I wanted to experience a whole new culture and discover more about myself.
Bachelor of Engineering Technology
Tane Leilua is a third-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology (Civil) student who was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to study abroad in Finland for two months at the Lappeenranta University of Technology.
“When I first heard about the opportunity to study abroad, I was a bit hesitant. I had never studied in another country before. However that is why I decided to go.
“When I first touched down in Finland, there was an immediate culture shock. It was -28 degrees and for the majority of the time the place was pitch black as the sun rose at 9am and set around 3pm. This certainly took me while to get used to as I had just left from a New Zealand summer. Due to this, the first week was quite tough but after that it felt like home. I started to meet new friends and get into a normal routine, which consisted of going for walks around the frozen lakes, class, then into town for a look around the shops before topping the night off with a sauna.”
Located a three-hour train ride from the capital of Finland, Helsinki, Lappeenranta University of Technology where Tane studied, has an intake of around 220 exchange students.
“It was great for me as a new student as it meant I wasn’t alone in the first few weeks.”
“While studying in Finland, I was also fortunate enough to get a bit of travelling done around Europe in the weekends. This was definitely up there as the most enjoyable part of the trip. It was so cheap to travel around and I got to meet so many amazing people from all over the world which was just awesome.
“Looking back at my trip, I not only gained an education and an amazing impression of Finland and the other countries that I went to, but I also gained friendships and contacts all over the world. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.
“So for anyone a bit hesitant or unsure if study abroad is right for you, I would say just do it. It’s an amazing opportunity that you would regret wasting.”
My time spent in the Netherlands was the best time of my life.
Bachelor of Applied Science (Physical Activity, Health and Wellness)
Sarah Mathewson recently completed a five month student exchange in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, studying sports at Fontys University of Applied Sciences.
Arriving in Eindhoven for the fall semester of August to January, Sarah stepped outside of her comfort zone and experienced first-hand what life is like on the other side of the world.
“I had never been to a non-English speaking country before so it was a real culture shock getting used to hearing different languages being spoken around you all of the time and not being able to understand what people were talking about. Fortunately, the Netherlands is one of the best countries in Europe in regards to English as a second language.”
Sarah chose to rent a studio apartment in the Netherlands with her own bedroom, kitchen and bathroom in a building full of mainly international students.
“I absolutely loved it, but this luxury did cost more than other options although it included power and hot water. Thankfully I was eligible for a government rental allowance which reduced my costs to 416 euros per month (approximately $680).
“The study was very interesting but challenging too. The course consisted of three cumulative theory exams, one very large movement analysis project and one gym practical exam based on both coaching and execution of Olympic lifts, as well as a coaching based internship. Although it was a lot of hard work, looking back now it was the best thing for me.”
After completing her semester abroad, Sarah chose to lengthen her trip to explore Europe. Some of the highlights of her travel were visiting a range of European cities including Munich, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Zurich, Prague, Warsaw, Copenhagen, and London, staying in hostels making new friends and discovering the history of each city through free walking tours.
“I spent a long time weighing up whether I should go on exchange or not. However, making the decision to go was the best decision I have made in my life so far. I have not only learnt a lot in relation to study I have learnt more than I could ever imagined about myself, and my perspective on life. My recommendation to other students is to take advantage of every single opportunity that is offered to you, have an open mind and ask questions if you need help.”
James Willocks, 26, found his dream job and the love of his life, all as a result of a study abroad opportunity provided by Otago Polytechnic.
While studying the Graduate Diploma in Physical Conditioning at Otago Institute of Sports and Adventure, James was offered the chance of a lifetime to study in the United States and gain a one-year internship coaching athletes at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New England.
“It was this hands-on experience that my previous university study lacked that Otago Polytechnic delivered on. I actually got to do the work rather than just learn about the theory. It was a privilege gaining real-world experience and seeing the students that I coached grow as athletes and as people”.
As part of his time abroad, James also had the opportunity to explore a lot of the United States. He visited Texas and Ohio and every state on the East Coast from Maine all the way down to Florida. “I 100 per cent recommend this experience: Look at where it gets you and the opportunities it presents. The relationships you create last a lifetime”.
Speaking of relationships, James has since married an American girl, and been offered a permanent job at Dartmouth College.
Moving forward, James is keen to progress his career further and hopefully have a chance to visit the West Coast of USA.
It was a good experience, and I got to meet people from around the world and exchange stories.
Bachelor of Information Technology
Bachelor of Information Technology student Lachlan Rutherford wanted to experience the world, so in 2014 he spent the second semester at Reutlingen University of Applied Sciences in the southwest of Germany. Reutlingen can trace its roots back to the 5th and 6th centuries but today it is a modern industrial centre of more than 110,000 in habitants.
“The main thing I worried about was the language. It turns out they speak English and they want to help you; everyone’s there to help you, so it’s really good.” Lachlan had taken a German speaking course at the beginning of the semester as he had wanted to respect the language and try to learn the basics. This course turned out to be one of the best places to meet other students that were similarly new to Germany.
Reutlingen University is very small and mainly specialises in Business. More than 20% of students at Reutlingen University come from outside Germany and one of the many highlights for Lachlan was the University’s international programme. The program is designed to learn about the culture of Germany including first-hand experience visiting the Mercedes Car Factory.
Lachlan has now made connections all over the world, including unbreakable friendships. He managed to make very good use of the time by balancing study with travel. “We went to Berlin, Stuttgart, and then with those same guys we branched out to go to other places like Budapest, Prague and Spain. It was really good!”
