For most people, the decision to study abroad is accompanied by a huge, usually overwhelming influx of information regarding which location is the best for them to go. And I understand; there’s so many things on this planet to see: Europe! South America! Asia! While every place is special, and has something unique to offer, I’m here to shine a light on a relatively unsung study abroad location: New Zealand.
“But nobody has said anything to me about New Zealand!”
“Where even is New Zealand?”
I get it, I really do. I was not thinking about this small island literally on the edge of the world at first either. But an offhand destination search led to some genuine research, and I ended up spending a semester in what I am convinced is the absolute best place on Earth: Wellington, New Zealand. So for those of you that don’t really have a place set in your head, and are willing to be adventurous and try something a little off the beaten track, I urge you to consider New Zealand.
So why should New Zealand be on your radar as a study abroad location?
As just a sort of litmus test for whether you and New Zealand would be a good fit, I devised this checklist of qualities. If you find yourself reading through this list and getting excited, or even curious, then it’s likely you would love to study abroad in New Zealand.
Are you someone who:
One of the greatest pulls to this country is its utterly breathtaking natural scenery. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, beaches, plains; you name it, they have it. Even in the cities, there is such an emphasis on wildlife and preservation and integrating nature into one’s everyday life. I went to university in Wellington, which is on the coast between the North and the South Island, and every day after class I would walk 5 min to the coast and just watch the sea and the mountains. Many of my cohort spent the 2-week spring break doing a driving tour of the South Island, where much of the country’s most well-known natural beauties are found.
Likes their freedom/personal space?
New Zealand is a relatively sparsely populated island, and people are quite independent-minded there. This means that there aren’t a whole lot of restrictions about doing things or going places, and it’s not unusual to be traveling alone. I spent so much of my time in New Zealand on my own just exploring everything there was to offer, and learning so much about myself in the process!
Prefers an English-speaking destination?
Many people are unsure of what language is spoken in New Zealand, since it’s so far away, but they’re generally pleased to find out the national language is English! Well, and Maori, which is the name of indigenous population and the language they speak. Most of the place names (cities, streets, landmarks) in the country are Maori words: Aotearoa is the other name for the country itself – meaning “land of the long white cloud.”
The accent itself of Kiwis (the people of New Zealand) is quite similar to an Australian accent. It can get a bit tricky to understand sometimes, especially when a lot of Kiwis are together speaking, because they speak in a heavily contextual manner and there are often a lot of regional terms that are not common in the United States, but if people know you come from the States they’ll usually slow down and use less slang. So never fear!
Has an appreciation for indigenous culture and history?
New Zealand culture is so rich and beautiful, and little pieces of the history and culture of the Maori people are everywhere you look. As an initiation into university, the new students (foreign and domestic) have the opportunity to participate in a powhiri, which is a sacred initiation ceremony. One of the highlights of my trip was during AIFS’s excursion to Rotorua where we went to a Maori village and got to participate in a hangi (which is a huge feast) and immerse ourselves in Maori customs. Some of my favorite things to do included going to the different museums and learning more about how the Maori shaped and continue to create New Zealand culture.
Even little things, like the names of places being in Maori language and my tutors/professors beginning class by reciting their whakapapa (the name of the specific tribe their ancestors came from and where on the island they landed), show how integrated into daily life Maori culture is.
Wants time to go a little more slowly?
Something I did not realize about the United States until I spent some time in New Zealand was just how fast everything passes by. Even when you try and take time to “smell the roses,” it’s something that has to be scheduled in, around and between other tasks that take away from the true purpose of the task itself. What a lot of people don’t really know about New Zealand is that it’s a tropical island (just a little less warm!). People are truly on island time. Perhaps not as much as, say, Fiji, but a variation of island time nonetheless. People spend so much time just enjoying what’s around them, and the people that they’re with, which is something I came to appreciate as well.
At first it was a bit disconcerting having so much time to myself and for the day, but once you get used to it, you wonder how you were able to cram so many things into your life before. It really helped me to appreciate everything that I encountered and all the people that I met, even now. And it isn’t as though people don’t get things done; it’s just not so much of a race as it is in the USA.
Wants a little bit of kindness?
Something I heard about constantly before I got to New Zealand was how nice the Kiwi people are, how generous and how open-minded. I heard it so much I began to not really believe in it that much. After all, I was from the Southern USA, where kindness is practically a cultural trademark. But oh boy was I unprepared. Kiwis are truly the nicest people I’ve ever encountered in my life. And not just nice with human interaction either; the care they show for the environment, for culture, for animals, it’s everywhere. It really gives you so much faith in humanity. It showed me how much people influence each other, and how much better everyone’s lives can be if people are just looking out for each other. New Zealand is consistently rated one of (if not the) safest countries in the world, and I think a large part of that has to do with this culture of kindness. I felt completely comfortable going places by myself, even at night, which again is a luxury I didn’t realize I didn’t have in the USA.
So there you have it! And these things are just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to spend time in a place that will give you a new appreciation for life, I urge you to at least look into New Zealand for your study abroad experience. And if you want to utilize more subjective resources, you can always get in contact with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org! I could talk all day about my experience, and I have contacts with others who studied abroad with me as well!
Haere ra, and happy researching!