Chasing Utopia in Sweden

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I consider Sweden my spiritual homeland. Not that I’m a very spiritual person– in fact I’m a bit of a lighthearted nihilist, which is, perhaps, why I belong in generally secular Sweden. Not that I’ve experienced it firsthand. No, everything that I know about Sweden, I’ve gleaned from extensive Googling and Ikea shopping. But I just know* it’s where I belong in the world. Whether the place lives up to my anticipation or proves to be a metaphysical disappointment, I have to go. I have to give it a shot.

Cosmic destinies aside, Sweden speaks to my professional aspirations. Since I was a wee babe, I’ve known I would make it my life’s work to improve the quality of life for the world’s poorest people in whatever way possible. I couldn’t imagine a career more important than helping the people who need it most. Yet, as clear as my objective is, my path has so far been somewhat circuitous.

A glimpse of Ireland, en route to Stockholm.

A glimpse of Ireland, en route to Stockholm

In high school, I had a grand scheme to start a vertically-integrated fashion brand which would create safe, fair jobs for women in Southeast Asia in the production of high quality clothing with minimal environmental impact. Eighteen-year-old me made arrangements to go to fashion school in New York, but circumstances intervened. I ended up spending the year after I finished high school in rural Senegal, West Africa.

Senegal was the first place I saw poverty on a large scale. I found that cash-poor people can create richness in other ways– through art and music, through social bonds, through ingenuity and resourcefulness. However, I also saw that the effectiveness of these compensations is limited by the infrastructure, healthcare, and freedom of self-determination available to impoverished people. I began to see that poverty and environmental degradation are huge, systemic problems. I saw how the two issues are really one, how they both create and perpetuate one another.

No longer content to design fair-trade organic cotton blue jeans, I started college with my same old objective– to help the world’s most vulnerable people maintain autonomy, health, and happiness– but this time, I put my scheming aside and let my questions guide me: what degree of foreign aid and intervention is ethical? Is poverty more effectively addressed by the public or private sector? Which devices for reducing poverty are effective, which less so? How can environmental protection be promoted or incentivized by economic development?

I came at these questions from a few disciplinary angles before I settled on one frame of inquiry– economics. Which brings me back to Sweden. I see my impending study abroad experience as a case study. The Swedish economic system is of a more socialistic approach than our American system– a valuable distinction to be investigated. Its comprehensive welfare and public services, extensive sustainable energy and waste management systems, low levels of income disparity, and famously happy population make Sweden an excellent example of how economic and public policy devices can foster high quality of life and low rates of poverty. I expect the lessons I learn in Sweden to provide insight for my future work in less developed regions.

This trip was going to happen, one way or another. It was meant to be. It took an awful lot of research, planning, logistical acrobatics and sheer stubbornness, but now my affairs are in order and I’m counting down the days until I sit nibbling Swedish meatballs atop a reindeer, frolicking around the fjords and forests of my self-assigned motherland.

*The term “know” is used here in the loosest possible sense.

(Written July 23rd, 2015)

Au revoir, et Bon Courage.

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Well, this is a post I do not want to write; my last.

I’ve punched in the three separate entry codes to my Parisian apartment for the last time. I’ve said my goodbyes to the friends I made and to the family that took care of me. Now I’m back in Philly, ready for the next semester at Temple University. Of course, I’m a little sad; as you’ve hopefully read in my last two posts, I have come to really love the city of Paris. It’s not some dreamy romantic place anymore. I’ve come to understand its true nature, urine smells and all. I still love it.

I decided to apply for this program before I even started college. I had a plan; if I took this class fall semester, and that one spring semester, I could test into a high enough class to finish my minor in Paris over the summer. I had figured out how to spend my summer stipend from Temple Honors! I was completing a minor already! It was perfect.

Then before I left at the end of June, I asked myself, “Do I really know enough about France or the French language to get credit for it on my diploma?” And I was certain the answer was “Absolutely not.” Frankly, as I prepared to go to Paris I felt a little guilty, but that quickly changed when I got there. Now not only do I feel like I’ve earned the minor, I’m hoping to make French my second major.

