Alyssa in New Zealand: The end

November 12, 2013

It seems that I’m constantly on the move. I never run out of things to do no matter where I am. And it’s saddening to think that this will all come to an end very soon. The day I fly out from New Zealand is going to approach quickly and I won’t realize this until the actual moment comes.

The past couple of weeks have progressed much quicker than I thought. It felt liberating to finally finish my last exam because from that point on, I did not have to worry about schoolwork anymore. All I had to think about was what I was going to do with my remaining time in the country. I took advantage of my free time right away. I had made plans to leave after my exam to travel the north part of the South island, which was a 900 kilometer trip from Dunedin.

As my three friends and I drove in the northern direction, we made stops along the way. After five hours of driving, we ventured out to Castle Hill, which had been named the “Spiritual Center of the Universe” by the Dalai Lama. The location seemed to be at absolute peace and serenity. As we walked towards the entrance, we were greeted with vast green land which was completely occupied by several limestone boulders. Each stone varied in size, for they ranged from 8 to 40 feet. The area was the epitome of New Zealand’s climbing scene. Every corner we turned, there was a new bouldering opportunity that we were drawn to. It became our glorified playground and my favorite place that I’ve visited in New Zealand.


Castle Hill


The ideal location for climbing and bouldering

As we proceeded north, we drove through Arthur’s Pass National Park, a scenic highway route. The further we immersed ourselves into the valleys, the more impressive and vast the mountains became that surrounded us. Just when you thought you couldn’t imagine anything bigger, something even more immense came along. Such remarkable scenery reminded me of how much I haven’t seen, and I became more than grateful to find myself venturing out to places that I had never thought about encountering.

Abel Tasman National Park was our final destination, for we wanted to tramp one of the Great Walks, the coastal track. It is located in the northwestern part of the island. The weather was noticeably different from the weather in Dunedin. The temperature was warmer and the sun wasn’t constantly hiding behind the clouds. The track as a whole was fairly easy mostly because there was very little elevation. As we hiked the track, we came across several different accesses to beaches, which made it even more enjoyable. One could almost say that it was more relaxing than a strenuous activity for us.

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As we drove through Arthur’s pass, I captured this shot when we were crossing over a bridge


Arthur’s pass

Once we finished the track, we traveled east to Picton so that we could start another tramp, the Queen Charlotte track. Since we didn’t have the time or stamina to do the entire track, we decided to start in the middle where we would get the best views of the Marlborough Sounds. As we reached to an elevation of just over 400 meters, we concluded that we could have not picked a better spot to be on the track. Out of 71 kilometers, we chose the perfect place.

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Marlborough Sounds

After six days, we made our way back to Dunedin. The thought of leaving has finally become a reality now that my packing has begun. My flight to return to home is November 21st and I leave Dunedin with my flatmates on the 10th. For those remaining 11 days, we will be traveling the entire North island. It will be our last and final stretch of traveling in New Zealand. The Auckland airport will be where we depart back to our home countries.

Tonight is my last night in Dunedin. The town has become not only the place where I reside, but it has also become my home. Traveling around in New Zealand would not have been the same if I had not been with the people that I have met here. As I’ve gotten to know them, they have become an important aspect in my life as we have all supported each other regardless of the fact that we are all from extremely different places and cultures. We all came to New Zealand for our own yet similar reasons, all of which have naturally forced us to make the experience much more meaningful in a way we never imagined.

Expectations are never met. We can never be absolutely certain about anything until we have experienced it for ourselves. Thus, it is best to go in without any expectations or set plans. Keep an open mind. You never know what changes and occurrences will present themselves, for it could potentially be for the better in the end. If you knew everything that was about to happen to come, to what degree would you actually enjoy it?

Seeing that this is my last blog post for the semester tells me that the journey is finally coming to an end. I highly enjoyed writing about my study abroad experience. It has been recorded and now I have something to always look back on to reflect the entire semester. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity, Richmond; you have helped me make my memories and experience permanent.

With my last words, I will say that if you have any desire to study abroad, do it. Some inconveniences may present themselves, but they can be solved. As cliché as it sounds, the experience as a whole is unlike anything you could ever imagine and there is no reason for anyone to miss out on that. No one should be deprived from seeing the world.

To consider myself lucky is an understatement. Thank you to everyone who has made my time more than enjoyable over here in New Zealand. As for all the other study abroaders, it will soon be time for us to go back home and return reality back at school.

Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Alyssa in New Zealand: Two is better than one

October 23, 2013

Doing something more than once is anything but a waste of time. In fact, it allows you to see more of what you have initially missed. As pointless as it may seem to visit the same place for a second time, it is actually very beneficial.

After returning to Queenstown once more with my parents, I was exposed to some of the more geographical aspects of the area. As we drove to several different vineyards throughout the day, I got the chance to see the nature that truly surrounded Queenstown. It was quite strange to think that vineyards could thrive in such a dry, cold area in the region. However, such wineries have learned to adapt and grow successfully in New Zealand’s weather conditions, even if they are situated near mountainous areas.


Northburn Station winery


A taste of Queenstown scenery

I also returned to the Milford Sound, except this time, instead of just standing at the entrance, I went on a boat cruise that took us deeper within. Despite the fact that it was raining fairly hard (Milford Sound is considered to be one of the wettest places on Earth), the beauty of Milford was not overshadowed by the dismal weather. As a matter of fact, the rain only contributed to its magnificence, for there were several waterfalls, most of which formed from the rainfall, that were running down from the mountain peaks into the sound. At one point, we encountered one of the more powerful waterfalls. As we made our way closer, the vibrations began to increase from the impact of the water hitting the sound. We were several meters away, but we still managed to get completely sprayed and covered by the water. The force of the water was immense, but it did not prevent us from approaching it.

