Crossing Hemispheres: Aotearoa New Zealand Study Abroad Blog #1

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Kia ora!1 As I sit typing, I am currently 17 hours, over 16,000 miles, and one hemisphere away from home. What brings me so far from home is a nearly five-month-long and once-in-a-lifetime adventure. This semester I am studying abroad on the sunny shores of Aotearoa New Zealand.2 Specifically, I’m attending the University of Auckland in the city of Auckland—New Zealand’s biggest city and metropolitan hub.

The skyline of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand.

So who, exactly, is this wayward American who decided to leave the Northern Hemisphere behind and get buddy-buddy with the Kiwis?3 I’m Julian Holman and I was born and raised along the Willamette River in my home state of Oregon. I attend the University of New Mexico in (you guessed it) New Mexico when I’m not studying abroad on the other side of the globe. Currently, I’m finishing my second year working towards a BA in Sustainability and Environmental Studies, with minors in Public Service and American Sign Language. Despite living in America my whole life, I have picked up on a fair amount of New Zealand trivia and you will see that scattered throughout my blog. Be sure to check the footnotes if you’re unsure about any terms!

In a family of travelers, I never really had the same focused passion to explore the world. I knew that travel was an important way to broaden your horizons, sure, but there were never any must-see places I had plastered on my bucket list. I wanted to travel. But where?

Enter my first semester of college! Looking at the University of New Mexico’s robust exchange program, I knew that I had to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I perused any English-speaking country that piqued my interest, from Sweden to Namibia. But Aotearoa New Zealand became my goal once I saw it in my university’s program. The natural landscape coupled with the unique cultural atmosphere shot it straight to the top of my list.

The University of Auckland’s multicultural setting and extensive Māori4 and Pacific Studies programs sealed the deal for me. I wanted to learn about as many different cultures as I could in my abroad experience. As such, this semester I am taking a course in the history of the foundational treaty between Māori and the British (te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi), along with an introduction to Pacific Studies course.

One of the entrances to the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Just a few weeks ago, I hadn’t even set sail for my new home. As the day of my flight approached, I got my final affairs in order and prepared for the journey of a lifetime. It was hard to feel like it was even real, even though I had been planning my abroad experience for over a year. It had been a thing of the future. But now, the future was rapidly approaching. And sure enough, on February 13th, 2024, my plane raced across the Pacific and I set off once and for all!

The first few days in Aotearoa were relatively smooth sailing, but they weren’t an easy-breezy island dream, either. I was lucky enough for all my travel to go without a hitch. But in those first two days, I was busy running around and setting up my new dorm room before Shabbat started the next evening.5 This was my first time living in a walkable big city and my first time living in a skyscraper (pictured below) and I quickly learned that whichever grocery store is within closest walking distance is, hands-down, the best one.

My dorm building, named Te Tirohanga o Te Tōangaroa, also abbreviated to TT by those of us whose Māori skills are lacking.

Unlike America, but much like many other countries around the world, New Zealand schools have a leisurely orientation that takes up a whole week, rather than a few hours or a single day. Thus, most of my time in Aotearoa New Zealand so far has actually consisted of galavanting adventures and only a couple of actual classes.

Kicking my first full week in Aotearoa off with a bang, I first attended my international student orientation on Monday. I got to meet plenty of fellow foreigners and learn about their cultures and what brought them to New Zealand. After the official orientation lecture, I headed on over to an event put on by the Study Abroad Student Society, modeled after the Amazing Race TV show, where I ran around the city with a team of other study abroad students doing silly challenges and getting to know each other. We didn’t win the competition, but I made a great group of friends that I have had many other adventures with since.

Speaking of, after the game that day, everyone headed over to the student bar on campus (named Shadows, nickname “Shads”). Even though being twenty means I still can’t drink in the States, that’s good enough for New Zealand’s drinking age of eighteen! To inaugurate my first bar experience, I ordered a beer named the Tui after one of Aotearoa’s iconic birds.

At the bar, my newfound friends and I talked ourselves into a sunrise trip to a nearby beach the following morning. I’ve never heard of a trip to the pub resulting in enthusiastic plans to get up before the crack of dawn, but there’s a first time for everything!

Sunrise at Milford Beach, Auckland.

Having grown up on the rocky, freezing, choppy waters of the Oregon coast, I finally understood what people meant when they talked about island paradise. My compatriots (quite unreasonably) felt the water was a little too freezing for them. But I found the still waters, warm current, and soft and shallow seafloor to be unlike anything else I had ever swam in. I don’t plan on waking up at five in the morning for another beach rompabout anytime soon, but it was certainly worth it.

On Wednesday I had another orientation day, this time for my major. That day, along with a mixer at my dorm the night before, was my first time actually hanging out with a Kiwi.3 I had spent so much time with international students that I had yet to get to know the people from the actual country I was traveling to. I’m not too worried, though. I’ll have plenty of time to make friends of all stripes as my semester progresses.

My final adventure of orientation week featured an overnight stay at a building that you can only find in Aotearoa New Zealand as part of a trip for study abroad students.

The University of Auckland’s Marae and wharenui.

The location in question was a marae (mar-EYE), a sacred social gathering space for Māori. We stayed at the University of Auckland’s very own marae. It was created specifically to be a space for all Māori students, even though they are typically built to represent and serve one hapū (subtribe or clan) or iwi (tribe or nation). The building you see pictured above is a wharenui (FAR-eh-nui), which is the focal point of a marae and is used as a meeting house and place of high spiritual significance.

After a ceremony welcoming us onto the marae, we were given a tour of the wharenui and engaged in several workshops on Māori performance, sparring, and games. The trip was a fun way to get to learn more about Māori culture while having a good time with my international friends that I had made earlier that week. It also served as a great finale to orientation week before I had to finally dive into my classes.

Which brings us to now! As I currently write, I have attended a handful of my lectures and have several days left to go in my first week of classes. I’m excited to get to experience the New Zealand educational system and I think my classes will be enriching introductions to the cultural histories and realities in this country.

Another entrance to the University of Auckland.

As I venture through my abroad experience, I will continue to post regular updates on my life in Aotearoa: The high points, the challenges, and everything in between. In particular, I hope to chart my progress on some of my major goals while abroad. One of my primary goals is to develop a relationship with the natural environment in my brief time here. I have already gone birdwatching and gotten to know some of the local fauna. Just yesterday, I signed up for the hiking club and hope to go on a camping trip shortly.

Additionally, I want to become a more internationally-minded global citizen. It may seem obvious that studying abroad would expand your global mindset. Still, I want to be proactive about this process. During international orientation, I saw how people from the same country subconsciously gravitated towards each other. I would like to avoid doing the same. Instead, I want to seek out different perspectives and intentionally put myself in situations where I am the only American in the room.

Finally, I want to have fun! I can tend to be a bit too hard of a worker, if such a thing exists. Though academics are an important part of study abroad, I want to come home with tons of fun experiences and stories that will last a lifetime.

Thank you for starting on this journey with me, and I can’t wait to find out what’s in store. No matter how many miles from home I find myself, I bring with me all the skills I’ve learned from my life in America to aid me in my travels. And what’s more, I will no doubt come back with boatloads more.

Auckland’s morning skyline.

Footnotes

  1. Kia ora is a Māori phrase that all New Zealanders use to say “Hi!” and the like. It’s pronounced something like “KEY-oar-ah.”
  2. While the country’s official English name is New Zealand, the nation’s Māori (indigenous) name is Aotearoa. Aotearoa is pronounced like “ow-TEAR-oh-ah.” I will alternate between calling it Aotearoa New Zealand, Aotearoa, and New Zealand, as many people here tend to do.
  3. The Kiwi is New Zealand’s national bird and also a slang term for New Zealanders.
  4. Māori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.
  5. Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, falling from Friday evening to Saturday evening, in which no work can be done—including setting up an apartment!