I spent my last afternoon in Paris eating lunch with friends I wouldn’t see again for a long time. I walked through the Luxembourg Gardens and had my last Parisian ice cream cone and observed French children playing with toy boats in the fountain. I snuck up to the terrace at the Foyer where other Temple students live, because even though I don’t live there it’s an incredible view, and I had to see it one last time. Seriously, if you do the Paris program be sure to go up there. You can see everything, and photos don’t do it justice at all.

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Cassis ice cream in the Luxembourg Gardens

I'll really miss the beautifully manicured gardens of Paris.

I’ll really miss the beautifully manicured gardens of Paris.

Saying goodbye to Beatrix, my host mom, was the hardest of all. “You’re welcome here anytime,” she told me. “I’m sure you’ll be back.” And I truly hope she’s right about that.

The foyer rooftop has one of my favorite views of the city.

The foyer rooftop has one of my favorite views of the city.

To everyone who’s been following my travels through this blog and through my Facebook page, thank you so much for your support. It’s time for me to do some work on my personal blog, now.

To anyone considering studying abroad, DO IT. Whether it’s a summer or a year, Paris or New Zealand, something you’ve studied for a long time or something brand new–deciding to go is the first step in a great big, awesome adventure.

Au revoir, et bon courage!

Kiwi Humor: (Insert Sheep Joke Here)

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I’ve been living in New Zealand for just one month, but already the people I’ve met and the things I do each day feel like staples of my life. To be honest, I’m surprised I’ve adapted so quickly to my new environment, but the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” rings quite true for me here. My life in NZ is much more immediate and tangible than my life in the U.S., and I’ve been more focused on living in the present and exploring my new environment than on dwelling on my life back home. I think one reason for my relatively smooth adjustment is that I’ve found elements of New Zealand that fit my personality and lifestyle better than their American versions — notably, Kiwi humor.

I’ve already used one clichéd adage in this post, so I might as well whip out another one: Laughter is the best medicine, and Kiwis have a knack for making me laugh. Kiwi humor is dry, smart, and knows few boundaries. Nearly every interaction is an exercise in banter and wit. The Big Bang Theory does not exist here, and its absence is is possibly the greatest gift I could ever be given.

The main difference I’ve noticed between American and Kiwi humor is the level of sensitivity. Kiwi humor operates under the theory that if you offend everyone, you offend no one. “Offend” could mean anything from personal insult to extreme stereotyping. While I sometimes find myself thinking, “Did s/he really just say that?” overall I’m learning that New Zealanders mean things all in good fun, and are rarely actually prejudiced or mean-spirited. In addition, as I mentioned before, nothing is off-limits. New Zealand reality TV is a rare form of art in which the narrator ridicules contestants with personal insult and sexual innuendos, and it is great. One of my favorite shows is a Kiwi version of the popular British show Come Dine with Me, where five contestants must host dinner parties for each other and then judge each other’s parties (basically, a snarky narrator’s dream). Check out one of my favorite episodes, which makes fun of uni students, for a bit of an idea: (but be warned, the humor is definitely a little raunchy!)

ww.tv3.co.nz/COME-DINE-WITH-ME-Season-1-Ep39/tabid/3692/articleID/117118/MCat/4599/Default.aspx

(Video courtesy of Channel NZ3’s website.)

Similarly to Americans, Kiwis also tease and insult their friends. However, they seem to think that New Zealand may be unique in this respect. Multiple New Zealanders have tried to explain to me that insults/teasing/messing with someone is a sign of affection, unaware that Americans do this as well. It is definitely more pronounced in NZ though, and people feel more comfortable with each other more quickly than in the U.S.

And finally, that dry sense of humor. Kiwis are masters of both self-deprecatory and cocky humor, and rarely ruin a joke by prematurely cracking a smile. There aren’t any billboards on New Zealand highways, and much less advertising in general than I’m used to, but rare is the advertisement that doesn’t include some sort of scathing wit. The HBO show Flight of the Conchords is also a good example of the general style of Kiwi humor, although it is toned down for an American audience. And of course, there “heaps” of jokes about sheep.

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“Ewe” should visit NZ! (My poor attempt at a sheep joke.)

