Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Soggy Feet

What I learned today: layer, wear shoes with a heel, and carry rain jacket on my person at all times.

New Zealand is notorious for its erratic weather, which is constantly changing with the winds. On blustery days like today (although I really can't complain, compared to Wellington, "the windy city"), the clouds move so quickly that you will be basking in the brilliant sunshine of the clear NZ skies one moment and running for cover from a downpour the next. The good news is: my rain jacket officially works (thanks Grandma Rosemary!!!) The bad news is I only brought it to class this afternoon after enjoying a thorough soaking this morning. All in all, the weather is great. At least if there's rain, there's bound to be some sun in the same day and it has been less cold than anticipated.

PS: It is 20 minutes after having posted this and the sky is completely black and it is pouring... prime example.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kiwi Cuisine

Lets just say I think most Kiwis would be offended if I considered Bryant Hall cafeteria food representative of New Zealand's cuisine.

Pro: I have eaten more vegetables here than ever before (side options of each meal).
Con: That means I eat half of the main dish, half of the time.

Pro: You can't mess up toast and it is available at breakfast and lunch.
Con: There is no toast at dinner.

Pro: I love kiwifruits...and there are lots of kiwifruits.
Con: You can't take any food out of the cafeteria except one piece of fruit at lunch or dinner (I prefer apples or kiwis...especially since I have my very own kiwi spoon/spife now!).
Pro: If you get hungry late at night, there is biscuit time, aka supper, (biscuit cookies + milk or hot drinks) from 9 -9:45pm. My favorites taste like coconut. My least favorites taste like ginger and are called Gingernuts (ha).

Pro: There are two NesCafe automatic hot drink makers that make coffee, tea, mochas, cappuccinos, or hot cocoa.
Con: So much for my giving up coffee idea... (and there is no decaf), AND I have had WAY too much hot cocoa in the past 2.5 weeks (remember it's winter here...)

I've started to notice some patterns...

Monday lunch: BUN DAY (haha it rhymes)
aka a sandwich bun with some sort of deli meat to make a sandwich.

Friday dinner: FATTY FRIDAY
aka Fish 'n Chips (or spring rolls for the "Vegos" - vegetarians)

Wednesday/Mid-week lunch and/or dinner: Some random casserole-type thing combining all leftover food from the weekend/previous few days.

i.e.) Today we had a "Pumpkin & Spinach Stack" which consisted of tortilla on top and bottom with a middle of pumpkin, potatoes, kumara (native sweet potato), spinach, and cheese/ham, all baked together.
The break down:
Pumpkin and kumara from earlier in the week.
Cheese bake (the ham/cheese mix) from last night's dinner.
Tortilla (from "wraps" at yesterday's lunch).
* They're good at recycling food here (not just bottles, cans, and cardboard)! Good thing I like leftovers and am eco-friendly.

Typically seen as part of NZ meal (or at least Bryant):
  • Marmite (PS I have switched alliances! After much consideration, I am a Marmite fan.)
  • Red plum jam
  • Muesli (imagine cereal that's a bit flakier than cornflakes made into a bar shape, disintegrates in milk, or is awkward dry because not sweet, or as hard as a granola bar)
Brunch (Sunday)-
  • Baked beans
  • Spaghetti (picture long noodles in spaghetti-Os sauce - for bfast!) -> Timmy: You would love this, they put it on toast.
  • Bacon = Canadian bacon-like.
  • Sausages = more like hot dogs.
Lunch and/or Dinner ("Tea")- I was surprised to find these things at almost every single meal -
  • Kiwifruit
  • Beet root (beets)
  • Califlower
  • Coleslaw
  • Carrot shavings

Good meals so far:
  • Meatball subs!
  • Roast chicken breast
  • Chicken curry
Most interesting combination I've seen made by fellow student:
  • Plain white rice + gravy
  • Plain rice + mayo + hot chili sauce
  • Carrots as a condiment on ham & egg sandwich
  • Chips (french fries) on buttered toast, folded to make a sandwich
  • The whole spaghetti for breakfast thing
PS: Us Americans get made fun of for putting peanut butter on everything (i.e. apples, bananas).

Meet Bryant

I thought I'd take a moment to explain my living situation.

