When I first got off the plane in New Zealand I became overwhelmed with many different emotions – first of all I was tired and a bit disoriented from the 12 hour flight, I was incredibly excited to meet other students studying abroad and I was even a bit nervous to be in an unfamiliar country on the other side of the world. It definitely took some time to settle into a new routine but after my first couple of weeks at the University of Otago on New Zealand’s south island, the emotion that best characterized my time is pure happiness. I was in an absolutely stunningly beautiful country, studying at a prestigious university, surrounded by driven students and I felt supported by passionate members of my program. I spent many of my afternoons exploring beaches and hikes in my new city, and many weekends on road trips and backpacking trips throughout the south island. After taking several trips with IFSA ranging from exploring the city’s botanic gardens to a tour through a historic castle to a cruise through the Doubtful Sound, I gained confidence traveling through New Zealand’s cities and countryside. Upon researching other outdoor adventure opportunities in New Zealand, I became excited about the many different trips I would be able to take.
Adjusting to a Different Lifestyle
The semester was very different from previous semesters I spent studying at my university in the U.S. because I felt like I had far more free time, and I was quick to fill that with other activities. I remember video chatting with my parents back in California, and my mom asked me, “So we know you’re going on all of these adventures, but how are your classes?” Although she was poking fun at me, I really was enjoying my classes. Many of the classes at the University of Otago consist of three or four internal assignments that make up 50% of your final grade and the final exam or project is worth the other 50% of your final grade. This was very different than what I was used to.
At Georgetown University, I typically feel overwhelmed by assignments and deadlines, so material in my classes becomes more of a burden rather than a source of excitement. In New Zealand, however, I felt like I was able to delve into the material in my classes and spend time on assignments. I took a class called Health Promotion which gave me an international perspective on public health which is my academic passion. In another class, I learned about the history and culture of Pacific societies, and its relation to New Zealand. I even took a botany class where we went on a field trip to study algae and the beach! Studying in New Zealand felt like the best of both worlds – I was able to devote time and energy to each of my classes and I still had free time to explore a beautiful country.
Realizing the Importance of Time Management
All this being said, towards the middle of the semester, I did get caught in a trap of spending more of my time exploring the outdoors than exploring my textbooks. I was able to recognize this, though, with help from my Student Services Coordinator, Brogan. We had biweekly academic check-ins with Brogan who helped me come up with the idea of physically writing out an agenda rather than keeping all of my to-dos in my head. I wrote out all of the assignments I had in the remaining 2 months of school and with my friends, made a list of our bucket list adventures for the rest of our time in New Zealand. I fit those trips into the calendar between the days I knew I would have to devote to schoolwork. In the end, I felt confident in the time and effort I put into my classes and I was happy to hit all of the must-see spots throughout New Zealand.
Being Proactive about Planning
Many of us choose to study abroad in countries that have opportunities to explore outside of the classroom, and New Zealand is a place that has seemingly endless adventure opportunities. It is important to remember that first and foremost you are there to study, and schoolwork should be a priority. For me, the best way to get the most out of my study abroad experience was being proactive in planning out my time. On the plane home from New Zealand, I was filled with a mix of emotions again – yes I was tired from the flight and I was sad that my study abroad experience had come to an end, but ultimately I felt so lucky to have had that experience and I was content with everything I had accomplished.
Leila Meymand is a Justice and Peace Studies Major and Biology Minor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Otago on the South Island of New Zealand in the fall of 2018.