"Being able to live there and see how urban form can enhance people’s way of life gave me such great insight on how our cities could improve. Seeing how much Kiwi’s valued their islands and the ecosystems they contain was such a contrast to typical American attitudes it was a refreshing culture shock. I am heading towards becoming a landscape architect, and will use my experiences abroad directly in my work."
I mostly chose Belgium on a complete whim, and was interested in learning French. I put more thought into New Zealand, and went because the courses were in English, the country is beautiful, and I wanted the opportunity to attend a smaller school than Berkeley, which University of Wellington was.
While backpacking in New Zealand with the school club, our group -which was already taking the longest path through the mountains - made a wrong turn and ended up hiking 13 hrs straight through the night in jungle-ly forest. To make it to the meet-up point we followed a canyon stream and filled up on water, then clambered up and down spurs through the dark. Most everyone was Kiwi, and it was funny seeing how chill people were when we were fully in the middle of nowhere. We eventually found the trail well into the night and made it out with only a few minor injuries in the group! I honestly really loved the whole experience and had so much fun being part of the club.
The hardest part was that my New Zealand experience was cut short due to COVID-19. I ended up returning early but finished up my classes with the school online. To be frank, this just really sucked. I had just settled in and was helping to start an art club and making some great friends. While going home cut some things short, in the end I was quite lucky to have been able to return home safe and sound, and still had a lovely time doing classes online. One thing that I know for sure is that I will be returning to New Zealand, to either live or study there again.
I’d get up around 8, do some stretches and eat breakfast. Then I’d go out and depending on which campus I had class at I’d either hop on the bus or walk through a forested path to the upper campus. For lunch, I’d meet my friends and sit at one of the school cafes, then we’d walk through the city to get to our next classes. After that, we might hang around Cuba St, get a coffee or a snack, or go exploring. In the evening we’d head back to the student apartments by foot or bus and do homework. The weekends were even more fun, and Tuesday nights we’d eat tacos at a Trekking club member’s house.
I didn’t need any official credits for this semester, so I took classes for fun. This included Drawing the Human Figure, Concept Art, 3-D Animation in Maya, and Biology of Plants. I honestly loved all the classes. The design courses were small so I got to know the instructors very well and even on zoom I felt ‘close’ to them. The professor for Biology of plants was just incredible and clearly cared so much for students, even though the class was quite large. We had 3 hour labs where we did hands on experiments with the plants and that was super fun. I would say the difficulty was comparable to Berkeley, but the teachers are more open to getting to know students and there is less busywork. I did not take classes that required term papers or heavy amounts of reading, so I can't speak for those.
Gosh I’m not sure I can pinpoint one specific aspect. Something that has really impacted me is being able to actually live in (not just visit) a society that is formatted and behaves differently than US cities. I am quite interested in city planning and urban form, and the contrast between sprawling US towns and New Zealand’s compact capital city is considerable. Being able to recognize good urban design and learn about the culture that created it was a pleasure.
I have gained a considerable amount of endurance from both of my stays abroad. Residing in a new culture - especially while attending school and learning new languages - is mentally exhausting. After 2 times in completely different countries I feel like a more sturdy person. I have a good idea of who I am and what I want out of life.
In general, think of what you really want out of your experience before choosing a country. Do you want to: learn a language or stick with English, live in a city or rural town, is there a climate you prefer, or do you just want to be more “worldly?” I’d suggest looking into some of the countries/programs online and see if one stands out to you. Do more research on the culture, locations and habits, and if it seems right then go for it!
Because New Zealand is English-speaking, it’s going to be a bit easier making local friends and getting around than it would be in other places. If you want to visit one of the most gorgeous ecosystems on earth, meet some awesome people, and have life move a little more slowly than the Bay Area, New Zealand is probably a good choice for you.
My physical experience of living both in Europe and New Zealand has greatly influenced my career choices, and pushed me in the direction of urban design. As I stated above, the pleasantness of living in foreign cities as compared to the Bay Area is ridiculous. Wellington, New Zealand is green, walkable, and has fantastic public transit. Being able to live there and see how urban form can enhance people’s way of life gave me such great insight on how our cities could improve. Seeing how much Kiwi’s valued their islands and the ecosystems they contain was such a contrast to typical American attitudes it was a refreshing culture shock. I am heading towards becoming a landscape architect, and will use my experiences abroad directly in my work.