Welcome to Bryant Hall, home to 201 students, all living in individual rooms, divided into three blocks (X, Y, and Z/aka "zed"). I live in "the pod" of Y2. The pod is a grouping of four rooms on the end of the hall (rather than the long hallway down the middle). My next door neighbor is Erika (my amazing American friend from New Hampshire and my hang out buddy on boring weekday nights). On my other side I have Amy and, at the end of the hall, her boyfriend Ryan - both extremely nice New Zealanders from the North Island. It is nice only sharing a bathroom among the four of us, but the pod can be lonely sometimes no one walks by our rooms until specifically coming up to find us.

There are two other residence halls on campus, but we must eat our three meals per day in our hall's designated cafeteria. It is very safe, as our key cards only access our specific block and then we have regular, key door locks. Since Bryant is the smallest of the halls, I have met quite a few people by now and recognize even more, since we see the same familiar faces at every meal. The U of Waikato itself is small enough that I see people from Bryant while walking on campus.

We have a hall common area with large TVs and hall events - right now, a lot of people have entered the pool (not swimming...billiards - haha there was a mix-up) tournament and there is also a game of assassins going on. Assassin involves "killing" your target with water. You are confidentially given a target and your mission is to assassinate them within the certain time limit (usually a water bottle is the weapon of choice), while staying in the parameters of the hall, and obeying all rules (i.e. don't hit someone while on the way to class with books etc.). Once you kill one person, you take their target and pursue them next; the circle chain continues until there are only two people left who have each other as targets and then one assassin is crowned champ. I've seen a couple people sprinting from their block to the cafeteria to shorten the window of possible assassination.

This Saturday there is an inter-hall masquerade Ball - dresses, dates (optional), heels, jewelery, hourderves, drinks, the whole she-bang. People from all the dorms can attend and it is held in the theatre/performance hall. Should be fun...I haven't gone to a "dance" since prom.
As one of the RAs said: It's going to uncontrollably EPIC! (ha we'll see...)

** check back and I'll add pics of Bryant, my dorm room, and the ball!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mini Post - "Anything is Possible"

So I stumbled across an article on the Chapman Web site (written by my friend Sarah Van Zanten no less.. woo hoo, nice work VZ!) about a guy named Ben Kaplan. I followed the link to his Web site and realized he looked very familiar. Now I remember meeting him through my friend Ariel actually (a year or so ago? I can't remember)! Turns out, in 2009 he took a red eye after the ceremony on the night of graduation straight to Israel and since then has been working his way around the world (Nicaragua, Thailand, India etc.). Living for three months at a time in a certain country, he is trying to spend five years abroad and end his travels with more money than he started by working and remotely conducting on-line marketing services for companies back in the U.S.

Check out:

Just thought I would share with you this amazing site from a fellow Chapman student - exciting and inspiring. Haha President Doti must really be proud of this "global citizen." I wish more Americans would follow his lead. New Zealanders have already figured that one out...

Fun fact: Figures for the total NZ population (a bit over 4 million) are continually skewed because at any one time more than half a million Kiwis are overseas.

The travel bug is infection and unavoidable. It is so easy to just stay put, fall into a routine, close yourself off to possibilities and mobility. But how can we grow and change if everything around us stays the same? Learning more about others opens personal windows - through understanding the world, we can learn more about ourselves and find somewhere in that world where we can be happy and make a difference.

This reminds me of an excellent quote I heard before I left:
"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement."

Week 2 - Here Comes the Rain

It was pretty gloomy this past week, with near-constant drizzle and a couple of sun breaks. Although, as I sit writing this it is nice and sunny, so I really can’t complain :) - nothing I can’t handle from 18 years in the North West. When the sun shines here it is very hot. Someone told me the sun is much stronger down here, even when you least expect it, but don’t worry – I’ll “Slip Slop Slap" (put on sunscreen) when the days get hotter.

Fun Fact: New Zealand has one of the highest UV ratings in the world. Peak UV radiation levels in NZ are approx. 40% higher than those in North America. This is because of the sun's position, the closeness of the sun during summer months, and NZ's unpolluted skies. In recent years, ozone depletion has increased UV radiation. The Antarctic ozone layer hole usually breaks up in early summer that means that, at times, New Zealand is affected by ozone-depleted air traveling over the country.

