Kia ora! I have been at University of Canterbury (UC) for approximately two weeks, and am learning a lot about the challenges of being an international student. Although I’ve had plenty of interactions with exchange students studying at Temple, I’ve never been one myself, but I purposely chose to study at a foreign university rather than through a less-immersive type of study abroad program. I’m happy I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone, but man, adapting can be harsh (and, in New Zealand, often heatless). Since I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to have an informed grasp on the culture yet, I figured I’d dedicate this post to some of the challenges I’ve come across as an international student so far.
During my past two experiences abroad, I encountered a lot of positive stereotypes about Americans (apparently a lot of Europeans think we “smell like flowers” — I guess they’ve never met a male college student, but I’ll take it). In New Zealand, however, some of my experiences have not been so pleasant. Kiwis associate Americans with money, a stereotype influenced by New Zealand’s economic reliance on tourism, the exchange rate (currently 67 U.S. cents to every NZ dollar), and the broadcasting of extravagant American reality shows and political news on New Zealand television. American culture really does pervade a lot of the media here, and it’s not making us look good. In the words of one of my flatmates while we were discussing the differences between the NZ and U.S. political systems, “It’s like a game. If you have money you can shout and say, ‘I want to play!'” **cough cough Donald Trump**
Last week I set up a New Zealand bank account to avoid ATM fees in the long run. As I was transferring money from my U.S. bank, the teller said, “Got to put that American money in so you can spend it!” Or, maybe I just need to buy groceries…
I came to New Zealand knowing absolutely no one. This is what I wanted — total immersion. I am here with a group of seven other Americans who are also studying abroad through the Arcadia University program, and we have all grown very close. Rebecca, McKenzie, Nathan, Andrew, Charleene, Brendan, and Lee are my New Zealand family, and we stick together. All of us had a bit of trouble making friends with Kiwis and other local students in the beginning though. It’s not so easy to spark up conversation and make friends in classes, and I’m used to being at Temple where I know 80 people right off the bat from high school (yay Abington)/have a tight-knit group of friends in the Honors Program/am just always running into people I know. In the words of one of my very best friends, “You’ve never left everyone behind before.” I’ve never had to start from scratch. Making friends in classes is not as easy as I thought, and back at Temple I’ll be much more aware of how well I’m getting to know international students and whether I am being welcoming. But this week looks promising, now that clubs have started, more people are around campus, I’ve met a few people at parties and events, and I’ve gotten to know my flatmates better. My list of numbers in my New Zealand brick phone is growing!
Honestly, my culture shock in New Zealand hasn’t been that bad. At first, the Kiwi accent was a bit hard to decipher, but at this point Kiwi accents sound normal and American accents sound weird. One difference I did not expect, however, is the complete lack of Jews in New Zealand, and the complete lack of knowledge about Judaism. People are obsessed with my curly hair, ask me constantly if I “like bagels,” and are very worried they will offend me when they ask me questions like, “Judaism is a monotheistic religion, right?” I’m not offended, just glad I can explain. But coming from the Philadelphia area, it’s quite a shock! And I know I will miss Shabbat dinners at Hillel and all the other things about being involved in the Jewish community that I took for granted. There is a lack of diversity overall in New Zealand, which is strange to adapt to coming from not only the “Melting Pot” of America but also a large, diverse school in a large, diverse city.
Overall, I’m adapting to the challenges that come with being an international student at a foreign university, and it’s all part of the adventure. My time here so far is definitely making me more aware of my role in my community at home and forcing me outside of my comfort zone, so I’m excited to see what the rest of my time in NZ brings. (Also, stay tuned to find out how many more times I’ll hear, “It’s always sunny there, right?” when I say I’m from Philadelphia…).