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The reverberations from the waterfall became more and more immense as we approached it.

There were vast amounts of fog which made it hard to make out some of the peaks of the mountains in the distance. However, the magnitude of the mountains were fully revealed when the boat made its way through the fog. Throughout the cruise, we were all kept in suspense, waiting to see what more Milford Sound had in store for us beyond the layers of haze.

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A layer of mist floated over Milford Sound as we made our way deep within

The minute I returned to Dunedin, I finally had to put myself to work, for it was officially final exam period at Otago. Even though I was disappointed by the fact that I had to stop traveling for the time being, I knew that papers were a priority during my time over here as well. It felt a little weird to abruptly put my travels to a halt, for I had become so used to being on the go for the entire semester.

There was a significant amount of work that I had to do in order to prepare for my exams. My theatre exam was a take home exam, for which I had to write two essays. For my microbiology exam, the paper consisted of over thirty lectures. There were forty multiple choice and three short essay questions, all of which had to be answered in three hours (very similar to Richmond’s exams). The only difference was that these exams were more heavily weighted on my final grade.  As a result, the exams covered a lot of material and it was obligatory for me to do well.

Since my theatre exam was a take home, microbiology has been my only exam so far that has taken place during a given time slot. The location for each exam is usually very random. For instance, my exam was set in the old physical education gymnasium instead of a classroom or lecture hall. The room held an exam for not only my class, but for another class as well. The desks in the room were set up in rows and each person was assigned a number. As we took the exam, three proctors continuously walked around the room, watching almost our every move. The room atmosphere was tense, and the experience was similar to being a room full of students taking the SAT’s.

Now that two out of three of my final exams are out of the way, I have free time to myself once again. Having only one exam left makes the end of the semester seem so soon. The end is quickly creeping up and I’ve barely begun to notice it up until now. I continue to explore Dunedin in my free time, for I still haven’t seen everything. Whether it consists of me waking up early to watch the sunrise, hiking tracks that are not typically highlighted or discovering new beaches around the peninsula, everything still seems new and exciting. I still find it astonishing that all of these amazing sights and spots are so close by. Their proximity and easy access just reminds me that I have to take advantage of them while I’m living here for the last four weeks of this experience.

The odds of me seeing these people again in the near future is very slim, for we are all from very different places. Being from Boston, having friends all the way from Michigan to Norway does not make visiting each other very easy. Nevertheless, I plan on making the most of my time with the friends that I have made over here until the very end. It’s never too late for us to arrange a last minute trip in our last few weeks. The end may be near, but that does not turn us away from continuing to travel more.

Having been to most of the highlighted areas of the south island, I find myself wanting to return to the same places again. I have a fear that I will forget the sights that I have seen. Something new is always discovered the second time, which makes me think that there is still more out there. Even if I don’t see everything, it always gives me an excuse to come back all over again.

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Sunrise at Saint Clair Beach on the Otago Peninsula

Alyssa in New Zealand: The capital and Maori culture

October 11, 2013

The reality that the end is approaching has finally hit everyone. Since it’s the last week of classes, we have all started to realize that living here is not going to last forever. As we hand in our last minute assignments and prep for the upcoming exam period, we can’t but help ourselves to keep planning more and more last minute trips. What have we not done? What are we missing? Surely we’ve seen a lot, but have we seen enough? The thought of leaving something behind seems to be more worrisome than preparing for our final exams.

Yet, it is important to focus on the next few weeks, for typically, the final exams account for the majority of our final grades. My microbiology final is 70% of my grade and my zoology final is 50%.  As much as I would prefer to put most of my efforts on my travels, it is essential for me to focus on my work as well.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the traveling comes to a complete halt. In fact, I continue to explore the country. Nothing stopped me from flying into Wellington (the North Island) last weekend. What made this experience a little more special was that I was with the people that I have known my entire life: my parents.

Being with mom and dad was such a great way to spend my time in the nation’s capital. I found myself very lucky to have had visitors. I got to have a little taste of home in America, even though I’m several thousand miles away from it.

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Golem, a main character from Lord of the Rings, greets those who arrive in the Wellington airport everyday

Wellington is a very walkable city, for we continuously weaved in and out of the streets. Since the city is situated on the southern part of the North Island of New Zealand, much of the main activity is centered near and around the waterfront. It it typically known as “Windy Welly” due to the high amount of winds that blows into the city from the ocean. A boardwalk that turns into a path runs along the perimeter of the city right by the waterfront, making everything very accessible and creating an enjoyable walkway. Near the water, Wellington seems almost like a beach town. Nevertheless, the further you walk away from the waterfront, the more urban it becomes. The city turns into a more hectic and active version of Dunedin. There are several more people that are walking around as well as cars drive through the streets.

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The leaning posture of the statue indicates the magnitude of wind in Wellington.

Variety is integrated all throughout Wellington. Every corner that you turn is something completely new. Whether it be shops or restaurants, no two places that you encounter are the same. I finally got to go out to eat and have a taste of some of the New Zealand food. The food isn’t significantly different from American food. Most of the options that they offer on the menu are somewhat similar. However, the way it all tastes is fairly different, for it tastes much more natural. Everything that I tried seemed like it was a more flavorful, healthier version of what the American dish would be.

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A view an area of the waterfront from Mount Victoria, a prominent hill in Wellington. Wellington is the first city one would enter if traveling by ferry from the South to the North Island.

