Unforgettable 5 months Past Review

By (Sociology, Psychology, Brandeis University) - abroad from 02/21/2018 to 07/05/2018 with

IFSA: Wellington - Victoria University of Wellington

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
It's hard to boil it all down, but going abroad strengthened my friendships (and my relationship with my significant other). I'm closer with some friends, and my SO, than when I left. Being on the other side of the planet really taught me that friendship is about putting out effort and putting out care and it pushed me to become a better, more open friend. Obviously actually BEING abroad was unforgettable. I made friends who made me laugh, stressed out with me, grew with me, and explored with me. We saw glowworm caves in Waitomo, visited the Shire (Hobbiton), spent a day at Cathedral Cove, took sunrise hikes, jumped into waterfalls in Samoa, the list goes on. I went skydiving in Queenstown, began learning tai chi and connecting with my body, and got better at pole dancing. I left New Zealand with different life goals and career plans as well because I was able to meet a woman whose TED Talk I had seen before I left the US, and she inspired me a lot. I used some of my free time in NZ to build my blog into a website. I've been a self-supporting student for a year, so I've felt independent for quite a while now, but living in a flat in Wellington hit home that I'm independent and that life is what you make of it. My relationships and conversations with people in classes, at the marae, and with friends, flatmates, and friends of flatmates are also unforgettable. I loved talking to people who had a different perspective on things, from economics to environmental friendliness being common sense (why can't the US be like that?) to Maori affairs.

Review Photos

IFSA: Wellington - Victoria University of Wellington Photo IFSA: Wellington - Victoria University of Wellington Photo IFSA: Wellington - Victoria University of Wellington Photo IFSA: Wellington - Victoria University of Wellington Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Vic is less academically rigorous than Brandeis, but I found there was a slightly greater time commitment than I expected because at Vic, tutorials (discussion sections) are often mandatory for every class. The classes I took were great, though -- it really depends on the professors you've got, obviously. I took History of Aotearoa New Zealand, which was massively helpful for understanding more about the country I was living in, New Zealand Sign Language, Social Policy in Times of Crisis (it was also super interesting to compare American and kiwi policies and get to talk directly to kiwi students about it), and Cross-Cultural Psychology (the course coordinator was very young and sounded very bored, but 1 lecturer we had was funny and engaging, and the content was still really interesting). Midterms and finals were manageable. Some of the assignments were worth 40% of the grade, which could be a bit nerve-wracking, but ultimately it was just fine.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

IFSA was AMAZING. I love Sian and Hannah Hutton from IFSA NZ. From the start, our orientation was friendly and warm and we all got along well, it was just a great way to start 5 months in a new country. They were so helpful and approachable.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Housing is a problem not just at Vic, but Wellington in general. Our flat wasn't well cleaned when we moved in, and 1 of my friends had to request to move out of her original room. In my opinion it's pretty well-known that the flats aren't great quality. The flat size differs -- between 4 and 6 living in the same flat on average depending on your answers to the housing survey. Toward the end of the semester the cleanliness in my flat was god-awful, but that was on us and not the university or program.

* Food:

Go to the farmer's market on Willis on the weekend for fruits and veggies! Took off one star because the junk food in New Zealand has a lot less taste than in the US (they have original flavor Doritos?! why) and they don't know what spiciness is.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

New Zealand is a Westernized society, so a lot of the aspects of society felt familiar. I felt culture shock about smaller things. One notable difference between NZ and the US is treatment and relationship with indigenous people. NZ is trying to become bicultural (between Maori and non-Maori, although it's more complicated than that), and I bet it'll be really interesting and eye-opening for you to see how they go about it.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I used mental health services at Vic, which were free. That was awesome, but it also meant that waiting lists are super long. I could only see a counselor every month, so I had to refresh the counselor of my situation since there was such a gap between our appointments. I got some conflicting information from the university and program about how to go about setting up an appointment, but I called and got it sorted out.

* Safety:

I personally felt very safe in Wellington, even safer than I do in the town I live in at night, but I had friends who didn't feel that way because they were from big cities. There is one path by the field at Vic that I heard was notorious for incidents of sexual assault once or twice a year, so I took care never to walk there at night unless I was with a group of people. (I heard this from a woman who runs Sophie's Angels, a car service like Uber but for women.)

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Absolutely. IFSA was amazing and I'm SO glad I chose them as opposed to going without a program. IFSA took us on so many amazing trips -- we started orientation in a national park, stayed a night in a marae, went biking and visited a brewery in Kapiti, hiked, took a ferry to spend a weekend in Picton (a garden, a winery, and more), dinners... Sian (program coordinator) and Hannah Hutton (now replaced by Isla who is so lovely) are so warm and approachable, and we had a lot of fun with them. I loved my program group and made friends who are dear to me. I'm so glad I chose Wellington over Auckland because they're such different cities... Wellington is so walkable, and I was able to continue pole dancing and take up tai chi there.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

I am completely self-supporting, which might factor in to your comparisons. Living costs are high in Wellington, but remember that the exchange rate helps you. Haircuts run at about $40 (just for a buzz and trim, I have pretty much a men's haircut) whereas in the States it's $20 tops.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Maybe $100-150 on food per month? Alcohol was $30-50 per month.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Keep an expense tracker, make a budget, and stick to it (advice for life in general I know, but some of my friends had to start doing this when they went abroad.) Go the Willis or Harbourside farmer's market on the weekend for fruits and veggies! It's so much cheaper -- I would get my veggies and fruit for the week for under $10 or $15. Countdown is your friend as opposed to New World.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? I knew a little bit of ASL from 5th grade, but it's different from NZSL.
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Go to Deaf Students Club/higher classes of NZSL activities, participate in the NZSL Week they have if you're there for the Feb-July trimester

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • IFSA trips and friendliness of group
  • Location in Wellington
  • Ability to travel and make own schedule
* What could be improved?
  • Flat quality
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? That New Zealand is so far away and it's so expensive to get there, no one will be able to visit! (Most of my friends had families or even friends come visit, but my chosen family doesn't have the money, so they couldn't.)