New Zealand…

My next blog posts will be updating you on how classes are going, a bit of weekend travelling and I’ve also booked tickets for the All Blacks vs Springbucks rugby match… So watch this space!