A Whole New Zealand

Being someone who’s never been outside of the country, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I decided I would spend the next six months in New Zealand. When people hear New Zealand, their first thoughts are either of sheep or “The Lord of the Rings.” And although those things are true when you come here –– it’s one of the reasons I chose this country –– after being here for little more than two weeks, I knew I made the right decision.

Courtesy of Brenda Franco

Courtesy of Brenda Franco

I arrived here on June 20, and as soon as I stepped out of the airport, things were already different. For one, I was leaving California during my favorite season to come to New Zealand during the winter. It rains a lot and it’s cold, but once you get used to it, the weather’s not so bad. I actually arrived on the coldest day of the year, which wasn’t very nice, but at least I experienced the worst in order to appreciate the best.

I stayed in Auckland for five days for orientation, and to be honest, I hated it. Never being out of the country, I experienced extreme culture shock. The little differences took a big toll on me. I was staying at a hostel and I didn’t feel comfortable not having my own room and living with strangers. I felt very alone; I missed my family, friends and boyfriend. Other people from UC Irvine came as well, but they all formed a clique that I wasn’t a part of. But that’s all right; if I wanted to be around UCI people I would have stayed home, right?

Fortunately, I was able to make friends with a group of girls from other UC’s and we decided to rent a minivan and do a road trip down the North Island since we didn’t have to start school for a while. Seven girls in an eight-seat minivan with our entire luggage for six months does not make for a comfortable ride, but it is an experience I’ll never forget.

Our trip has been a highlight here so far.

We spent a total of five days on the road. For our trip we wanted to be as cheap as possible and stay away from the tourist attractions. We would drive at night to different towns and stayed at local hostels. We went to Coromandel, Rotorua, Lake Taupo and finished our trip in Wellington. We spent a majority of our time tramping and really seeing the country. That really opened my eyes. New Zealand is a very sustainable country and they try hard to preserve nature. Not once here have I seen paper towels or toilet seat covers in the bathrooms. Seeing this made me realize that people back home don’t care about nature and are quite selfish and materialistic. I was like this as well, but being here has made me realize that there’s more to life than going to the mall or out eating.

In Wellington, my friends all left and I stayed because I’m studying at Victoria University of Wellington. School didn’t start until the 14 of July and I couldn’t move into my apartment until a week later, so I had to stay at a hostel for a week. I stayed at Lodge in the City and the hostel was a piece of shit. It was disgusting and I was terrified to be left alone in the big city.

But somehow I became very good friends with two of my roommates. Kelly is from Auckland and he moved down to Wellington. Frank is from the Netherlands and did a robotics internship for five months and is currently traveling. We all somehow ended up bonding over “The Last of Us.” Kelly had the game, and Frank and I would watch him and occasionally take turns playing. We did this almost every night and it was really fun.

After playing, all three of us would go out drinking. When you’re in a country where the drinking age is 18, the nightlife is amazing! I went out with these guys for three nights: we’d pregame at the hostel and then went to different clubs and drank some more. The alcohol in New Zealand is delicious but pricy. One night I spent $40 on five beers.

Lodge in the City was actually a party hostel and everyone would be downstairs at night drinking. I was able to meet a lot of people from around the world there. It was honestly a lot of fun and Kiwis (what you call New Zealanders) know how to party. But Kiwi boys are quite shy. I don’t want to sound cocky, but back home I would be approached a lot when I went clubbing. Here, however, not a single person did. But I did go out with two guys, so that might have had something to do with it.

When I had to leave the hostel, I was actually sad. Not because I’d miss the hostel, but because I’d miss my roommates. I got close with those guys and it wouldn’t be the same not partying and playing “The Last of Us” with them.

Since I didn’t have my orientation until July 11, Frank and I are currently on the Ferry making our way to the South Island. I’ve never traveled with a stranger before, but my gut feeling told me I was safe.

As I write this on the ferry, seeing the ocean outside my window, I knew I made the right decision. New Zealand is a beautiful country. I’ve experienced so much and although I have five more months here with school starting in a week, I hope that the remainder of my time here will be filled with eye-opening experiences and memories I will cherish forever.