Last weekend, we took it fairly easy. On Saturday, there was a huge concert in town call Soundscape, sponsored in part by the Waikato Students Union. One wristband ticket granted access to four different clubs, located near each other on the main drag. It was a good night, but VERY crowded and obviously VERY loud. The real problem was the music, which unfortunately was the main event – I’ve decided I do not like "dubstep," a genre of electronic dance music spun by DJs (like techno with a ton of base). Or, maybe it's just me - I physically cannot dance to it, so I’ll leave my dancing to cheesy or popular radio songs and leave it at that.

This week, I had my full timetable of classes and tutorials/workshops. It is still a fairly light schedule, but there is quite a bit of outside reading. I am a Class Representative for my PR Cases course, meaning I act as a liaison between the administration/professor and the students in case of any problems and must attend a training next week, plus a few meetings over the course of the semester. We will begin analysing and giving presentations about particular cases in two weeks – mine will be PR related to New Zealand football (soccer).

We were placed in groups for my PR Campaigns class. My team consists of myself, a nice NZ girl, a Chinese international girl who has been here for two years, and two New Zealanders who are actually on the women's national crew (rowing) team. This means it might be a bit difficult to coordinate group meetings, but everyone seems very nice and I’m excited by the prospect of selecting a focus and creating a campaign for the Parent to Parent organization. Hopefully we can come up with something that will be useful to the non-profit and its members.

Finally, I am really enjoying the material of my International Relations: Security paper. It seemed VERY dense and confusing at first, but after doing some more of the readings (with Google open as a dictionary for all the complicated political science terms/“isms”), I have already learned a lot.

Campus Goings-on:
On Wednesday of this week, they had an event on the Village Green called "Recycle Your Life." All the participants brought something to donate (clothing, couches, books, knick-knacks), the items were placed on the stage, and then everyone could rummage for something to trade/take away. All the extra things went to the Salvation Army, along with donations from spectators. I brought a book that I had finished, due to lack of material possessions here, and just because I wanted the free pizza :) (and sherbert), but ended up taking a sweet as pirate flag to add some decoration to my room and a funny coffee-table book. My friend was ecstatic to end up with a yoga sports mat. For me, watching him try to carry it all the way back to the dorms (on his head) was way better than the mat itself. The book I got is a compilation of satirical billboards made by Tui (a very popular, national beer). They incorporate cultural inside jokes or funny phrases with the slogan “yeah right.” Most are just silly and demonstrate Kiwi humor, but some refer to historical/cultural events, and there were a lot ones pertaining to particular rugby wins or losses.

Here's some examples:
A current one
Rugby reference:

From outside the brewery:

My favorites from the book were –
“Her butt walked into my hand… Yeah Right”
“It's getting too cold for a beer... Yeah Right"
"I was reading her t-shirt... Yeah Right"
"It's not receding, I cut it this way... Yeah Right"
"Guys look great in Speedos... Yeah Right"
"Bikinis shouldn't be so small... Yeah Right"
"I won't pee in your wetsuit... Yeah Right"
"I'll get in with jeans and jandals... Yeah Right" (about clubbing)
"I hardly noticed her moustache... Yeah Right"
"I'm really keen to see your mother again... Yeah Right"

Historical events:
"U.S. Intelligence... Yeah Right"
"Flight departs 11:50 pm, December 31st 1999... Yeah Right"

After perusing the book, I decided to give it to an American friend here who was celebrating his 21st here.

This weekend we’ve taken it easy. I keep forgetting that we got here right in the middle of winter (aka COLD season). A lot of people are sick in our hall, and it hit Erika pretty hard. Since everyone seems to have made a collective decision to keep it a quiet weekend, we have too. I drank an entire carton of orange juice yesterday, so I’m hoping the Vitamin – C keeps the germs at bay!

Erika and I have been brainstorming our "spring break" plans. The break is approaching quickly - I can't believe it's August next week!! So far, we have decided to rent a car to travel around the South Island and loop from Christchurch down to Queenstown and back up around the west coast. Hopefully we will meet up with two girls who are going to a university in Wellington or recruit some people from the dorms here who want to explore down south. Details to come once we actually plan.

One last update: I think I’ve decided to elongate my stay. I was originally planning to return at the end of November, but I think I want to add a few extra days here or to my Australia plan during November and then tack on a stopover in Fiji on my way home. It is very cheap to add it, seeing as it’s on the way, and there are some great island hopping packages. I made it all the way over here, I might as well stay as long as possible! I should be back in Los Angeles during the first week of December and back up to Washington around the 10th – 15th.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Miscommunication & Mean Kiwi Slang!

