by Josiah Brown

I’m a small-town kid from Ashland City, Tennessee. It’s here where I spent all of my school years from my first day of kindergarten to my final day of senior year. If you had asked me where I’d be for my last semester of university during my high school graduation, I would have never guessed that I’d be spending it here in New Zealand.

I remember when I first arrived at my university, my advisors told me that during my fifth year of architectural studies I’d have the option of spending a semester in New Zealand. “Whoa!” I thought. “New Zealand? That’s so far away!” Five years later and here I am in this striking new land, having the adventure of a lifetime and ending my college career in the best way I can imagine!

 

Since arriving in Aotearoa, the Māori name of New Zealand, I’ve backpacked through rainforests, tramped across mountains, summited volcanic peaks, sandboarded on giant sand dunes, swum in turquoise waters, gazed at more stars than I knew existed, and explored more idyllic coves than I can count. There’s so much beauty in this country and spending a semester here is the perfect opportunity to get out and see it! I arrived about a month before my semester started so there was plenty of time to do a road trip around with a friend from back home. Then, a two-week mid-semester break gave me another chance to explore with my new friends from Unitec. Of course, as long as you stay on top of your assignments, there’s always chances to travel on the weekends. Just this past Saturday, I kayaked through a sea cave into a hidden lagoon on a jungle-covered island. Where else in the world do you have the chance to do that? Only in New Zealand!

As amazing as it’s been since I got here, choosing to study in New Zealand wasn’t the easiest decision to make. Besides the hassle of having to fill out all the visa paperwork and making sure my courses could transfer, my biggest hesitancy was the thought of being away from friends and family for six months. “What if I go and I spend the whole time watching my friends live their lives back home, wishing I was with them and not halfway around the world?” “What if it’s not as exciting as it sounds?” “What if I don’t make any friends while I’m there?” These were my reservations, but I’m so glad they didn’t stop me from coming.

It turns out I didn’t need to worry about anything. One of the most surprising and rewarding things about my semester at Unitec has been the incredible community I’ve gotten to be a part of here. I live just off campus in the residential village where many of the other international students live. I have four flatmates, each from a different country. One’s from Vanuatu in the Pacific Islands, one is from the UK, one is a native New Zealander, and the other is from China. Together with some of the other apartments, we’ve formed a tight-knit community that has made this distant land feel so much more like home. Our self-titled “International Fam” shares meals regularly, has movie nights way too often, explores Auckland when we’re not in class, and takes weekend trips whenever we can.

 

This weekend I’m running my first-ever marathon (why not, am I right?) in Hawke’s Bay, and everyone has decided to come along and cheer me on at the finish. This is what spending a semester in New Zealand is all about – getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, growing as a person, and making life-long friends along the way.

If you’re still trying to decide whether or not to study in New Zealand or overseas, here are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want to be challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone?
  • Am I going to regret passing up on this opportunity if I decide against it?
  • Am I ever going to be able to do this again?
  • Do I want to have amazing stories to tell my grandkids some day?

If answering these questions leads you to believe that a semester abroad is right for you, then start filling out the paperwork! Home will be there when you get back, after all, and a semester overseas isn’t something you want to miss out on.