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Study Abroad and Domestic Study Away

Notes from Abroad: Charles in New Zealand

Notes from Abroad is a new feature on the Off-Campus Programs website, in which we highlight small snippets of a student’s experience.  This week’s feature is from Charles Alvarado ’16, a dual major in biology and neuroscience, currently studying abroad at Lake Forest College in New Zealand.

This has been a whirlwind three months in this country. Looking back at the past 100 days that I’ve been here in New Zealand, the events that stick out the most was the day of arrival and the trip I took through the South Island. Coming into the program itself, there’s lots of talk and chatter about how people grow and become more independent or have life changing experiences, to which all I was skeptical, but thus far, I can definitely state that all of the things mentioned are true. I’ve never felt so independent, although at times it can translate to feeling alone. Those moments of “loneliness” couldn’t be more explicitly illustrated than the first day I arrived here. I left the sunny Chicago summer weather for New Zealand’s wet winters and it definitely made a difference into how I approached the semester. The short days and rainy weather was a terrible introduction to New Zealand, but we were all reassured that it was only temporary. This proved to be true because the first weekend we set out on our trip to stay with Maori, I fell in love with the country. My thoughts and approach to New Zealand noticeably transformed at the sight of the amazing geography and environment that the country offered. The first sunrise in New Zealand is one of the top five things I’ve seen in my lifetime, with the best sight being Soldier Field on a cold December night.

The nights I had in the South Island while trekking through its major roads seemed to be much colder though. I took the road trip with two fellow foresters and two other Americans from the Denver and Boston area respectively. Living in a campervan for 8 days was a struggle in itself, but it made for interesting experiences that could only be had when being careless and frustrated. Details of that whole trip will forever stay in memory, but the one detail of the trip I do want to mention is the awesomeness that is Queenstown, New Zealand. The city is beautiful and full of activities that are catered to tourists. Fergburger, New Zealand’s best burger place as stated by many kiwis, was as advertised and deserves a visit if in the area. The trip as a whole brought the five of us closer, literally and figuratively.

Overall, the studies in Auckland have proven to be different than Lake Forest. In particular the sciences are taught much differently, which I’m not sure is the nature of big universities or of the educational system in New Zealand’s universities. Large lecture halls and teaching styles needed transitioning to, but it was never overwhelming. The teaching styles seemed to follow an information-based approach where we have to be sponges and retain all of the smaller details mentioned in class. Although the studies are far from ideal, the experiences I’ve had in New Zealand have been great and extraordinary. Experiences that could only be had studying abroad in New Zealand begin and end with its natural beauty; a far cry from the metropolitan community held in the Chicago area.

I would like to thank Mrs. Ruth M. Smith and the G. Dale Smith ’37 and Ruth Peterson Smith Endowed Scholarship for Study-Abroad for their generous donation for without them I would not have been able to experience my own piece of the world.