By Megan Turner (The University of Auckland, New Zealand)
I have one day to go before I fly to New Zealand, a journey that will take twenty-six hours and include two planes, one layover and no comfortable sleeping positions. My suitcase is almost full, but I have only packed half of my things and it still feels like there are a million things left for me to sort out. It’s tricky to condense a year’s worth of stuff into 30kg of hold luggage, especially when I have to cover all seasons and I’m trying to think of everything that I could possibly need in a country that I have never been to before which really bombards you with shipping costs because it’s so far from everywhere else.
I’m going to be studying abroad for a year at The University of Auckland, which is 11,283 miles away from Manchester, quite literally on the other side of the world, and at the moment it feels like another world entirely. I have been on the Geography with International Study course since the beginning of university and so have always known that I’d be spending my third year abroad, as the opportunity to do so was one of the main features that drew me to Manchester.
However, even though the application process began back in September and I found out that I got a place at Auckland in February, it still felt like a very distant and alien event and I haven’t really given much thought to the magnitude of it until recently. This year has gone by frighteningly quickly and now that the time has come to actually leave, I still don’t really know what I’m doing. However, I’ve decided that surely there’s no way to actually mentally prepare yourself for moving to Auckland for a year when the only people that you know are Kirsty from Geography (hey Kirsty) and one of your dad’s friends from university whom you’ve never met but has offered you a free dinner regardless, so I reckon it’s normal to feel like I’m quite substantially winging it.
That said, I don’t feel that nervous about going as Auckland was my first choice, and though I’ve never been to that part of the world before I’ve heard from many friends and family that it is beautiful and magical and incredible, so I’m so excited to finally get there and experience it for myself. Auckland is the highest ranked university in New Zealand and I’ve already chosen my modules for the coming semester, which are a mix of geography and anthropology and all look very interesting.
I’m living in a hall of residence for my first semester as it seemed so much easier to organise than trying to find private accommodation when I arrive, which would also have meant me having to leave home two weeks earlier to allow time to find a place to live. I also hope that I’ll be able to meet more people this way and will be more involved in university life. I’m also excited to see what the societies are like, as though, sadly, they appear not to have a Pantomime Society (my Manchester fam), I’m sure there will be a whole plethora of weird and wonderful new hobbies to try out.
What’s strange about doing a year abroad in New Zealand or Australia is that because it’s in the southern hemisphere their seasons are flipped, which means their semesters are too, so I’ll actually be going for the second semester of one year and the first semester of the next, thus getting the opportunity to enjoy their three month summer holiday in between. I’m hoping to travel around New Zealand, Australia and parts of Indonesia in this time, which I know will be absolutely incredible and is one of the things that I am most excited about; I’ve wanted to explore these places for so, so long, so it’s amazing to think that it will soon become a reality. Everyone that I have spoken to that has already studyied abroad has told me that it has been the best experience of their life, so I don’t really have any doubts that I am going to have a brilliant time.
Although I am obviously delighted (and surprisingly calm) about going, there are always some drawbacks to every experience like this. It’s quite hard to articulate the bitter-sweetness of leaving: I know that I am going to have a wonderful time and meet loads of fantastic people, but this also means that I won’t be able to spend third year with all my friends at Manchester, most of whom will have graduated by the time I come back. I settled into uni so much in second year, and have found myself a fabulous group of friends, so it seems paradoxical that as soon as I have found my group it’s time for me to leave.
This reminds me a bit of the film Sliding Doors, as a part of me wishes I could be in two places at once, living my more conventional life in Manchester to see through third year with my friends, whilst the other me galavants around New Zealand without niggling feelings of homesickness or feeling like I’m missing out on everything at home. In the film the fun-loving version of Gwyneth Paltrow dies though, so I feel like maybe a better option is to just have one me so that the other one doesn’t have to get hit by a taxi to rebalance the universe.
In the end, though a year is a long time, I know that it will fly by, and though it may feel a little strange and a little distant, I won’t actually be losing anything at home, I’ll just be gaining new friends and experiences abroad and having a generally magnificent time so it’s not so bad really. What will be will be.
Here are some fun facts about New Zealand:
There are about 4 million people in New Zealand but a whopping 70 million sheep.
Wanderlust magazine voted it the world’s best country in 2007 and 2008, so clearly I’m moving on up.
It was also the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893; how good is that!
And there are no nuclear power plants there, (gosh I’m learning so much just from this buzzfeed article!).
P.S. I actually arrived on the 10th of July but had trouble uploading, sorry!