I thought I’d take a moment to explain some of the fun New Zealand slang I’ve learned so far.

Here are some of my favorites:
“Sweet as” – I’ve already explained this one, how it is amazing, and how you can apply it to any situation

Choice - cool; awesome

Mean – cool
Sweet as + mean = "Mean as" – just another level of cool; super cool

Chilly bin – Ice chest/cooler

Pissed – Drunk

Fush ‘n chups – a fun way to say fish and chips (breaded/fried fish and fries)… YUM, since it’s “Fatty Friday” we get that for “tea” (see below) tonight

Tea – Dinner

"Have a feed" – Eat a meal

Lolies – candy (this makes much more sense, because then, lolipop = candy (a loli) on a stick)

Papers - classes

Sussed– all sorted out, have things figured out or settled

Shout - a round of drinks

– apartment/living off-campus

Jumper – sweater

Tiki tour – “wandering around in the car;” going for a drive around town

Full stop – a period (at the end of the sentence)

Boot – trunk (of a car)

Jandals – sandals

TOGS– swimsuit
Here is a HILARIOUS advertisement for a brand of ice cream that demonstrates this fabulous Kiwi word and how it is dangerous to wander too far away from the sand while sporting your lovely banana hammock…

Kiwifruit, kiwi, and Kiwis:
Kiwis are as plentiful here as apples and oranges at home. I’m pretty sure that I’ve eaten more kiwis in the past two weeks than I have in my entire existence (that’s a good thing, mmm.. lots of Vitamin C)!. Only problem is that there have been some mix ups in the cafeteria regarding these lovely green fruits.

Here, they call the kiwis that you eat “kiwifruit,” because if you simply say “kiwi,” that refers to the kiwi bird (the cute, long-beaked, small, flightless feathered friend of New Zealanders, which are sadly nearing extinction). Then, just to confuse us foreigners further, New Zealanders also call themselves “Kiwis.”

Every time I say “I’m going to go eat another kiwi,” or “WOW, I just love eating kiwis; I’m so glad they have them in the cafeteria at every meal,” our friends laugh and point out that I am talking about eating the bird. Now I know why they are going extinct – confused, carnivorous travelers come and eat them! Clearly, I have solved the problem of the kiwis’ extinction – inform foreigners to stop eating kiwis and pick up a kiwifruit instead!

While we’re on the topic of kiwifruit…
Erika and I made the best discovery EVER – after purchasing a box of kiwifruits at the small supermarket near school (kiwifruits are ridiculously cheap here... obviously), we found a funny-looking spoon at the bottom of the container!
Introducing the SPIFE – the awesome, long-lost cousin of the Spork.
Check out this amazing “kiwifruit spoon-knife combo,” perfect for kiwifruit eating:

Here’s another perfect example of how miscommunication can happen, even if both parties speak the same language. And here I thought there wouldn’t be any problems since they speak English in New Zealand…

So I’ve already mentioned the booths on the Village Green for Re-O week. My friend Gabe had already been by the booths on Monday morning and upon his return at lunch told Erika and I about how this one church group booth was giving out free sherbert. If you know me at all, you know of my insatiable love of ice-cream, so naturally I was excited and started talking about how much I love ice cream and needed to go find the free ice cream booth. Later, Erika and I ventured to campus to investigate. We couldn’t find any ice cream and had no idea what Gabe was talking about. At dinner, we told him how we were super disappointed that we couldn’t find the ice cream and that he shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up about free desert.

A few days later, I was hanging out with Gabe, catching some rays by the lake/Village Green, when the topic of the elusive sherbert surfaced again. Turns out, “sherbert” here is actually a powdered sugar-like treat, akin to our Fun Dip candy, which is paired with a lollipop, and like Fun Dip, you lick and dip the loli into the sweet/sour powder. They kind of have sherbert ice cream here, but that would just be ice cream with sherbert powder mixed in. I never realized how difficult it is to explain Rainbow Sherbert ice cream to someone who’s never had it, until this moment…

I also realized that just as I sometimes fail to understand a Kiwi word or two, so I just laugh and hope I didn’t miss anything important, rather than sounds stupid and question the person to repeat what they said… there must have been at least a dozen times over the past few weeks when the person I was talking to had no clue what I said and just nodded along and smiled at me. When I said: “Gabe! Why didn’t you tell me that I'd gotten sherbert wrong?! Instead, you let me ramble on about how much I love ice cream AND probably ask one or more people where the free ice cream booth was.” He said: “Well, I just thought you really like ice cream. And I was kind of upset that maybe I’d missed the free ice cream tent.”


