Category Archives: New Zealand

The Soft Pretzel That Brought Me To Tears: A Tragedy


Kia ora, friends- hello from beautiful, cold, and rainy Dunedin, New Zealand! This past weekend marked my one-month anniversary of arriving at the University of Otago, where I will be studying for the next three months. After several disastrous attempts to locate my classes during the first week, one awful bout of the flu, and much exploration of the Dunedin area, I finally feel (relatively) settled in here.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting human phenomena is memory through smell. Everyone should understand what this means: you’re casually minding your own business and enjoying your day when suddenly you’re hit with a smell (sometimes great, sometimes terrible) that reminds you of an incredibly specific occasion. Interestingly, I haven’t been experiencing homesickness in New Zealand, unless I suddenly catch a whiff of a Philadelphia-esque scent. This probably sounds bizarre, but it’s true! Here are a few scent-induced episodes of homesickness that I’ve encountered in Kiwiland:

  1. Homesickness by pretzel: a few days ago, I was on a hiking trip in Queenstown, a popular skiing village in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. After a long day of trekking, I stopped in a bakery with a few friends to peruse the treats available and came across a beautiful SOFT PRETZEL! In all honesty, it was a lame soft pretzel compared to some of the luscious, salty, Philly-style ones at home, but it still had that incredible, pretzel-y smell that we Philadelphians adore so much. Oddly, the pretzel scent immediately caused me to recall happy memories from home and my eyes started to well up. I looked like an absolute freak and may have scared some small children out of the shop.
  2. Homesickness by melted cheese: back home, my all-time favorite Philadelphia restaurant is Parc, a French-Belgian eatery located on Rittenhouse Square. Without a doubt, the best dish there is French onion soup, which is loaded with layers of delicious, melted gruyere cheese. Last week, my flatmates and I decided to have a flat dinner of shepherd’s pie (a very common Kiwi meal), which consists of mince (ground beef), cheese, potato, and other yummy items baked in a large pan. After the shepherd’s pie came out of the oven, the layer of cheese baked onto the top smelled exactly the cheese in Parc’s soup and gave me some very nostalgic vibes.
  3. Homesickness by old books: one of my favorite childhood memories is accompanying my Dad to lots of local Philadelphia thrift shops to hunt for books and cool art. The smell associated with this experience is not particularly pleasant- it’s a combination of moldy paper, dust, and general mustiness. During my art history class this morning, we visited the Hocken Collection at the University of Otago, where many old books, paintings, and illustrations are housed. As soon as I caught a whiff of that musty old book scent, I immediately thought about my dad and started to feel pretty down.

Luckily, there are several things that I’ve discovered in New Zealand that remind me of how much I love my new home and help to reduce any homesickness I experience! Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Pineapple lumps. By far the best New Zealand candy that I have discovered so far! These consist of squishy, pineapple-flavored marshmallow coated in a thin layer of milk chocolate. Be warned Americans- most of my friends from the US who have also tried pineapple lumps think that they’re disgusting. I, however, strongly disagree!
  2. Ravensbourne track. This is a small running/walking/biking track a mile from my flat in Dunedin. It runs about 10 km down the Otago coastline, is generally empty, and has incredible views of the Otago harbor. When I run here, I feel like I am basically in a Baby Einstein “ocean sounds” video- nothing is more soothing than fresh breeze and flowing water!
  3. Ginger slice. Right by the old Dunedin railway station, there is an awesome coffee shop called “Morning Magpie” that sells all sorts of tasty coffees and pastries. However, my total favorite pastry to buy is the “ginger slice,” which is a thick, cookie base covered in ginger cream and topped with crystallized ginger chunks. Something that I definitely want to incorporate into my US snacking habits is ginger! Why don’t Americans eat more ginger?!

Although this blog post has taken several unusual turns (tears by pretzel; Baby Einstein), the general message rings true: study abroad, while filled with many excellent moments, also has its fair share of unpleasant incidents, including illness and homesickness. There was one day last week that I couldn’t drag myself out of bed because I was missing my family so much. However, these incidents are most definitely outweighed by the day-to-day discoveries and excitement that I encounter in New Zealand.


Enjoying a caramel slice (the cousin of ginger slice) at Morning Magpie.

How to Guarantee Crying on the Flight Home


After moving my flight to stay in New Zealand for an extra five weeks, I left the country a few days ago. It was a long flight. For my seat mate, it was probably longer, since it’s always awkward when your seat partner’s crying. Sorry Brian.


Goodbye NZ!

I’m currently in California visiting relatives for a little while to further satisfy the travel bug, so I haven’t yet returned to Philly. People tell me I’ll “settle back into the swing of things,” “get back into the rhythm of it,” “feel like you never left.” But I did leave, and I don’t want to feel like I didn’t. Christchurch was good to me and for me; I’m not ready to go.

But that’s life, and I’m not the only person who feels this way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful experience abroad, and there’s nothing stopping me from coming back to Christchurch, except the price of airfare. (ChCh is hosting the First Social Enterprise World Forum in September 2017…coincidence that I graduate that May?) The real point of this post is to offer my two cents on how to have a study abroad experience that makes you feel like you’re losing something when you go back home — how to create that new life that you don’t want to leave.

