Aotearoa. Land of the long white cloud. New Zealand. No matter how you say it, it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
In 2009, for my second term in my second year of law school, I decided it would be a nifty idea to head to the other side of the world to see how things are done where they wear “jandals” in the summer and “beanies” in the winter (and I use the term “winter” loosely here).
But I’m not your run of the mill 20-something single student with a passport in one hand and hostel guide in the other. I’m a mature student with two kids, a husband, mortgage, car, two dogs and responsibilities you can only dream about.
Before our adventure began, my husband and I sat down and made up our budget. How were we going to do this and deal with his job? After all, how do you convince your boss to let you go away for seven months, keep your job and pay you while you’re away? It’s a delicate process for sure but my husband works in IT and was able to work on projects and remain in daily contact with his office.
So we made up our budget, looked at the final number and then looked at it again. Why were there so many zeros on the end? How in the world were we going to do this? Well, it really came down to one question: Did we see the benefit in the experience? We did.
Organizing a trip to the other side of the world when you are 20 is one thing. Organizing a trip for four, finding someone to care for your dogs, renting your house, selling your car and finding a place to rent on the other side of the world is another matter. It was months of preparation.
Our home for six months.
If we could have done one thing differently, we wouldn’t have rented out our home. It was not worth it financially and having someone in your home is a risk. It may be your home and you may recognize the worth of that, but he or she is a “tenant” with all of the entitlements that go with that designation. If you can swing it and don’t want to leave the house empty, get a house sitter you know you can trust.
If you are planning to go on exchange, talk to people who have been there already because too many times you hear these amazing stories of the easy term they enjoyed. Well, that’s not always the way things work out. I went to the University of Canterbury and they had high standards. It was just as much work as I was used to at the U of S, and it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an “easy A.”
Talk to someone who’s been there, ask about the realistic cost of living, do your homework and have a plan for when you get there. When I started, I made contact with my professors and academic support staff to get the lay of the land. It was also extremely helpful so that when things did come up I wasn’t introducing myself half way through the term.
If you’ve come to what you believe to be a reasonable budget, add another 25 per cent at least for the things you didn’t think about. Also, plan for the possibility that you may have to come home early. We had to and it cost us to change our tickets. Plan for it. If you don’t have to, great, but keep it in mind and keep enough room on your credit card for emergencies. Upon our arrival back in Canada I was reaching for my wallet to go scout out a Timmies when my husband took me gently by the hand and said, “Don’t use the credit card.” We basically limped into port on fumes.
Most of what we did took a lot of planning and organization. We read books, charted out a route we would take and checked out an amazing website that sold, traded, and rented everything we might need while in New Zealand.
Our first night we booked a hotel and then moved to a campsite the next day to save money. We took all of our own camping gear and bought a car. The four of us lived in a tent for six weeks before the kids started school and we moved into our little furnished bach (the Kiwi term for cottage) by the beach we had arranged to rent before we got there (but did not sign anything or enter into any agreement until we actually saw the place).
My final piece of advice is to just do it. Go. It was a life changing experience for my whole family, and even though we have a bruised and battered credit card (get one with Air Miles) and our well trained dog’s bad habits I would rather not discuss, it was amazing. Our kids experienced a different school and made friends I know they will have forever and we learned what it was like to own wet suits and live by the beach.
If you are a mature student with a family and believe that the time for such adventures has passed, then think again. If anything, we realized the amazing opportunity we were having and took advantage of every moment. We went to museums, festivals, walks and took surfing lessons. I learned that there are worms that glow in caves and that my kids (ages eight and 10) can walk 40 kilometres in three days carrying their own gear. It had its challenges and it was difficult to be away from family, but in the end it was an experience that changed our lives and taught my kids that the world is smaller than they thought.
We are presently organizing our next trip to Europe.
Article from the University of Saskatchewan Exchange and Study Abroad Office.