Thoughts on being a tourist

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“You choose, you’re the tourist”

These words were considerately said to me when discussing potential destinations for hiking. Yet instead of leaving me feeling inspired and excited to choose exactly where I wanted to go these simple words really struck a chord with me and played on my mind a lot as I travelled over the summer break.

Firstly, for someone as indecisive as I am the phrase ‘you choose’ instantly strikes fear in my heart. But honestly it was being labelled as a ‘tourist’ that really bothered me and it took me a while to figure out why. Am I a tourist in New Zealand? In all my time here so far I had never really considered it.

I guess the answer is essentially yes. I am not from New Zealand and have recently spent my time travelling around the country with the sole intention to see various places and things that other people are also travelling to see. I hired a car and drove from town to town, down the Great Coast Road, through a few National Parks and, yes, I did stop at the places along these roads labelled with brown tourist information signs.

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But the label (for want of a better word) doesn’t quite feel right. Is it because I think that there are negative connotations to the word ‘tourist’? It conjures images in my head of just being the next person in a queue of hundreds of thousands of people waiting to take a picture of the exact same view to share on Instagram or Facebook. And you can probably find better pictures online or on a postcard.

 

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Aratiatia Rapids, taking the same photo as so many others…

 

Some of my photos I look back on and ask myself whether I took a photo because I wanted to record something beautiful or meaningful to me, or just for the sake of taking one whilst in that particular place. Was I taking photos simply because that is the way you are expected to behave in ‘tourist’ locations? If I found myself doing this I would purposefully put my camera away to make sure that I was truly experiencing and taking in what I was doing and where I was instead of simply living through the lens.

Evidently, part of my problem with it was not wanting to fall into the trap of tourist behaviours and mindlessly move from place to place, attraction to attraction and not really experience being in New Zealand.

Another thing that I considered is that I have always viewed my primary purpose in New Zealand as being a student (even my visa says so!) and experiencing studying and living in another country and not just visiting. I had been living in Dunedin for almost 6 months before I even began my summer travels and I didn’t really feel like just a visitor anymore. Although I take the opportunity to leave Dunedin during semester for tramping or visiting new places, primarily I spend my time in Dunedin experiencing the highs and lows, the busyness and the occasional mundanities of student life just the same as other students whether that is here or in Durham. Living as a student and living as a tourist (even a long term one like many backpackers here) can be quite different and whilst I was travelling I really felt that shift in the way I was experiencing places. I’m never going to know Hokitika or Christchurch, for example,  in the same way that I know Dunedin because I don’t live there.

After almost a whole summer of considering this in the back of my mind, far too long spent mulling over an almost trivial sentence, I have decided that I can be both a tourist and a student in New Zealand and neither of these is a bad thing. Dunedin is my New Zealand home and I feel as though I know the city too well to be a tourist here. When I visit new places I will embrace my tourist nature but just be mindful of myself and my behaviours.

Is this something that any of you who have lived abroad ever feel?

 

A Kiwi Christmas

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Happy New Year and a belated Merry Christmas from New Zealand!

For me, not only has it been my first experience of Christmas in the sun but it has been the first festive season that I have spent away from home. I knew since my time in New Zealand began that I would not be going home for Christmas but did not really have any firm plans until mid December. “I’ll either be on the beach or up a mountain on Christmas Day”,  I had told my parents when I said goodbye in June hoping to reassure them that I didn’t mind the prospect of potentially spending Christmas alone during my period of unplanned travels.Whilst I did not end up on the beach or up a mountain on Christmas (my plans and ideas have been constantly changing since June) I was invited to spend a really lovely Christmas with two of my Dunedin flat mates and their absolutely wonderful family up on the north island.

Christmas trees are a little different to ones at home, but still beautiful Christmas trees are only a little different to at home, but still beautiful

In typical Christmas fashion everybody ate lunch together and spent the afternoon napping, chatting, watching movies and playing games. I guess the main differences were that some of Christmas dinner was cooked on the barbecue and napping could happen on the grass outside! I video called my family in the evening (their morning) and they were treated to beautiful singing from the Te Punga family.

I’ve spent the post Christmas and new year period exploring the mid North Island with Tania and her family. We’ve been exploring glow worm caves at Waitomo and tramping (a.k.a. hiking) in Tongariro National Park with awesome views of Mount Ngauruhoe. I’ve been told this is better known as Mount Doom but I’ve never actually seen Lord of the Rings or anything (shhhhh!) so I wouldn’t know!

Lower Tama Lake

We also kicked off the New Year with a swim at Waihi Falls, beautiful even with very little rainfall in this area over the past few weeks.

I’ve been loving Christmas and New Year in the sun, it’s still very novel to me. It feels like everything new that I’ve been doing is making my list of things to do (or do again) steadily grow. And is making me more and more sure that I will be back to New Zealand in the future!

Happy belated new year and I hope that the new term begins well in Durham! All the best until the next blog 🙂

$3 Holla

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Today I attended my last official lecture at Otago. That means it is 8 days until my first exam of the semester and 12 until my last. It also leaves me only 24 days left in New Zealand before I head home to the UK which is really sad. Whilst my first semester here felt like I had all the time in the world, this semester has felt like a countdown until I go home. The date of my flight home has been steadily looming closer and closer and I have been quietly ignoring it but I probably can’t anymore! Over the next 2 weeks I will be knuckling down and studying for those pesky exams before I have planned a final 10 days of adventure and getting stuff done.