  1. Don’t try to become “transformed.”

Studying abroad is very much promoted as a transformational experience. You’re supposed to live in another country for not even half a year and return a changed person, a better person than who you were before. If you don’t go home with some obvious sign of your rapid personal growth and accelerated self development gained from X country, did you even ever leave?

This semester, I noticed a lot of my fellow international students feeling this pressure. People tried to figure out their transformation, the change they would present to people at home as proof that their semester had been fulfilling. But if you’re expecting an experience to change you in some preconceived way, it probably won’t. Many of my peers ended up catering their time abroad to suit whatever change they’d previously identified as wanting to have instead of letting the experience unfold on its own and influence them naturally.

So float with the tide of your time abroad, and don’t actively try to become transformed. Studying abroad is a way to live in a different place for a few months, so do that. It will be a much more fulfilling experience if you simply live, instead of trying to figure out how it’s going to change you.

  1. Stay off social media.

STAY FAR FAR AWAY. Social media is great for keeping in touch with people, but horrible for adjusting to a new place. Looking at pictures of your friends from home at a football game is not going to help you understand rugby and meet new people. You’re going to feel left out and homesick and you’re going to doubt your decision to go abroad. I don’t often get homesick, especially if I know I’m going back in half a year, but the first few weeks in New Zealand were rough.

In New Zealand, I also chose to buy a brick phone instead of swapping out the SIM card in my American smartphone. I say “chose,” but “forced” is more appropriate, since my SIM card is apparently un-swappable.


The Alcatel One Touch, in all its glory.

However, being unable to go online helped me focus on talking to people and living more in the moment, and some of my friends who chose to go the SIM card route said they wished they’d gone with the Alcatel One Touch (however primitive) like I did.

  1. Get to know the locals.

Meeting people while abroad can be really intimidating, and so it’s natural so drift toward other exchange students — especially other Americans. Sometimes you just need somebody to talk about our own culture with, and as an added incentive, locals aren’t always willing to start up a conversation. At Temple, how often did I make an effort to talk to the international kid in class?

In New Zealand, I had to work  to make friends. Of course, I had a group of American friends who were also on exchange, and these were the people I did most of my traveling with because these were the people who wanted to explore the country. But stereotypically, American study abroad students go abroad and party with other American study abroad students. This is heaps of fun, but just be careful not to stop there–do an internship and join clubs and follow up with people you want to get to know. Locals will make fun of your accent (affectionately of course), but they’ll also show you the ropes, include you in their social circles, give you an authentic look at your host country, and let you stay with them when you have to move out of your flat three days before your flight back to the States (thanks Loz!).

Personally, I met people by joining UCanDance, UC’s ballroom dancing club, getting involved in the community through my internship with Ministry of Awesome, and constantly inviting people for lunch or coffee until we became friends. It worked (!) and I’ve formed friendships with a lot of New Zealanders that I know will last.

ucandance 1

Annual UCanDance Ball!

ucandance 2

Some UCanDance friends and I on a short hike during my last day in NZ.

4. Depth over breadth.

You are not going to see everything while abroad. Half a year, or usually less, is but a blip. I’ve noticed that many international students try to go somewhere every weekend, or travel to as many neighboring countries as possible, but personally, I think the “depth over breadth” travel philosophy is better. Instead of getting glimpses of many different places, get to know a few in-depth. People ask me if I left New Zealand while there — no, I didn’t, but I know and understand NZ and I have relationships in NZ.


Missing those mountains already.

So, if you want to be like me and make your airplane seat mate uncomfortable, get to know local people in your host country, stay away from social media, and don’t try to cater your experience abroad to what other people expect. Let it be an experience, and take it slowly.




WWOOFing as Things Wind Down


One benefit of studying abroad in the Southern Hemisphere is extra time — a normal semester is four months, but because my classes in New Zealand started in the beginning of July and exams ended mid-November, I started school two months earlier than Temple and was also able to extend my time abroad for an extra five weeks with no rush to be back in Philly. I’m lucky to be able to spend six months abroad rather than the usual three or four.

An extra month and a half abroad free of academic responsibilities, however, begs the question of how to fill it. Personally, I decided to spend a week volunteering at Unreasonable Lab New Zealand with my internship in Christchurch (mentioned in a previous post) and then two weeks WWOOFing before saying my (hopefully temporary) goodbyes and packing up my life. If you’re wondering why I haven’t written any posts in a while, WWOOFing often features limited Internet.

WWOOFing stands for both “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and “Willing Workers On Organic Farms.” The basic premise — WWOOFers work for a few hours each day in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food from their host. Usually, this happens on — you guessed it — farms. In New Zealand, however, people use the term “WWOOFing” to refer to other types of jobs in hostels, childcare, or small businesses as well.

