Did You Know

  • Taiaroa Head, on the Otago Peninsula, is the world’s only mainland breeding colony of the Royal Albatross, large majestic seabirds with a wingspan of 3 metres.
  • Dunedin is home to the world’s rarest penguin, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin or ‘Hoiho’.
  • Dunedin Botanic Garden is New Zealand’s first botanic garden.
  • Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world.
  • Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle.
  • University of Otago is New Zealand’s oldest university and the first in New Zealand to admit women to all their classes.
  • Otago Girls High School is the longest established girls’ high school in the Southern Hemisphere and said to be the sixth oldest in the world.
  • New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame is, in effect, New Zealand’s national sports museum, the only one of its kind in the country representing New Zealand’s greatest sporting achievements.
  • Dunedin Railway Station is arguably the most photographed building in New Zealand.
  • Lake Sutton in Middlemarch is New Zealand’s only inland saltlake.
  • The City of Dunedin is geographically the largest city in New Zealand at 3350 square kilometres.

Overview of Dunedin

My first month in New Zealand has been pretty hectic and I’m starting to learn more about the culture which is great. 

In Dunedin there are a number of cool things to do. First there are all the touristy things like take a tour of the Cadbury factory, Speight’s Brewery, a visit to the tropical indoor rainforest at the Otago Museum or the Moeraki Boulders or to one of the many nearby beaches for a spot of penguin-watching.

Then there are classes and workshops aimed at students, from African drumming to Japanese sword fighting. For a more Kiwi experience you could join a Maori language class, take up flax weaving or bone carving.

The main street in the town is George Street. At the start of George Street (the end closest to campus) you are spoilt for choice if you like Asian food. I especially recommend a Thai Restaurant called Thai Over, but also check out Indian Spice in the Meridian Mall food court for a great curry and at a very reasonable price too ($13 for a korma, gralic nan and bottle of coke – that’s less than 6 pounds!).

Dancing seems to be a popular social thing in Dunedin with as much men going to salsa classes as women so living in the town gives you the perfect opportunity to learn!

Most bars are situated around the Octagon, but drinks are quite expensive. My favourite one for environment and decor is definitely Pequeno, but Metro is not bad either and more reasonably priced. The Bog is an Irish Bar and the Rabbie Burns is a Scottish bar, but The Rabbie Burns seems to cater for the older clientele, they have free Jazz on Thursday evenings if you like that sort of thing. Another Scottish bar, The Scotia, has won awards for the large selection of whisky on offer. There’s a great pool bar opposite the town hall. If you’re feeling lucky, there is also a casino where George Steet and Princes Street meet (on the main street in town).

Life is pretty laid back here, that comes with advantages and disadvantages. Political correctness is much less prevalent than in the UK which makes for some amusing moments. An ad on the back of a bus selling holidays read “Bugger off for bugger all”, which is tame compared to daytime TV. There doesn’t seem to be any watersheds and swearing on TV in the morning is not unusual, apparently the word w***er was said on a breakfast programme recently. The laid back culture also means that policies and rules are not rigidly enforced, and if you feel hard done by as a customer here, don’t bother trying to complain – it’s a waste of time and you won’t win. The customer is not always right in Dunedin.

If you drink coffee, then it is neccessary to invest in a plunger. You won’t get much instant here, but that’s good, the coffee is much better when done in a plunger, I’ve been converted. There’s no shortage of coffee shops either. Apart from the token Starbucks, the rest are independent places. I especially like Modak’s Espresso and Delicacy which is up the hill and a bit of town. Also Fix It is supposed to be a great take-away coffee place, and Fluid is meant to be worth going to too, although I’ve never tried them. If you have transport, make a trip to the esplonade at St. Clair Beach where there is a great coffee shop called Starfish, some say the best in Dunedin. If you’re a vegetarian, you might need to be a bit ‘flexible’. New Zealand is a very meat and seafood-oriented country. Fishing and shooting are very popular pastimes amongst locals. Circadian Rhythym cafe is the main vegetarian hang-out with often live entertainment too.

Anytime that I miss that famous Scottish delicacy, fish ‘n’ chips (lol), I go to Squiddy’s for my tea. It’s just down from the uni library and does THE BEST fish ‘n’ chips in Dunedin in my opinion! Battered blue cod sprinkled with lemon and pepper….. mmmmm! It’s enough to cause any veggie to fall off the wagon!

