Although it felt surreal to officially be done with my semester abroad (especially finishing in early November), it finally came time to head back to the US and reunite with family and friends.
In reflection upon my first blog post, I regret to say that my position has changed in a not-so-great way. I had always been nervous about embarking on this journey without knowing anyone except for the vague names of others attending from my school, but I had high hopes for connecting with the local culture and student population that live in New Zealand. Unfortunately, I really did not make that many connections with the kiwi population. I found it hard for my personality to connect with those that we were inherently surrounded by. Kiwis that I matched well with were difficult to encounter without a car as the housing for international students lies directly in the party residential area and I do not vibe well with that scene. Rather than establishing great connections with the local culture, I made 3 acquaintances at best who empathized with my experience and wished there were more for them to offer me. The best relationship (and blessing) I formed was with my female housemate who attends the University of Richmond in Virginia and happens to be from Chicago, the same as with me!
My experience, it seems like, accounts for a very small percentage of those who choose to study abroad in New Zealand and at the University of Otago, but I have found it helpful in giving feedback to my school back home, program, and to the University of Otago so that they may help others like me in the future. I absolutely believe that this experience has influenced me and how I perceive not only the world, but myself, as well. I learned much about who I am in general as well as how I can manage traveling solo, living without a meal plan, and how I interact with others when I’m feeling hopeless on making connections with others.
I have learned that even when you are put into a situation or period of life on your own and creating that foundation is proving to be way more difficult than you anticipated, you will find helpful resources in some obvious and some unusual ways. You never truly know how many resources you have, especially as a college student, to help you cope and not just survive, but thrive in life. Although I feel that I definitely did just survive and didn’t really thrive during this experience, I am thankful for the support I received and perseverance I showed.
It was very clear that others with different personalities and comfort levels viewed their experience and the world differently. While I was struggling, many others did thrive at the University of Otago and shed tears of sadness as they had to leave the people they befriended and the country they came to love. I honestly am happy to see this as New Zealand is an amazingly beautiful country that I am beyond blessed to have gotten the opportunity to experience in such a unique way and want others in the future to come and grow connections that I saw others experiencing.
My experience has not thrown my interest in the country, nor my will to go back to New Zealand. I would love to head back to that part of the world to see some things I did not have the resources to see, as well as other countries in that region.
My advice to those looking to see if the University of Otago and New Zealand should be their destination of choice for studying abroad: if you love the outdoor adventures that include hiking, surfing, diving, backpacking, camping, etc., do come to this country. There is an abundance of places to explore and as the weather can be highly unpredictable, going to a spot twice or more can give you different experiences and opportunities for that perfect photo to make all your friends and family jealous. If you don’t enjoy quite a bit of party culture, work hard to discover a friend or group of friends that you can go on these adventures with. One of my biggest regrets was not searching for this group sooner as I was under the impression they would come to me naturally. This is not the case and I promise, no one thinks you are strange for just meeting them and saying you’d be down for a trip that weekend! That’s how most of my trips that I took with others that weren’t my housemate got planned.
I give the best of wishes to any other embarking on their study abroad experience to New Zealand and the University of Otago – you will find things that make you happy to be there, even if you are not having the experience you envisioned!! Don’t forget to get out of Dunedin – it’s better out of there!!