I’d wanted to give WWOOFing a try for a while, and it’s a good option to travel cheaply. I impulsively decided to work in a hostel in The Coromandel, a beach paradise on the North Island of NZ and the “hippie capital of New Zealand.” The hostel I worked in, called The Lion’s Den, was homey and friendly, and in exchange for two hours of cleaning/gardening every morning I got to sleep in a bed, do my laundry, go to the beach (one of the top 10 in the world!), check out some cool hikes and Coromandel landmarks, and meet people from all over the world. (The Lion’s Den is also the name of an adult video chain in the States, but that’s not important.) My hosts, Abby and Sy, were so welcoming and I really felt a part of the community in Coromandel Town, where they live.



Day trip to Cathedral Cove (tagged along with some other hostel dwellers).


Sunset in The Coromandel.









In hindsight, WWOOFing was the perfect experience to cap off my time in New Zealand. I’ve been lucky enough to attend uni and intern here, and form lasting friendships with many Kiwis.


A lovely place to WWOOF!

Living in The Lion’s Den gave me a taste of the true backpacker life, though — and backpackers are a very common sight in New Zealand. I met a lot of solo travelers, a lot of wandering souls, my rad WWOOFing partners Frankie and Hank, and three super cool English guys who were living in the hostel as well (George, Ash, and Jez — there’s your shoutout. Hope you appreciate my American vocabulary). There is no doubt that I have the travel bug, and WWOOFing gave me a taste of what I’ll hopefully be doing after I finish my degree.



The Lion’s Den common room.

lion's den group pic

Cards after a group dinner in the hostel.








WWOOFing jobs are available all over the world, as are Helpx and Workaway gigs (similar “work for accommodation” opportunities). Naturally, you have to be wary of being taken advantage of or treated poorly, but overall WWOOFing is a great way to meet people and travel inexpensively. I highly recommend it as a life experience, if nothing else.

Things are winding down — as I write this, I have T-minus five days until I fly back to the States. Luckily, I’ll be visiting my cousin in California for a little while before I head to Philly — anything to keep the travel bug satisfied a little longer!

The Scoop on International Internships


While in New Zealand, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience both uni life and professional life by interning at a super rad start-up called Ministry of Awesome. Before going abroad, I had planned to do an internship for credit — not because I actually wanted to do an internship, but because I thought international work experience would spice up my resume. And it does look good, and it is a plus in the job market — but I sigh at my pre-New Zealand self for being motivated solely by a resume.

It has to do with American career culture, for sure. On my first day at Ministry of Awesome, my boss, who moved to Christchurch from California herself, smiled at my questions and said, “You’ll be fine. We never have a problem with the American interns.” And they haven’t — at Ministry of Awesome, Lauren, Catarina, and Erica (my bosses) valued my opinion and entrusted me with real responsibility. I wasn’t around to observe; I was around to be involved. Honestly, it was a treat.

MoA logo (new) High-Res

It would be helpful if I explained what Ministry of Awesome does, exactly. In a previous post, I blogged about the rebuild efforts in Christchurch following the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, and the entrepreneurial hub the city has become. Ministry of Awesome is one of those start-ups that emerged from the earthquake, and focuses on helping social entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.  Social enterprise start-ups are like non-profits, but support themselves by making their own money rather than relying on donations. What’s not to love about helping the world while also making money?

Ministry of Awesome (MoA) is central to the Christchurch community as well. MoA only has three full-time staff (the aforementioned Lauren, Erica, and Catarina) and operates a co-working space out of their headquarters to help support themselves (office space is lacking in Christchurch at the moment). MoA also

me hosting coffee and jam

Yours truly hosting Coffee & Jam.

provides resources to entrepreneurs (they are the self-proclaimed “starting point” for New Zealand entrepreneurs) and runs a weekly community event called Coffee & Jam where two speakers pitch ideas on how to improve and rebuild Christchurch. Coffee & Jam also features delicious locally sourced coffee, bread, and spreads, and allows time for people to chat and get to know each other. There are regulars, there are newbies, and mostly there are inspiring, organic conversations. At the end of Coffee & Jam, anyone can give a “20 Second Shout Out” asking for a job, advice, offering a service, etc. It’s a lovely event, and I’m actually hoping to start something similar once I am back in Philly.

This week is my last week with MoA, and I’m wrapping up my time here by running the social media campaign for Unreasonable Lab New Zealand, a social enterprise conference that MoA is running in conjunction with a start-up in Boulder, CO called Unreasonable Institute. It’s an absolutely inspiring conference — check it out! Or help me out and see the hashtag #AUL15. (apologies for that shameless plug)


Unreasonable Lab interns and volunteers!



Unreasonable Lab New Zealand in action!

So, to give you the scoop on international internships — they’re invaluable. Working at Ministry of Awesome, I’ve become more aware of both the pros and cons of American work culture. New Zealand has taught me that leisure time is invaluable, that networking should be about forging real relationships rather than just using people for their connections, that competitiveness and overstress are overrated, and that a sense of humor and social skills go much further than a spiced-up resume. That being said, I also value the “American work ethic” more — we definitely get things done in a timely fashion. But I have never felt so supported by a community as I have in Christchurch, and I’ve never felt so nurtured in a professional environment.