The humor I’m surrounded by in NZ is the type of humor that I like best but can’t always find in the U.S. Finding an element of the culture here that I like better than what I’m used to and exploring that element has definitely helped me adjust to my new environment, rather than dwell on what I’m missing out on at home.  Other international students I’ve met have had similar experiences, with music, city life, sports, or other elements of Christchurch that pique their interest. Plus, I’ll return to the States with an impeccable sense of wit after a semester of practice (I hope)!

Another Week, Another Life-Changing Realization

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Even after the 4-weekers finished their programs and headed home, it didn’t hit me for a few days: I only had 2 more weeks. And by the time this is posted, I’ll be down to just a few days.

I’m still somewhat in denial. A small, dreamy part of me wants to stay in Paris for the foreseeable future, and put my ‘real life’ on hold. But deep down, I miss my family and friends. And frankly, I’m running out of cash. Plus, college is pretty important to me, y’know, I guess…

I’m trying not to let the fact that my stay is ending get me down. I’ve had an incredible, unforgettable summer. I’ve lived a different lifestyle. I’ve changed.

Indeed it is.

Indeed it is.

Today when I saw my reflection in the metro doors, I realized I’ve become a totally new version of myself. I’m confident and I’m adventurous. I’m independent in a way that I never realized I could be. I feel like in Paris, I became my truest self. I vividly remember my first day here: standing on the metro, sweating like crazy and pulling two suitcases along in the midst of a heat wave. I was self-conscious. I was scared.

I’ve always felt I was pretty good at putting forward a positive version of myself. In the past, if I wasn’t confident, I pretended I was. So my earlier blog post about culture shock, where I admitted to some pretty intense emotion, was a big step for me. Once I admitted how anxious and overwhelmed I was, I found I was able to overcome it. Not just my fears about studying abroad, but my fears and anxieties about life in general–because those issues that scared me so much, like fitting in and making friends, go beyond studying abroad.

Since that day I’ve gone through experiences and I’ve accomplished things that have changed my identity on a fundamental level. The way I see myself has changed completely, and I’ve accepted and embraced the qualities that I once viewed as faults. Now, I really do have the confidence that I always used to fake. I finally feel like I am, on the inside, the person that I’ve always projected on the outside; the person I’ve always aspired to be.

(Insert cheesy reference about how I've blossomed like beautiful flower)

(Insert cheesy reference about how I’ve blossomed like beautiful flower)

What I wonder now is, do I have to leave that behind? Does this fearless, powerful self only exist in Paris?

Taken at the Paris Opera Palais Garnier

Taken at the Paris Opera Palais Garnier

The change I’ve observed in myself hasn’t been exclusively thanks to my environment; it just took some powerful circumstances to make me discover a better way of being myself. I wrote last week that I want to make “explorer” my permanent mindset, and I’m determined not to let the influence of a familiar environment change that when I get back to the US.

So in the end, I think that the answer to my question is no; that my newfound strength is as much a part of me as my caution and nervousness once were. I’m proud of who I am today, after all that I went through to get to this point. Just like I said weeks ago, I’m still moving forward with positivity and curiosity. Soon, I’m going home–but that doesn’t mean I’m going backwards.

À bientôt…

Preparing to Study Abroad the Right Way

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I thought I prepared for Paris. I was so excited and so nervous, I wanted to be ready for anything. So I watched lots of videos on packing a suitcase efficiently, made all kinds of lists, and bookmarked pages online. I even walked through my commute to school on Google street view, to make sure I had it down.

Ah, remember when my biggest problem was rolling vs. folding?

Ah, remember when my biggest problem was rolling vs. folding?

None of that was useful. So for others who would go through the same kind of preparation, I’m hoping to stop you, and to tell you that you can do a lot better.

I wish I had prepared intellectually by reading more books in the early summer. And here’s why I’d encourage any traveler to do the same:

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned here is that studying abroad is not a bucket list experience. It’s so, so easy to go to a historic site and just look around and check it off of a list. But to really learn from it is a much richer experience, and one that I highly recommend.

I’ve realized that intellectual preparation is the key to time well-spent. For example, the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. It’s absolutely stunning and totally overwhelming. In preparation for Paris, I decided I would go there. I even bought a book; but I didn’t read it. So when I went to the museum I wandered through halls of paintings and statues that didn’t interest me very much, and I ran out of time before anything really amazed me. Had I done more preparation, I could have had a better time.

