Monday, March 2, 2009

Getting cozy in New Zealand

Well I have continued to stay quite busy to say the least. I have been slacking on my blog entries so I have a lot to cover.
I am still enjoying New Zealand and am starting to get adjusted to the slower pace of life. Every new experience I encounter I am usually thinking, “Wow this is just like home, but better.” From coffee to ice cream to my courses, I like everything better. I even feel safer here. There are no snakes (thank God) or scary animals that could kill you like there are in Australia. People consider graffiti or knocking over a mailbox a big crime. And the local grocery stores have a real problem with shopping cart thieves. SO don’t try to steal a shopping cart from the grocery store. They have sensor magnets on the wheels that will stop the cart at the end of the parking lot and the Countdown will prosecute shopping cart stealers, not like I know from experience. Oh and a small gang started up in Christchurch a few months ago (gasp).
I’ve decided the only the only ways I have a chance of dying is by getting hit by a car or drowning in a rising river. I’ve seen two people get hit by cars in one week. It was actually quite funny to see because neither person got hurt. Cars drive like maniacs and don’t yield to pedestrians (even through they’re supposed to.) Someone tried to hit my friend Steph the other day. At first I thought, “I won’t be super mad if a car hits me because I could just sue the driver.” But then I was informed you can’t sue people. You can only claim hospital bills and the driver would face criminal charges. So I run for my bloody life when a car is heading my way.

I’ve even got used to the driving differences (I think). Everyone drives on the left side of the road and therefore walks on the left side of the sidewalk. I’ve started to get slightly irritated with people walk on the right side of the sidewalk. And I finally look the correct way when crossing the street. But I haven’t quite realized that if I want to drive I need to get in what we would call the passenger seat in America. On Saturday I got in a car for the first time. A guy told me to get in, and I accidentally got in the driver’s seat. I felt stupid so I just said, “oh I thought you wanted me to drive” and he bought my joke (I’m pretty smooth.)

The weather is so unpredictable. Sometimes you’ll see all four seasons in one day. I think since the island is so narrow, weather just moves really quickly. Like today, it was absolutely gorgeous all day and there weren’t any clouds in the sky. Then around 7 p.m. it started pouring rain. Rivers rise really fast when unexpected rain hits.

But the weather is about the only fast moving thing here. New Zealanders chose to be very meticulous in just about everything they do. If you order a latte after supper (Kiwis call dinner, tea) you will wait 20 minutes to get it because it is made and served perfectly. Just last week, a suburb of Christchurch was going to have a meeting about whether or not it should build/fund section 8 housing (which was done ages ago in the states). My lectures are even slower because they start 10 minutes late, which I love.

My courses are great. I’m actually enjoying class and pay attention. The University of Canterbury is exactly what I thought American universities would be like (but they never were). The professors treat you like adults and courses are very independent. You don’t have any busy work, just a couple of essays and one final exam. Canterbury doesn’t require you to take a bunch of stupid general studies that make you “more well rounded.” Canterbury wants you to focus on your degree and to get in and get out. When people ask me what I’m studying, I rattle off a list of courses I’m taking and they always think I am quite ambitious to study so many areas. So to stop confusing the Kiwis I’ve started to tell them I’m focusing on law and politics; I don’t want to look like an over achiever. My professors are all quite interesting, diverse and have good resumes. A Maori native teaches my NZ history course. My law course is taught by four different professors who specialize in different area that pertains to their lectures. My art history teacher is from France and has the cutest accent. My media and politics professor is from Canada and had us watch this amazingly funny clip (you must watch, the second half is the best):
I’ve never seen someone talk to a news anchor like that. haha

Journalism is a wee bit different here but still the same. I enjoy watching the news on TV because the accent makes it so much more entertaining. I saw a story about sheep (which was a lead story since there are more sheep here than people) and I saw a series of stories about teen pregnancy on the rise. I went to my first newspaper internship meeting two weeks ago. I didn’t really know what to expect. I showed up at the office early and a bit nervous. I met the editor and he introduced me to everyone. He was supposed to tell me about the paper and my duties, but he didn’t say much. I thought we would have budget meeting to assign stories, but that’s not the case. He told me to call him when I have a story idea and I will probably be able to write it. At home this would be awesome. But here, I don’t know the community well yet so I’d rather him assign me stories. I’m calling him tomorrow with a few of my ideas; we will see how it goes.

One thing that is particularly interesting about NZ is its use of natural resources. Eighty percent of NZ electricity is produced from hydroelectricity. Citizens do not have to pay for water, which is just crazy. Recently, the farmers have started to take advantage of the abundance of water and have used an excessive amount for irrigation. This has left a lower water supply for Christchurch. Since there are not restrictions on water, the government doesn’t know what to do about it.

*** My adventures…

My travel buddy is a girl named Stephanie who is from upstate New York. Her dad works for the military. He takes supplies down to Antarctica. Each time he makes a trip he gets to stop in Christchurch, so that’s why she wanted to study here.
Two weeks ago I traveled to Akaroa (aka. Crater lake) which was absolutely breath taking. Stephanie invited me to tag along with her and her father’s coworker. We had a lovely day and I was so grateful to get to go. Akaroa was formed when a volcano erupted and water from the Pacific Ocean filled the crater. We went on a boat ride and saw seals, dolphins and penguins in the wild. It was pretty amazing.

I’ve also toured the city I’m living in. Christchurch is called the city of gardens. I went to the botanic gardens and went on a bike tour around the whole city. My favorite part about Christchurch’s downtown area is probably the river that runs through the city and the botanic gardens.

This past weekend Steph and my other friend (Colleen who’s from Connecticut) went to Nelson (which is at the top of the south island.) The seven-hour bus ride was gorgeous and had so many curvy roads.
We planned to go kayaking in the Abel Tasman Sea on Saturday. The weather turned really nasty on Saturday, with high winds and lots of rain. Not the safest for kayaking, but we decided to go anyway. The company we chose to kayak with was the only one who braved it out and dominated the water. Kayaking was so intense and I felt so hardcore. I paired up with a British leader and we road the waves like it was our job (well I guess it is his job.) We even surfed a wave in the kayak and the British guy said it was the best surf he’s ever had. It was a real blast and I’m so glad we went.

*** More culture
My first week here I joined a group called operation friendship. It sounded really cheesy, but I thought it would be fun. Basically, once a month I get to go a Kiwi’s house for dinner and hang out with old people. To my surprise it was fun. The Kiwi family’s house I went to was located in Sumner. The old guy who hosted the party is a pastor for a local church and is really passionate about his Kiwi heritage. We played stupid games and at tons of food. It was definitely cheesy, but I’m glad I went.

During the first week of courses there was a club fair, just like we have at home. But the clubs here were different. Basically the reason to join a club at Canterbury is to drink. Every club booth I went to mentioned drinking. Oh and there is a drinking club. To me this was unreal. School sponsored clubs in the states would never support college-drinking habits, let along encourage them. Even the hiking club encouraged students to BYOB on the weekend hiking trips. It’s hilarious. But I understand why there is a strong drinking culture here. There is nothing to do after 5 p.m. Everything in the city is closed except for the bars.