There is a huge Pacific Island and Asian influence in Dunedin (good news for foodies). Although there seems to be political tension between Maori and Kiwi’s of European descent in New Zealand, all cultures and ethnicities manage to live side-by-side in Dunedin. Most crime is actually committed by international students who come to party (there was an infamous Toga party here last year which was very destructive and resulted in students being expelled), or during the Undie-500 weekend.

Everyone runs in Dunedin and it definitely beats the treadmill at the gym. If you enjoy hiking, tramping, walking or running, invest in a book called From Sea to Silver Peaks – a comprehensive guide to tracks around Dunedin with easy-to-follow directions. I run for about 5 km and find the tracks around Ross Creek very pleasant. The Botanic Gardens are impressive and worth checking out, especially in October when all the rhododendrons are in bloom. There’s a nice aviary at the top too with Kea, Kaka and other birds.

The following website I found is a really useful reference guide to Dunedin: http://www.dunedinnz.com/Home/VisitorInformation/tabid/240/language/en-GB/Default.aspx

Beware! After the exams in December, very few students hang around. They go home or go travelling. As a result, the place becomes a ghost town during the NZ summer (Dec-Feb) and because of this, many coffee shops (i.e. Fluid), cafes (i.e. Squiddy’s fish ‘n’ chip shop) and bars (K-World karaoke bar) will readily close up for 3 months until the students return, so unless you have any particular reason to stay in Dunedin this is the best time to go exploring further afield.

  • Mount Cargill – highest point in dunedin
  • Fleur’s restuarant – one of NZ’s best restaurants
  • Jaffa race

Tick Tock

Time is passing quicker than I’d like it to…… not long until I have to start saying my goodbyes. Only four weeks until my flight now. Every time I meet friends I have to do a mental check to see if it’s the last time I’ll see them before next summer. Aaaah! But I’m actually really excited. I know I’ll miss my friends and family a lot but I have to focus on what I’ll be gaining, not what I’m missing out on. I’ve been speaking to people that have spent time in Hong Kong and they’ve been telling me about places I should go to and stuff. I joined a group on facebook called ‘Study abroad in Hong Kong 2009-1010’ and have already arranged a night out in Hong Kong with the people on that. It’s all starting to feel really real, in a really good way.

I’ve booked a one way flight, partly just because it sounds more exciting that way – if I’m honest, but also partly because I want to jump in the deep end. I want to throw myself into this year and not look back. If I’m stranded in Asia over Christmas I have a feeling a lot more exciting things will happen than if I trudge back to Scotland just to end up watching the fireworks in Edinburgh again, with wet shoes and socks, again, and then having to say good bye to all my friends and family, again. So I’m going to stick around and see what pies I can get my fingers stuck in!

I’ve been given a place in Lee Hysan Hall, which was my third choice. It’s a bus ride from the main campus but it’s right beside the gym (which is free!) and some other halls and there are frequent shuttle buses. Apparently it’s being refurbished right now and it’s the only one which is co-educational (allows men and women to stay in rooms on the same floor) – how very 21st century. I’m still a bit ambivalent about staying in halls instead of getting a flat, because I really like to do things my own way, but the price difference has left me with no choice. It’s less than £400 for a semester in halls and about the same amount for only a month in a private flat. You do have to share a room… but it’s all part of the experience I suppose! Got to embrace it. 

Had a bit of a problem with the ol’ visa. I opted to do it through the Chinese embassy instead of letting CEDARS (the Hong Kong University Centre for Development and Resources for Students) sort it all out for me because I thought it was going to be cheaper. This way I just had to pay about £30 so they would send me a letter of acceptance in Chinese and so they would ‘sponsor’ me for the study visa but no the other £50 for them to liaise with the Hong Kong Immigration Department on my behalf and sort the whole thing out. I’ve been to the Chinese Consulate in Edinburgh before to get my visa when I went to mainland China so I thought it would be easier this way – and I could save some money. Silly me. Basically the extra £50 is the price of the visa so I would end up paying the same amount either way. And I ended up with a bit of a panic because the lady at the Chinese consulate told me I’d be quicker to post it straight to the HK Immigration Department and, of course, my application got lost in the post. I didn’t find this out in enough time to get my visa before my flight (processing time is six weeks, I only had five) and I spent ages in a telephone queue to the visa hotline in the middle of the night!

Silly me. It turns out my British passport entitles me to three months stay in Hong Kong as a tourist and I can get my visa sorted once I’m there so there’s no need to worry. Plus, once I collect my visa in Hong Kong I have to make a trip out to Macau so that my visa can be activated on the way back in to HK. This simply means that I have a very valid excuse for a trip to Macau – which is essentially the Las Vegas of China. So everything is hunky dory.