Paris has an incredible and long history, and in my first few weeks I saw many things of historic value and thought to myself “Hm. Okay… Now what?” Since I’m now reading more about the city’s history, I see much of it in a different light. It’s amazing, reading a chapter of my book and then going out the next day to see the very places where the events unfolded not just hundreds, but thousands of years ago.

To be honest, history doesn’t often excite me; but because I’m here, and because these landmarks and locations are becoming a part of my life, their stories are more interesting to me than ever before. But it took until the fourth week of my time here to find that readable history book, and that’s a lot of time I could have spent with a greater appreciation.

My current stack: History, Cooking, Hemingway, Art...

My current stack: History, Cooking, Hemingway, Art…

Even if you’re really not into reading, watch movies! My classmates often talk about their favorite French movies, and I think “Wow, I should’ve kept watching movies beyond just Amélie.” Listen to podcasts, or music. Whatever you enjoy.

Frankly, what bums me out at this moment is that I had zero excuses not to read, or watch movies, or listen to French radio. I was sitting at home, counting down the days and preparing in all the wrong ways. In reflection, it’s pretty rare to not only spend 6 weeks in a foreign country, but to have about as much time beforehand to prepare. So if you ever find that you are so lucky, I would encourage you to use that time wisely.

What I’m hoping to communicate is, you do not have to wait until you get to your host country to be exposed to the culture. Start early–I know you won’t regret it. It’s a much more enjoyable form of preparation than lists, anyway!

So while it is still important to remember such crucial items as socks, toothpaste, and your passport, don’t neglect to pack your brain as well as your suitcase.

À bientôt!

A Weekend in Queenstown

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Kia ora! This past weekend, I traveled to Queenstown, a small city on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand known as the Adventure Capital of the World. I haven’t met anyone here who doesn’t love Queenstown, and many Kiwis have described the city to me as “the essence of New Zealand,” so I had high expectations for the trip.

Starting with the seven hour drive to Queenstown on the Atomic Shuttle, one of many bus and shuttle companies operating around the country, the weekend didn’t disappoint. Our driver serenaded us with the sweet sounds of the 80’s from his homemade CD collection as we cruised through the New Zealand landscape across the South Island. The weekend was organized by Arcadia as part of my external program, so it was also nice to not have to worry as much about logistics. Once in Queenstown, we met up with students studying at the University of Otago, further south in Dunedin. I definitely plan to visit Dunedin while in NZ, so now I have couches to crash on! (As long as they’re not burned–couch-burning is a huge tradition at Otago).

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Multiple-lane highways don’t exist in NZ…nor do roads without gorgeous views.

We spent Friday afternoon jet-boating, getting our bearings in our hostel, and exploring the city. Queenstown is very much a tourist town, and it’s easy to find people from all over the world. Adventure sport shops literally line the streets, advertising deals and thrills, and the city has a fun, vibrant nightlife. The city is also situated in a ring of mountains — every direction offers a gorgeous view.

After exploring Queenstown on Friday, we prepared to hike (or “tramp,” as the Kiwis would say), the Routeburn Track on Saturday. The Routeburn is one of New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks, so I was very excited to get out into the nature of NZ! It was a nice taste of what I hope to be doing for my mid-semester break later this month.

New Zealand has a wonderful “hut system” for hikers, and most trails feature huts to sleep in. Some are free, and some require a hut ticket, and the huts range anywhere from an empty shack to a lodge with mattresses. It’s a very effective system and enables travelers to stay safe while outdoors. On Saturday, we hiked all the way up to Falls Hut, the main hut of the Routeburn, took a lunch break, and headed back down the mountain. The Routeburn is usually a three day hike, but Arcadia gave us the abridged version. When I return to Queenstown, perhaps I’ll attempt the whole trail!

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Lookout point on our way to the Routeburn.

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Spending eight hours in scenery like this? Sweet as!

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Slowly overcoming my fear of swing bridges.

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Off the beaten trail for a bit in a valley of mountains.

