In July I ran away to New Zealand.
There were a few reasons for this. I thought it would be fun to get as far away from home as I possibly could, and since the government are paying for my flights I figured I might as well get the most expensive ones I could! Also there was the little matter that University of Canterbury has an amazing biology department which allowed me to study the utterly unique ecosystems of New Zealand, but mostly I wanted to run away.
So I packed my bags and ended up here in Christchurch, the third biggest city in New Zealand (still fewer people than Sheffield) in the heart of the beautiful South Island. I’d heard before I came that Christchurch would be a strange place to live because it was largely destroyed by a series of catastrophic earthquakes 5 years ago. This is not something to be taken lightly, although round uni it’s easy to feel like the earthquakes never happened. The community atmosphere created by the hundreds of clubs and societies who are all extremely welcoming (especially if you’ve got a funny accent) makes you feel at home where ever you go. Due to Canterbury being a campus university you’re guaranteed to see someone you know while you’re walking between lectures.
However move away from the campus and you’ll notice that Christchurch is very quiet; a third of its residents left after the quakes and those that remained have mostly retreated to the suburbs. A lot of the centre of the city is piles of rubble and car parks on land that is now too unstable to build on. However, rising up out of the rubble is the new, post-quake Christchurch. Everywhere there are state of the art building projects which when finished will turn the city into a modern metropolis. In the surviving buildings, start-ups have emerged; an old post office that houses a café where your food is delivered through pneumatic tubes; several cool new bars with a hipster ethics boast an array of beers and liquors from all over the world that promise a good night out. Over all, those who remain in the city are passionate about it and are determined for it to regain its former glory.
I arrived here in July to start the second semester of New Zealand academic year (you’ll learn that’s not the only thing they do backwards here). This was, counterintuitively, a brilliant way to get immersed in uni culture because the year was already in full swing so as soon as I arrived I just got swept along and hardly looked back on the nerve wracking first few days. I joined the climbing and kayaking clubs, which as well as running brilliant day and weekend trips have crazy parties with plenty of free booze. Living in uni halls was also a perfect way to get to know other international students. I’ve now got friends from all over Europe and North America which means many road trips in the future with free accommodation!
The best thing about living in Christchurch is that it provides a perfect base to explore the rest of the South Island. I went in on a car with 3 other girls which was the best idea, because it opened up so many adventures; days hikes or multi-day tramping, climbing, swimming in glacial lakes and hot springs, visiting tiny beautiful villages and further afield cities and in the winter there are heaps of ski fields within a couple of hours drive. We went away nearly every weekend of my first term which did mean I had to cram uni work (which, as you can tell, has been the least of my worries) during the week but it was definitely worth it. In our mid-semester break we flew up to the North Island (flights can be as little as $49, about £25!!) for a road trip and I had a field trip into the Southern Alps which was awesome.
At the end of the semester came the summer Christmas holidays (weird, I know) which meant 3 months off uni to explore all over New Zealand, as well as a trip to Australia. I was lucky enough to have some family coming to visit me over Christmas which was wonderful, and meant that we could have some real adventures together. I did a 5 days tramp around the Nelson Lakes National park, went rock climbing in Wanaka, soaked in natural volcanic hot pools in Rotorua, took in Maori culture, nearly had to sleep in the car on Christmas Eve because a flooded river prevented us getting to our tent, ate fresh fish and chips on the sea front and went whale watching. This list could go on, I’ve had an amazing and unforgettable Christmas holidays.
Next semester promises to be just as exciting and there is so much more that I haven’t seen yet. New Zealand is an utterly unique country with such a vast array of things to do. A whole new cohort of exchange and local students are arriving in February which means a whole new group of friends to make and new places to go and stay around the world.
Coming to New Zealand has been the best thing I’ve ever done. If anyone isn’t sure about whether or not to do a study abroad, I’d tell them that running away from home was the best thing I’ve ever done and while it was scary at first and I do miss Sheffield and my friends and family a lot, its nothing compared to the wonderful and unique experiences I’ve had here.