The waterfront is a very populated area, for there are several different kinds of attractions located there. One of the main appeals is the Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s national museum. As we walked around each level, I found myself learning a lot more about the kiwi culture than I had throughout the entire semester. The Maori culture is highly preserved and respected in the country, for they are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand that have their own language, mythology, crafts and performing arts. Sadly, the presence of the Maori seems to be slowly shrinking in New Zealand, but the kiwis make a great amount of effort to sustain and uphold the customs in the country.

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A light up map of New Zealand in the Te Papa museum

Pounamu (also known as “greenstone”) plays a very important role in Maori culture. It is a very highly valued type of stone found in southern New Zealand and each piece of stone carries some sort of significance to it. The piece of greenstone that I attained (a gift from my parents, for it is advised that you should never buy greenstone for yourself) is a “fish hook”, the symbol of plenty. It represents strength and determination and it provides safety for travelers, especially those who venture out overseas (which seemed to be quite fitting for me).

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Maori greenstone – the fish hook

After returning to Dunedin, I was inspired to attend the end of the semester concert that was performed by the students enrolled in the Maori papers (both 100 and 200 level). Over half the students in the 100-level paper were international students. I saw the people that I was familiar with walk on stage in costumes that made them seem like strangers. The females were dressed in all black, wearing knee-length skirts, black lipstick and black designs drawn right beneath their lower lip on their chin, almost making it look like they had fangs. The males were shirtless and wore grass skirts that seemed to be constructed by some type of fiber.

Throughout the performance, the students were only singing in Maori with a peaceful melody. Even though I did not understand what they were saying, I was still very entertained. Typically, the dance starts off so that the females are situated in the front and the males in the back and they’re standing very close to each other. Eventually they all spread apart, and the females continue to gently sing in the front. The highlight of the performance is when the males make their way to the front to perform the haka, the traditional ancestral war cry. Much of the dance involves stomping of the feet, vigorous movements and rhythmic shouting and chanting. The signature mark of the dance is the widening of the eyes and sticking out the tongue. New Zealand rugby teams perform the haka before every game, trying to intimidate their opponents and to increase the intensity of the team.

Even though the semester is finishing, that does not prevent me from learning more about the New Zealand tribal culture. I’m glad that I finally had proper exposure to the culture, for there is much more to New Zealand than amazing sights; it has plenty to offer. It’s never too late to discover something new, even if it seems like you’re quickly running out of time (which is exactly how I do feel). The end may seem intimidating, but it is also motivating.

Alyssa in New Zealand: Reaching new heights

October 8, 2013

How high can you possibly imagine hiking? Personally I find it hard to imagine.  At this point, it is hard to believe that there is a limit to how high I can climb, for tramping (another word for hiking in New Zealand) has become an addiction. If there wasn’t an end to the trails, I would certainly venture higher through the mountains.

Two weekends ago, I tramped to the height of 1,250 meters, which can be reached on the Sealy Tarns Track. My friends and I were planning on doing the tramp to Mueller Hut, which is 1,800 meters high and the halfway point to the summit of the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook. However, our plans were foiled once we were informed that there was too much snow blocking the track. As disappointing as it was, we weren’t going to let that prevent us from going up. I became determined to go as far up as I could.

The higher you go, the more you see. The more you see, the better the view is.

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The view that we were rewarded with after climbing 1,810 steps to the top of Sealy Tarns track

So much can be achieved by reaching the top. Not only have you tested the limits of your fitness, but you have also tested your drive to complete the challenge. In order to get to the top, we had to climb 1,810 steps. As I arrived at the top of Sealy Tarns track, I found myself completely surrounded by a new level of nature. The weather was still brisk enough that snow capped the peak of every mountain. Mount Cook was fighting to reveal itself to us through the thick clouds. The depths of the valley seemed never ending and the glacial waters below were reflecting several different shades of blue even with the grey skies above, all the way from navy to turquoise.


Tasting some of the glacier ice that is over hundreds of years old

I was so enamored by what I had seen, I was unsure of what my next adventure should be.  I kept thinking that nothing could possibly be better than what I just accomplished. After returning to Dunedin and talking to my neighbors about my weekend, they told me about their plans for the following weekend. Although I wasn’t particularly close with them, I decided to join, as the plans were to hike in Wanaka and go bungee jumping (even though it is not an activity covered by the insurance the UR OIE provides, and they advise not to do so, it’s been something on my bucket list that I’ve been keen to do for my entire life).

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The new group of friends that I have recently acquired

As I am usually embarking on trips with only my flatmates and a select few of other internationals, traveling with my complex neighbors was something new to me. There were some that I have never even met or seen before. However, by the time the weekend was over, it seemed like we all had known each other since the start of our arrival in the country. I now find it hard to believe that I haven’t spent time with them before. It has become much easier to make friends, for we all have the same motives to explore and make the best of our time in a country that has so much to offer.

I reached an even higher peak in Wanaka when hiking on the track Roy’s Peak. There was a view the entire time we hiked. The track was open and offered an incredible scene of Lake Wanaka and the mountains surrounding it the entire way through. As we gained height in the clouds, the valley continued to expand right in front of our eyes. We passed several grazing areas and sheep as we made our way to the top.

After tramping for a little over two hours, we reached the summit, which is 1,600 meters. Clouds completely blocked every direction that we looked, leaving us slightly disappointed. Just as we were about to give up on the view, a huge gust of wind came through and blew every single obstruction away. Everything was revealed and the entire valley was crystal clear. There were countless elements that were in front of our eyes. From the pastures to the lake to the mountains, we were completely immersed in an environment like no other. Not thinking that anything would ever compare to Mount Cook, I was certainly convinced otherwise as I looked at the beautiful and encompassing scene of Wanaka.