That’s talk enough of exams and going home. Today I wanted to address something that is far more important and close to my heart and that is, of course, food.

I’ve managed to get away almost the entire year without mentioning it on here (some people would say that is surprising) but I’m confessing to you now: I’m a vegan. There, it’s out, I hope we can still be friends. This means that when I first arrive in a place it can be more difficult to find good food on the go (that isn’t chips) and especially around campus. Normally, I try to take my own food but often I forget. However, the OUSA has the answer to every hungry student’s prayers – vegan or not and to be honest even if you are not a student – and that is $3 lunch.

When? Monday – Friday 12 – 2 (ish)

Where? OUSA Clubs and Socs Building on Albany Street

Each day the Hare Krsna group cook up a delicious and nutritious meal ranging from pasta, to soup, to lentils and rice which is jam packed with veggies and goodness. And all for $3 which doesn’t break the bank on a student budget. And its all vegetarian (and mostly vegan) too. Mmmmm….

You are normally greeted by the ever wonderful Jma who I have been told has been running $3 lunches for over 25 years. She always welcomes you with a smile and her energy and singing just shows that she absolutely loves what she does. “Hello, just a $3 lunch please” from the next student waiting in line is often followed by the enthusiastic reply of “$3 holla coming right up” from Jma.

$3 lunch is a great place for a catch up with friends or to read Critic (our student magazine). In winter you can sit in the warm and have a hot meal at lunchtime. As long as you wash your plate afterwards and say thanks on the way out, you’re all good. Some students come every day, others just once in a while. Some people bring a container and grab some lunch on the go.

Over the last two semesters you could probably find me here at least once a week. If its a particularly busy time of assignments or I have not had time to meal prep then probably more! Thursday lentils are my fave but Wednesday soup has been growing on me, especially as it’s the time when I am able to catch up with friends who I don’t always see in classes.

I’m going to miss $3 lunches back in Durham for sure! And if you are ever in Dunedin (student or not) I would 100% recommend heading over to OUSA for a $3 lunch.

Bye for now,

Copper

Time to go home

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Hello readers,

Although it pains me to say it, the time has come to head home from New Zealand. At this time last year I was attending my first welcome talks at International Orientation Week and can remember them like it was yesterday. It seems so strange that a whole 12 months and a whole year of experiences has happened since. It still has not quite sunk in that it is already time to get on that plane and leave this beautiful country.

But I also know that in just over 40 hours, after 3 flights and a 14 hour stopover in Singapore airport (the flight was cheaper!), I will actually be able to see my family in the real life flesh and bone and not just over face time. My sister has promised me that she will not be bringing embarrassing signs to the airport! My bags have been packed and after donating what seems like half of what I own to flatmates and op shops (charity shops) they fit within the weight restrictions.  I honestly did not think I had that much stuff!

So I guess that means that it is time to reflect back on what has gone on this year. I have been blogging occasionally throughout my time at Otago and documenting some of my experiences for you but those have just been snapshots of a year living as a student in New Zealand. And this year has definitely had its ups and downs, as would a year at Durham. There are some times I wish I had travelled more instead of staying in Dunedin job hunting. Some parts of me wish I had been more confident to go away on the weekends and explore more remote places.  Most of the time I was having a fantastic time and keeping busy so didn’t even think of home but at other moments it was difficult to forget exactly how far I was away from my family.

I’m sure there are quite a few things that I intended to do whilst I was abroad that I never got around to doing, or I simply decided that actually I didn’t want to do them at all when I really thought about it. Equally, and probably more so, there are HEAPS of things that I have done that I never intended to do or even imagined that I would do before I left the UK.

Just some of the lovely and sometimes unexpected things that I have experienced and achieved this year, big and small:

  •  Ran in the Dunedin Quarter Marathon – my first ever running event
  • Tried out possibly all the vegan cakes that are available in Dunedin cafes
  • Learned to dive under big waves (this may sound silly but I was 100% scared before!)
  • Tried out surfing (only on the little waves)
  • Took a road trip and drove in another country for the first time
  • Harvested, dyed and wove harakeke (flax) into a bag – a traditional Maori art
  • Volunteered with conservation groups around the Otago Peninsula and on Quarantine Island
  • Took a photography course and practiced a lot
  • Climbed up Roy’s Peak to watch the sunrise
  • Went to late night improv comedy shows with my flatmate and laughed a lot

 

Over this year I have learnt that your experiences are your own and they don’t need to be compared to anyone else’s. You don’t need to have experienced the wildest, most exotic things or climbed up the highest mountains to have had an experience. I am proud to say that I have lived on the other side of the world for an entire year. I arrived in Dunedin this time last year and moved into a flat full of strangers and have left a year later with friends for life and people that I can go back and visit and who can come to visit me too!

This year has been so special to me and one that has really helped me whether it be reminding me exactly why I love studying Geography or developing my self-confidence whilst I’ve been living abroad independently.

Thank you so much to everyone who has hung out and helped me out in every way this year. I couldn’t have done it without you guys! Good luck to Emma, the next Durham student heading to Otago, I wish her all the best as she starts her year of adventure and am only a tiny bit jealous!

 

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