I take it to be trivially true that any exchange experience will be your best semester. However, after completing four months of at the University of Otago I realised it was one of my best decisions in my life. I wanted to spend my time as far as possible away from my hometown to learn more about different cultures, languages and lifestyles. I chose to come to New Zealand because I really like the countryside and I wanted to explore more of what the amazing country has to offer. For me it was a great opportunity to personally grow and learn about the Kiwi lifestyle. From my time I discovered New Zealand to be an easy place to live because of the friendly environment. New Zealand is an unforgettable tourism destination, which is associated with kiwis, rugby, the Maori culture, incredible landscape and a peaceful place.
The University of Otago is New Zealand’s oldest university with approximately 20,000 students located in Central Dunedin (South Island). Its campus is relatively small so you should never get lost finding a class although if you do there is always someone friendly who is willing to help you. When you are on campus there are many options in a huge food court for you to buy a cheap lunch between your classes. In my first week I found it confusing to find the buildings for my classes but E-Vision makes it easier to find your lectures in time because it shows all the locations and important alerts. The University has many libraries spread over the campus; the main library is open for 24 hours during the exam period. The University has a lot to offer for their students, especially the 3NZ$ lunch every week from Ousa (Otago University Students' Association) which rescued me when I was too lazy to cook. It has a 24-7 campus watch to ensure your safety and keep a watch out for danger. If you are locked out of your flat or have other issues you can give them a call and in a short time they are able to help you out.
I am studying Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Tourism and I completed four papers in the first semester. The student application management was performed completely by the Down Under student support program of Institute Ranke-Heinemann who gave me a great help. Everything run perfectly well and within four weeks I got the official letter of approval from the university. Ranke-Heinemann will pay 10% of the student fees in my first semester of study which helped support me financially. The typical week I had less than 14 hours of class a week. These classes varied in size with from 20 people (tourism papers) up to 200 people (business papers). The lecturers made classes enjoyable and their extensive knowledge made the content easy to follow. Most class days started at 10 am and finished no later than 4 pm with lots of free time in-between. The classes were not too difficult which meant I was not too busy with study all the time. To support the students in their study the University offers help sessions and a student learning center for the main papers to help them understand classes and prepare for exams. You get your own account and student ID to have access to Blackboard and E-Vision. Blackboard is a tool to distribute all class lectures and contents to students. All new students get a student ID which you use to print documents, have access to the library and can be used to get discounts in many shops in town. All students have access to gym facilities which are not too far away from the campus which offers a huge choice of recreational activities, including cardio and weights, sports halls, group fitness, outdoor rental, social sport and outdoor adventures. Entry into the Unipol Recreation Services is free for University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic students with presentation of a student ID card. Unipol offers many discounted trips and activities throughout the semester like surfing lessons, hiking tours and so on.
During my time in Dunedin I lived in an Uni flat to avoid the hassle of apartment-hunting and to ensure a guaranteed place to live before I arrived in Dunedin which saved me time and reduced my worries. Although the Uni Flats are more expensive per week than normal flats located around campus for 175NZ$ they have better insulation, include power, Wi-Fi and hot water. I shared my flat with three other international students (Sweden, Germany and America) and one guy from New Zealand. Every flat has a Kiwi host who is there to help you settle down into your new life in Dunedin and between four to six flat mates. My Kiwi host was very helpful making the transition to life in New Zealand flawless. The Uni flat organisation offered many social events such as an Olympic dinner, volunteering work and trips to popular locations. This helped me meet new exchange students from all around the world while making some lifelong friends and unforgettable experiences.
In my first couple of weeks I spent time meeting the other students on exchange (approximately 800 from across the globe, mostly Americans) and got used to studying in English and spending time with my new flat mates. On the weekends I travelled with new friends to explore the South Island and I went to my first rugby game in Dunedin to support the Highlanders (Otago’s regional team) who unfortunately didn’t perform the Haka (traditional war dance). I experienced all the highlights around my new hometown, for example I really enjoyed going to nearest beaches to watch surfers, and visiting the Otago peninsula to see the blue penguins which are the smallest penguins in the world. My clear highlight was spending time in the Milford Sound to discover the true beauty of New Zealand, as well as my first surfing lesson at St. Kilda beach. To sum it up briefly, Kiwis certainly know how to have a good party. I had some unforgettable party nights in Dunedin; it is also known as the student town of New Zealand. Most Wednesday nights my friends and I went to Refuel (University bar) for some drinks and listened to live music and the clubs in the Octagon were always busy on Thursday and Saturday nights.
I realised that almost every Kiwi I met is friendly and relaxed; the mindset is different to Europe. I am sure you can see locals barefoot in the supermarket and guys with shorts and sandals all around the year. You will be surprised how helpful and friendly Kiwis are; I felt within a short period of time welcome in my new home. When I look back now it was an extremely exciting semester with more ups than downs and the time flew away too fast. I’ve met some great people along the way and made amazing friends in New Zealand. I can assure that if you choose to study at the University of Otago you will make some good friends (both local and exchange). In summary do it! I promise you won’t regret it. It was a life changing experience that I will forever be grateful for.