I highly recommend an internship abroad. Not only did mine illuminate the highs and lows of my own culture, it also enriched my experience abroad by exposing me to more than one type of community. Do you really know Philly if you only hang out with college students? Of course not. I’m indebted to New Zealand and indebted to Ministry of Awesome for an incredible ride, and who knows? Social enterprise could finally be my thing.

*(all photos courtesy of Erica Austin)*






Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Kiwi Food


Food isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of New Zealand — try Lord of the Rings or beautiful scenery, as annoying as these clichés are — but it’s a crucial part of any place. Food is so central to the identity of a culture—it brings people together, represents local traditions and history, and fuels the lifestyle. For this post, I decided to reprise the format of a post I wrote while blogging for Temple in Paris, and answer some questions from friends back home about the cuisine in NZ.

1. What exactly are NZ foods?

One doesn’t come to New Zealand for the cuisine, and before I arrived in NZ I had a very vague idea of what to expect food-wise. There are, however, some staples of the Kiwi diet; I’ll detail a few here.

Pies, stemming from New Zealand’s British influence, are very popular. Pies are usually filled with meat, potatoes, and/or vegetables, and can be bought anywhere from a fancy restaurant to a gas station convenience store. If you find yourself on the South Island, Sheffield Pies in, you guessed it, Sheffield, or Fairlie Bakehouse in, you guessed it, Fairlie, both sell phenomenal pies.

Pavlova is a Kiwi dessert made out of meringue and usually decorated with fruit, especially kiwis (the fruit, not the bird or the human!).

A pavlova making event put on by my External Program provider, Arcadia University.

A pavlova making event put on by my External Program provider, Arcadia University.

Hokey pokey is an ice cream or chocolate flavor that consists of bunches of honeycomb. Absolutely delicious.

Fish and chips are also popular, thanks again to that British influence.

Marmite is the Kiwi equivalent of the Australian Vegemite. A salty breakfast spread, it’s usually on toast or Weet-Bix in a very small amount with a ton of butter. I tried it once and have been scarred ever since.

Lolly cake is another Kiwi dessert, a type of candy-cake concoction I haven’t quite been able to figure out.

Hangi  is the traditional Māori way of cooking food using heated rocks in a pit oven underground. For a hangi, Māori usually cook meat, vegetables, and kumara (New Zealand sweet potato). The food has a delicious smoky flavor and usually cooks for a long time.

Tomato sauce is the closest thing you’ll find to ketchup in NZ. It’s sweeter, and served with meat, fish and chips, etc. Aioli is also super popular here, available nearly everywhere and served more frequently than even tomato sauce with chips (French fries) and other fried foods.

2. What is a food that is eaten mainly at social gatherings?

Depends on the social gathering. A hangi, mentioned above, is usually prepared for gatherings at Māori marae (meeting houses) or parties. If you’re hanging out with uni students, however, “sausage sizzles” — daytime barbeques with plenty to drink and grilled sausages served on a single slice of white bread with tomato sauce — are quite popular.

3. Do Kiwis use a lot of natural ingredients? Are their ingredients locally grown or imported?

Surprisingly, New Zealanders use less locally-sourced products than I had expected. Farming is a huge part of New Zealand’s economy, especially dairying, meat farming, and certain types of produce. However, the majority of these products are exported out, leaving Kiwis with very expensive locally-sourced foods or very expensive imported foods (shipping costs aren’t cheap when you’re so far away from everything).

That being said, there are a ton of farmer’s markets in New Zealand, which offer reasonably priced local meats, dairy, eggs, produce, fish, and baked goods. I usually buy my produce for the week on Saturday mornings at Riccarton Bush Farmer’s Market, about a 25 minute walk from where I live. Since imported prices are so high, I can support the local community for the same price or cheaper, and farmer’s markets are popular with almost everyone. Local ingredients are definitely more accessible for a wider range of people here.

Some stalls at the weekly Christchurch Farmer's Market, which also features buskers. (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer's Market)

Some stalls at the weekly Christchurch Farmer’s Market, which also features buskers. (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer’s Market)

Delicious locally grown vegetables! (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer's Market)

Delicious locally grown vegetables! (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer’s Market)

I will definitely miss some of the culinary staples of New Zealand, and especially the fact that the food tastes fresher and better than what I’m used to. Also, I may be forced to make my own hokey pokey once I’m home….

Diversity in New Zealand


Earlier this semester, a group of elementary school students visited my Māori Studies (the indigenous people of New Zealand) class to see the Māori art on the walls of our lecture room. The group of children was mostly white, with one black student, one Asian student, and a few Māori students. After the class left, my professor said, “Isn’t that the most diverse group of little kids you’ve ever seen?”


"Rima" wall art similar to the walls of my lecture room.

“Rima” wall art similar to the walls of my lecture room.

Coming from a diverse city in the Northeast U.S., New Zealand was an adjustment. Additionally, I’m based on the South Island, which is notoriously less diverse than the North Island. Still, diversity in New Zealand (or lack thereof) is an interesting topic. I’ve split this post into different aspects of diversity I’ve come across.

