Megan Richards

Megan Richards and a friend, climbing Mt. Owen *
Megan Richards and a friend, climbing Mt. Owen *

Megan Richards spent the Spring 2009 semester at the University of Otago.

When I left Los Angeles for Auckland, New Zealand, on a flight that would take over 12 hours, I was feeling quite sick, my body aching, blowing my nose constantly. I had caught a rather nasty cold while visiting my grandma in LA for a few days, after traveling down from Alaska before heading to New Zealand. During the three-day AustraLearn Orientation in Rotorua (on the North Island), where we went caving, learned a Māori dance known as the haka, had an opportunity to go zorbing, went to a sheep show, and saw a traditional Māori performance after eating a Māori meal known as hangi (where the food is cooked underground), I was still feeling quite miserable but enjoying myself nonetheless. When I finally arrived in Dunedin (on the South Island), where I would be studying abroad for the semester at the University of Otago, the weather was wet and nasty. Rain came pouring down for almost the entire week of Orientation prior to the start of classes. I finally recovered from my sickness and started to feel better during that week, but being sick and coming to Dunedin where it rained constantly for the whole first week was certainly not how I imagined the start of my New Zealand adventure. But, I soon found out that the rest of my time in New Zealand did indeed live up to and pass my expectations.

At Paradise on the South Island of New Zealand *
At Paradise on the South Island of New Zealand *

During the semester I stayed at a flat (apartment) just across the street from campus and nearby all the main areas of the city. My two flatmates and I shared a kitchen, living area, and bathroom, but we each had our own private room.

After figuring out how to register for my classes at the University of Otago (registering is a long process which is not done online there, unlike at UAF) and getting oriented with the campus and with the city of Dunedin, I started getting involved with the Otago University Tramping Club (OUTC), the largest and most active club at the University. OUTC members go tramping, a term that all New Zealanders use to refer to hiking, almost every weekend and during the week days, all over the South Island of New Zealand.

A yellow-eyed penguin at Fiordland National Park *
A yellow-eyed penguin at Fiordland National Park *

During my first month in New Zealand, I went traveling every weekend and during parts of the weekdays. The first two weekends I went traveling and tramping with OUTC to the west coast of New Zealand at Paradise and Fiordland National Park. The third weekend I participated in an AustraLearn volunteer conservation project at the Catlins, at the southern part of the South Island, where I learned about and got to help with yellow-eyed penguin habitat restoration. The fourth weekend I went traveling with a few friends to Wanaka and Queenstown, up farther north on the South Island from Dunedin.

At the top of the Mt. Dobson ski route *
At the top of the Mt. Dobson ski route *

Then I began to realize that my classes were starting to get a bit more difficult and require more time than I had been spending on them previously. So I started focusing more on school for the next couple of weeks, trying to catch up on reading and homework.

I bought a bike during my stay in New Zealand, which I quite easily sold back at the end of the semester, so I was able to get around Dunedin and do some day trips biking to other areas just outside the city. Biking also gave me the ability to bike to the ocean fairly often (about a 20-minute bike ride). The beach there was gorgeous. In fact, every beach in New Zealand was stunning. I don’t know if I will ever think of another beach quite the same :-).

It was fall in New Zealand when I arrived, and, as the semester progressed, winter came. My flat, which was not very well insulated or heated, was quite cold, but I learned how to be comfortable inside at a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit :-). It snowed one time in Dunedin while I was there.

I found some time to go skiing one Saturday at Mt. Dobson, which was a blast. I went skiing two more times while I was in New Zealand, both times in Queenstown. Toward the end of the semester, I climbed Mt. Owen near the top of the South Island with some friends, which was a really fun trip. We followed some advice and brought ice axes and crampons, but we didn’t actually end up needing them.

In Fiordland National Park, heading up to U-pass *
In Fiordland National Park, heading up to U-pass *

After the end of the semester, I went traveling for three weeks around New Zealand. First I went down to Stewart Island (an island just below the South Island of NZ, known for being a bird haven) where I spent about six days. Next I made my way over to Queenstown, where I did some skiing. Then I traveled along the west coast of New Zealand to the top of the South Island and over to the North Island, where I slowly made my way up to Auckland for my flight home. I took the buses to get around the country and ferries to get to and from the South Island to Stewart Island and then from the South Island up to the North Island. I stayed mostly in hostels, but sometimes in huts (cabins) while tramping, meeting various different and interesting people.

In New Zealand, there are 10 sheep for every person *
In New Zealand, there are 10 sheep for every person *

During my study abroad in New Zealand, I found many differences and similarities of the country with my own. Some random differences I have listed below.

The people speak with an accent and use many different vocabulary words, such as tramping for “hiking,” tea for “dinner,” hire for “rent,” head torch for “headlamp,” zed for the letter “Z,” track for “trail,” and sweet as for “cool” or “sweet,” just to name a few. Everybody drives on the left side of the road in New Zealand. Bike paths are sometimes in the middle of car lanes. When the walking signal comes on so that you can walk across an intersection, it also makes a beeping noise. The toilet has different flush options. Most sinks have a cold faucet and a hot faucet. Not all the food at the supermarket is the same or in the same kind of containers or packaging (although pretty much all of the food you can find the US you can find over in NZ). The ratio of sheep per person is about 10/1. There are no snakes or poisonous insects or bears or any harmful animals in NZ (although there are some pretty nasty plants), so it is a great place to explore and go tramping. About 30% of the land area of New Zealand is a national park. Finally, most of the people in New Zealand seem more laid-back with issues regarding swearing, drinking, and religion, and the majority of people in New Zealand seem more concerned with the environment and enjoy getting outdoors more than those in the United States. These are just a few of the differences I encountered while I was in the country.

Overall, I had a fantastic time in New Zealand. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and would recommend taking a similar adventure to anyone considering studying abroad.

*Click on the picture for a larger view

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