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Navigating the Rocky Waters of my Kiwi Study Abroad

(featured photo by www.aspiringguides.com; All post photos by Justine)

“Oh my god—what is Magnolia Bakery like?”

“New York in the winter seems so fabulous. All those fur coats!”

“Wait, you said you’re from New Jersey? Do you know anybody in the mob?”

These were the questions I faced on my second day of school in Auckland, New Zealand, thousands of miles away from New Jersey. They may have been the same questions as my first day, only I couldn’t quite understand the accents just yet, comprehending requests to state my name and directions on where to sit in my classrooms.

I had recently moved from an uncertain life in Jersey to an even more unknown chapter in New Zealand. Back in the US, I had just started my sophomore year in a new school, only to be told in December that my mom wanted to go on an adventure and take my younger sister and I to New Zealand, where she had family. Leaving our father, I found myself a few months later in February unpacking my single suitcase in a new apartment, new city, new country, new time zone.

Looking back on it now as a recent college grad, I could have—and should have—handled the move differently. I mean, who would have been unhappy if they woke up to this view at their grandparents’ house?

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..or to walk up these steps every morning and be taught by Oxford-educated instructors?

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…or to know that this scene, free of any magical Instagram filter, would only take a quick hop on the freeway?

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But those condensed two years in New Zealand—I was deemed bright enough to skip a year and spent my junior and senior years there—were probably the darkest years of my life. Part of it was due to personal struggles in not being strong enough to handle such a move. Since my dad was back in America, I had to be the one my mom relied upon around the house, be it gardening, making sure our utilities were taken care of, or keeping track of our finances. However, one reason for my unhappiness in the Land of the Long White Cloud is because I expected too much.

Now, even though I had visited NZ as a tourist visiting family, a visitor’s experience of life in a country abroad (although they share your common language!) is still drastically different than calling it home. As an American teenager, I had simply waltzed through my school doors on my first day expecting people to like me and to want to get to know me. I’d expected that things people would be “like Americans, but different”—straight-shooters who were warm and open.

What I found instead was a society where people were friendly, but reserved. In fact, I had a teacher later tell me, after I had confided in her that I felt like I wasn’t making close friendships (something that everybody wants in high school, am I right?), that Kiwis were people who kept their inner feelings and even personality traits a secret, even to their oldest friends of decades. After a semester at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, I found this very similar to the British way of life as well.

And in hindsight, the slightly disappointing experience I had could have been completely circumvented if I had come through those arrival gates at Auckland Airport with an open mind, free of expectations. I should also have done more research instead of assuming everything would work itself out seamlessly. To my credit, some of the discomfort I encountered was due to college preparation stress: my classmates were coasting on their assignments, aiming to attend the local Auckland University, or if they were really ambitious, maybe overseas at an Australian institution. I had the additional obstacle course of navigating a new curriculum in addition to taking the SATs overseas with zero outside help like tutoring.

Most importantly, I should have enjoyed the great moments that did eventually happen. I am incredibly, deeply grateful to my parents for the opportunity of such a life experience. Once college actually rolled around, I felt infinitely more prepared than all the other freshmen, knowing that I now had the strength and grit to face whatever was coming my way. Because of college, we all ended up moving back to the US, but fortunately as a permanent resident, I have the freedom of returning to NZ whenever I like.

Thanks to this episode in my life, it pointed out what my career aspirations could be like. This international experience opened my eyes to the importance of communications and public relations that could resonate with a variety of markets. As such, it led to my interest and subsequent internships at places like the Senate and even Al Roker Entertainment, helping develop reality shows. This drive to succeed and attention to fostering relationships has awoken my interest in pursuing a career in PR, consulting, or possibly even diplomacy–it’s true, the struggle you’re in today develops the strength you need for tomorrow.

  

Justine Yu

Justine is a recent graduate of Rutgers University looking to get started in the public relations, diplomacy, or entertainment industry. If you don't want to keep up with the Kardashians, you can join her journey in navigating the post-graduate world at justineyu.com.