For Lachlan, going on Study Abroad was everything he hoped it would be and more. He would highly recommend this opportunity to anyone that wants a change in their own lifestyle and make a difference. It is what you make of it.
There were a lot of culture shocks and challenges involved but that’s where I got most of my learning and I wouldn’t take it back for anything.
Bachelor of Social Services
Bachelor of Social Services graduate, Jamalia Henderson, wanted to get some experience behind her before entering the workforce so she undertook a four month Otago Polytechnic Graduate Internship to China.
“Travelling is always something I’ve wanted to do and this seemed like a great opportunity to get some career experience and life experience and travel at the same time.”
Jamalia’s internship was at Linyi University in the province of Shandong, teaching oral English to freshman students.
“I certainly had a lot of support, contact and advice about teaching from Otago Polytechnic while I was over there, especially in the first few weeks which were a bit testing, which was really good.”
Her internship included paid airfares to and from New Zealand, free accommodation, a living away allowance and a living wage. She was only required to work a four day week which allowed her to spend the other three days travelling around China.
“I got to go to the Great Wall, spend time in the countryside and just be a tourist every week so it was really fantastic. I’d absolutely recommend that Otago Polytechnic students apply for this internship and I think it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
I signed up with no experience travelling anywhere apart from Australia but on my exchange I was able to meet so many new friends.
Bachelor of Engineering Technology
Michael Ryan has always been envious of students that have the chance to study abroad so when the opportunity arose for him to complete a semester abroad as part of his Bachelor of Engineering Technology (Civil) programme, he immediately signed up. 19 year old Michael chose to study in Finland on a winter school exchange at Lappeenranta University of Technology.
Located 4 hours north of Helsinki, Lappeenranta University was “awesome” according to Michael.
“The university has a cafeteria where all students can eat together throughout the day, plus two gyms, indoor sporting courts, a sauna and even an underground night club! The campus has a really green approach too and uses renewable energy.”
Michael shared an apartment with a 24-year old Russian student who was doing a Doctorate in Mechanics and each night him and Michael would stay up late sharing stories from their home countries. “He became one of my best friends and we still keep in touch often via social media,” says Michael.
While on exchange, Michael was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to travel around Europe and also to Asia and South America, meeting lots of interesting people and experiencing many countries.
“Having this chance given to me by Otago Polytechnic has been unbelievable and helped me grow in confidence, character and culture. To anyone thinking about participating in an exchange, I would say just grab it by two hands and run with it. You will have an amazing time and you never know, you might even catch the travel bug.”
If it's somewhere you've never been before, the destination doesn't matter. It's all about the experience. For anyone considering this kind of trip, my response is to borrow a few words from Nike. Just do it.
Bachelor of Applied Management
As part of his Bachelor in Applied Management at Otago Polytechnic, Dean Cowie recently embarked on an exchange semester at Hochschule Harz in Germany. More formally known as the Harz University of Applied Sciences, this is situated in the small German village of Wernigerode.
While on exchange, Dean and his fellow exchange students – having come from the USA, South Africa, Morocco, Scandinavia, and all over Europe – quickly formed something of a family. Near the end of his semester in Germany, Dean wrote, “We’re here with common goals, we’ve had many classes together, and we’ve done so much together as a group that the only word left for us is family.”
His comfort zone safely tucked away back in Dunedin, Dean took the opportunity to embark on many new experiences, including being part of the dance put on by the exchange students as part of Harz’s International Evening.
On the academic side, Dean discovered a passion for a new subject, and was able to use an existing passion in a challenging environment. "I decided I’d best step up so I took on a leadership role.” This was for a paper called Project Management, where Dean scored a 1.0 – the highest possible grade. And that existing passion? Children. Dean needed thirty credits out of his semester, so he chose to get five of them for going to kindergartens and playing with the children.
Overall, Dean describes the trip as his greatest adventure thus far, but wouldn’t go back. “These kinds of experiences are about the people, not the places. And with having had a chance to go Berlin, Nuremberg, and Hanover – and further afield, Paris and London – I feel like I’ve done Europe. There’s a lot of other places left to see in this world.”
Cameron Scott arrived in Europe two months early for his exchange at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. This allowed Cameron a decent amount of time to travel and experience different cultures before settling down to study.
The title of the course Cameron studied in Rotterdam was called “Design innovation for one billion people” and covered design thinking, trend watching, design psychology, conception, design principles and prototype iterations.
“We could pick any type of innovation we wanted so long as it was an innovation that could reach one billion people. Coming from studying the Bachelor of Information Technology at Otago Polytechnic I was a little out of my comfort zone. I was expected to be proficient in programmes such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. It definitely taught me to be more self-directed in my learning.
“My class was made up of a mixture of Dutch students and exchange students. We often had trips to other European cities as part of our studies including Antwerp, Brussels and Barcelona.
“One thing I discovered was how cheap it was to live in Europe. Food in the Netherlands is much cheaper than in New Zealand and I was able to survive off 40 Euro a week if I played my cards right. Travel is also very affordable with cheap airlines such as Ryan Air. I managed to snag a ticket to London from Eindhoven for just 10 Euro.
“Going on an exchange was the best thing I have ever done. Travelling definitely helped broaden my mind and it was fun to experience the cultural differences such as biking everywhere or being greeted with a kiss on the cheek.
“My recommendation to others would be if you decide to go an exchange make sure to go the extra mile to meet people and talk with people you think you might get on with. That will help you have the most exciting experience possible.”