One more funny moment – I was talking to Gabe again at lunch and said I would come by his room later to get him so we could walk to campus and buy our textbooks. “Should I just rap on your window?” I said, meaning I would "knock, knock, knock" so he would know to come outside and meet me (since our ID cards don’t allow us access into any other of the blocks in the hall). He thought I literally meant I would come to his window and rap – like, “Yo, yo, yo, I’m at your windoooow!” Haha, that one didn’t translate too well.

My Classes are Sweet As

16 July 2010: HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY DADDYO!!! (It's already your birthday here, so you can start celebrating!)

This was our first week of classes. However, since we didn’t have to go to tutorials and my introductory lectures tended to get out early, I only ended up with about 4.5 hours total. I took the downtime to wander around campus, buy books, and catch some sun (and good thing, since today it is grey and raining… finally a bit of this “winter” weather they keep warning us about). I wound up running into quite a few people while out and about on campus; seems like everyone else had more time this week than they knew what to do with. As it is the first week of the new semester after the winter break/“holiday,” they had music, some booths, and mini events on the Village Green (the central area of campus, near the lake and student union, with various shops and eateries).

Also, during this Re-Orientation (Re-O) week, as part of the “B Semester Fiesta” the bars in town have themed parties and deals each night (Fluoro/Florescent night, a Pirate Party, Superheroes dress-up night etc.). I didn’t end up attending any because of morning lectures and the rational that I would save my money and energy for Thursday/Saturday (the best nights to go out in Hamilton), BUT I did go to the free hypnotist show on Tuesday night. Similar to the others I’ve seen, the antics were hilarious, especially since Kiwi humor is even more crass and uncensored – I think I’ll leave that up the imagination…

Once things are in full swing next week, with classes and tutorials/workshops Monday through Thursday I should have about 11 hours, plus quite a bit of outside reading and group work for my most involved class: Public Relations Campaigns. My Public Relations Cases class is very small, only 8 or so students (all girls, hah as PR classes tend to be), which should be good for discussions, and hopefully will prove interesting, seeing as the contemporary cases we’ll analyze center on New Zealand current events. We talked briefly about a media crisis involving New Zealand’s rugby world cup ambassador (for next year's cup that will take place here in NZ during October 2011). He is an ex-All Blacks player who made some blatantly racist and sexist comments, leading to his “resignation,” and a problem for the PR professionals at the NRL (National Rugby League) who must try to mitigate this tainted image of their players and revered national pastime.

I hadn’t really considered that most New Zealand celebrities are rugby players and, therefore, they have been and will be, the center of the majority of NZ media scandals. After this class, I changed my internet home page to the New Zealand Herald – I definitely need to do some background reading on rugby and other key players in NZ’s media, so I’m not completely out of the loop. There were several times when the nice girl next to me, or the amiable professor, explained a reference that to a Kiwi would be common knowledge, but for me produced a puzzled expression, instead of instant recognition.

My Political Science class is somewhat bigger and will focus specifically on the national security facet of international relations – what “security” entails and how it affects international issues, conflicts, and compromises. The professor has a thick, deep British-type accent, that does not fit his appearance and might make it a bit hard to understand and pay attention, but I find the topic interesting. There is another international student – a nice girl from Brazil who I met last week, in the class as well, so it’ll be nice to have a buddy.

Finally, I had my Public Relations Campaigns lecture on Thursday afternoon. It is a very large class, maybe 60 – 65 students. We will be broken into groups of five during our smaller tutorials, forming public relations agency teams, with whom we will work throughout the semester, crafting a full scale campaign for a real organization. After the end of the semester's campaign presentations, the top four teams go on to compete for the Chesterman Public Relations Campaign Award, presenting again for other Waikato students and the public in one of the main lecture halls on campus. The client is called Parent to Parent (Matua ki te Matua), an organization based in Hamilton that matches families with children with mental and physical disabilities and special needs, helping to form a support group for these parents and siblings.