Religious Diversity

On Clubs Day this semester, I fully expected to find a booth offering the New Zealand equivalent of Hillel. I did not find one, but I did get free candy from a Christian youth group.

It makes sense that New Zealand has much less religious diversity than the U.S. Nearly everybody is Christian, and the few other religious communities are comprised of students from other countries, temporary travelers, or recent immigrants to NZ. Surprisingly though, I feel less aware of my status as a minority here than I do in the U.S. (then again, it isn’t quite the Christmas season yet). In general, religion isn’t a big part of life in New Zealand. A huge proportion of the population identifies as atheist, and those who don’t are quite private about their beliefs. There aren’t any Bell Tower Preachers.

For many Kiwis I’ve met here, I’m the first Jew they’ve come across. I find myself answering a lot of questions about Judaism, some of which require me to reach far into the depths of my memory and think back to my days of Hebrew School. I’m glad I can answer the questions, and although I’ve felt like a token Jew, I’ve never felt discriminated against.

I did manage to track down the only synagogue on the South Island, which happens to be in Christchurch. My friends Becca and Molly (also Jewish exchange students) and I attended on Rosh Hashanah, and it was so nice to be surrounded by my own culture for a few hours! There are 600 Jews on the entire South Island, and now we joke that there are 603.

I’ll be more appreciative of the Jewish community in Philly in the future, and I miss the conversations that come from being among people with vastly different religious backgrounds. For now though, I’m happy to be an ambassador for my culture.

Racial Diversity

In the words of a friend, New Zealand is “an island full of white people.” This is very much an overstatement, but…yeah. That’s what happens when a bunch of British and Scottish people move to the South Pacific.

Obviously, Māori also make up a large proportion of New Zealand’s population, although there are no fully-Māori people left. There is also a large Korean and Chinese population as a result of immigration.

An interesting aspect of race relations in New Zealand is the concept of biculturalism vs. multiculturalism. We discuss it a lot in my Māori class, which is about the Treaty of Waitangi (1840 document of cession between Māori and the Crown). Since the Treaty was signed between two parties, Māori and Pākehā (white people), there is an ongoing debate in New Zealand concerning whether their society is bicultural (i.e. Māori and everyone else who isn’t Māori) or multicultural, and whether that consideration should affect the legal system, politics, and other organizations.

Socioeconomic Diversity

As with religious and racial diversity, New Zealand also has less socioeconomic stratification than the U.S. The North Island has more cities and struggles with more poverty and homelessness than the South, but in general one can comfortably support a family on minimum wage, and there are no private universities (and university is cheap — one year as an international student at UC costs the same as one year in-state at Temple). Most of New Zealand seems solidly middle-class.

New Zealand will be an interesting country to watch in the future and see if diversity increases as the world grows. In the case of Christchurch, many people have told me that they believe the earthquake was good for the city — people are more open to the differences in others post-quake, and different types of people are moving into the city.

And worst comes to worst, we can all unite over cheering on the All Blacks — beat Australia!

I will be waking up at 4:30 am to watch the World Cup Final...when in New Zealand... (photo courtesy of the All Blacks website).

I will be waking up at 4:30 am to watch the World Cup Final…when in New Zealand… (photo courtesy of the All Blacks website). (In the picture, the All Blacks are performing the haka, traditional Māori battle dance, which they do at the beginning of every match.)

It’s a New Zealand Thing


This morning, I met up for breakfast with two women whom I met through my internship at Ministry of Awesome. Nic is Kiwi, 24, and possibly one of the most involved people I have ever met. In a week, she is moving to Auckland to get involved in the performing arts scene and for a change of pace. Hai Sue is originally from Korea and in her late 20’s, and pursuing her Master’s in the health field.

Breakfast in ChCh is always inspiring.

Breakfast in ChCh is always inspiring.

At breakfast, the conversation turned to careers and life plans, as most of my conversations do. I talked about how inspired and at peace I feel in Christchurch. Here, people take life at a slower pace. Leisure is important. Relationships are important. People volunteer their time and work with a million start-ups and nonprofits, not because it will look good on a resume, but because it will genuinely impact their community in a positive way. There is a sense of everyone pitching in, and a sense of ease with taking life slowly.

Hai Sue nodded. “It’s a New Zealand thing.” She’s lived in Korea, Melbourne, and the States, and feels the most balanced in Christchurch.

I can say the same. Before coming to New Zealand, I was very much invested in the East Coast Career Culture. I felt like a failure for not knowing what I wanted to do and having to waste the time I could have been spending building my resume trying to to figure it out. I compensated for my insecurity with my lack of direction by juggling two internships, a job, 6 classes, and volunteer work, not because I felt fulfilled by engaging in them but because I figured they’d look good on my CV. People assumed I had it all figured out, but doing a million things was my way of trying to avoid facing the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.

I love being busy, but not for the wrong reasons. I didn’t realize I needed to take a step back from the aforementioned Career Culture until I took one. Christchurch and New Zealand was just what I needed at this point in my life. I know now that my choice to study here wasn’t as arbitrary as I told myself it was — I desperately needed to get away, and New Zealand was not only physically farthest, but had a culture that was stereotypically the opposite of the East Coast. I latched on.

