I just finished my mid-year winter break and tomorrow I begin classes for my second semester studying in New Zealand. It’s truly a wild time with coming out of lockdown, just returning from a 12-day road trip, concerned and anxious about the future of the US (and how that effects if/when I’ll return home…), and now starting a new and very unique semester.
Lockdown was hard, but these past two weeks of winter break have me feeling at least a bit regenerated and ready to make the most of my second term of study. I had posted in our hall’s Facebook group asking for suggestions of how I should spend the break and also suggesting I’d love travel buddies if anyone was interested. Two other girls in the hall, whom I hadn’t previously met, responded to my post and we ended up deciding to go on a road trip of the north island. We rented a camper van and spent 12 days traveling to Hastings, Taupo, National Park, New Plymouth, and Hawera amongst other stops. Along the way, we went on hikes to see waterfalls, played in the snowy mountains, watched sunsets and sunrises, explored cities and their op shops (second-hand stores), ate lots of homemade meat pies and “real fruit ice cream”, took tons of pictures and videos, and even watched the entire Twilight movie series. It was a great time, even despite me remembering yet again that I really don’t like hiking and yet somehow keep finding myself saying yes to situations where I do a good bit of it… I’m honestly exhausted from all the adventures and was very happy to spend last night in a heated room with a real bed after a long shower, but I also finally feel like I’m starting to experience more of what New Zealand has to offer and am even more appreciative of how New Zealand handled the pandemic in a way that allows me to safely have a more normal semester 2.
This semester I’m only taking 4 courses – the fewest amounts of courses I’ve taken pretty much ever in my life – and 3/4 courses are humanities/social science-based which is also very different from my norm being a business student that attends a tech school. I’m taking a philosophy course entitled “The Big Questions”, social psychology, an interdisciplinary online course called “Great Ideas” about revolutions, rebellions, and ideas that dramatically changed the world, and my one business course is strategic management. At this point, all I’ve done is explore the online platforms/course outlines for all of my courses and watched one short video in preparation for an assignment I have due Friday, but already I’m really excited about this particular mix of classes. I think it will be really valuable to my education to get to spend more time diving into some humanities and social sciences topics that I’ve not gotten much exposure to since starting college.
This semester will also be unique because I’ll have a lot more “free time” then I’ve had in the past and probably more than I’ll ever have in the future. Typically I would take at least 5 classes a semester to stay balanced and on track for graduating in 8 semesters. However, with the way my host school does registration, I would be above the max credit hours per semester if I added a course, so I opted to take the courses I was more interested in and I’ll just deal with a heavier workload when I return to GT. The past few semesters I’ve also been working at least 10 hours a week coaching gymnastics, plus sometimes being involved with research, and usually involved with 1-3 theater productions throughout the year. Currently, in New Zealand, I’ve not been nearly as involved with any of these other responsibilities. I’ve been helping some with gymnastics work I can do remotely (like scheduling and editing music). I’m still doing video chats with research teams and helping with building out virtual and in-person curriculum for future workshops. There aren’t theater productions at my host school sadly, but I’ve joined a dance club and go to adult gymnastics classes once a week each. But my involvement in non-school activities, in general, is significantly decreased from past semesters. Honestly, I think it’s going to feel a bit weird at first with having less scheduled time in my day – I even have a three day weekend every week with my current schedule. I’m thinking I might attempt to a bit more traveling/exploring in the country with this time, though travel is still a bit challenging post-COVID. Hopefully, good things come from this extra flex time since it’s probably the only time I’ll have so much of it pretty much ever.
Overall, there’s part of me that can’t believe break is over already considering how stressful the past few months were, but I also feel excited about what’s to come. This semester will be very different from my past years of education, much more theoretical academically speaking and more flexible in regards to scheduling, but I think a changeup is exactly what’s needed entering the first semester since lockdown.
I’m very curious and concerned for the US though as it seems like August will be disastrous with so many schools and organizations not being particularly cautious about COVID-19. In New Zealand, we basically have eradicated the virus and yet my classes still have an all-online option with some lectures held online even for students able to attend in-person lectures, we have a shortened semester with no final exam period and all online assessments (like last semester), and every course has to be designed in a way that can move entirely online in 24 hours if needed. Yet I keep reading and seeing on social media about how so many US schools are just going back to business as usual with 8 hours, 5 days a week schedules in person with minimal changes to operations… If things don’t get better, my family thinks I should look into trying to stay even longer in New Zealand, which is honestly really stressful to think about especially since I know I’m going to be ready mentally to come home in November. New Zealand has been great and I think the governing is amazing, but even at this point, it’s becoming pretty clear to me that it’s not the best fit for me long term in regards to my personality and lifestyle – still working on describing why I think this and maybe it will change as I hopefully start to make more connections here now that I’m not stuck alone inside anymore, but I’m sure I’ll have a future post about this. I just can’t imagine being here for another year from now, but every day that seems a bit more likely of a reality…