Also started to get a bit worried about health insurance prices earlier this month until I spoke to the current GU ambassador in HK, Andrzej, on facebook. He told me not to bother with health insurance until I get there because apparently I will be bombarded with leaflets and information on arrival. I have an annual multi-trip travel insurance policy which I took out for a trip I made earlier this year anyway so that should cover me if I have any problems in the first few weeks. Couldn’t think of anything else to worry about after that…… need to buy some sunglasses….. Continue reading

4 weeks to go…

It’s now just 4 weeks today that I’m due to leave for Boston so I thought this an appropriate time to leave my first post and fill you in on all that I’ve been doing up until now.

It all began early in the first semester of second year when I attended the study abroad fair. I had been considering a year abroad for a some time but the fair allowed an opportunity to view many of the universities available and gain information about the exchange from people who had been abroad for the year before. I would very much recommendattending the fair for anyone considering the programme both internationally or within Europe. Since then the its been a rapid fire journey applying for the exchange, choosing a university to apply to, organising flights and obtaining a visa which has taken me to here 4 weeks away from actually leaving and it’s hard for me to believe! 

The main things I have done recently were booking flights and getting a visa (I was no exception, it was a horribly taxing process!). Flights to Boston were fairly expensive, although I didn’t actually book them until the exam results were published, just to be sure, and that maybe resulted in prices being a little higher than they would have been had I booked earlier. Anyway a one way flight is about £340 but I just booked a return to come back for Christmas which cost just over £500 which I thought was better than getting two singles!  I leave on the 18th of August which gives me around 3 weeks before the start of term to acclimatise and get myself settled etc.

The visa process, as expected, was very arduous. Firstly you have to wait for the exchange university to send you an I-20 which allows you to apply for an F-1 student visa (some universities provide DS-2019 forms for M-1 student visas). Once I had this I had to fill in three other separate forms on line (DS-156,DS-157 (guys only) and DS-158) which were rather repetitive and sometimes amusing with some of the outrageous questions they ask. Once you have all these forms you have to pay a compulsory $200 SEVIS fee for one reason or another. After you do all this you are ready to apply for interview. You can only do this in Belfast or London for US visas. I went to London because the waiting time for an appointment date was much shorter. Of course there is another $130 appointment fee that has to be paid first. You are also required an American sized passport photo, I piked these up relatively easily in a wee shop in London on the day. When you arrive at the embassy (without any electronic items and hopefully no cuts on your fingers as they take fingerprints) you get given a ticket for interview. I was surprised to be called so quickly after about 10 minutes of arriving but this was just the pre-interview checks. I was told to take a seat and wait for my interview which was over 2 hours later, and even then I think that was pretty quick compared to some other people! Once that was all finished the visa actually came through within the week which was very good but I can tell you that it’s not a process I wish to have to go through again.

As yet I do not have any accommodation for next year as I was told that on-campus accommodation was very rare for international students and so I chose to live off-campus. The university has a useful website listing people who are looking for students to rent accommodation in Boston. It provides information on rates, housing descriptions and a little bit about the people you will be sharing with which is all very useful. I’m hoping to get a couple of viewings set up soon for when I go over there.

That’s been my journey up until now and I’m very excited for next year. Not really had any major worries up until now but maybe all the worrying is getting saved for the final few days before departure! Hopefully by then I will have a little more idea of my housing arrangements and what to expect when I’m over there.

Talk soon

Craig

Part two – The Housing Debate

Halls  v Rented Accomodation

 

It is one of the most complexed choices each exchange student must make but I feel I am in one of the best situations to judge as I have had an experience of both as I spent 3 nights in temporary accomodation in halls of residence and this is my 3rd night in my new permanent home.

I moved into St. Leo’s for 3 nights whilst waiting to move in to the house I had found through the UQ rentals website because I felt I needed my own space and I was spending most days at uni anyway (so much so that I used up my monthly internet allowance). I was remarkably impressed by the standard of residential accomodation from past experience of halls in Scotland. The rooms were fine with well kept toilet and shower facilities down the corridor. The amenities were superb – there was a gym, tennis courts, basketball courts, pool tables and common area. The food, in particular, was outstanding with three healthy meals with various options provided every day. The halls are not without disadvantages, most notably price on the yearly basis. I found that on first look I was staggered by the price and so that made private housing a more suitable alternative. I  found meal times were unrealistic as dinner was served between 5 and 6 and then there was no food or cooking facilities available until 7 the next morning. This meant people coming in late for dinner would often have to make their own alternatives or go without. In my opinion the private accoomodation I have arranged is much more suitable. I have my own room with ensuite and a pool and bbq for $190 per week. This may seem expensive but given the standard of the apartment and location it is fair. You can find cheaper alternatives further away from uni but I am literally 300 m away and the price is much cheaper than that of halls. Many people argue there is a better social network within halls. I cannot really comment as when I arrived it was fairly empty as many of the students had not yet returned for the semester but I find living in an house has actually provided a good social group as well. I live with two danish guys (and have met a number of danes), a singaporean and a chinese guy. People are always friendly and it is so close to halls in any case I have met people from halls around campus as well. Therefore my advice regarding housing is to decide what you want and what you need and use the options provided by the university whether it is applying to halls or using the rentals database. After all it does determine where you will be living for the next few months at least so it is an important decision and one that shouldn’t be rushed.

