My Study Abroad Experience: Part 1

Hello! I am officially back from studying abroad and I am honestly the worst because I did not post a single thing while I was there. I like to think that it is because I was so enthralled by what was happening around me that I didn’t care to look at my computer much unless it was for homework or Netflix, but it’s more likely just because I am lazy. But because I am working on bettering myself and this blog, I decided I would do the longest blog post ever about every cool thing I did while I was in Auckland, New Zealand, and Australia. It is so long that I had to split it in two parts, so feel free to just look at the “titles” and photos and decide what experiences of mine you find interesting enough to read about.

Tuesday, February 21st: Maori Cultural Experience & Hangi Dinner

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This might honestly be my favorite thing that my study abroad program allowed us to do. Maybe that’s because it was my first day in New Zealand and I was so happy to be there, but I think it is because I love experiencing new cultures and rituals that are important to people’s every day lives. My group met with two men who led us through important parts of Maori cultural and taught us songs and words that have strong meanings for them and their people. They were so welcoming and I identified heavily with everything they stood for despite never being introduced to pacific island viewpoints. I almost cried to one of the songs we sang and I will never forget playing Ti Rakau (a popular Maori stick game) with Emily and making everyone else bite the dust because we were WAY too good at it. If you visit New Zealand, please find some way or another to immerse yourself in the Maori culture, you won’t regret it.

Wednesday, February 22nd: Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

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I will openly admit that I am not the biggest fan of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but this tour was really cool and a must do if you’re in the area. We watched the first Lord of the Rings movie on the bus out to the tour and my favorite part was Aragorn’s gorgeous face and my soon to be best friend, Austin, yelling about he wasn’t gay but he would totally marry Aragorn haha. The tour itself was my first real introduction into just how gorgeous New Zealand countryside could be. Not to mention, hearing all the cool behind the scenes facts was fascinating even though I hadn’t seen all the movies. Now, for people who love these movies, you HAVE to do this! The other students in my group who are huge fans had the absolute best time visiting here!

Thursday, February 23rd: Whakarewarewa Forest

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Yes this is a real photo that I took. I am in no way great at taking photographs, I like to think I have a good eye but that’s about it. New Zealand doesn’t care if you suck at taking pictures though, it will pose and be beautiful for you all the same. Aside from my rant about how photogenic the country is, we were given free time in the late morning of this day to do whatever we wanted, and my ENTIRE study abroad group decided to go to the Whakarewarewa Forest. It is a redwood forest that is laced with jungle flora and it has a treewalk that allows you to walk on bridges high up in the trees. I chose not to do the treewalk because I wanted to save my time to explore as much of the forest as possible and the extra cool bonus high up was only in a small part of the area. The people who did chose to do the treewalk though swear by it and said it was worth the time and the money.

Thursday, February 23rd: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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This is an obscurely beautiful place that has a lot of connections to Maori culture. It is pretty smelly because of the sulfur, but will wow you enough that you won’t care. Our tour guide was great and did an amazing job knowing everything about the area. After exploring the “thermal wonderland” we moved down the street a bit to go swimming where the hot water river, stemming from the thermal area, meets with the cold water river, coming from the higher altitude mountains. The collision of these two rivers makes for a perfect temperature for relaxing unless you’re like me and get too hot then too cold then too hot again so you just end up switching areas every two minutes.

Friday, February 24th: Haka Lesson

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Another cultural experience that I thoroughly enjoyed especially because it has such a strong connection to sports. The All Blacks, New Zealand’s best rugby team, do a Haka before every game to challenge their opponent and also get ready to win (watch here). The Haka is a chant, accompanied by movements, which was used by the Maori people before going into battle. It was explained to us as the ritual that allows one to accept that they might die. If you watched Moana, you can see Maui do it before fighting Te Kā (I just watched it the other day for the 3rd time lol). Overall, learning the Haka was a great and fun bonding experience because you definitely have to reach out of your comfort zone a bit.

Thursday, March 2nd – Saturday, March 4th: Hiking & Camping in Piha

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Alright, let me tell you about this trip. It was super last minute and very poorly planned (students are probably the worst at planning trips), but it may just be my favorite thing I did all semester. We took an airport shuttle (yes I did say airport shuttle) to the general area we were wanting to camp. We decided to start walking to find a place to camp (why didn’t we look into that before lol) and went in the direction of a waterfall. Everyone was carrying their tents, clothes, food, and water and it was a lot. Three of my friends and I decided that carrying our stuff around all day wasn’t going to be fun so we started hiking to set up camp. This was a great decision as it led to us getting the excruciating hike out of the way, setting up camp, then being able to enjoy the sunset at the top of the mountain which ended up being a cow pasture (lol NZ). I cannot tell you how much closer this trip made me to those three boys (#wolfpack am I right?!) and I will forever be thankful for that. The hiking in the area is gorgeous and includes views of jungles, forest, cow pastures, and the beach. We visited a secluded beach and had the entire thing to ourselves which was well worth the hike. Now when I say we were ill-prepared, I truly mean it as most of us did not bring enough water or food. This lead to my boys and I hiking all the way down the mountain to town for pizza, the beach, a waterfall, and more hiking before sleeping again. Despite the difficulties we had, I would have not changed the experience for the world.