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The crystal clear view of Wanaka from the summit of Roy’s Peak

Just when I think that I’ve seen it all, I immediately realize how wrong I am as I keep embarking on new journeys. Each destination is so unique that they cannot be compared to one another. None of them are remotely the same, but each place is equally as spectacular.

The following day was the when the thrill of adventure really presented itself. A bus transported two of my new found friends and I to the large canyon where we would bungee jump. As we approached the cable car that hung above the canyon, I caught a glimpse of how far I would be jumping. My nerves didn’t begin to hit me until I was actually standing at the edge of the platform, seconds before my fall.

As the overseer counted down to 1, I leaned forward, trying to manage of all the thoughts and emotions going through my head. For a split second, I lost all control of everything that was in my mind. I couldn’t think of anything except for the fact that this was actually the craziest thing that I’ve ever done. Jumping off completely stable ground and into open air was going against all human instincts. I barely had time to think about being scared. However, once I gained momentum, I never felt so exhilarated. It turned out to be a 9 second fall, for the drop is 134 meters (440 feet). The fall was long enough for me to realize that I was in fact free falling. I never wanted that feeling to end. Before I knew it, the cable retracted and I began to bounce, indicating that it was over. As I was being pulled up, I finally had time to collect my thought and all I could think of was that I have never been more happy with what I had just experienced.

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A 440 ft drop and 9 second fall

Even though I have hiked to heights that are extremely higher than 134 meters, the distance of the fall seemed greater than anything that I had tramped at that moment. Just when I thought I had befriended a decent amount of people here in Dunedin, more have come into the picture and my social circle has expanded.

There is no limit to anything. The only limit that exists is the one that you impose on yourself. A maximum may exist, but there is no reason for you to not alter let alone increase it. If such an opportunity presents itself, the best thing that you could do is to step out of your comfort zone and exert a change in your life. Nothing is monotonous in New Zealand. Everything is always changing around me, and it encourages me to take advantage of what’s there. You never really know what you’re going to encounter until you’re actually there. The worst that could happen is not experiencing it for yourself.

Alyssa in New Zealand: Hidden beauty

September 20, 2013

Changes are happening in Dunedin. The days are becoming longer. Flowers are practically fully bloomed. The temperature is gradually increasing. Spring time is just around the corner and winter will soon come to an end.

It is much easier to appreciate a country in warmer weather when nature is at its peak. Such great climate conditions motivates me to continue with my exploring of the country.

South of Dunedin is an area called the Catlins, the “forgotten corner” of southern New Zealand. Even though most don’t initially think to visit this region of the country, it is still well worth the visit. As my friends and I traversed through these roads, nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered. We weren’t expecting to come across anything that would particularly impress us.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Several waterfalls, cliffs and coastal beaches surrounded us everywhere we went. They were simply examples of New Zealand’s hidden, authentic beauty. We had only traveled for an hour from Dunedin and we had already entered a zone full of incredible pieces of nature. I couldn’t believe how easily accessible all of these spots were. To think that all of this was so close to where we have been living this entire time is mind-boggling. It doesn’t take much effort to see the amazing things that New Zealand beholds, no matter where you are in the country.


A coastal view from Nugget Point Lighthouse, which is an hour and a half south of Dunedin

As the semester is soon coming to an end, students are doing their best to finish their last minute assignments. Sometimes it is very easy to get caught up with exploring, for we forget that we have school obligations as well. I have become motivated to complete all my assignments early due to the fact that I don’t want to waste any of the time that I have left. The easiest solution is to get them done and out of the way so that I won’t have to worry about them when I’m off traveling.

Numerous plans are being organized and made for the remaining weekends that are left. My entire schedule has become completely booked with adventures that I have been waiting to do for the past seven months. Knowing that we don’t have all the time in the world, we’re doing our best to fit in everything in.


McLean Falls

One of the most recent adventures involves tramping the Routeburn track, another one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. To much of our chagrin, there was so much snowfall that had occurred a couple days before, my friends and I were told that we would be unable to hike the entire thing. After accepting such disappointing news, we didn’t let that stop us from proceeding to parts of the track that we could discover.

The majority of the track was covered in heaps of snow, making hiking a little more challenging (and wet) than usual. Regardless of the fact that there was snow on the ground, the sun continuously graced us with its presence throughout our entire tramp. Likewise, the snow made the scenery much more rewarding. As we walked along the bush line, the snow capped mountains that jutted into the sky were in plain sight the entire time. Even though we didn’t reach our desired elevation, we were not deprived of any sort of views. The conditions of the track may not have been ideal, but being outside in this setting could not have felt any more worthwhile.


As we made our way through, we encountered the massive, fresh Earland Falls

Staying overnight in one of the huts that is provided on the track is common. We stayed at Lake Mackenzie hut for the night after hiking for 4 hours to an altitude of 1,081 meters. Since we were tramping during the winter season, all of the power and running in the hut was turned off. However, we were able to make a fire and all that really mattered to us was that we had a roof over our heads. The world seems to take on an entirely different position when you set yourself outside of society. When you’re fully immersed in the wilderness and completely remote from civilization, the only thing that seems to really matter is the nature itself.


We finally concluded our day at Lake Mackenzie hut and were rewarded with beautiful views at the site.

Since our journey was shortened, we decided to embark on a last minute visit to one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, Milford Sound. After driving through many narrow roads, down valleys and through the mountains, we finally arrived at scenery that took my breath away instantly. With the sun beginning to set, it brightly shone over the lake and cliffs that lay in front of us. The silhouettes of the cliffs were pristine, each possessing its own kind of shape and dimension. We were only standing at the entrance to Milford Sound, so the features are still indefinite to us. The entrance was so astonishing, one can only imagine what it is like to explore within.