At home, it’s fall semester of junior year for most of my friends. In other words, it’s Buckle Down and Get Your Life Together Time. Start Climbing the Ladder Time. I feel insanely proud watching from across the world as my friends achieve the things I always knew they could and get closer and closer to their goals. And I feel left behind, because I don’t have a goal to work towards.

A semester ago, this would have stressed me out to no end and made me feel incredibly inadequate. Why can’t I find a goal? Why don’t I know what I want? I am falling behind. I am running out of time. But now, a step back, I feel strangely at ease with being left behind. I am not going to develop my ultimate goal before I return to the States. I am not going to discover my life’s passion. But, finally, I feel at peace with my own pace in life. There is no rush. For now, I feel fulfilled supporting the people around me and cheering them on as they achieve.

At breakfast, Nic suggested her own version of the Climbing the Ladder metaphor. “Instead of climbing the ladder,” she said, “look for swing ropes.” We’re all climbing the same ladder, essentially. Instead of rushing as fast as I can, I can do more good by looking for the ropes I have in common with people, and working together to swing to the next level. Bring as many people up with you as you can.

For me at least, I will try to retain this sense of balance and ease when I go home. Instead of desperately scaling my own nonexistent ladder, I’ll focus on trying to help other people swing up theirs. By doing so, I have confidence I’ll figure out a lot of things for myself as well.

It’s a New Zealand thing, maybe. But it doesn’t have to be.

Then, again, with views like these, I hope I feel at ease.

Then again, with views like these, I'd hope I feel at ease.

Then again, with views like these, I’d hope I feel at ease.

Rebuilding Christchurch: Part Two


Although Christchurch didn’t meet my initial expectations, I have grown to feel very at home in this city. Amidst the rubble from the 2011 earthquake is a community that is supportive, welcoming, and inspiring. The rebuild is much more than physical reconstruction, and it has been an irreplaceable experience to be able to contribute in a small way to the recovery of this city. In my last post, I talked about the earthquake itself and the general attitude toward the rebuild. In this post, I’ll focus on the community, artistic, and entrepreneurial elements of post-quake Christchurch that make it so unique.


What Christchurch lacks in physical infrastructure, it makes up for in community events and programs. Events range from fundraising campaigns for local charities to night markets featuring the beloved Christchurch Food Trucks (also giving me a little taste of home). I see the supportive community up close at through my internship at Ministry of Awesome, a social enterprise start-up that works to connect and empower people with ideas for the rebuild or social justice ventures. There is a real sense that everyone is picking each other up and dusting each other off in the wake of the earthquake.

Although it’s the second largest city in New Zealand after Auckland, Christchurch has a hometown feel when it comes to community events. Anyone can make an event happen, and the same local businesses sponsor their ideas. People know each other. People do not take advantage of each other. After a few weeks here, I would never even entertain the idea of doing homework in a coffee shop without buying something, whereas in the U.S. I’d have no scruples. Things are just starting to find their footing here, and everyone pitches in however they can. My purchase of a coffee (or, more likely, tea) means more than meets the eye. Plus, in addition to Ministry of Awesome, there are a ton of other cool organizations that are worth a Google search, like Greening the Rubble and Gap Filler.

The Christchurch Art Gallery, which is still undergoing repair and inaccessible to the public. But everything is going to be alright, especially with the support of the community.

The Christchurch Art Gallery, which is still undergoing repair and inaccessible to the public. But “everything is going to be alright,” especially with the support of the community.

Art Scene

Post-earthquake Christchurch is a blank canvas for local artists. The city is full of murals, some commissioned, some added by graffiti artists or other painters. Regardless, all help brighten the city. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:


My favorite mural — elephants!


Christchurch: A New Hope

Christchurch: A New Hope

Christchurch also has a lot of cool public sculptures, both in very deconstructed areas and in the famous Hagley Park and Christchurch Botanical Gardens. My favorite sculpture is a group of 185 white chairs, a tribute to the earthquake victims. Each chair is different, and was chosen by the victim’s family.

The re-use of buildings (or, more often, building parts) is also a cool aspect of life in Christchurch. C1, a central coffee shop that partners with a lot of those aforementioned community events, is housed in the old post office. Smash Palace, one of the most unique bars I’ve been in, exists in the still-intact half of a dilapidated brick building. Settings like these add to the character and the artsy feel of the city.

Smash Palace's neighboring mural. "The Art of Recovery" is also the title of a documentary about the rebuild -- worth a watch!

Smash Palace’s neighboring mural. “The Art of Recovery” is also the title of a documentary about the rebuild — worth a watch!

Entrepreneurial Scene

In the words of a coworker at my internship, Christchurch is a “hotbed for entrepreneurs.” The rest of the world hasn’t necessarily noticed this yet, but Christchurch appeals to a lot of people with big ideas, both from New Zealand and from other areas of the world. Post-earthquake, the historically British Christchurch is becoming more diverse.