p.s. the area that we hiked was part of the Hillary Trail which is a four day feat if you do the whole thing and the part we did is straight up (literal nature stairs) the majority of the time which is why I said it was excruciating.

Saturday, March 11th: Surfing in Raglan

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To have your first time ever surfing be in New Zealand is an insane experience. Especially when the first wave you ever ride you catch completely until the end. It was on this trip that I learned that I really love surfing even though I may not be the best at it. My hot Australian instructors definitely helped out with improving my skills as well as laughing at me as I wiped out. This experience was definitely more a of personal one rather than a bonding activity with all my new friends, which was really refreshing. It was relaxing and exciting all at the same time and I definitely enjoyed it. After surfing we proceeded to get food, play beer pong and flip cup, and ended the night with an extremely mudding exploration of the nearby forest.

Sunday, March 12th: Waitomo Glowworm Caves & Ruakuri Cave

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These caves are the ones that everyone talks about when they think of New Zealand. The limestone is beautiful and the glowworms are fascinating. In the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, you get to ride on a boat while looking up at a cave that resembles a very starry night sky. It is absolutely breathtaking especially since it is so quiet after walking through a cave crowded with tourists. My favorite part of these two caves was definitely my tour guide from the Ruakuri Cave. He was super funny and tailored our experience to us rather than giving us the normal tour facts. He sang Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” as we walked down the spiral ramp shown above and it was nothing less than magical.

Saturday, March 25th: Pasifika Festival

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Now this was such a cool festival that revolved around Pacific Island cultures. We traveled from section section like we were traveling from one island to the next. We ate great food, bought flower crowns, got henna, and watched talented people perform in their island’s style. Fiji definitely had my favorite performance because it was a bunch of men dancing to single ladies in a hula style and it was hilarious. This event honestly helped me to feel integrated into the culture in a way that didn’t feel purposefully catered for those outside of the cultures being represented.

Sunday, March 26th: Inter-res Volleyball Tournament

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If you know me, you know I love volleyball so when there was a chance to play in a half-day tournament, I wasn’t going to pass it up. This gave me a great chance to meet more New Zealanders that lived in my residence hall and I had an amazing time playing my favorite sport. It also made New Zealand feel that much more like home.

Saturday, April 1st: Coromandel & Cathedral Cove

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Coromandel Cove might be the prettiest beach I have ever set foot on. The water is extremely blue and the surrounding jungle and island type rocks compliment is so well. Then, add the fact that we kayaked out to the beach and the whole experience just gets better. Kayaking is so fun especially when you’re surrounded by amazing people and are able to travel through caves. Our kayak leaders made us coffee and hot chocolate while we were on the beach which was a great addition to the day. We also swam out to a huge, flat rock and continued to jump off it a million times. It was my first experience “cliff jumping” although this rock was nothing in comparison to a cliff. Because I was surrounded by water the entire day, I was the happiest girl on the planet!

Sunday, April 2nd: Volunteering in Tawharanui

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This was definitely one of the more rewarding experiences I had while abroad because it was a volunteer trip. It was also the only trip I did with a club the entire year. We went to a sanctuary in which we planted trees in order to help their attempt at growing a sustainable forest in the area. By sanctuary I mean that the area had an impressive pest fence that kept out all rodents and cats that would kill the birds that live within the forest. Because of this fence, our conservation walk after volunteering was laced with a million bird calls and it was like being in a movie. There were also gorgeous beaches and pastures that we got to explore. It was great to get paid in free travel and an awesome afternoon just because I wanted to help the environment a bit.

Thursday, April 13th: New Zealand Comedy Night

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This night was by far the most hilarious night I experienced in New Zealand. ISA, my study abroad program, had last minute said they would buy whoever was interested tickets to to attend and I was of course intrigued by both the idea of a comedy night and not paying for it. We, being the group of Americans who ridiculously chose to sit in the front, were picked on the entire night for our recently inaugurated president and just our Americanness in general. Now that may sound mean of the host comedian to do to us, but I could NOT stop laughing even though I was the chosen one who would continuously get asked questions and then get made fun of for my answers. Quite honestly I was practically the star of the show and I will never forget how much my stomach hurt from laughing.

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