A kea, one of New Zealand’s native birds

The world of New Zealand has much to offer. Because of its distance from every other continent of the world, it seems to be forgotten. Yet, that makes it much easier to appreciate everything within it. Not everyone seems to realize its magnitude of splendor. When it comes to exploring, I enjoy the fact that I am cut off from technology, electricity and modern necessities. Because of these conditions, I am able to fully focus and value what’s in front of me. Unlike technology, sights like these aren’t always accessible.

Traveling within the country has become practically a second nature to me. Every weekend, I am always anticipating that I will be on the move, going somewhere. I have become accustomed to a completely new lifestyle. It’s full of so much adventure and animation that it’s hard to imagine that it’s all going to stop once I go back to the states. Even though the end is coming soon, it’s vital to enjoy the time that I have left.


The team at the end of the day at Milford Sound

Alyssa in New Zealand: Studying at Otago

September 13, 2013

Being a pre-health student, I’m lucky enough to have found a university that offers endless amounts of classes that help me fulfill my requirements for graduate school. Since I am planning on becoming a Physician’s Assistant, there are several science courses that I am required to take before I apply to P.A. school.

Studying abroad had always been a fear of mine, for I was always afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go. There have always been rumors about being a pre-health student. Many have claimed that we don’t get the chance to do as many things as other majors because we are always spending most of our time outside of the classroom and lab in the library, burying our heads in textbooks. While that may be true, I was determined that I could make studying abroad and my classes work simultaneously.

Having researched University of Otago, I was more than pleased to discover that they offered numerous science classes. After being accepted as an exchange student, I knew that my vision was finally becoming a reality.


The clocktower is in a very central part of campus

Here at Otago, I am taking Evolutionary biology (a zoology paper) and Microbiology for my biology major back at Richmond. There are two zoology lectures each week. Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I sit in the lecture hall with over 100 other students for 50 minutes. Even two other Richmond students are in the same paper, which I find to be comforting and very convenient when we are working on lab reports together. Every other week, the practical (also known as lab) meets for about four hours. There are two practicals, so there are approximately 50 students in each one as opposed to 100. For every practical there is a lab report that has to be submitted the following week. However, not one lab report exceeds over 9% of our final grade, for they are of very little value. What matters most in the end is what we receive on our final exam, which accounts for 50% of our final grade.


The zoology building, which is where my practicals meet

The circumstances are very similar with the Microbiology paper as well. The lecture meets three times a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) for fifty minutes. The practicals do not meet up every week. For instance, there will be three week period when there will be no practical at all and then another period where the practical will meet for three weeks in a row. Fortunately, we do not have lab reports for every practical. Instead, we have to take two exams throughout the semester. The first exam was on lecture material and the second on practical material. Each exam counts as 15% of our final grade. However, what we receive on the final exam will influence our grade the most, which is similar to the zoology paper.

For my third paper, I am taking a theater class in order to fulfill my Visual Arts requirement back at Richmond. This paper meets three times a week for 50 minutes. Additionally, students are required to attend live performances that take place on campus and movie screenings. The goal of the class is to compare drama that occurs on stage and on screen. Just like my other two papers, the class size is generally large. However, all the assignments that we hand in throughout the semester are equally taken into account for our final grade just as much as the final grade, a concept that is much more similar to Richmond’s way of grading.

Since New Zealand is such a new country, many of the examples that are introduced in lecture are rarely kiwi examples. Instead, many of the professors use examples from America, which tend to come across as new to many of the students. Conversely, I am fairly familiar with many of the examples that are presented. On the off chance that the professor does use a kiwi example, I find myself highly intrigued by its unique and innovative nature.

Generally speaking, many of the final grades that are received at Otago are based off mainly the final exam. Not being used to such grading, I have had to adjust my priorities when it comes to my studies. Typically, I try to complete and put much more effort into assignments that are of high percentage of my final grade. In the end, I know that I will be studying a vast amount for my final exams, for most of my final grades are dependent upon them. Luckily, there is a one month exam period at Otago after classes end (October 11), which in turn gives students a decent amount of time to study.


Student’s refer to campus as “uni”. This area is where many students may accumulate throughout the day

As unique as my experience has been at Otago, I have grown much more appreciation for the education that I have been receiving at Richmond the past two years. The small class sizes really make a difference, for the professors are able to identify each of their students and even form close relationships with them. With these connections, the student-teacher relationship is strong, which makes the whole learning experience more enjoyable and enriched.

Moreover, I think it’s very important for a student’s progress to be recorded throughout the semester and their entire grade should not be based off one exam in the very end. Final exams are essential, yet a final grade should not be entirely reliant on them. However, I value the education that I have been receiving here at Otago as well because not having heavily weighted assignments throughout the semester has allowed me to explore and have more free time to myself. There will only be a one month period when I will actually have to contribute majority of my time to my studies. As a result, I have found that this type of education is extremely fitting for my semester abroad.

In the end, being a pre-health student has never held me back from doing what I want and I don’t believe that it will in the future. Yes, my education has always been a priority in my life, but I have others as well. Traveling has always been a passion of mine and there is no reason for me to push my aspirations aside just because there are inconveniences. Ultimately, I’ve successfully found a way to make traveling and studying coincide.

This new way of learning has become very convenient for my time in New Zealand. Throughout the past two months, I have been constantly traveling the country and seeing things that one can’t even imagine. In the last few weeks of the semester, I find myself planning and embarking on all kinds of trips, putting in efforts to utilize all of the free time that is left while I can. Such opportunities have been presented often and I’ve been more than fortunate enough to  have been able to take advantage of them.