We will begin in depth research after forming our groups to help select a specific target for our campaign. I am excited to try to develop a campaign with a creative angle to help this non-profit, which seems like an extremely worthwhile cause. We even get to visit the headquarters nearby and interview management, employees, and volunteers etc. This is the capstone/final course for Waikato’s Management Communications/Public Relations students, just as it will fill the requirement for my PR Campaigns capstone course at Chapman. I am looking forward to working with students who have developed a different perspective of PR and producing something that will enhance my portfolio and give me real experience when the job hunting begins… AH, I don’t even want to think about that yet! I still can’t believe this is my final year, half of which is spent halfway across the world.

More on classes later, as the semester continues!

Oh, I’ll also be doing some independent research and reading about the United Nations in preparation for my Model United Nations class when I return to Chapman in the spring. Before I left school, I spoke with Chapman’s Political Science department head and worked out a way for me to follow along with his fall syllabus for the Model UN class, reading the text, learning about UN protocol, and practicing how to write proposals, so that I can join the yearlong class halfway through in the spring and compete in the competition in New York over spring break. I can’t wait!

Earlier this week, when some of the campus clubs had booths set up on the Village Green, I spoke with some girls from the MCSA (Management Communication Student Association) and might attend some meetings. They are Waikato’s version of the PRSSA (Public Relations Student Association), that I’ve been semi-involved in at Chapman; hopefully I can meet other Waikato PR students! I can tell from vibes in my PR Campaigns class that, similar to how it is at home, most of the students know one another by the time they take this final class, having had classes together for the past 2-3 years.

Also, on Wednesday I donated blood! I'd never done it before (needles.. AH), but they had a blood drive this week in the gym and I figured this is as good a time as any AND a chance to give back to New Zealand! Apparently, I have verrry tiny veins, but the nurses were capable and it wasn't as bad as I thought. I even got to try some tasty New Zealand biscuits (cookies)afterward! Yum yumm

Monday, July 12, 2010

Our First Weekend

8 July 2010:
On Thursday night, Erika and I met a super nice and bubbly Maori girl who lives downstairs, Waikohu, and got to tag along with her and her friends at the bars/clubs in town. It ended with us dancing until verrry late at a bar called the Outback with the girls and some of our RAs! I really like our RAs and respect them because although we felt lucky to go out with them and had SO much fun, they seem responsible and dedicated to their jobs and have been consistent in enforcing the hall rules, which must be difficult. From 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., there is a strict alcohol, noise, and visitor ban. It is funny living in the dorms again. I keep forgetting that I’m actually a year or two older than most students in our hall.

9 July 2010:

The RAs took the international students on a few outings this past weekend as well. On Friday we went with a small group to Raglan, the famous surf spot, about an hour west of Hamilton. As it is the west coast, the sand is fine, black, and almost glitters in the sun; I cannot image how hot it would be to walk on in the heat of summer!

Gabe, one of the two hilarious senior RAs, does a sport called BloKarting, which was invented in New Zealand. Imagine a small go-kart, with a windsurfing sail attached, that can reach speeds of 100 km/hr (a little over 60ish mph) when the wind is right – at Raglan it wasn’t, but he let us try it out anyway. It ended up with Gabe pushing us around on the sand, more than catching the wind, but it was fun all the same. I want to go to the track out on the east coast some weekend if I have a chance! Did I mention that Gabe is actually the world champion at BloKarting (and set to compete again in Belgium in October)… so, I got a mini lesson/pushed around in a BloKart by the world champ haha.

10 July 2010:
On Saturday we went on another excursion to Mt. Maunganui, about an hour and half away on the east coast. We explored the beach (white sand on this side of the North Island) and then, after lunch, climbed the mountain for a spectacular view of the coast!

Erika and I posing at the lookout point on the drive to the mountain:

Exploring the beach! (Acting like velociraptors to fit in with the dense jungle background hehe):

A view of the beach and mountain:

At the top!:

Back in time for dinner, we went out again on Saturday night and had a blast. Although, Erika and I tried to fit in a bit more, dressing up in heels and dresses etc., instead of the jeans from Thursday (which made us stick out), and ended up with pretty sore feet in the morning.

Last night, we had a hall meeting to go over some of the residence hall rules and then went tenpin bowling with the internationals/RAs at some lanes nearby.

Today is the first day of the semester, but since I only have a tutorial late on Monday afternoons, and there are no tutorials (only lectures) during this first week, I have a free day. Although I’m looking forward to classes tomorrow! I will be taking three upper level papers (so 60 points total)- Public Relations Campaigns, in which we create a full scale campaign for a company, with an environmentally friendly focus, in teams of five, Public Relations Cases Studies, and International Relations: The Security Agenda.

