Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New Zealand Academics- University of Auckland

Hi everyone! First off, my name is Brooke Costigan and I'm a senior at WIU with a major in Political Science, and a minor in Environmental Studies. I spent last semester studying abroad at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. My partner (this gender-neutral term is favored by many people in New Zealand) lives there, so throughout any of my posts you may get a different perspective from me because I didn't stay on campus, and so most of my experiences weren't actually at the university. Please note that any views expressed in my posts are not representative of the university's own views, and I'm merely stating things as they apply to me and my own experiences.
My partner, Ewan, and me.
 Let me just say this: academics were a whole new ball game in New Zealand. From the moment I was briefed by my study abroad providers, to the second I sat my exams, I was told one thing: "It's really really difficult and you may not pass unless you study every day." Huh. Well that's terrifying.
Before we get much further, let me debunk this for you. It's not THAT bad. "Kiwis" (that's a term New Zealanders call themselves proudly) stress about their exams more than I thought possible. In fact, the professors freak you out so much telling you how hard it will be, that it's likely a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I became so depressed thinking I would ruin my GPA, that I emailed everyone I could and kept stressing out right until the middle of the semester when I reached a breaking point. I had begun to feel that I wasn't really making the most of my study abroad experience, and so I started agreeing to hang out with people after classes instead of spending every minute preparing for classes. In fact, I began to meet up with my Kiwi friends for cards nearly every day. Once I stopped worrying so much, I began to have fun and I can seriously say that my card buddies became my best friends.
Playing a game called "Scum"

In any case, I'm here to tell you that I didn't spend every minute in the library, and I never got below a 'B'--in fact, the key to success lies in reading your professors. Many of my classes had huge essays, and so after the first one, I took note of their personality and exactly what would get good "marks" (most people say this instead of "grades" in New Zealand) for that particular professor. One professor wanted every single political term defined (including democracy), another wanted heaps of citations from his own work. By the way, there's another term the Kiwis love: "heaps" meaning "a lot." So use it heaps.

As there must be both criticism and praise in a good review, allow me to highlight the good things first.
1. The University of Auckland is a beautiful campus, and so studying anywhere became a pleasure.
2. It's right in the heart of the city, so taking a bus anywhere, or checking out new things is super easy. 3. The perspective on American politics is very entertaining, and you can expect to be considered the "American expert" on our politics when you go there. I consider this a cool thing, but also note that Kiwis can have strong opinions on our politics. Honestly I gained more of an understanding for American politics by studying it from another perspective. 4. UoA has tons of events! Many of them are free, and they are always looking to send students on weekend excursions. Their clubs are also fantastic, and while I didn't join the tramping ("hiking") club, they go on tons of trails for people with all sorts of experience.

I don't regret choosing the University of Auckland, but be informed, if you go, on a few  of the more negative things:
1. The university departments are really not very good at communicating with each other. I'm used to a system where if I go to see a professor or advisor, they can punch a number on their phone and ask questions to someone in another department if they need to. At the UoA, I did lots of running around. It was difficult to get questions answered on campus, so the alternative is to bring any questions to your study abroad provider and let them help you. It's the much easier way.
2. Turning in a paper is a serious chore. It must be turned in online, a receipt printed, along with a generated cover sheet, and then those must be stapled to the hard copy of the paper. You aren't finished at that point though. The paper must be physically walked to the building of your department and turned in to a special box depending on the type of class. No personally handing it to the professor, and it's a serious process. You may always hear that the people from New Zealand are very laid-back, but that couldn't be further from the truth in regards to academics at UoA. (It's still true with everything else though)
3. As I mentioned before, the professors throughout the semester will freak you out by saying how difficult the exams are, but the actual exam process is seriously stressful. If you've ever taken a high school state test, then you may be familiar with going in to a room and being threatened with failing the exam if a cell phone so much as vibrates from a book bag. All of the bags are placed at the front of the room and reminders are posted throughout the place stating $150 fines and possible failure for any cell phone noises. Perhaps this happens at some USA universities too, but I'm more comfortable with our professors personally giving our exams in their classrooms. The professors aren't even allowed to be present during exam day at UoA.

No matter where you go, the academics are probably going to take a bit of adjusting to. It comes with the territory of a new university, and while I can honestly say that I'm glad to be back in a familiar education system, I learned so much from New Zealand. Yes, that university seems more disorganized than the U.S. Congress, and they seem to enjoy making things difficult, but it was an amazing experience and I came back all of the better for it. I loved my study abroad semester, and I encourage anyone and everyone to try it out. I encourage you, however, to take more elective classes when you study abroad and not wait until your last years when your general education courses have been all used up.

If you have any questions, and especially if you want to know about New Zealand universities in particular, I encourage you to reach out to me at my e-mail below, and I'd love to chat. Whether you have housing, dining, travel, or any other questions, I'm sure I can help in some way!

Until next time, here's a very accurate video about the University of Auckland and the city itself, and if there's one thing true about New Zealand it's that it's literally always green and flowers are everywhere: