BY RACHEL CONRAD
The first time I gave any thought to studying in New Zealand, I was reluctant. I thought – how much fun could a semester be on an island known for the Lord of the Rings films and having a sheep population more than five times the number of people? As it turns out, you can have a phenomenal time!
The school system here is different, and you are more independent and responsible for your own learning. I am taking a range of classes, which include Christian Ethics, Dress in Society, Biochemistry and Virology. My favorite is the fashion class, by far! I am a biology major, but because of a deal with my sister, I ended up in a fashion class. We agreed that she would take a biology class if I took a fashion class (she’s a fashion major). Being the only non-fashion major forced me to not only form friendships with people outside my field and comfort zone, but I also had to immerse myself in the local culture.
I must admit that my whole semester was not just studying; I have also done my fair share of traveling while in New Zealand. I have done some amazing things such as visiting Hobbiton, hiking parts of Mt. Cook, digging my own thermal hot pool, bungee jumping 134 meters (440 feet!), completing a multiday Great Walk and walking on a glacier. My most memorable adventures were walking on the glacier and finishing the Great Walk.
During the mid-semester break, I finally got to live my dream of walking on a glacier. Ever since seeing parts of Alaskan glaciers breaking off into the ocean, I was on a mission to walk on a glacier. My friends and I drove to the West coast of the south island, and I got to walk on the famous Fox glacier. The experience was better than I ever could have imagined. I felt like I was an Antarctic explorer as I strapped the crampons onto my boots and walked through a crevasse. The blue ice, as we walked through the crevasse, was breathtaking, and it felt like a whole different world.
New Zealand is known for its gorgeous scenic great walks filled with sights you will not see anywhere else, and I was notgoing to pass them up. I have never really been camping, let alone on a multi-day hike, so it seemed like a crazy idea to do the 30 mile Rakiura hike through rainforest with a 40 pound pack. Mentally, the first day was the hardest because there was always that little voice saying that I could not do it, but with some determination and great friends, I worked past it. In total, the hike took 3 days, but I saw the landscape that made me feel like I was in the middle of Jurassic park, and I caught a glimpse of a kiwi bird. Kiwi birds are extremely hard to find in the wild, so we were lucky to see one. After finishing the hike, I felt on top of the world because it is the best feeling knowing that I just did something I thought was impossible.
Emotionally, one of the hardest parts of being away was celebrating my birthday without my family or close friends from home by my side. My flatmates and close friends in New Zealand threw me a party and made my 22nd birthday quite memorable. They brought so many desserts that I thought I could open a bakery, and my German friends made feuerzangenbowle. Feuerzangenbowle is a special drink (that I love!) where you light a rum-soaked sugar cone on fire and let it melt into mulled wine. Having such amazing friends made me miss home a lot less.
Before I left, I remember being afraid to travel halfway across the world by myself and look at me now. I have grown into a confident and independent young woman who isn’t afraid to take on the world! Seeing how much I have changed made me realize that coming to New Zealand was the right choice. I have made so many lifelong friends and had so many thrilling adventures that will inspire me for years to come!