Why Spontaneously Studying Abroad Was the Best Decision I’ve Made (So Far)

After sitting on the couch for more than a week this past winter break (gotta love getting your wisdom teeth out), I was restless, to say the least. I decided to explore study abroad options – I was originally thinking about going for a semester, but hadn’t realized how many great May terms are offered at the U. As soon as I saw how many opportunities there were, I wanted to go as soon as possible.

I found a program within a few hours of researching that really stood out: a sociology course in New Zealand. First of all, who doesn’t want to go to New Zealand? Second of all, I love observing people and learning about why we do what we do, so combining the two made it pretty clear – I was going.

A few short months later, it became real. I filled out all the forms, paid all the fees (so much, but so worth it), and started thinking about packing. All my jitters about not knowing anyone, the 13+ hour flight, and being away from home for more than three weeks completely vanished as soon as I started getting along with the other 21 students from the U that went with me.

We started in Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand, where we visited the War Memorial Museum, took a ferry to the volcanic Rangitoto Island for a day hike, went to a winery on Waiheke Island, went up the Sky Tower, and explored cafes, restaurants, and shops up and down the bustling Queen Street near our hostel. It took some getting used to look to the left when crossing the street, hearing people say “Cheers!” and “Sweet as” in halted yet adorable accents, and being able to order drinks with my meals.

After Auckland we went north to the Bay of Islands to a small town called Paihia for a few days, where we visited the Treaty of Waitangi grounds, explored the historical town of Russell (Kororāreka) across the bay, and walked along the beach. We joked about retiring there amongst the cutesy shops and dogs running up and down the sandy coast.

This was followed by a few adrenaline-filled days in Rotorua, where we zip-lined, went “zorbing” (the best way I’ve explained it so far is like an inside out waterslide), explored a living Maori village that utilized the geothermal energy in the area, and hiked at a beautiful historical site. At this halfway point on the trip, I was still not failing to be amazed by how dedicated they are to their environment in New Zealand, how respected Maori culture is, and how proud New Zealanders are of their history and their country.

The rest of our time with the Kiwis (they embrace this term immensely) was spent in Wellington, the capital city. We spent lots of time in museums and at lectures at Victoria University, learning more about the history of New Zealand, their political system, their health care, and more. Their multi-party system and political leanings fascinated me – all of their parties fit in what would be the “left” spectrum here – and one of their parties, the Green Party, dedicates themselves to the environment.

This trip not only changed the way I see New Zealand but how I see our country and myself. I learned that we have a lot of work to do to make our country a fairer place; that I can be more independent than I ever thought before; and that traveling really adds an amazing amount of perspective.