By Vanessa Maloney (University of Auckland, New Zealand).
I have decided to dedicate a blog to some advice and information for anybody who is planning to come to study in Auckland (but it might also be useful for anyone visiting New Zealand in general or anybody doing study abroad). It’s just a few nuggets of information that I would have liked to have known before I came here. Hopefully it will be useful to someone. So here goes…
1. Academics/ University life
I’ll start off by getting some of the practicalities out of the way. Auckland Uni is a really good university which is pretty similar to Manchester but also quite different in a couple of fundamental ways. You take 4 modules (or papers as they are called here) each semester. The student system and online enrolment is identical to Manchester. Some papers (and especially the nice tutorial slots) fill up quickly so I would advise you to choose your courses as soon as you have access to the student system. However it is mostly pretty laid back here and you can change your courses until the end of the second week of term. It is more common than in Manchester to sign up for a few courses and then go to the first lectures to decide which ones you want to keep or drop. Unfortunately, sorting out your courses and timetable is a long and complicated process for which you will receive no guidance so my only advice would just be to get on it as early as possible and be patient.
I can only speak for my course (social anthropology) but I have found the difficulty level pretty much the same as in Manchester. You certainly have to put in a fair amount of work, especially as if you are taking 3rd year papers it’s a step up from what you’re used to. The structure and assessment of my course has been the same as in England. I mostly have a two hour lecture and one hour tutorial for each paper. Assessment is done by coursework essays, the odd presentation and exams (although all of my third year papers have had no exams). The only significant academic difference that I can think of is that your work is assessed with a letter grade system (A+, A, A- etc…).This takes a bit of getting used to and I still haven’t worked out a definitive grade conversion rate but if you have trouble getting an idea of how you are doing then you can always ask your lecturer. Most of the lecturers I have had are really approachable and have office hours you can use just like at Manchester.
Auckland uses an online system called Cecil rather than blackboard to post resources and announcements for courses. To be honest I find blackboard a bit more organised and clear, so it took some getting used to. I feel like a lot more information is given out in lectures in the form of handouts etc… So it’s really important to attend so that you get all the information you need about assignments. One thing that I think is great about Auckland is that they publish course books. These are available at the University bookshop at the start of term and they are basically books including all of the required readings for each course. They cost a bit but ultimately save you the cost and effort of printing. Make sure you get in there in your first week to snap one up for each module and if you can’t find one then ask your lecturer about it.
The main difference that I have encountered with University life here is the fact that most Kiwi students still live at home with their parents and commute into Uni every day. This changes the whole dynamic and atmosphere of the university. It’s not the same as in the UK where freshers is a kind of moving-away rite of passage with a massive party atmosphere. I think that students here tend to take their studies a little more seriously and university is more about your course than about the ‘university experience’. It also means that it’s unfortunately a little more difficult to make friends with local students and with people on your course. Everybody comes from all over the Auckland suburbs and people aren’t really looking to make new friends as much as they would be if they had moved away from home like most people do in the UK. The only way that you will probably make friends with many New Zealanders is by getting a job or joining in with extra-curricular activities.
I lived in Unilodge halls in the first semester which were pretty nice and in a really convenient location but also quite expensive for what you get. Especially as I realised there was only one kitchen for the whole apartment block. I would advise people to apply as soon as possible for accommodation as I applied too late to get put in a flat with people so ended up in a studio apartment. In my case I was lucky that I met other people in my halls at the beginning, but I would definitely choose to get put in a flat with people if I had the choice. It’s a great way to meet people straight away so that you have somebody to explore the city with. Some of the halls (such as Huia) have age limits and are strictly regulated (eg. alcohol bans). These are designed for first year students and from what I’ve heard they have the feeling of boarding school dorms so I wouldn’t recommend them. I think the only halls that are meant for exchange students are the ones classed as ‘University Flats and apartments’ as opposed to ‘University Halls’. Carlaw Park is an apartment block that has just been built and seems really nice.
After the first semester my apartment block emptied out (as most people were exchange students doing one semester) so I applied for a Home-stay on North Shore. This was a really great decision – It was cheaper than Unilodge, even including food and bills. It is also a good way to actually get to know local people as opposed to just exchange students. This is the site I used – http://www.aucklandhomestay.org/ . If you drop me a message or email I can put you in touch with some really nice people who might be looking to rent a room in their house.
Quite a few other exchange students I’ve met actually had no accommodation sorted when they came here. They stayed in hostels and then met people to flat with. The international office can also help you out with this as they run events like ‘speed –flatting’ where you can find flatmates. There is also http://www.trademe.co.nz which is sort of like Ebay for New Zealand. As weird as it sounds, it is actually quite common for students to find flatmates and accommodation on there!
The weather is generally amazing – and the quality of light is so much better than in England that I swear it makes everyone just a little bit happier! But in Auckland you often get all four seasons in one day. Sometimes you wake up and it’s grey and miserable but then at midday it turns into a scorching hot summer’s day. Don’t pack too many winter clothes – It generally doesn’t get really cold, even in ‘winter’. Your Kiwi friends might tell you that its winter weather, but it’s really more like the English summer. And let’s face it, when you are used to living in Manchester any day when you can see the sun feels like a day in the Garden of Eden.
4. WEAR SUN CREAM
This isn’t the same ‘remember to wear sun cream’ warning that you got from your mum when you were little and went to the beach; this is the real deal. New Zealand, along with Australia, has some of the highest melanoma rates in the world. There happens to be a hole in the o-zone layer above New Zealand which means that if you get burnt it feels like your skin is being fried like a piece of crispy bacon on a hot pan. I learnt this the hard way and looked like a tomato for about 2 weeks.
