First semester done and dusted!

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Hello readers,

Exams are out of the way and the summer vacation has officially begun. I’ve been taking time to reflect on my first semester here. I’m also aware of the approaching deadline for next year’s exchange applications so I hope that these thoughts might be in some way useful if any of you were thinking of applying.

  1. Money

I think I am finally getting the hang of paying for things in dollars. Every now and then ‘pounds’, ‘quid’ or ‘pence’ slips out of my mouth but is quickly  corrected. When I first arrived it was hard to gauge exactly how expensive (or not) things were. I was never sure if I was calculating exchange rates wrong in my head or if things genuinely cost more. Imagine my first trip to the fruit and veg aisles of the supermarket and finding a single pepper for $5 (or approx. £2.50 in Copper’s conversion rates!) – and that’s not the most expensive that I’ve seen them. Other things are lot cheaper than back at home though: Dominoes is only $5 for example…

2. Academics

What we would call modules in Durham are known as ‘papers’. Most people take 3  or 4 per semester – you can take more but you’re either a genius or mad. This semester I took:

GEOG 287 Plants, People and the Environment

GEOG 298 Coastal Geomorphology

ENVI 311 Understanding Environmental Issues

SPAN 132 Introductory Spanish 2

Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to explore area of Geography that we don’t manage to cover in Durham as well as branching out of my subject.

Overall I really enjoyed these papers and found them really interesting, particularly Understanding Environmental Issues. This was very discussion and workshop based and brought together students that major in loads of disciplines from Geography to Musical Theatre and people from across the world. I found it extremely refreshing to look at issues from new perspectives and with new opinions that people brought instead or purely from a geographical point of view. We were also assessed through a group film making project!

A tip for anyone thinking about applying to Otago: Many of the papers (at least in the geography department) are offered at both 200 and 300 level. I opted for 200 level in my first semester to take off some of  the academic pressures and assignments whilst I settled in.

3. Flatting in Dunedin

The university owns a group of houses/flats close to campus (known as uniflats) where many international students choose to live. Although I did initially apply to live there in the end I opted to go ‘flatting’ in Dunedin. I found a room that was available to rent and have been living with 5 other Kiwi students since I arrived. This has been a great option for me and I don’t think I would choose differently. Programmes such as the Otago International Friends Network (OIFN) has allowed me to still connect with other international students.

I won’t lie, Dunedin flats are cold. I spent the first while wrapping myself up in as many layers as I could, blankets, and a sleeping bag just to study in my bedroom during the winter months. The house we live in at the moment is about 100 years old so it has lots of character and history but not much insulation! But this is the true Dunedin student experience. When you think Durham student life perhaps you think Klute, rowing or college bars. In Dunedin cold, slightly less than perfect flats are one of the most important parts of studying here you could say.

I have really enjoyed my first semester here and am looking forward to the next one already. But first, its time for summer and to start properly exploring further afield in New Zealand!

Good luck to everyone completing applications!

A strange sight to see…

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unnamedTo most people this is probably a strange scene and it certainly turned a few heads through campus on Friday. I’ve seen these kind of thing in TV shows but never in real life  – I didn’t think people actually did this. Yet, it is these slightly weird and wonderful scenes that have now become an unsurprising and almost expected part of my year abroad experience and my time here at Otago.

The challenge: keep your hand on the van the longest.

The rules: one hand on the van at all times, no sitting down, no food but water is allowed, 2 toilet breaks (meticulously timed at 10 mins). And also complete any challenge Hugh the OUSA president makes up on the day.

The prize: the van (a.k.a. The Silver Bullet)

As I wrote this they had been running on the spot and doing high knees whilst keeping their hands on the van for at least five minutes. Hugh tempted them to let go with free pizzas and supermarket vouchers (a valuable commodity). Health and safety of course is important, especially on hot days so suncream was handed round periodically. It was a competition of who could be the most stubborn – and stand up for the longest! You don’t just win a van here, you get to keep your pride. Although having a car as a student here is not as uncommon as in Durham people still love you for it. Watching from my sunny lunch spot on the balcony above really opened my eyes to how much of a spectator sport it actually is!

Unfortunately I couldn’t spend my whole day watching people stand by a van but I am told that after 14 hours a winner was crowned. Apparently they had to resort to a general knowledge quiz to knock out the last few ‘competitors’.

The ‘Great Silver Bullet Giveaway’ was run by the Otago Universities Students Association (OUSA) which is like the equivalent of the DSU.  They help to run most of the student societies, provide a space for delicious $3 lunches (more on that in the future), have a sauna and in general make campus a fun place to be by organising events like this one throughout semester. Everyone here works hard on their studies, especially as we near the end of the academic year. But at the same time, so many people came out to enjoy the sun, have a study break and a laugh watching the competition even though exams are just over 3 weeks away.

There always seems to be something happening on campus here and I’m loving getting involved in anything I can. Since I got here in July, we’ve had student art exhibitions, rummage sales, photography competition displays and market stalls in the courtyard. During the recent NZ general election the central university Link was even used as a polling station. The liveliness and buzz about campus makes it a lovely place to study.

Exploring Queenstown

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Hello again,

The mid-semester break has rolled around already in Dunedin and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Queenstown.

Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, nestled amongst some of the smaller peaks in the Southern Alps. It is a beautiful and picturesque town well known for being the ‘adventure capital’ of the world. As someone who tends to avoid anything that makes my stomach do flips riding the chairlift up the mountain when we went skiing was enough adventure and adrenaline for me!

But as well as classic bungee jumping or running off the side of the mountains for parachuting there are plenty of other things that I got up to when I visited with my flatmates last week and I’m going to share a few of my favourites Continue reading

1 month in already

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Hello everyone,

It’s a beautiful sunny Saturday here in Dunedin. Although the New Zealand winter is in full swing and the weather has been quite temperamental so far, I’ve almost been too hot in my coat as I’ve wandered around town today. Two years of chilly Durham winters has definitely taught me how to layer up. Continue reading