New Zealand, New School, New Culture

I think we can all agree that nobody wants to be a freshman in college forever. Sure, it is the beginning of the most exciting experience of your life up until that point and within the first few days and weeks of school, there is the possibility that you’ve met lifelong friends. With all that said, there are a lot of downsides. You don’t know where your classes are, you don’t know anyone in your classes and you don’t know what the status quo is for anything.

Welcome to studying abroad.

While all my friends at USC and in the States have been in full midterm mode, I was back to feeling like a freshman during my first week on campus. Walking around with a map pulled up on my phone, I was trying hard to avoid bumping into anyone while I tried to make sense of a maze of buildings on a city campus.

It’s interesting to have such a similar experience two years later though because while I was terrified of walking into class alone as a freshman at USC, here I was able to just cruise in and take a seat. These little differences in my confidence and demeanor have made me so proud of myself for continuing to grow and push my comfort zone in college.

This week I also gained a new appreciation for what international students go through when they come to USC for their first semester. Going to a new country makes everything different, even buying school supplies. I just wanted to buy a notebook and some pens, but New Zealand and the United States don’t use the same size paper and the pens were all sold individually.

Little things can easily throw you off, but I’ve learned that you very quickly adapt to your surroundings — there isn’t really any other choice.

There is a big difference between visiting another country and deciding to not only live there, but also attend a university. Everything you’ve been taught since kindergarten when you were five, is subject to change (see school supplies above).

Another thing that is vastly different is when class literally starts and stops. This has been a challenging adaptation for me since I usually operate on a schedule. On my class schedule — timetable as they call it here — classes start and end at the top of the hour. There isn’t a 10-minute break inbetween the beginning and the end as there is at USC. Consequently, there is a 20-minute window in which a professor can start class, and I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. Some professors start ten minutes before the hour, some start on the hour and some start at 10 past.

In reflection on my first few days of class, I’ve started to realize how these little things add up to huge differences in education systems between countries. I expect that this semester, for as much new information as I will learn from books, I will also learn about different ways of life from immersing myself in a new culture.

Everything on campus is written in English as well as in Maori, the language of the native Maori people. This is still a shock of sorts since it is a language so foreign to anything I have been exposed to in the United States, but an immediately telling sign on the importance of the native culture to everyday life in New Zealand.

In my first week I was not only introduced to a wealth of new knowledge from the three New Zealand cultural classes that I am taking, but also a new culture in the classroom. Academic differences wasn’t a huge consideration in my decision to study abroad, but I now know that it is something everyone should be aware of before leaving their home country.

As this journey carries on, I continue to explore new physical, academic and intellectual areas of a completely new culture. The idea that every week will be a new challenge is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating. What better way to get to know a country than to be taught in their education system? I look forward to learning new things about New Zealand both in and out of the classroom for the next 12 weeks of this semester.