You’re Not in Valpo Anymore
Week one in Dunedin! Where to even begin? There are so many wonderful things about this town and university, so I apologize if this all comes out a bit disorganized. But here goes my best shot:
First, let’s get out the not so great things: namely, course approval and registration. Perhaps it’s like this at big state schools in the states as well, but I was unaccustomed to the rat race that registering here is after coming from a school of 4,000 students with classes being picked online after a conversation with an advisor who knows you personally rather than as another number.
The process here consists of first waiting in line to get your course approval form. That really wasn’t too bad because as an international student, we had our own line so it was much shorter. Then you had to go find your major line. That also was pretty easy because no one else was waiting for the English department heads so I quickly was signed off on all courses. I also was lucky in that since all my classes are in the humanities, she had the authority to sign off on all of them. But for the people who were taking, say geology and Maori studies classes, there were two long lines which they had to deal with.
However, I should have known it was too good to be true because when I went to register, there was a class and I was sent back out to the advisors in an attempt to work it out. Unfortunately, I had to drop my New Zealand Film class (which was the one I was the most excited about…) and instead pick up another English class. However, that did come with some advantages as it meant that I now only have classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. So the three-day weekends will offer more time for traveling (or recovering from the weekend…).
The other slightly unfortunate thing was the amount of money spent on books. I usually buy most of mine on Amazon (as an English/Humanities major, I tend to have a lot of smaller ones rather than big textbooks) so you can easily get by spending less than $150 here. That is not the case this semester. Though the books themselves were not too expensive since I bought most of them at a second hand store, there was no way around the university-printed course readers. I was lucky enough to need one for every class, so that was another $100 added on top of the $175 on books.
Now, for the fun stuff! Dunedin is distinctly a college town. The population is roughly 100, 000 people and about 22, 000 of them are students at the University of Otago. The best comparison I can come up with (and this will probably only make sense to my fellow midwesterners) is that if you took the University of Madison and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and combined them, you would come up with something resembling Dunedin. Especially in town and toward the Octagon, you would be extremely hard-pressed to find anyone other than students walking around. The social scene is extremely active and there is ALWAYS something going on (which is definitely a huge departure from Valpo, where even on weekends, there is not too much. We watch a lot of movies there). There are not fraternities or sororities at New Zealand universities, which is really rather nice because I think it opens up the social scene quite a bit. You’re much more likely to find house parties or big groups hanging out in bars or clubs. And everyone is so friendly that you can go pretty much wherever you want.
The campus is relatively compact for how large the body of students is, but I still have succeeded in getting lost several times. However, I am quite directionally challenged so I would not be the best barometer for how easy to navigate the campus is or is not. And everyone is so friendly that you can always ask for directions. I just choose not to and instead take the scenic route. It also means I (for better or worse) feel less obligated to work out because you walk everywhere. I think I’ve been sore since I arrived in New Zealands…the hills are a killer! If New Zealand can’t get you in shape, nothing can. I also must apologize for the shameful lack of pictures of the campus itself; I never seem to have my camera with me on the sunny days, so I will rectify that next week.
Let’s see…the living situation at Otago is a nice departure from the dorms at Valpo. No longer are you forced to deal with RAs or have “quiet hours.” With the flats, you’re allowed to be an adult and manage your housing amongst yourselves. I was very lucky to be placed with some really great people and I think there should be no issues on that front. Our kiwi host is really great, we have one Swedish student working on research, and then three Americans in addition to myself. Though I am a bit jealous of the people who have a bit more diversity as far as the countries where their flatmates are from, I don’t think I would trade with anyone just because our flat is such an interesting and easy-going group of people. We’ve gone against the traditional flow of doing group dinners every night; there’s just too many schedules to accomodate, but we have compensated for that by doing various themed Friday. Last week was Mexican, this week will be Spanish or Italian. It’s a nice way to kind of all catch up and relax at the end of the week. Though it does mean I need to start getting better about cooking for myself, because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cold cereal get old really fast.
With all that being said, I would be failing to give a complete picture if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that I do seem to be experiencing waves of the infamous “culture shock”. It’s a real thing. And it’s mostly not even a result of huge cultural differences; more from just dealing with being completely transported from the familiar to the unknown. I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life, and went to university at a school less than two hours from home. Though I wouldn’t say I came home frequently, there was always the security of knowing that I could if I chose to. I also miss my family, friends, and dog quite a bit more than I anticipated, but they’ve all been supportive and I think these feelings will pass with time. Staying busy and ensuring that I am always focused on the new, positive experiences keeps any real distress at bay and I am looking forward to my first week of classes!
And here are some pictures from the train ride we took during orientation week. I promise, I’ll eventually have pictures will people in them!