Alyssa in New Zealand: Mid-semester break

September 4, 2013

It is important to take advantage of the environment you’re in, but it is also vital to not let yourself forget about the other places that surround you as well. There is much to discover and explore, but we can’t let ourselves be distracted by what’s only in front of us. Leaving the U.S. two months ago was my first step towards new journeys. After having been in New Zealand for seven weeks, it was time to put my life in Dunedin on pause and venture to the neighboring country, Australia.

Once mid-semester break arrived, my flatmates and I were constantly on the move for the entirety of the trip, beginning to end. Driving to Christchurch was our first endeavor, for that was where our flight was departing from. The three hour plane ride brought us to one of the most famous cities in the world, Sydney. Right away we started exploring, touching many aspects of the city such as the Sydney Opera House, Hyde Park, Darling Harbor and the Harbor Bridge. The climate was so different compared to what we have been used to in Dunedin that we made our way out to Manly Beach the following day in order to enjoy the warm weather.


Sydney Harbor Bridge at night


Shortly after, we flew north towards even warmer weather to Cairns. I was caught off guard by the heat, for the thought of having weather in the 80’s seemed foreign to me at that time. It didn’t take long for me to change into shorts and t-shirts. Our first adventure consisted of the Great Barrier Reef. We boarded a boat that took us out an hour from the shores of Cairns and were provided with snorkeling gear. As I jumped off the boat into the ocean, I didn’t feel one sting of coldness from the water because the air was so tropical. Looking underwater was incredible, for the amount of marine life that was directly below me was overwhelming in a sense that I felt as if I needed to see everything. Whether it was in a form of coral or fish, color completely surrounded me. Every aspect of the reef was unique. Not one fish looked like one another and each corner presented a wide arrangement of vivid hues.


Josephine Falls in Cairns

Cairns had much to offer on land as well. We ventured our way into several different rainforests running into several waterfalls, lakes and other different kinds of nature. There were also several beaches that were easy to access around the city as well. Each day in Cairns beheld a different adventure in front of us. It felt as if we were seeing the most authentic parts of Australia regardless of what kind of setting we were in.


My flatmates and I ventured our way to under the waterfall at Milla Milla Falls in Cairns

Knowing we couldn’t stay in Cairns forever, we began to travel south towards Brisbane. On the way, we stopped at the Whitsunday islands for a day trip. Nothing could have prepared me to anticipate such a view. Expectations are never accurate, for no sense of what you are going to see can perfectly depict what is actually there. Pictures almost do Whitsundays no justice. With the water having 20 different hues of blue, the scenery is unable to be replicated by any other location. The silica sand on the beach was so soft that you could exfoliate yourself with it (which I most certainly did). Paradise would be an understatement to describe what it was like. Thinking about going back at the end of the day became a concern, for every inch of my body was reluctant to leave.


Whitsundays islands

We finally arrived in Brisbane, which was our last stop on our trip but it didn’t necessarily mean we were slowing down. We utilized our time by visiting Long Pine Sanctuary, the first and largest koala bear sanctuary in Australia. The entire place was enriched with all kinds of Australian life such as koala bars, wombats, dingoes, crocodiles and kangaroos. To our delight, we were easily able to enjoy our time with the kangaroos up close in such a way that we were allowed to fully interact and pet them. The animals showed very little sign of discomfort, and they were very welcoming to visitors. Kangaroos were lounging everywhere in this field waiting for attention and consolation.


The kangaroos were more than welcoming when they were approached by visitors

Every beginning has an end, and finally we flew out from Sydney back to Christchurch. Having been in Australia for ten days, we were ready to return to New Zealand. A change of scenery is always enjoyable, but returning to what you’re familiar with always generates a sense of comfort. Being away from my home in Dunedin has made me appreciate how at ease I actually am in New Zealand.

Having Australia being so nearby was such a convenience, for there was most likely no other time when I would go there besides being abroad now. Opportunities aren’t always available. You can’t expect for them to present themselves at any time. If it’s there, you can either take it now or sometimes even never. Fears or distress shouldn’t obstruct your true desires. Visiting Australia had always been one of mine for as long as I can remember, yet I was always worried about money and time management. However, studying abroad presented the perfect chance for me to go and it undoubtedly became one of the most remarkable trips of my life.

Life has now resumed back in Dunedin, and it’s almost like nothing has changed. I am more than halfway throughout the semester and I am already fearing that the end is going to arrive sooner than I think. Such a thought only reminds me that there is still so much more for me to do and see. Nevertheless, I am already more than satisfied by the amount of things that I have done thus far. It’s almost impossible to see and do everything that New Zealand has to offer down to the last piece of nature. However, it is possible to fully appreciate all that has been seen and done.

Alyssa in New Zealand: Adaptation

August 15, 2013

Instead of leaving my dorm room and walking through the forum in front of Gottwald, I find myself leaving my flat and walking beside the Leith river that runs by the Clock tower in order to get to class. If I walk even further through the campus of the University of Otago, I would easily wind up in the busy streets surrounded by shops and stores three minutes later. Instead of living in Richmond’s enclosed community this semester, I’m completely immersed in the middle of the city of Dunedin.

castle street outside her flat complex

Castle Street, just outside my flat

clocktower and leith river

The Clocktower and the Leith River

A typical day in Dunedin is not even remotely similar to a typical day in Richmond. Instead of strolling right through campus, I have to stop every so often at a crosswalk. The cars that pass by are driven by people that perceive us as not primarily students but as pedestrians. The shortest walk that I have to make to one of my classes is 12 minutes whereas in Richmond I would consider that to be my longest. There are constantly masses of students walking on the streets, so it becomes easy to get lost in the crowd.