The post-earthquake landscape also creates a blank canvas for business ventures and ideas. Christchurch is a great place to test out start-ups, work in co-working environments, and succeed with the support of the community. Recently, Christchurch was chosen as one of 8 cities worldwide to host an Unreasonable Lab, sponsored by a social-enterprise start-up called Unreasonable Institute based in Boulder, CO. Unreasonable Lab is a week-long conference that functions as an accelerated test-stage for local entrepreneurs. Participants will test their product, meet with mentors, design a business strategy, and interact with the local ChCh community. Ministry of Awesome is organizing the event for Christchurch, and hoping the conference will help spread the word about the opportunities in Christchurch for entrepreneurs and new ventures. (If you’re curious, check it out here: Scroll down to find New Zealand).

In addition to ChCh, there are 7 other Labs around the world, including Labs in France, Japan, Ecuador, and Boston.

In addition to ChCh, there are 7 other Labs around the world, including Labs in France, Japan, Ecuador, and Boston.

Between all of these elements, Christchurch is quite a place to live. However, I cannot stress enough how optimistic and idealistic I myself am about the rebuild. Beneath the promising surface, there is a lot of bureaucracy, lags in progress, and frustration. I have the luxury of exploring the cool parts and leaving when things get boring; I also never lived in pre-earthquake Christchurch, and don’t see ghosts of places when I walk down the street. Understandably, people have conflicted attitudes about the rebuild, and the descriptions in this post are certainly subjects of rose-colored glasses. I get strange looks sometimes when I talk about how much I’m enjoying my time in ChCh, often accompanied by a, “But there’s nothing here,” or a, “Why?”

However, “everything is going to be alright,” and I hope to return to Christchurch in the future and see how it’s doing. Before the earthquake, Christchurch was more physically whole but less of the community and innovative hub that it is today. I’m sure the city that at first disappointed me will exceed my expectations.

Rebuilding Christchurch: Part One


Fittingly, I am a nice Jewish girl living in a city called Christchurch. My decision to study in Christchurch was the result of many hours of over-the-top online research, but I finally beat my indecisiveness and made my choice. Christchurch had things going for it — it was on the South Island, where I knew I wanted to be, UC was the only school that offered a scholarship for international students, and, most interestingly, Christchurch had been destroyed by an earthquake in 2011.

Philadelphia always manages to dodge natural disasters, so the thought of studying in post-earthquake Christchurch appealed to me. “How cool!” I ignorantly thought. Christchurch would be a resilient place, a place fresh and new after the devastation of 2011. I would have a fresh start in a place built from a completely blank slate. Naively, I expected the city to be completely recovered four years after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that claimed 185 lives and devastated its Central Business District (CBD) and residential areas.

Driving through Christchurch after arriving at the airport, I was shocked at how much rubble, construction equipment, and dilapidated buildings still existed along the streets…or just in the middle of the streets.

Every venture into ChCh is a new maze of construction equipment!

Every venture into ChCh is a new maze of construction equipment!

Shipping containers are a common sight in ChCh.

Shipping containers are a common sight in ChCh.

Christchurch was the opposite of what I had expected — it was messy, it was crumbling, it was slow, and it was nothing like the shining example of resilience I had read about. Over the semester, however, I have come to appreciate aspects of the Christchurch rebuild that I at first dismissed or didn’t notice, and to defend the city — kind of like a sibling: I can make fun of or complain about the rebuild, but out-of-towners can’t. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but also wanted to make sure I had a good enough grasp on the full picture of post-earthquake Christchurch. This post, divided into different components of the rebuild that I myself have come across, is my homage to the city that at first seemed so unfitting.

The Earthquake Itself

Christchurch (ChCh) is the largest city on the South Island and the second-largest city in New Zealand. In 2010 and 2011, the city and surrounding region were hit hard by the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, which included the 7.1 magnitude Darfield Earthquake in 2010, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated Christchurch on February 22, 2011, and countless aftershocks. Most of my knowledge of the earthquake comes from my Environmental GeoHazards class, which focuses on hazard planning and disaster response. In class, we often use the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence (CES) as a case study, taking field trips to the Red Zone (the once-residential area deemed unfit for rebuilding), examining the impacts of the earthquake on Christchurch’s economy, and critiquing the response in 2011. The class has exposed me to a lot of behind-the-scenes details of the earthquake and, while one can understand the rebuild without this knowledge, it has definitely enhanced my experience in post-quake Christchurch.

General Attitude

Right after the earthquake, a huge number of people migrated out of Christchurch in favor of Auckland or Wellington, NZ’s biggest city and capitol, respectively. Often, Christchurch feels apocalyptic — walking to my internship at 11 am on a Tuesday, I don’t see a single other person. Those who stayed in the city usually fall into one of two camps, those who wholeheartedly love Christchurch and give massive amounts of energy and time to helping rebuild, and those who feel stuck in Christchurch and remain dissatisfied with the lack of progress.