I got up at 6:30 a.m. to watch Spain DOMINATE the Netherlands in the World Cup final! It was pretty funny watching last week’s semis between Germany and Spain – we went to the student union lounge and watched it with an entire room of the German exchange students (I cheered for ESPANA :)of course ).

Friday, July 9, 2010

The University of Waikato!

4 July 2010:
Sunday morning (Happy U.S. Independence Day!), we split from the Wellington kids and left for Hamilton and our University of Waikato. Only an hourish drive later we arrived and settled into our dorm rooms. My best friend here, Erika (from New Hampshire) ended up being my next door neighbor in Bryant Hall! It has been a godsend this past week, since the campus was pretty dead and lonely with all the students away for their winter break. Our rooms are fairly good sized and the nicest we’ve seen out of the three residence halls. Bryant is the smallest of the four, with about 200 students, which will be nice for meeting new people, since large numbers can be overwhelming.

5 - 8 July 2010:
We had a few orientation/info sessions, specifically for new international/exchange students, but otherwise, pretty much a free week to settle in, get to know the campus and each other. We’ve tried to make friends with some of the kiwis on campus and everyone we’ve met so far has been SO nice and friendly. It is always hard being new, and especially temporary, because all of the students have already been here for a while and have established friends groups, but luckily, everyone has been super welcoming and interested in us new Americans.

It is the middle of Hamilton’s winter, but has been amazingly sunny - even if it’s cold, at least it’s clear. The campus is medium size, with huge sports fields/grounds, and a few small, linking lakes in the middle by the on campus eateries/shops.

As residents, we get three meals a day in our residence hall’s cafeteria. The food isn’t great, but I’m not picky.

Fun fact:
I am actually starting to LOVE Vegemite! Here there is an on-going rivalry between Vegemite and Marmite (pretty much the same), but people are very “keen” (look at me with the lingo), on one or the other… I think I’m on team Vegemite, though it is yet to be 100% determined.

One more thing: my favorite slang I’ve learned here is “sweet as,” which means cool, but you can apply it to anything… like: geez, I’m “tired as,” or our friend even said: “ooo primo as” when he found a good parking spot haha.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rafting, Raging, and Caving in Rotorua

2 July 2010:
On Friday, we had an “Adventure Day” where we had free time to do one of Rotorua’s many activities.I went white water rafting on the Kaituna (translates to fish food) River. We bundled up in fleece, thick wet suits, life vests, booties, and helmets to make the journey downstream and over the Tutea Falls, the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. It was seven meters (about 21 feet), and the boat completely disappears under the water as you careen over the falls, along with the 12-15 tons of water that rush by each second. Luckily, we bobbed back up like a buoy and didn’t tip!

Afterward, a group of us went to the Polynesians spas on the edge of the lake where we got to enjoy seven naturally heated mineral water pools, the warmest of which was 41-42 degrees Celsius (or 106-108 degrees Fahrenheit).. isn’t that illegal in the U.S.?

That night we walked to town to celebrate one of the guy's birthdays and had fun at the Lava Bar, which we had visited a previous night when we ventured into town for dinner at a Mongolian buffet and to listen to live music.

3 July 2010:
Saturday, we got to go caving at Waitomo (about 2-3 hrs away)! I tackled St. Ben’s, which is a dry cave, full of spectacular rock formations. First, after donning verrry attractive jumpsuits and double checking our harnesses (don’t worry mom ;) ) we abseiled downward through a tiny shaft to reach the cave floor, then climbed through caverns full of amazing stalactites, stalagmites, and what they call “cave bacon,” “angels’ wings,” or “cave curtains,” that look like the latter: large curtains of solidified limestone that hang from the ceiling, until reaching the adventure’s namesake: St. Benedict’s cavern.

Fun fact:
it takes 100 years for just ONE cubic centimeter of a stalactite or stalagmite to form!

There, we were instructed to switch off our headlamps and plunge into complete darkness. It is a very strange feeling. Without any light, no matter how hard they strain, your eyes simply cannot adjust to the darkness. I found myself closing my eyes because it felt more normal than the utter blackness. Then, flying through the darkness, not knowing when it will stop, we took the flying fox/zip line through the cavern! Three hours later, we emerged from the cave to bright sunlight. You know you are approaching the entrance, when you see huge grasshopper/cricket-type bugs (called wetas) littering the ceiling and walls. Ah!

