Mary Donofrio is a student at Muhlenberg College and an ISA Featured Blogger. Mary is currently studying abroad with ISA in Christchurch, New Zealand.
New Zealand can seem like not the most exciting place in the world, especially compared to places in Europe or Asia, which have tons of high-profile sights and activities for visitors and residents alike. If you look a little closer, however, you’ll find that New Zealand has a special flair all on its own that is perfect for people who are willing to do a little exploring to find amazing experiences and to make connections with incredible people.
1. Adventure is everywhere: For those of you who love the great outdoors, there is no where else you will want to be than New Zealand. New Zealand has it all: hiking (otherwise known as tramping), biking, kayaking, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, caving, and so much more. What’s the best part? You can do most of these things either in the same place or very close to one another! Want to go see seals? You can do that in Kaikoura! Do you like penguins? Head down to the Otago Pennisula in Dunedin! Even if you’re not very outdoorsy like me, you can still come to love and appreciate the beauty of this country through things like parks and gardens, which don’t require you to pack your life away in a hiking backpack. Christchurch happens to have a lot of public gardens, which are not only very beautiful, but are great places to relax and hang out, so no matter if you want to get away in the bush for a weekend, or spend the afternoon in a lovely garden, you can do it all in New Zealand!
2. Culture and Art: While Europe seems to be a hotbed of culture and arts of all mediums, New Zealand has been getting in on the action too, and in cool and unexpected ways! Maori culture, especially has experience a resurgence, so traditional performing art forms like haka and poi and visual ones like carving and weaving are still practiced today, albeit slightly differently from their points of origin in Hawaiki. This strong tradition has also expanded to include current Kiwis involved in film, music, and literature. The New Zealand International Film Festival, for example, shows films from all over the world, like many film festivals do, but puts a special emphasis on up and coming homegrown talents. A couple of friends and I were lucky enough to catch the Christchurch screening of the 6 best New Zealand-made short films of 2014, as selected by Andrew Adamson, a Kiwi filmmaker who worked on films like Shrek and The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved, especially as a fellow art-maker, being able to see what stories were being told through film and how they were told. Even if film isn’t your quite your scene, there are tons of concerts, theatre productions, museums, and more to get your cultural fix!
3. The People: Kiwis, at least by my experience, are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m going to try not to generalize, but everyone I’ve met has been extremely kind, super easy-going, and very willing to listen and share. Also, the cool thing about New Zealand, in my opinion, is that it is a very multicultural country. In my time here so far, I’ve met so many different people from different places, cultures, and backgrounds, and I’ve learned a lot. I thought I was fairly open-minded before I studied abroad, but meeting so many different people has really made me realize that the world is so much bigger than I thought it was, and there is so much to learn from it, and because of it’s diversity, New Zealand is a great place to start.
4. Unique College experience: While the US college experience is awesome, getting to experience university life somewhere else is something I really recommend. Coming from a very small liberal arts college where I was very comfortable and sure of who I was, studying at a bigger university has given me the chance to start over for a semester, and branch out. I’ve been able to take courses you can’t take back in the US, join clubs that they don’t have at your university, and go to events that are traditions at your new school. This semester, I’m taking a Maori Performing Arts course, where I’m learning not only the history of haka, poi, and other art forms, but I’m also learning a complete Kapa Haka bracket, and will have to perform it at the end of the semester as a part of my grade for the course. Would I ever be able to do back in the states? Probably not. While this is probably more of a general reason to study abroad anywhere, New Zealand is able to offer so many unique experiences that you won’t get anywhere else.
Still not convinced? Well lucky for you, I’ll be checking in all semester with the inside scoop from Aotearoa, New Zealand! Be sure to follow the ISA Student Blog for updates on my adventures, and the experiences of all of the bloggers for the semester! Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged to get out there and explore too.