Saturday night, exhausted from hiking all day, we still mustered up the energy to explore Queenstown some more. There is a palpable energy in the city that is very inspiring for adventure! I also got a chance to try Fergburger, a famous burger shop in NZ, after they narrowly missed losing the entire restaurant to a kitchen fire (always an adventure in Queenstown)!

Sunday marked our departure, but not before first trying lugeing, a strange mix between go-carting and sledding, exploring Arrowtown, a quaint colonial town featuring a famous fudge shoppe and the river used in a scene from Lord of the Rings, and partaking in some adventure sports of our own (involving a bridge and rope…I’ll leave it at that).

Overall, I think the idea that Queenstown is the essence of New Zealand has a lot of truth to it. I’ve been here for about a month, and while hiking the Routeburn I had my first feeling of love for this country. Studying abroad is basically the equivalent of moving somewhere for half a year, and NZ is starting to feel like home. With a thirst for adventure, a wonderful sense of humor, and a genuine appreciation for the land and earth, New Zealand is a place where everything works out, and I’m just beginning to feel a part of that.

Stay tuned for future posts on Kiwi humor, NZ history, local slang, life in post-earthquake Christchurch, and more!

I Like Olives Now (and Bigger Lifestyle Changes)

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If you love the early seasons of How I Met Your Mother, as I do, you’re probably familiar with the olive theory. For a couple to stay together, one must love olives and the other must hate them. It’s a silly thing, but I think it points to the passionate feelings people can have for something as simple as olives.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard some other interesting ‘olive myths,’ including a story often told by my grandfather in which he ate a whole jar of olives, because a buddy told him that if you hate them you can be converted by doing so. He claims it works, and now I have newfound faith in the story.

There were always a few foods at home that I was never interested in eating, and the short list includes tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives; all of which I’m eating like crazy in France. Maybe it’s the quality of the food, or the preparation. Maybe, like in that story, it’s just the fact that I’m more exposed to these ingredients and I’ve come to appreciate them. Not only do I like them, I’m choosing to add them to things because I like them so much.

Olives AND tomatoes in my salad.

Olives AND tomatoes in my salad.

The change in taste made me reflect on other changes I’ve observed in myself here. Why is it that when I’m sitting in my dorm I’m fine with Netflix marathons, but when I’m here I can’t stand sitting still? Why am I so cautious to go explore in Philadelphia, but so eager to go anywhere and everywhere in Paris?

My theory: I promised myself long before I got here that I would embrace whatever came my way.

Standing in the rain on the coldest summer day I've ever experienced = Tour de France memories. Hi Christopher Froome!

Standing in the rain on the coldest summer day I’ve ever experienced = Tour de France memories. Hi Christopher Froome!

Maybe that’s not very clear. It’s not as though I sat down and I said “Self, you’re going to go to Paris this summer and you’re going to take whatever comes. Ok? Ok.” In reality, I just made choices to encourage myself to be open to change. Like my choice to live with a host family: I forced myself to accept a different lifestyle because I chose to be immersed in it. I aspired to not just spectate the Parisian mode de vie, but to make it my own for a while.

Studying abroad is an incredible experience that many people don’t get even once in their lifetime. I feel so lucky, because the way I’m looking at Paris has inspired me to change the way I look at my ‘normal’ life. I explore Paris actively because my stay here is temporary; but why shouldn’t I explore my home city in the same way? Philadelphia will be my next “olive.” As a kid I hated Philly, and it took visiting Temple years later to change my mind and call it home (thanks for forcing me to visit something in-state, Mom!).

I enjoy Philadelphia now; but I’ve never made the effort to fully appreciate it, the kind of effort I’m applying now in Paris. I haven’t exactly “eaten the whole jar” of Philadelphian culture, if that makes any sense. Why should I adopt my explorer attitude only when I know my stay is temporary? I want to make this outlook a regular part of my life. In the future, I intend to get the most out of every day, whether it’s in Paris, Philadelphia, or anywhere else. Adventure is out there, and I will find it wherever it is!

À bientôt!

How I Know I’m Settled In

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A few weeks ago, I shared my experience with culture shock. Since then I’ve gotten much more comfortable here, and I want to share some happier thoughts!

It took just over a week for me to memorize the digital code for my apartment in Paris, but it made a huge difference when I finally did. Not having to pull out that sheet of paper to punch in the code made me feel like it was actually becoming my home. Another thing that makes me feel more local is cooking for myself. It’s made me familiar with markets, grocery stores, and my neighborhood, plus it’s a lot easier on my budget than eating at restaurants all the time.

I’ve also been spending more time talking with my host family, getting braver with longer statements and ideas. They tell me I’m doing really well, and the encouragement of native speakers is pretty high praise when you’re working on a foreign language. Plus it’s a sign that the improvement I’m noticing in myself is not just an illusion!

A city transportation experience also boosted my confidence. Recently I was hanging out with some friends, and was on the other side of Paris later than I meant to be, but I managed to get on the very last metro on my line for the night. What made it a victory, for me, was the fact that I wasn’t stressed out by the experience. If you know me, you know I generally like to have a plan and stay on schedule, especially when traveling. Proof: I made a spreadsheet when my friends and I went to Disney in high school (I’m not proud…well, maybe a little). My lack of anxiety made me realize that at this point, I’m beyond traveling; I’m living here, albeit temporarily. I’ve taken a taxi before and I know that if I needed to do it I absolutely could. I’m still glad I caught that train, though. Taxis are expensive.

Circles and triangles and one-way streets... No way I'd want to drive here!

Circles and triangles and one-way streets… No way I’d want to drive here!

In fact, the metro of Paris was one of the things that worried me the most before my arrival. There was no order, no pattern. But I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it since I’m staying in a very residential neighborhood. I don’t even have to map out my journeys ahead of time anymore; as long as I know what line my destination is on, I can get there without preparing.

The metro is also full of strangely amusing advertisements. Like Claude, here, who found the djembe of his dreams at a moderate price. Nice one, Claude.

The metro is also full of strangely amusing advertisements. Like Claude, here, who found the djembe of his dreams at a moderate price. Nice one, Claude.

Another achievement was speaking in class. For my first week, I think the only thing I said in class was “Yes, I’m cold,” because the air conditioning in that building is always set for freezing. But more recently we were discussing media and the quality of today’s journalism. Incase you missed it, I’m a journalism major. So I had some thoughts to share and I figured if I was ever meant to speak in class, that was the day. I wound up talking for several minutes about my ideas and experiences. My professor understood me in spite of a few errors, and it improved my confidence immensely.

I’m now at a point where I can say that despite occasional discomforts I’m really happy in Paris. I’m meeting incredible people and doing things that I find fun and interesting. That, for me, is definitely a success.

I’m finished with 3 of my 6 weeks of class now, and I’ve already started to wish I was staying for a semester instead of a summer. On the one hand, that makes me feel great about the prospect of studying for a semester in the future, but on the other I’m already dreading the day I have to leave this incredible city. I don’t think there’s a single other place in the world where I could see rodents in the metro station and be totally charmed by it. If only I could be a tiny mouse, and live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities without paying rent…

À bientôt!

It’s Not Always Sunny as an International Student

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Kia ora! I have been at University of Canterbury (UC) for approximately two weeks, and am learning a lot about the challenges of being an international student. Although I’ve had plenty of interactions with exchange students studying at Temple, I’ve never been one myself, but I purposely chose to study at a foreign university rather than through a less-immersive type of study abroad program. I’m happy I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone, but man, adapting can be harsh (and, in New Zealand, often heatless). Since I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to have an informed grasp on the culture yet, I figured I’d dedicate this post to some of the challenges I’ve come across as an international student so far.

Stereotypes

During my past two experiences abroad, I encountered a lot of positive stereotypes about Americans (apparently a lot of Europeans think we “smell like flowers” — I guess they’ve never met a male college student, but I’ll take it). In New Zealand, however, some of my experiences have not been so pleasant. Kiwis associate Americans with money, a stereotype influenced by New Zealand’s economic reliance on tourism, the exchange rate (currently 67 U.S. cents to every NZ dollar), and the broadcasting of extravagant American reality shows and political news on New Zealand television. American culture really does pervade a lot of the media here, and it’s not making us look good. In the words of one of my flatmates while we were discussing the differences between the NZ and U.S. political systems, “It’s like a game. If you have money you can shout and say, ‘I want to play!'” **cough cough Donald Trump**