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Traveling and Relationships

(All this image is missing is a few loved ones. Photo by: www.ulixis.com)

There are many kinds of relationships that are important to us for our overall mental health, and they all become even more important when we travel abroad because our mental health is pushed to the limit in new ways. Relationships can help keep you well-founded when you otherwise feel like you’re drowning in an unfamiliar world.

The most important relationships when going abroad for a long stay are the ones you’re “leaving behind” at home. Your family and your friends have been there for you during your “normal” at-home life, they know you well, and they are the people the most likely to stick by your side. No matter how many cool new people you meet abroad, your relationships back home will be your anchor, especially because people you meet abroad tend to keep moving around themselves.

Relationships(friendships are an important relationship. Photo by: www.vipinramdas.com)

I admit that I’m not the best at cultivating relationships with people back home because I get so caught up with where I am. But it’s important to remember that those people are doing exciting things, too. I have probably made more meaningful connections with my best friend back home while being abroad than ever before because of how it has made us open up. The physical or abstract things that cheer me up the most are usually movies that remind me of people back home and care packages my mother sends, so that goes to show that people can touch you in indirect ways and are therefore still with you and important to you.

However, there have undoubtedly been times when new friends here have lent a helping hand or given me some advice that has helped me in huge ways. Most of the people I meet don’t stay in one place for long, so they have learned some invaluable lessons that they then pass on to me. Of course, that also means that I have to somehow get used to constantly making new friends that I will inevitably “lose” within months or a year because I happen to be the one staying in one place, but it’s always worth it. Sometimes I wish I could go back and have my friends back from a previous year, but then I meet someone new that teaches me something amazing and I realize what a blessing it was to have had those old friends at all. Even if they keep moving away, each new friend is priceless.

The hardest relationships to navigate are probably the romantic ones. It’s pretty challenging to date when abroad because you feel pulled between worlds and starting a relationship can feel like settling down when you may not want to. It definitely doesn’t work to try to keep a long-distance relationship with someone back home- both Andrea and I can attest to that. But I have met so many young girls in this area each year that prove over and over how important it is to not jump into something with just any guy, either. A relationship with someone of another nationality while abroad can seem so dreamy, but people are people, and people can hurt. Meaningful relationships have to be sought out with care, no matter where you live or for how long. Don’t let that cute accent fool you, because you may end up realizing that there was nothing behind that tantalizing facade. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t date at all; it simply means that you should keep your guard up until trust is earned.

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(romance abroad- photo by: www.hercampus.com)

Even if I love the city I live in and have lots of exciting new experiences here that I would never have had back home, my friends and family are what keep me happy. No beautiful architecture, breathtaking mountains, or fun beach moments will make your heart happy if you’re not keeping a close eye on your relationships. They are a blessing that keep me going each day, especially in times of homesickness.
“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” ~Frederick Buechner

  

Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.

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Studying Abroad – The Ins and Outs of Choosing a Program

(photo by: www.supergamedroid.com)

Choosing a program can be a bit like selecting a college; there are way too many options to choose from and the process can feel incredibly overwhelming at times. Never fear, here’s a quick guide to the different options available to you, some of the pros and cons associated with them, and some topics to consider when selecting your program.

Program Lengths:

Option 1: Semester or Academic Year

These programs are exactly what they sound like – you study abroad for either a semester or a full academic year. Some students even choose to study in two separate locations for the academic year and spend the first semester in one country before moving on to a different country for the second semester.

Pros: more time abroad = more time to learn about the culture; can usually use financial aid to pay for a portion (if not the entire cost) of the program; easier to find classes that fit your major or requirements; more time to travel on your own (weekends, day trips)

Cons: you miss a whole semester back home (clubs, activities, etc.); can end up spending quite a bit of money on extracurricular travel; if you choose a program that doesn’t offer your courses, you may be behind a semester or term

 

Option 2: Summer or J-Term

These programs are considerably shorter than the semester or academic year options. Many summer programs will run for anywhere between 3 and 10 weeks, and January programs tend to be just a few weeks over the winter holiday.