The rebuild is slow. It’s taking a long time. Up until three months ago, the Central Bus Exchange (think Market East or 30th Street) was a strip of concrete in the middle of the city. There are many reasons for the crawling pace of the rebuild, many of them political or financial, but there is also a lack of personal investment or ownership of the city by its inhabitants. Many of the construction and structural engineering jobs in ChCh are done by people and firms from other countries. Often, instead of seeing a chance to craft an improved city, people who lived in pre-earthquake Christchurch simply mourn its loss. I am careful about appearing overly excited about the rebuild, as I understand how frustrating it is, and I am only here for a mere half a year.

On the other hand, many people in Christchurch absolutely adore the city and try their best to pitch in any way they can. There are tons of community events, and a tangible pride for the city. I have never lived in a city where I felt so cared for and supported, and with a smaller community there is a real sense of teamwork. These are the people I identify with more, and the types of people who are crafting the city I expected to find before coming to New Zealand.

As someone who did not live in pre-earthquake Christchurch and who has the luxury of leaving after a few months of constantly dodging construction equipment, I acknowledge that I can’t possibly fully understand the conflicted attitudes that people have towards ChCh. I do, however, very much feel a part of the rebuild. So many things exist here that couldn’t in a non-post-disaster place, and I can see the city growing.

Look at that slowly-growing skyline.

Look at that slowly-growing skyline.

In the second half of this post, I’ll detail the Community, Art, and Entrepreneurial scenes in Christchurch — stay tuned!

The Art of the Exchange


Here in New Zealand, I am not “studying abroad” but rather “on exchange.” I am not actually on a Temple Exchange program, rather a Direct Enrollment program through an external provider, but in New Zealand going abroad to study at a different school for a few months is referred to as “going on exchange.” Rarely does Kiwi slang make a lot of sense to me–Why are swimsuits called “togs?” Or flip flops “jandals?” Couldn’t tell ya — but in this case New Zealand lingo has the right idea. While “study abroad” implies that my home life continues as usual, albeit abroad, “on exchange,” implies just that — a complete swap. At UC, it does not matter what is happening at home, because I’ve exchanged my Temple University Life for my University of Canterbury Life. In order to adapt and immerse myself as fully as possible  — the main reason I chose to do an External Program that directly enrolled me at a foreign university — I have crafted a new life for myself here, save the occasional reference to “my home school.”

(photo courtesy of University of Canterbury)

At least UC has the same color scheme as Temple. (photo courtesy of University of Canterbury)

My opportunities to travel in college have taught me that I have a knack for adapting to new environments. I’m lucky that I rarely feel homesick and that I feel comfortable in new social situations and that I can calm myself when things go wrong. These things are easy for me, and as a result I adapted more quickly to life at a new school with new people in a new country than some of my friends who are also “on exchange.” It’s easy to find people, wherever I am, who remind me of people I left in Philadelphia, or places with a ring of familiarity. It’s easy, as callous as this sounds, to replace.

However, with quick-adaptation skills come quick-forgetting skills, and the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” rings all-too-true for me here. It’s easy to pick up relationships where you left off, but hard to explain why you’re temporarily dropping them. I often feel guilty for not keeping in better touch with people from home, but simultaneously feel that too much contact is intruding on my experience in New Zealand. It’s easy to dampen your experience as an international student by constantly checking social media, wallowing in a dark hole of FOMO, and choosing to Skype a familiar face over meeting a new one. This philosophy, however, is a difficult sell to the people I’m “abandoning.” There’s a thin line when exchanging one life for another.

I’m lucky that I have to opportunity to even have this internal conflict, and it’s nothing original in the canon of travel philosophy. But this is, for me, my longest stint away from not only the States but the Philadelphia area. I’ve removed the “constant variable” of my surroundings and can see who I am without the backdrop of good ol’ Pennsylvania.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the idea of life being composed of blocks of smaller lives, some that continue throughout the overarching Life, and some that begin or end with change, a move, or a removal of a “constant variable.”

Not too shabby scenery for a change of surroundings!

Not too shabby scenery for a change of surroundings!

One friend I’ve made here, who has a lot of similar ideas about traveling, calls it “compartmentalizing.” I’m good at compartmentalizing. I can organize my different lives into mental boxes, and focus on one at a time. I am aware of what’s going on in the lives of my roommates and friends and acquaintances at home, and I Skype my family relatively regularly (although my mother might have a different opinion). But I simply don’t have enough time to be invested equally in two lives, and the new guy in my roommate’s life isn’t quite as exciting as it is when I’m sharing an apartment with her. When I open that mental box in December, I’ll have focus and investment, but for now I’d rather focus on the people and the events in closest proximity to me, so I can be fully present in New Zealand before I inevitably close that lid.

I think part of this is that I know that I will return to the U.S. in a few short months and most aspects of my life will be the same as they were before I left. I don’t mind swapping out my Temple/Philadelphia/American life for my UC/Christchurch/New Zealand one because I know I’ll get the former back. The latter, however, only exists for the 5 and a half months I’m in New Zealand, and won’t be waiting for me to return after I leave. It will be easier to keep in touch with people I’ve met here when I’m back in the U.S. because I won’t feel as though my attachment to New Zealand and my relationships here are intruding on my experience at Temple — rather, they’re enriching my overall life. But for now, in order to be fully present in New Zealand, I also must be disconnected for a while.