For our final night, we just stayed at the hostel’s bar/lounge for some drinks and a karaoke contest. Our amazing coordinator (Cappy, a hilarious and nice Maori man) was struggling to get any takers on the whole singing thing, so when Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” came on, I decided to help him out. I think I got extra points for going first, but ended up tying for 1st with a pair who did Greese’s “Summer Nights” and won in a sing-off with Katy Perry’s “Wakin’ Up in Vegas.” Only bummer was that the $30 dollar bar tab I won was only good for that night, seeing as our bus left early the next morning, so I bought everyone a shout (round of drinks)!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Maori and the Haka

30 June 2010:
The next morning, after an early breakfast at the hotel, we took a three hour bus ride south from Auckland to Rotorua. The scenery here is incredible. It is by far the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The diversity of the plants and countryside amazes me. One moment you will be passing through the rolling hills of florescent green farmland, reminiscent of the Hobbits’ shire in Lord of the Rings, and the next plunge into a dense forest, complete with moss and giant prehistoric-looking ferns, similar to palm trees. I did not know it was possible to see trees that resemble firs, ferns/palms, shrubbery, gorse, tall oaks, and cypress along a single stretch of roadway. Seconds later, you are back to hillsides speckled with sheep. Driving up into the winding hills, you can see down into the valleys, where mist hangs low, hugging the hills like a mystical blanket. No wonder the New Zealand word for Maori is "Aotearoa" - land of the long white cloud.

Fun fact: There are more sheep in New Zealand than people, approx. 10 sheep to every one person.

We arrived in Rotorua at KiwiPaka, a backpackers hostel, set up like a complex of two story cottages, with a hot pool, kitchen/café, and bar/lounge in the center. Rotorua smells strongly of sulfur due to the geothermal activity throughout the area. You will see steam billowing out of a hole by the roadside, clouds of smoke near the river beds, and hundreds of naturally heated hot pools. A huge and gorgeous lake lies at the center of Rotorua, a favorite of tourists, as it is home to many extreme sports and an extremely strong Maori population. You cannot swim in the lake, however, because it is highly acidic.

Later that afternoon, we assembled in the lodge to learn the Haka, the traditional war dance performed by the Maori people before battle, in welcome, in celebration, or lament, such as a funeral. There are many different Hakas throughout New Zealand, but we learned “Kamate,” which is performed by the All Blacks rugby team before their matches. We learned the significance of the dance, as well as some of the movements, donned traditional outfits and applied face paint, like the Maoris’ intricate tattoos. Traditionally only men are meant to do the Haka, but we all participated, struggling to make the faces/imitate even a small fraction of the emotion and fury with which you are meant to perform this compelling war dance.

1 July 2010:
The next day, we went to Rotorua Boys High School to give back to the community. The school is 65% Maori and striving to improve this portion of their students’ academic achievement, which has been consistently lower than some of the Pakeha boys (New Zealanders of European decent). The boys conducted the traditional welcoming ceremony for us (speeches in Maori) and performed the Haka. It is amazing how intimidating it can be. One by one, we sat down with some of the Maori boys to conduct a survey and ask them about their classes, their teachers, and their goals. I was inspired by the school’s efforts to try and strengthen relationships between teachers and students, after all, one amazing teacher can make all the difference. It was a bit hard to talk to a few of the students, seeing as they are 13-year-old boys (we all know middle school as awkward) who have never met an American, let alone an American girl.

During the afternoon, I wandered into town with two girls who were going to one of the Wellington schools, and found a farmers market. Highlights: a mussel fritter cart, where they fry up gooey mussel batter like a pancake and put it on toast, and golden kiwis, a bit more tart than the fuzzy ones at home, but with an apple-like skin that you can eat without the furry mess!

That night we went to a recreated Maori village for performances and a traditional Hangi feast. Before dinner, we explored the Maori village, modeled after the way the tribe lived centuries ago. The buffet dinner was similar to that of a Hawaiian luau, except the food that is buried underground, is heated and cooked by the natural hot springs! I swear, the famous kumara (sweet potato) tastes like a classic cake doughnnut. There was a meringue/kiwi pudding-type thing for desert (kind of a strange consistency).