Seven weeks in the Southern Hemisphere
According to the calendar, I have now been in New Zealand for exactly seven weeks, and if my calculations are correct, this puts me just a wee bit more than 1/3 of the way through my time here. How exactly this is so I am not quite sure but calendars, being rather inanimate objects, rarely lie. Sprinting across the Auckland Airport with my luggage cart feels like it was such a short time ago that I still feel kind of winded. Besides being a venue for the dissemination of stories and pictures to various family, friends, and, since it is the internet after all, random strangers, I’m also intending this blog to be a sort of a personal journal for me to remember the trip by so here are my overall thoughts from the first six weeks down south along with some random pictures that I wasn’t quite sure where else to put…
To put it bluntly, New Zealand itself is amazing and I feel like I’ve hardly been anywhere yet. 6 weeks in and I still have a huge lists of things I want to do right here in Dunedin (Brewery tours!!! yeah!!!), much less the rest of the country. I’m getting incredibly excited for fall break in a few weeks when I will be flying up to the North Island for the week to explore Auckland, chill on some beaches, and climb some active volcanoes. While I didn’t have time or money to come early or stay late in order to have more travel time, I feel like I will have experienced a pretty decent portion of this country by the time I head back to the states in June.
When I applied for study abroad, I had to write a short essay on what I thought would be the most difficult aspect of adjusting to a new country. Given that I wasn’t going to a war zone or tribal village or anything like that, I responded by saying that making the transition from a school with 1400 students to one with 25,000 would be the greatest challenge. Yeah, totally called that one. The University of Otago is not a bad place, it’s just different. I wouldn’t even say adjusting has been that much of a challenge, but its just kind of surreal to have a single class that’s almost as large as the entire class of 2012 at Whitman. Personally, I feel as though the quality of the teaching here is more or less on par with Whitman although the fact that my smallest class has 75 people and my largest has over 300 makes personal interaction with professors and other students pretty much impossible. It also makes labs somewhat chaotic and disorganized which can be a little frustrating at times. The typical weekly workload here is stunningly low. 6 weeks into classes and, not counting the work I put into my geology field camp project that was due the first week, I think I’ve probably done about as much studying/homework as I would do in 5 or six days at Whitman. No joke. I am taking 4 classes which is a pretty typical course load here and I literally still feel like I am on break. Lest you think I’m getting this semester off completely pain free, finals here are notoriously hellacious. Final exams, which take place over a three week period in June, are generally about 4 hours long and make up anywhere from 50% to 80% of my final grade in each of my classes. I’m really hoping that the weather is so crappy by then that studying sounds more appealing than traveling but somehow I doubt it will be that simple.
While I’m really glad that I’m getting a chance to experience life at a “big school” for a semester, it’s definitely not something I would want to do for four years. It’s a lot of fun but I think more importantly it really makes me appreciate what I have at Whitman and all the more happy that I chose Whitman over UofA a few years back. Despite all the wonderful things about New Zealand, it still feels really weird to be away from Whitman for such a long time and not a day goes by that I don’t miss it and all the people that have essentially made it a home away from home for me. While the people here are all fantastic, it definitely does not feel like home. After some in-depth self psychological analysis, I think I can pretty confidently attribute this to the fact that I know in just a few short months, I’ll be packing my bags and not coming back. Well at least not for a while 😉 While in many ways, being at Otago feels like freshmen year all over again, what with all the new experiences and meeting tons of new people, the knowledge that my visit is extremely temporary and that I won’t be spending the next four years of my life here makes the dynamic quite a bite different that it back at Whitman.
My living situation is turning out to be pretty sweet. I am in a complex of 6 adjoining flats (think mini-apartment buildings) with a total of 35 other people so there’s always lots of people around and it sorta feels like a miniature dorm minus the professional cleaning and the dining halls. I have not set anything on fire in the kitchen yet although when you want to cook something on the stove, you must flip an switch on the wall in addition to turning the little dial which is unbelievably annoying to have to remember. NOTHING sucks more than putting a nice big pot of tortellini on the stove and coming back 15 minutes later to find that your water isn’t even hot yet. It would definitely be more of an adjustment if this were the first time I was living on my own but having lived off campus myself last semester, it really hasn’t been much of a change in terms of style of living. I still find myself forgetting to do laundry until I literally run out of socks and/or underwear which here is a slight problem because use of the dryer is discouraged in order to save electricity and its humid enough that things tend to take a few days to dry completely out on the line.
Despite the favorable exchange rate, stuff is expensive here, most notably food. Milk generally runs about $7 or $8 per gallon and I’m not even going to talk about how much bacon costs. If you know me well enough, you’ll realize the problem with those statements. Ramen is still dirt cheap but I haven’t given into that in my 2.5 years in college so far and I sure don’t intend to go over to the dark side now.
Complaining about the weather here is about as popular here as complaining about Organic Chemistry is at Whitman, which is to say, all the rage. Personally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the weather. Yeah, it rains a fair amount but when it is nice, its NICE and for some unexplainable reason, rainy days seems much less dreary here than they do in Walla Walla. Probably because everything is nice and green rather than wheat-colored. People don’t deal with the cold here very well either. I woke up the other day to 35 degree temperatures and everyone walking to class looked like they we’re going off to summit Mt. Everest. Electricity here is so expensive that people don’t often use the horribly inefficient heat pumps in the flats (which inexplicably are located ON THE CEILING. Last time I checked, heat rises and I’m pretty darn sure the laws of physics don’t reverse in the southern hemisphere) so it can get a little chilly in the evenings but nothing that a layer of thermal underwear and a few blankets can’t fix. I’ve been told that merino wool clothing is a godsend to have for the cold winters but the cheapest merino wool long underwear I’ve found is over $100 and I could buy like 4 kilos of bacon for that so I think I’ll stick with what I have.
That’s about it for now. I’ll continue to try to post at least once a week. If that’s too little for you, know that the internet sucks here and I have to be on campus in order to upload photos lest I use up too much of the 30GB monthly data allowance for our entire flat. This is a problem because my computer and campus internet get along about as well as Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. On the flip side, if once a week is too often for you, then clearly you don’t like pretty pictures. Like I said, I’m sort of intending this blog to be my personal journal of sorts for this trip so if you are bored by the details, then tough beans.