Experience Study Abroad: 52 Days in New Zealand

“It’s definitely not the experience I was expecting but I think I learned just as much, if not more than I would have, if I had spent the whole semester there.” In this post, Honors Student Tyler Voas tells us about her 52 days studying abroad in New Zealand – before the pandemic-induced restrictions sent her back home – sharing some of her lessons learned and memories made.

On February 1st, 2020, I embarked on my adventure of studying abroad in New Zealand. This is something I’d been planning on doing for almost a decade and I was so excited about the next five months I would be spending in my favorite country. One of the things I was looking forward to most actually happened before the school year even began. My mum grew up in New Zealand and her family still lives there, so I was able to spend my first week with them. Most of them I hadn’t even seen in person since I was six years old and I was ecstatic to see them outside of the realm of Skype. My only goal this week was to soak in family time and go to the beach as many times as possible. At the end of the week we said our goodbyes, looking forward to my next visit towards the end of April. I couldn’t wait to come back and crush them at Trivial Pursuit again (is it cheating to choose US geography whenever I’m falling behind in points?) Little did we know 2020 had different plans…But more on that later. 

While exploring my nana’s house, I found my all-time favorite picture of me and my mum. It’s from the last time I was in New Zealand when I was six. Peep the still-blonde hair!

The next leg of my journey took place in Queenstown, also known as the adventure capital of the world. This was where orientation was held and is where I met some of my best friends from the trip. We went hiking and explored everything the vibrant city had to offer. Truly one of the most beautiful places and I hope I get to go back again. (And if you ever go, I highly recommend going up the gondola and doing a luge race with friends. 10/10 adrenaline fun.) Finally, after a night of tearful goodbyes and wishing I could teleport across New Zealand to visit all of my newfound friends, it was time to go to my final destination: the University of Otago in Dunedin.

Taken many hours past sundown, this is our last group picture of my friends and me before we left orientation.

The campus is extremely gorgeous with its focal clocktower and central river running through it. My flat (New Zealand word for apartment!) was only a five minute walk from central campus and a seven minute walk to the grocery store (which you got to by walking through a botanical garden. New Zealand knows how to do it, guys.) I attended a lot of various meetings for international students, but the club fair was definitely the thing with the highest impact. I found a club called the Wildlife Hospital Student Association and ended up applying–and being accepted–onto their executive board for the semester! I highly recommend getting involved on campus because I met some of the coolest people by being a part of that club. 

Having murals on the sides of houses was actually pretty common for some of the flats on campus. This is across the street from the flat I lived in and seeing it became a beacon for my friend and I our first week on campus to let us know we were getting close to being home!

I have to say though, my favorite experience of my time in New Zealand was on March 7th, when we went on a field trip for my Earth and Ocean Science class. I was a little hesitant at first because it was an all-day excursion and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend eight hours taking notes on rocks. I can say with confidence that I was entirely wrong and loved every second and probably could have stayed for another ten hours. This day was when I did the most exploring of New Zealand and I got to do it with one of my best friends, Maria, who I met through this class. We went to four different beaches, had a close encounter with a slightly testy sea lion, and absolutely had so much fun. 

However, it was around this time that rumors started flying about international students being recalled to their home universities due to the increasing severity of Covid-19. Within a week, Iowa had joined that list of universities and I was forced to say goodbye to the home I had fallen in love with. There were so many things I had left to do in New Zealand that I was no longer able to do. 

Adjusting to being back home was really hard. I had put so many hours of planning and thousands of dollars into an opportunity that was ultimately ripped from my grasp. Some days were okay and some days it all came flooding back on everything I was missing out on. Dates passed where I was supposed to be hosting events with my club. Then went the day I was supposed to fly back to Auckland to spend a weekend with my family. Instead, I had already been home for a month. 

Iowa doesn’t even have hills, let alone mountains. This was taken atop a mountain in Queenstown that you get to by riding a gondola up to the top. All of the water in New Zealand is the same exquisite teal as the water in this pic!

Adapting to an online teaching style, especially when the time difference meant I had to do everything asynchronously, was difficult. Keeping in touch with friends is even harder because instead of having a semester of memories together, we had basically just met before we were forced to leave. It’s definitely not the experience I was expecting but I think I learned just as much, if not more than I would have, if I had spent the whole semester there. My ability to adapt and accept change has grown tremendously during this time. Beyond the obvious adapting to being back in Iowa, I had to change a lot of my study habits to match the new virtual learning style. I am learning and continuing to improve upon focusing on the positives, and not just on all of the missed opportunities. It still really hurts to know that I am back to being thousands of miles from an ocean instead of just one ten minute bus ride, and I really have no idea when I’ll be able to see my family again. I wish I had had more time there, but I am so eternally grateful for even the little sliver that I was given during my 52 days abroad. 

Written by: Tyler Voas, Honors Student

Tyler Rose Voas is a rising junior from Ames, IA, studying psychology with a minor in global health. In her free time, she likes to work with kids, and you can frequently find her quoting Disney movies and Friends. She is currently counting down the days until she can embrace her inner mermaid and frolic in the ocean once again.

Edited by: Madhuri Belkale, Honors Student Admin

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