Last week I set up a New Zealand bank account to avoid ATM fees in the long run. As I was transferring money from my U.S. bank, the teller said, “Got to put that American money in so you can spend it!” Or, maybe I just need to buy groceries…

Making Friends

I came to New Zealand knowing absolutely no one. This is what I wanted — total immersion. I am here with a group of seven other Americans who are also studying abroad through the Arcadia University program, and we have all grown very close. Rebecca, McKenzie, Nathan, Andrew, Charleene, Brendan, and Lee are my New Zealand family, and we stick together. All of us had a bit of trouble making friends with Kiwis and other local students in the beginning though. It’s not so easy to spark up conversation and make friends in classes, and I’m used to being at Temple where I know 80 people right off the bat from high school (yay Abington)/have a tight-knit group of friends in the Honors Program/am just always running into people I know. In the words of one of my very best friends, “You’ve never left everyone behind before.” I’ve never had to start from scratch. Making friends in classes is not as easy as I thought, and back at Temple I’ll be much more aware of how well I’m getting to know international students and whether I am being welcoming. But this week looks promising, now that clubs have started, more people are around campus, I’ve met a few people at parties and events, and I’ve gotten to know my flatmates better. My list of numbers in my New Zealand brick phone is growing!

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Bribing new friends with cookies always works, right?

Diversity Differences

Honestly, my culture shock in New Zealand hasn’t been that bad. At first, the Kiwi accent was a bit hard to decipher, but at this point Kiwi accents sound normal and American accents sound weird. One difference I did not expect, however, is the complete lack of Jews in New Zealand, and the complete lack of knowledge about Judaism. People are obsessed with my curly hair, ask me constantly if I “like bagels,” and are very worried they will offend me when they ask me questions like, “Judaism is a monotheistic religion, right?” I’m not offended, just glad I can explain. But coming from the Philadelphia area, it’s quite a shock! And I know I will miss Shabbat dinners at Hillel and all the other things about being involved in the Jewish community that I took for granted. There is a lack of diversity overall in New Zealand, which is strange to adapt to coming from not only the “Melting Pot” of America but also a large, diverse school in a large, diverse city.

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My very different home for the next 5 months.

Overall, I’m adapting to the challenges that come with being an international student at a foreign university, and it’s all part of the adventure. My time here so far is definitely making me more aware of my role in my community at home and forcing me outside of my comfort zone, so I’m excited to see what the rest of my time in NZ brings. (Also, stay tuned to find out how many more times I’ll hear, “It’s always sunny there, right?” when I say I’m from Philadelphia…).

Settling Into My Home for the Next 5 Months

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Kia ora everyone! I have been in New Zealand for five days and Christchurch for two, and am just starting to get my bearings and figure things out. With a loose grasp on how my life will look for the next five months, I figure now is an opportune moment to bombard this blog with an update about life in New Zealand that’s almost as long as my flight.

Flight/Orientation

Speaking of my flight, this study abroad experience began with a missed connection —  unfortunately, not the romantic kind. After flying from Philly to Chicago, I was supposed to catch a 4:00 PM flight to LA that would have gotten me to California at 6:30 and given me a glorious four hours to navigate international security checkpoints. Instead, my flight out of Chicago was delayed by four and a half hours and I arrived in LA at 10:20 PM, just in time to miss my 10:30 flight to Auckland. Desperately sprinting through the California summer to an international airport terminal while wearing two sweatshirts and a rain jacket (gotta love Air New Zealand luggage weight restrictions) is always a fun time.

Luckily for me, there just happened to be three flights going to New Zealand that night, and there was exactly one seat left on the last plane out of America. Despite my earlier ordeal, Air New Zealand is actually a very good airline, and calmly placed my panicking self on the final flight, served real fruit (!!!) on the plane, and managed not to lose my luggage even after transferring planes at 10:29 PM. I arrived in Auckland ready for Arcadia’a orientation, if a bit late and disheveled.