5. Culture/ Politics
New Zealand has a really unique and complex history and cultural backdrop because of colonisation and the relationship between Maori and Pakeha (NZ European) cultures. A lot of New Zealand politics centres around ethnic relations and my advice to you as a foreigner is to just be sensitive about these issues. People’s cultural and national identity is a complicated and often controversial issue in New Zealand so just make sure you don’t make any assumptions about how people identify themselves. Every society has its injustices and social hierarchies and in New Zealand you may at some point encounter a bit of racism, especially from some white people towards pacific islanders. I suppose it is pretty mild compared to some other parts of the world but I would just advise visitors to be aware of what people are saying to you, who’s saying it and why. It is a minority and most people you meet here will be pretty liberal and forward thinking, I just mentioned it because it’s something to be aware of.
6. Get a Job
I don’t think you can get a job on the 6 month student visa but if you are here for the full year like me then I would definitely recommend getting a job . First of all because New Zealand is unfortunately quite an expensive place to live in, but also because you can meet people and feel like you are a bit more settled into local life. On a year-long student visa you can work full time over the holidays and up to 21 hours during semester. Things work pretty much the same as in England – You probably stand quite a good chance if you just hand out tonnes of CVs to places in town. Also, New Zealand is a small country where it seems like everyone knows everyone, so ask around. I got a couple of interviews just from asking friends if they had heard of anything. Student Job Site http://www.sjs.co.nz/ is a pretty good website for finding jobs as well. In order to get your first pay check you need an IRD number https://www.ird.govt.nz/how-to/irdnumbers/ . This takes a couple of weeks to come through so I would make sure you apply for it when you decide to start looking for jobs (if you have one already it also shows potential employers that you know what you’re doing).
7. Get out there and travel
New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful country. The actual city of Auckland is pretty average compared to a lot of European cities, but it’s the surroundings that make it so cool. I’ve heard exchange students complaining about the lack of good shopping, restaurants, public transport etc… but to be honest you shouldn’t come to Auckland if you are a major city person. People come to New Zealand for the great expanses of wilderness, the incredible beaches and the laid-back outdoorsy lifestyle. Quite frankly, if you want Sankey’s, the Trafford centre and magic busses then stay in Manchester.
Pretty much everywhere you go is amazing, so even going on weekend or day trips to places nearby on North Island will give you some incredible memories. The only real way to get around is by car so I would recommend getting together with other exchange students and renting a car for road trips. There are loads of car rental places on Beach Road near Uni. You can also get the ‘Naked bus’ to major destinations (and no, this is not actual a nudist bus, just a pretty awkward name for a regular bus company). It’s pretty much like Megabus in the UK. You can also get crazily cheap flights to South Island if you book in advance. Some of my favourite destinations so far have been…
– Abel Tasman National Park (south Island)
– Napier/ Hawkes Bay
– Hot pools in central north island (especially Kerosene creek near Rotorua and the hot/ cold water bridge at Lake Taupo)
– East coast beaches (Ohope was one of my favourite)
– Tongariro Crossing (This is supposed to be one of the best one- day treks in the world. Something I haven’t got round to yet but I’m looking forward to it)
8. Jump off something really high
This is the country that invented the bungee jump. When you get to know New Zealand you will understand why. I feel like only a Kiwi could think it was a good idea to attach somebody onto a piece of elastic and throw them off a cliff. If you are looking for a way of going native while you’re here, the first step is jumping of a building, bridge, cliff or plane at some point. Have fun and don’t look down.
9. Join Clubs. Seriously.
This is something which I really regret not doing at the start of my first semester. Try and join clubs that allow you to meet people, get out there to see the country and hopefully broaden your horizons by trying something new. I’ve heard good things about the tramping club (tramping means hiking), the underwater club, the meat club, the international society and even the dessert society! Go to the orientation week fair and have a chat to as many stalls as you can!
I’ve only had time for one club this semester and that’s the Canoe club http://www.aucc.org.nz/ . Going on kayaking and rafting trips with the club has made for some of my best memories of New Zealand and it has introduced me to an awesome bunch of people. It doesn’t matter if you have zero experience – they will look after you and show you the ropes. Seriously, Join. Just do it. Trust me. Go to the AUCC stall at the orientation week fair and tell them Dobby sent you… You won’t regret it!
10. Be proactive. Put yourself out there. Challenge yourself. And all those other clichéd bits of life advice…
This is more of a piece of general advice for anybody doing a study abroad placement. Before I came here, I heard of all the amazing stories of people who had done study abroad and heard the classic ‘it was the best year of my life’ tale a thousand times. However stupid it sounds, I suppose I kind of assumed that you just get dropped off in some far off place and automatically have ‘the best year of your life’. In reality, very little is actually sorted out for you. You have to essentially build your life from square zero in a place where you have no history, friends, family or knowledge of your surroundings. It is up to you to sort out your accommodation and courses, meet new friends, maybe get a job, try new things, create adventures, organise your travel plans and get to know the country you are living in. Although this is daunting, and not always a walk in the park, it is also what makes study abroad so fulfilling. I am having the most incredible time in New Zealand at the moment and don’t want it to end, but the most satisfying thing about it is the fact that I built the life I have now from scratch. It’s the knowledge that nothing was handed to me and I created all these incredible memories by getting out there and being proactive. I know a lot of other exchange students who feel the same way. Doing an exchange year turns you into a bit more of a ‘yes’ person and makes you want to seize every opportunity that’s handed to you. If you go into it with the right attitude then you will have an amazing time.
I know this blog was a bit long and rambling but I hope it is useful! Please feel free to comment/ message me if you are a student who wants to know more about anything and I will try and help you out.