At a crosswalk

Walking past the shops and stores on George Street (one of the most main streets in Dunedin) is quite congested as well, for it is full of both students and everyday people. It’s not hard for the two groups to integrate since the university buildings are immersed throughout the city. George Street seems like it is an ongoing avenue that is full of endless amounts of shops, restaurants and public services, making a lot of essentials very accessible. Instead of driving when I have to do an errand, I simply walk. As you make your way down the street, the sidewalk is completely covered with a vast awning due to the fact that it can rain at any point in time. Instead of having a well-predicted forecast, the rain usually makes its way to Dunedin without warning.

stores on George

Stores on George Street

As city-like as Dunedin may be, the mountains that are just outside of town are in plain sight. All it takes is a glance down the street and you can see Mount Cargill and hills overlooking the entire town. The peninsula and beaches are within easy access, for there are several roads that run alongside the water. The vast, green countryside is even considered fairly close. All different kinds of life surround town. Even in an urban setting, New Zealand still exhibits it’s extraordinary nature without fail.

water alongside roads

Roads alongside the water

Not only is the general atmosphere of the University of Otago very distinct from the University of Richmond’s, but the classroom experience is very different as well. Instead of being into a classroom with 15 other students, I am surrounded by at least 100. The university is so large (20,000 students which is almost seven times greater than Richmond) that the odds of me running into someone that I know is slim. At Richmond, I have become so accustomed to having the professor know exactly who I am and having their assistance at hand. Conversely, the class sizes are so much bigger at Otago that the professors barely have any time to get to know all of their students individually. With over 100 students in a lecture hall, getting to know everyone one by one is just not realistic.

Not making a direct connection with the professor does present some challenges. I’ve come to realize that the nature of the student-teacher relationship is not as personal. Instead of having professors know my name, I have gotten used to the fact that my grade is the only thing they actually know about me. Their help is not as accessible, for they do not have the available time to meet up with every single student that seeks them out.

Even in both of my biology labs, there are differences. Instead of wearing goggles, we wear lab coats. We have not one teaching assistant, but five. Some of the laboratory techniques that are used are also slightly modified from the ones at Richmond. They seem to be a little more meticulous. Moreover, there is also less guidance provided throughout the procedures, which makes it a little harder to follow exactly what’s going on. Fortunately, there are several teaching assistants walking around that provide all the help that I may need.

When you come face to face with a challenge, it becomes easy to feel discouraged. The easiest choice to do is to back out and give up. But that’s not a choice here. The challenges that I’ve encountered may have generated some frustration, but I’ve learned to adapt. Living in an urban area has helped me form a sense of direction (to a certain extent) and confidence. Not having all of the necessary assistance just around the corner from professors has made me more independent and a better problem-solver when it comes to work and studying. Walking around an unfamiliar town has made venturing out more interesting. The unpredictable nature of the area has never failed to amuse me. I have only become more and more comfortable in a completely new environment.

So instead of walking through the Tyler Haynes Commons, I pass by the Otago Museum on my way to class. Instead of eating at the dining hall, I make my own meals at home. Instead of considering these changes as a burden, I see that in the end, learning to adapt to new circumstances will only benefit me!

Alyssa in New Zealand: Seeing the country

August 9, 2013

It doesn’t take much effort to see beautiful parts of New Zealand. One could even say that it’s not necessary to venture out to the most iconic parts of the country. I haven’t traveled very far from Dunedin yet (four hours maximum), but I am still impressed by everything that I have seen. Each portion of New Zealand has its own kind of magnificence to it; hiking (they call it “tramping”) and camping beyond civilization this past weekend has definitely proved that.

The new adventure began last Friday when Malachi, Andras and Edward (another Kiwi host) and I decided to explore and sight see before we embarked on our weekend tramp. After much anticipation, I finally got to see my first Lord of the Rings movie sites. What surprised me most about them was they were located near such a quaint, remote area called Arrowtown. Walking through the central part of town was somewhat comparable to walking through a ghost town of the Old West. The shops were juxtaposed very closely together consisting of tourist souvenirs such as Maori greenstone (similar to jade, except much more rare and valuable) and The Ring replicas from Lord of the Rings (ranging up to $200).

As we made our way through town, I didn’t see how it would be at all possible to reach the LOTR sites. The area was so small and it seemed like there wasn’t too much to see. However, we figured out soon that we have to venture out a little further to the outskirts of Arrowtown in order to reach our destination. After making our way through open forests, we finally arrived at the area that we were all familiar with having seen the same exact site in the movies several times (it’s typically considered a well-known scene in the movie). You can’t underestimate the potential of anywhere, for you never really know what it has to offer. The fact that this setting for the movie was found near such a humble town convinces me that anywhere in New Zealand beholds some sort of unique aspect. Nothing should be overlooked.

one of the sites where Lord of the Rings was filmed

One of the sites where Lord of the Rings was filmed

The explorations continued after we left Arrowtown and headed to Glenorchy so that we could access incredible views of the well known Lake Wakatipu. I can safely say that this area has been my favorite so far. It presented a new kind of peace and seclusion. The water was so still that the reflection of the mountains in the distance was highly distinguishable. Even though the sun was beating down hard for the wintertime, the snow on the mountains were barely affected. The entire scenery almost seemed somewhat fake, but I had to keep reminding myself that what I was seeing was not an illusion in the slightest.

A view of Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy

A view of Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy

Andras and Malachi looking out at Lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy

Andras and Malachi looking out at Lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy

I finally got a little taste of the Queenstown culture that all other international students have been constantly raving about. I now understand where all the hoopla comes from because the town itself is unmistakably full of life and excitement. Around every corner, there’s always something to do or see. The landmark that we were really looking forward to visiting was Fergburger, a recognized burger bar in New Zealand. Nothing could prepare me for the amount of food that I was about to eat, for it was the largest, yet most delicious burger that I’ve ever had. Andras ordered a burger that was practically the size of my entire head (the Hungarian was quite hungry). For the remainder of the night, we proceeded to take advantage of Queenstown by engrossing ourselves in the animated environment.

