City Discovery: Dunedin, New Zealand – “Edinburgh of the South”

Dunedin was settled by Scottish colonists, unlike the vast majority of cities in New Zealand, which were founded by English settlers. The name “Dunedin” means “Edinburgh of the South” in Scottish Gaelic.

Baldwin Street in Dunedin is considered the steepest street in the world and hosts the annual Jaffa Race, the rolling of thousands of small, spherical chocolate candies down the street, a part of the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival.



Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.

Visit Queenstown, the “adventure capital of New Zealand,” located in Central Otago not far from Dunedin, on an excursion lead by the ISA staff. Queenstown brings together Maori history, European settlement, New Zealand’s early gold rush era, and the modern adventure tourism industry in a single location, allowing students an opportunity to observe the interplay of the past and present in modern New Zealand society. Though Queenstown was originally built with proceeds from mining and still displays its mining history, the city is now best known for bungee jumping, skiing, rafting and hiking.

The ISA staff also facilitates cultural activities within the city during the semester to help students grow acclimated to their new home and enjoy all that Dunedin has to offer. One example is the Dunedin International Film Festival. The festival celebrates the importance of film in New Zealand culture as well as offers a place for filmmakers from around the Pacific and around the world to showcase their best short films. While students can attend any of the screenings on their own, the ISA staff accompanies them to the screening of New Zealand’s Best Short Films, a chance for the students to experience and later discuss with the staff the uniquely Kiwi aspects of the festival.



ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.

Another excursion lead by the ISA staff takes students up the eastern coast of the South Island to Omaru, a small city that appears frozen in the Victorian Era, with beautiful historic buildings designed in grand style and built with limestone or “Oamaru stone.” Each November, Oamaru hosts the Victorian Heritage Celebration, drawing tourists and locals in costume to enjoy penny farthing bicycle rides, traditional foods, competitions and crafts. Omaru is also the steampunk capital of New Zealand, bringing together Victorian designs with modern artistic culture.

Enjoy a guided tour of Larnach Castle on the Otago Peninsula with the ISA staff. Larnach Castle is the only castle in New Zealand, built in 1871 by William Larnach, an Australia banker who came to the Otago region when gold was discovered in the mid nineteenth century. Over its history, the castle has played many roles, from lunatic asylum to soldiers’ hospital. Today, the castle buildings and grounds reveal a unique side of the region’s history.



Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.

During the Bridging Cultures Program at the beginning of the term, students spend an afternoon at Te Hana Te Ao Marama, a traditional 17th century Maori village. Along with experiencing traditional dances and foods, students learn about the unique dynamics between the indigenous community and European settlers. While many other nations have seen indigenous life pushed aside, if not nearly eradicated, the Maori culture is preserved and celebrated in New Zealand. Though the relationship between New Zealanders of European decent and the Maori people is not perfect, it has allowed the indigenous culture to thrive in a way not seen in many other countries. Today, indigenous culture is visible in a number of ways, from villages like Te Hana Te Ao Marama to the haka, a traditional war dance performed by the national rugby team, the All Blacks, before each match.  During the students’ time in the village, members of the Maori community will discuss with the students the impact of this history on modern race relations and life in New Zealand.

On the way to class, pick up a copy of the Otago Daily Times, New Zealand’s oldest surviving daily newspaper. Enjoy a cup of strong Kiwi coffee at one of the local cafes while reading about current events in Dunedin, the Otago region, and around New Zealand. Locally known as “the ODT,” the paper has chronicled events in New Zealand and around the world since November of 1861 and is still one of the nation’s most respected news outlets.



Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.

Students majoring in education and studying at the University of Otago during the Spring semester through ISA have the opportunity to get hands-on experience in a Dunedin classroom while learning about the effects of culture on education. This teaching placement program is specifically designed for study abroad students. Students will spend five weeks of the semester in a school, observing and teaching. Along with the placement, students have the rare opportunity to take courses in the education department and discuss differences in culture and concepts of education with New Zealand university students.

ISA offers the unique opportunity for students to study at the University of Otago for three weeks during the North American summer. Students will choose from a selection of courses focused on New Zealand studies, including geology and ecology, indigenous culture, and business. All courses offered during the summer term include field trips or hands-on work, giving students the chance to gain experience outside the classroom in their area of study, as well as see more of New Zealand during the three-week term.



Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.

The ISA staff leads an excursion to some of New Zealand’s most unusual geological wonders, the Moeraki Boulders and Elephant Rocks. The Moeraki Boulders, oddly spherical rocks, sit just at the edge of the surf on one of the sandy eastern coast beaches of the South Island. The boulders have played a role in Maori legend, which states that the boulders are overturned eel baskets from a sunken canoe. They are also the subject of environmental investigation, as they formed some 65 million years ago. The Elephant Rocks are beautifully eroded pieces of limestone in nearby Duntroon. While in the town, the students will learn about the history of these stones as well as the geological history of the region at the Duntroon Fossil Centre.

Take a wildlife cruise around the Otago Peninsula, organized by the ISA staff. The area is known for its unique wildlife, including fur seals, yellow-eyed penguins, and little blue or fairy penguins. The peninsula is also home to the only mainland Royal Albatross colony in the world. Students will learn about the species that make their home on the peninsula and why they are unique to the area.

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The 2015 City Discovery Series aims to showcase one of ISA’s program locations each week. Facts about each location and several Discovery Compass activity examples are given, however they are not a comprehensive list. These activities highlight the areas of Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental discovery. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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