Arcadia’s orientation was a nice introduction to New Zealand, and I got to meet other students studying abroad though Arcadia. The orientation group included the 8 students at Canterbury, 3 from Lincoln University (also on the South Island), 11 from University of Auckland, and 19 from Victoria University in Wellington (the capital city of NZ). We explored Auckland and then headed to Rotorua, where we were introduced to traditional Maori culture (I will definitely have a blog post on this in the future), attended a “farm show,” tried zorbing (an adventure sport invented in New Zealand that’s a big part of their identity), and tramped through some beautiful geothermal areas. After a few days, I could barely even notice the pervading smell of sulfur in the air from Rotorua’s famous hot springs.

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Sometimes it’s okay to be a tourist.

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In New Zealand, “Kiwi” can refer to the kiwi fruit, the kiwi bird, or the kiwi human.

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Lake Rotorua by sunrise.

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“Lady Knox,” one of the few remaining active geysers. 10:15 sharp every morning!

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Fun fact: Peter Jackson recorded the sounds from this crater to use as the background noise for Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies.

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Sheep shearing demonstration at the farm show. In New Zealand, there are four sheep for every person.

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Guess I chose the perfect color rain jacket for NZ.

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Tramping through the geothermal park.

At orientation, I also had a chance to get to know Jane, who coordinates the Arcadia NZ programs, and Pragnya, who is a grad student at Canterbury and here as a resource as well. I really like the 7 other American Canty students. We’ve hung out a lot because there aren’t a lot of people on campus yet (classes start Monday) though we all want to branch out and truly immerse ourselves. But it’s also nice to have a support group; we are like a little family. Yesterday was International Student Orientation and we were all able to meet some new people. There are only 150 exchange students at UC this semester, which is an incredibly small number considering the school is roughly the size of Temple. But also good, and why I chose UC — less competition to meet/eat the kiwis, depending on which kiwis you’re referring to. A smaller group of international kids will make immersion that much more complete.

Although I haven’t had a chance to explore Christchurch yet, I did “have a look” at campus. UC has a very quaint, charming, New England-esque feel. Much different from Temple! Although I know that I will miss living in a city (as opposed to a bus ride away from one that was destroyed by an earthquake — more on that later) I also think that my semester at UC will be a nice change of pace.

Flatmates and Friends

I’ve also met 4 out of 5 of my flatmates. I am living in Ilam Apartments, which are off-campus apartments sponsored by the university. Nearly all study abroad students live here. I am living with Erin, a Kiwi woman who already graduated and works as a lawyer (in NZ, law is an undergraduate degree), Ching, an older woman from Hong Kong who is doing her PhD, Jae, another graduate student from Korea, Celine, a third-year undergrad from China (uni is three years, not four), and Olivia, a Kiwi from Wellington who is also in her third year. Olivia is coming back to campus on Friday, but the others are nice. They’ve invited me to go to “high tea” on Sunday, and introduced me to a few of their Kiwi friends. People in New Zealand are really nice — you don’t have to ask for help, they just notice if you need it and provide. After hearing about my night sleeping in fleece-lined leggings, fleece pants, two pairs of socks, a long sleeve shirt, and a sweater, they gave me warmer pajama pants and a space heater, all unsolicited. (Last summer, I thought the lack of air conditioning  in Paris was bad, but it’s got nothing on the apparent lack of any heating systems during the South Island winter. What do these people have against being warm? They have some very thick skin, unlike my central heating-dependent American self). Celine and Erin also helped me set up my Internet and gave me a free adapter for my laptop, and Erin is going to put me in contact with a friend of hers who likes “tramping.” I also get lots of free food and we watch Kiwi cooking shows together. Although I didn’t expect it, I think it will be nice to come home to a nurturing, home-y environment like this while I’m in another country.

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My single bedroom in my flat. Not too shabby! (Although freezing). We each have our own room and share a common space, kitchen, and bathroom.

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Throwing it back to the glory days of 6th grade with my cheap New Zealand phone. Texting is hard when you actually have to click the buttons!

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Waiting for me on our fridge.

Classes start Monday, and I’ll spend the next few days orienting myself a little more and meeting more people. Today I set up a bank account (or at least attempted to set up a bank account) and managed to find a thrift shop to get some much needed clothing. Although UC seemed a little unpromising at first, this semester is shaping up! I’m really looking forward to my experience here. Cheers!