Tales from abroad: Christchurch

Trekking on Franz Josef glacier can take up to eight hours. (credit: Courtesy of Sharon Briggs) Trekking on Franz Josef glacier can take up to eight hours. (credit: Courtesy of Sharon Briggs) New Zealand is a very picturesque country. (credit: Courtesy of Sharon Briggs) New Zealand is a very picturesque country. (credit: Courtesy of Sharon Briggs)

Since the day I got back to the U.S. from spending my spring semester studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand, I have been met with the somewhat annoying but completely reasonable question: “How was New Zealand?” And every time I find myself faced with this question, the words “It was so fun!” come out of my mouth. The first time this happened, I realized I had just used those words to describe one of the most amazing times of my life, and it made me cringe. In fact, my experience was not just “so fun”: it was incredible, exciting, terrifying, full of novel things, new experiences, things I learned to love, things I learned to appreciate, and, above all, people I will never forget.

I picked Christchurch based on three requirements: English language use, location and weather, and program duration. While these were all very important factors, when I found out that one particular school had a three-week-long spring break, I immediately picked it. And I am so happy I made that choice.

I spent my first week in New Zealand getting to know the other people in my program, since I had left the U.S. not knowing a single person who would be in the country. At college, I took an indigenous language course that helped me pronounce names of cities and landmarks, a marine biology course that helped me learn about the nature there, and a New Zealand history course, where I learned a lot about the country’s past. But my experience in New Zealand was hardly shaped by my classes.

My semester was marked by weekend road trips, trying more new things than I ever thought possible, and spending it with the most amazing people in the world.
I am going to try to detail 10 of my favorite experiences from studying abroad.

  1. Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. This three-to-five-day hiking trail is located on the northern part of the south island. (This would be the time to do a Google image search of New Zealand and realize that it has two main islands.) Half the track is across beaches and the other half is through mountains. Not only was it incredibly beautiful, but I did the walk with 13 other people, which made the entire experience much more fun.

  2. Learning to surf. I had never done this before and I have to say that I am a pro surfer now!

  3. Bungee jumping. For those who have ever been skydiving, I think you will love bungee jumping. It was one of the most terrifying and amazing things I have ever done. I thought I was going to pee in my pants.

  4. Following a shark in the Great Barrier Reef. I spent my three-week mid-semester break in Australia and was able to go both snorkeling and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. At one point while I was snorkeling, I happened to see something that looked like a shark probably no less than three feet and no more than 20 meters beneath me.

I was so excited by the fact that I saw a shark that I started following it. After a few minutes, I started to get bored and then looked around only to find that I was pretty far from everyone else. When I looked back into the water I couldn’t see the shark anymore. That’s when it got really scary and I swam as fast as I could back to the boat.

  1. Driving 3000 km (1900 miles) down the eastern coast of Australia. There are so many things I can think to say about this trip, but I think I’ll just go with a word montage: beaches, kangaroos, sleeping in the car, drunken old men, flashers, sand dunes, erotic novels, opera house, tent, BBQs, koalas, plumbers, Coochin Hills, speeding ticket, lagoon, diarrhea, Nutella, bars, no showers, road kill. I’ll let everyone try to put the story together.

  2. Hiking a glacier. I was fortunate that my boyfriend was able to come out and spend eight amazing days with me. While he was there, we drove to one of the two most well-known glaciers in New Zealand — Franz Josef — and did an eight-hour hike. It is hard to explain why it was such an incredible experience, but it was the magnitude of the glacier and the amazing forces of nature that came together to form it that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

  3. Being on the sets of Lord of the Rings. While seeing Hobbiton, Mount Doom, and the jewelry shop that the original Ring was made in, I didn’t even realize I was walking through places from Lord of the Rings. I got to sit inside Bilbo’s house and see the party tree, and I actually bought an exact replica of “the One Ring.”

  4. Black water rafting. I went into a cave for the first time in my life and saw glow worms that looked like the Milky Way. I also got to raft my way down and lead the group of people I was with through parts of the cave.

  5. Zorbing. I can’t really think of a good way to describe this, but the best way to understand is to YouTube it. Basically, a giant plastic ball is suspended within an even larger plastic ball. In the smaller one, some water and a person are put in and then the whole thing is rolled down a hill. Sounds lame? Turns out it was one of the most hysterical and surprisingly fun things I did in New Zealand.

  6. Meeting people I will be friends with forever. I met a guy on a city bus that knew my favorite college football team, and he was the first person to tell me when their quarterback was drafted to the NFL. I met another guy who let me stay with his parents and his best friends even though we had only known each other for a few weeks.

I also met a guy from England who has become one of my best friends. A girl I met for about 10 minutes in the U.S. — just because our parents knew each other — let me stay with her for four days in Australia. I met people from all over the United States who have become some of my closest friends and I miss them terribly.

If I were given a chance to go back to New Zealand tomorrow, I would take it up in a heartbeat. I did so many amazing things, but there are still so many more things I would like to do. I hope sometime soon I will be able to go back.