It’s the Little Things: Small Differences Between American and New Zealand Culture

Kelly Yanagihara is a student at the University of Colorado – Boulder. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is currently studying abroad with ISA in Dunedin, New Zealand

**(Kiwi = New Zealander)

1. Rugby vs. Football:

This is an obvious one, but an important one. Rugby is to New Zealand as Football is to America (to a degree). It’s the main sport here, closely followed by cricket – which I know nothing about, but seems to be like baseball but with a flat bat, and the ball can go backwards? You should probably look up the rules, because if you go to your first college rugby game without some baseline knowledge, you will be completely lost. For starters it’s like football, except they can’t pass the ball forwards, they throw each other into the air, and dog pile over the ball, all without ever stopping the play. Get to know it and like me; it’ll become your favorite sport.


My first Highlanders rugby game with some friends!


2. ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’:

On one of our first days in New Zealand, an ISA program director explained to us this thing Kiwis sometimes have called ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. Basically, in a field of poppies you don’t want to be the tallest one to where you stand out among all the others. Kiwis don’t like to stand out, or more accurately, they don’t want to seem as if they think they’re better than the rest.

I noticed this “syndrome” once I came to the University of Otago. If you talk to your kiwi friends, they might say they were in the library for a little, when in reality they might’ve been cramming for hours. They aren’t going to brag like some of your friends back home might after a long study session.

But don’t be fooled: your classmates are putting in a lot of effort, and so should you!


This is in the main library at The University of Otago in Dunedin.

3. Informed:

I could write an entire post about this, but to keep it simple: Kiwis stay informed on what’s happening GLOBALLY. On my first shuttle out of the airport, the little TV screen hanging from the ceiling scrolled through news headlines about local politics (which I highly recommend reading up on before coming), but also on other countries’ politics, mostly the US and the UK. I’ve come to realize I’ve been stuck in an “American bubble.” Back home, all the news I digested was about the US and our foreign affairs. Here in New Zealand, since it’s a relatively small country or perhaps just because they’re more conscious of the world, Kiwis seem to follow news beyond their home country.

You know what that means. Everyone here knows about America’s political climate. So be prepared, you might be confronted about that. Kiwis are friendly though; they just want to know what the heck is up.


Dunedin’s historic railway station downtown.


4. Traveled:

This one goes hand in hand with the last one as Kiwis are often well traveled, at least within New Zealand. It helps that their country is relatively small and surrounded by a sea of islands to explore. Most people I’ve met here have traveled around, lived abroad, or have been abroad. Even a lot of the professors are from places outside of New Zealand.

This creates a culture that welcomes travelers. There are so many resources, especially for students studying abroad, to help ease into life away from home. Kiwis are very accepting of foreign students, so don’t be afraid to approach them!


Overlook of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown just a few hours Northwest of Dunedin.


5. Slang:

And finally, the slang. Where do I start? Kiwis shorten everything. Here are some common ones:


I’m keen = I’m down

Sweet as, big as, etc. = impressive (that boat is big as means that boat is really big; impressively big!)

Cheers = thanks!

She’ll be right = it’ll be fine

Churr = nice! Or thanks!

That’s choice = nice!

Mate = dude, friend

Bob’s your uncle = there you have it

Crack up = funny

Kia Ora (which is Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous culture) = greeting like ‘gidday!’


My Kiwi host, Luke, and I outside our flat.


Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.


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