Pros: shorter travel times means you are not away from home as long; easy to find electives so you could take a couple of general elective classes rather than major courses; can be more affordable overall; more traveling/multi-country programs tend to be available during the shorter time periods; good for those with limited travel experience

Cons: many international students do not take summer classes, so there’s less of a chance to meet local students; many students are unable to take financial aid on summer programs so costs would be out of pocket; limited opportunity to explore the country and become acquainted with the local language and culture

 iStock_000017906987Small(Which program type will you choose? Photo by: michaelhyatt.com)

 

Types of Schools/Programs:

Option 1: Direct Enroll

These study abroad programs allow students to enroll directly within the overseas university, meaning that you will live with local and other international students and take classes with those same students. These programs tend to be for students who are on the more independent side and are more open to learning about the local culture rather than sticking with the Americans. Since you interact daily with the locals, you will pick up the local traditions and lingo and will be sure to make friends from many different cultures

Pros: more independent; more chances to mingle with the locals; more variety of class topics not found in an American school; often more affordable than other options

Cons: need to be proficient in the local language; immersion in the local culture can be challenging and requires a high level of student maturity and flexibility

 

Option 2: American Centers/Island Programs

These programs tend to be heavily American in the sense that many of these centers are schools established just for American students or are satellite campuses of U.S. schools. Often because the schools are more American, you are more able to find classes to fit your majors and transferring credits back home may be easier

Pros: live and study with other Americans; the language of the program is usually English;

Cons: not a lot of opportunity to interact with the locals and learn about local customs or language

 

Option 3: Faculty-Led and Traveling Programs

Traveling programs are options that allow you to visit multiple locations on one program. These can take the form of programs like Semester at Sea (which allows students to spend the semester traveling the globe by ship and docking at ports for several days at a time) or faculty-led programs where students travel for a small amount of time (anywhere from 1 week to several months) with a faculty member from the home school.

Pros: good for those with a rigorous course load; can be more affordable; you get to see more sites on a traveling program

Cons: you might feel overwhelmed or rushed due to the often busy schedule; little time to adjust to traveling; less of a chance to really learn about the locations you’re traveling to and to learn the local language and customs

 

Option 4: Study Abroad Providers

These programs are organized by a company versus your school. They are usually some combination of a direct enroll program or an American school/island program. Often providers will put together a package for you that can include housing, tuition and fees, excursions, possibly meals, insurance, among other items, that may not be available with a direct exchange or direct enroll program.

Pros: more support during the process and on the ground; offers students some type of program package; you meet students from all over the U.S. who are on the same program as you

Cons: can be more expensive than your school tuition and other program options; there are a ton of providers – make sure to research the company and programs before selecting one

 

Option 5: Exchange Programs

With these programs, students exchange places with a student from overseas; for example you would go to the University of Auckland in New Zealand for a semester, and one New Zealand student would spend the semester at your home university.

Pros: your school already has a partnership set up with the overseas school; because of this established relationship, it can be easier to find classes and transfer credits back home; you might be able to find more upper level classes in your major; huge level of cultural immersion; cost of the program is usually very similar (or the same as) the home school tuition and fees

Cons: sometimes very competitive to get into; language of instruction may not be English

 

 

  

Meaghan Murphy

Meaghan found her passion for travel after a high school trip to Italy and Greece; since then she’s studied abroad in New Zealand for a semester, has worked abroad in Scotland for 3 months, and has visited Australia, England, and Canada. After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Meaghan completed her Master’s Degree in International education from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT. She currently works at University of Hartford in the International Programs Office and really enjoys speaking with students interested in traveling abroad.

How to Pack for Studying Abroad Part II: The Checked Bag

It’s here, it’s here! The 2nd installment of the 4 part video series on How to Pack for Studying Abroad. Today we cover how many suitcases you should bring for your up-coming study abroad (it’s less than you think) and exactly what to pack (and how much of it). Did you watch Part I about what to pack in your carry-on? If not, check it out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ4GUw52cdU.

 

 

 

 

Was this video helpful? Let me know by leaving me a comment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8qq6KoUvBM and don’t forget to subscribe to the Twenty in Paris YouTube Channel to know when Part III – Beauty Essentials for Studying Abroad is released.