Part one – settling in

Ok, so I have been in Brisbane now for around a week and a half and it is the start of orientation week. When I arrived I was picked up at the airport by a guy called Lucius. This airport pickup can be arranged free through the uni so look into it because it was a life saver as I arrived at 2 o’clock in the morning. I was spending my first 6 nights in a youth hostel in the West End. In hindsight this was probably not the best thing to do because on a map it looks close to the uni but unfortunately there is a big river running through Brisbane which doesn’t make it ideal to get to uni so if you are planning on staying in a hostel pick one with good transport links. Luckily enough one of the girls in my room showed me where to get the CityCat and from there it was a doddle. The CityCat is a ferry service run by the council that goes from Apollo Road to UQ stopping at many points in the city so it’s really handy to get to uni. Not taking any advice (obviously) on how to get over jet-lag I headed straight to uni after 4 hours sleep. Once there I went to the accomodation office and I was given advice and what I should get done such as getting a matric card, what orientation lectures were compulsory etc. They also run compulsory getting started and safety information sessions along with useful accomodation sessions so the best thing is to evaluate what you need and want to attend once you arrive. However, try to get your matric card as soon as possible as it allows 50% of all public transport in southern Queensland. It’s fairly easy to do as UQ have a desk for that purpose in the library. 

As I was around the university frequently I managed to get a lot of things done early and so I am not left rushing around in orientation week. Books are quite expensive out here (mainly due to the weakness of the £) so I found 3 of 4 in the second hand bookshop on campus. There is also another bookshop which provides new copies if the second hand shop does not have what you require.

I also had to signon to classes. In Australia class sizes are much larger than back home and so what happens is that one half of the class attend one lecture and the other half attend another at different times. I therefore had to signon and choose the class to suit my timetable the best for all subjects. Be aware that classes do run on till 10 o’clock at night out here so make sure you sign on promptly.

I am, therefore, feeling quite content now that I am settled and no longer living out of a suitcase and looking forward to starting uni for a change. I must admit it is lonely for the first few days especially when campus is relatively deserted as it is outwith term time but once you get through that phase things get a lot better. Anyway orientation continues tomorrow with the international students welcome and BBQ which should be good but I’ll post next week with how orientation and classes went.

P.S. I now have a camera and will try take some photos so keep an eye on Flikr or whatever photo thing we are using

Much love

Mikey

Social stuff before start of semester

Went to see Bruno with a large group of international students this week – I’m making no comment about the film here!

Taeiri Gorge railway trip was awesome, great scenery and we were treated to a delicious barbeque!

My flatwarming was “sweet as” (local lingo, means ‘very good’). I was “stoked” (happy) that my Scottish-style cocktail sticks and other nibbles went down well. Many people came representing so many different countries and cultures including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, America, Holland, Poland, Belgium and France. It was great to have such an interesting mix of personalities relaxing and socialising in my place, and I loved being the hostess! Everyone was thanking me for throwing such a good party 🙂 And nothing got broken or trashed – always a bonus!

Apart from everyone having a good time, it was clear to me that boundaries and stereotypes were broken and new friendships were made. A very rewarding night!

I’ve just returned from a cruise around Taiaroa Head, a nature reserve around the Otago Peninsula, and was lucky to see Southern Royal albatross adults in flight, circling the boat thinking it was a fishing vessel and looking for things to scavenge. Because they are scavengers, they are tempted by the bait hooked on to long-line fishing lines, become tangled and trapped, and drown. Long-line fishing kills around 100,000 albatross every year.

I also saw Northern Royal albatross chicks nesting on the ground – the only albatross species in the world that nests on a mainland, New Zealand sea lions, and fur seals.

Yesterday the timetables came out and I’ve just had a look at mine. I’m going to have a very busy semester 😦