The following morning, we made our way to Wanaka in order to begin another adventure. Edward had organized a group of 27 people to hike through Mount Aspiring Park for the weekend. It’s not a well-known trek, but it allowed us to explore the less touched parts of the country. As we made our way to the starting point, we found ourselves driving further and further away from society and becoming more immersed in isolated nature. The mountains seemed to be getting bigger and the grasslands greener. Everything became more exaggerated. When we finally arrived to our starting point, it was clear that we were in a completely new environment.

Mount Aspiring Park

Mount Aspiring Park

The trek to our hut was about 2.5 hours one way. Throughout the hike, rain was coming down and it showed no mercy, yet the wetness barely seemed to phase us. Conversely, the only things that were on my mind were my surroundings. The only thing that the hut provided to us were beds. However, it was soon discovered that the beds were inaccessible due to the fact that the room was locked. Once again, none of us seemed affected by this misfortune, for we weren’t going to let it ruin the trip. Instead, we looked on the bright side and found that each others’ company was all we needed to enjoy our stay out in the depths of the mountains.

The following day, the rain continued to come down for our hike up the Rob Roy Glacier. After our 50 minute ascent, we were presented with a vast glacier and fresh waterfall. We even witnessed two avalanches. It felt so surreal finally seeing nature in action in person. For the first time on the trek, I became phased by what was in front of me.

Waterfall near the top of Rob Roy Glacier

Waterfall near the top of Rob Roy Glacier

I still find myself meeting new people with every experience. Going into the tramp, I knew a total of 8 out of the 27 people. Now that the weekend has ended, I have come out of it knowing at least 15 of those people total. Many of them in the group were Kiwi hosts and international students. After familiarizing myself with them, it’s clear that we all have the same motives. New Zealand has provided much insight into a completely new world and we have only become more motivated to explore it.

Even though we didn’t venture out to the most prominent area of the country, I was still moved by what was surrounding me. There is no doubt that I will eventually see the more well-known parts of New Zealand. However, there is nothing wrong with visiting the unconventional parts of the country for the time being, for they all have something extraordinary to offer.

Alyssa in New Zealand: Reflecting the month

July 30, 2013

As cliché as it sounds, I find it hard to believe that it has already been four weeks since I first arrived. The weeks seemed to have flown by and it only reminds me that my stay here is limited. Not one day should be wasted.

It was only nine days ago since I hiked so high up Mount Cargill that I was literally above the clouds. After the one hour ascent to the top of the 676 meter mountain, I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the entire city. The summit allowed me to see all that has been surrounding me for the past month. Everything was in plain sight. The peninsula, the flats, the town. Nothing could be hidden, no matter how hard it tried. I was seeing Dunedin in a completely new light.


Above the clouds at Mount Cargill

I had also decided to take a slight half an hour detour in order to make my way to the well-known organ pipe rocks, which required me to channel my arm strength in order to reach the top. The unique framework of this area made the climb enjoyable and unpredictable. The rocks being so steep and uneven made the task difficult; but it was a challenge I was more than willing to take on.


Climbing organ pipe rocks with Malachi

It was only seven days ago when I realized that the work in my courses is going to start picking up soon. In my zoology paper (they call courses “papers” here at Otago), I have two lab reports due, one of which is based on observations that I made at the Otago Museum. I find it very fortunate that the zoology lab (also known as a practical) took the students to the museum, for it allowed me to learn specifically even more about New Zealand biology and environment. I never would have thought to take the time out of my day to visit the museum, but this particular lab gave me the chance to discover more about not only the city of Dunedin, but the entire country as well. Likewise, my first Microbiology test is approaching next week. It will be my first test out of two for the semester. Hopefully my current studying skills are enough preparation because I don’t know what to expect out of the exam.

It was only four days ago when I left Dunedin for the first time since I had initially arrived. I ventured out by leaving the town that I was finally comfortable in and made my way to Wanaka, a town with a native sense of splendor and endless surrounding nature. The whole purpose of the trip was to ski at Treble Cone, the largest ski resort of the south island of New Zealand. I knew that the skiing experience was going to be somewhat exotic once I realized that we had to drive practically two-thirds up the mountain to get to the actual snow to ski on instead of parking at the base, like in America.

As strange as it was skiing in the middle of July, it became easier to get used to. The mountain was completely open, for not one forest or tree-line was present to be used as guidelines for the trail. Every track that I skied was completely one of my own.

Even though the chairlift did not take skiers up to the summit of the mountain, we had the option to climb to the top with our skis in order to access untouched, fresh powder. The fifteen minute trek to the peak of Treble Cone was well worth the extra effort. Everything at the top was completely natural. The cold, brisk air and vast mountain landscape of the backcountry reminded me that winter indeed has its own kind of magnificence. It will never cease to amaze me that nature can evolve unconventionally in such a complex and dignified way.


View of the mountains in Wanaka from the Treble Cone ski resort

It was only two days ago when I returned back to my flat in Dunedin. As nice as it is to be back at home, I have only become more motivated to see more. My first trip being a success has set expectations for me for the rest of the semester.

It was only today when I realized that I have officially been here for exactly one month. A little less than four months left in my study abroad experience. Even though the weeks have been flying by, I am definitely satisfied by the amount of excursions that I have taken initiative to do thus far. I won’t allow myself to take my time here for granted, for I plan to make the most out of this experience as best as I can. The days left in New Zealand may be limited, but my drive to explore certainly isn’t.

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