Wellington – The D.C. of N.Z.

I spent this past weekend in Wellington. After finding incredibly cheap flights with Air New Zealand, Max and I decided to spend a few days in the capital of New Zealand.


Flying into the city was absolutely beautiful. Situated on a hilly peninsula at the IMG_2516southernmost part of the North Island, the city of Wellington is New Zealand’s second largest city with a population just under 400,000. The city is seat of government for New Zealand, also earning the title of world’s southernmost capital of any sovereign state.


Wellington is also known as the ‘culture capital’ of New Zealand. It is home to Parliament, the National Archives, the National Art Gallery, the National Library, and The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.


We arrived at night and our first goal was to find our hostel. We had decided to stay at the same type of hostel that we had stayed at in Queenstown, a Nomad’s hostel, because the service was friendly, the rooms and bathrooms were very clean, and they provided a free breakfast. As usual, our hostel had an incredible location, two minutes from the harbor and a five-minute walk from most of the city’s attractions.


IMG_2482Sunday morning we got up and our first stop was the local market. There I had a brunch of fresh fruit and veggies, all for $4 – absolutely unbeatable. There were buskers playing guitars and singing who added to the atmosphere of the place.


Te Papa – the museum

After the market we decided to walk to Te Papa, the cultural history museum of New Zealand. This six floor museum offers a remarkable interactive history of New Zealand, from both Maori and Pakeha (white person) perspective. There is a large theatre in the museum and when we were there it was showing a film on the famous WWI loss at Gallipoli, in which New Zealand suffered great casualties fighting for mother Britain. It was that battle that spurred the separation of New Zealand, and its rise as an independent sovereign power. The museum was fascinating, admission was free, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about New Zealand.


Following the museum we walked up Mount Victoria, to get a spectacular view of the city. It was more than worth it. You could look across the harbor and even the IMG_2527tops of the tall buildings. Coming from the Midwest it still is so strange to me to see such steep hills integrated into cities here in New Zealand. It adds an intricacy and a beauty that I did not know exist. We also walked to the entrance of Zoolandia but did not feel that we had time to get in. It comes highly recommended as a wildlife refuge top attraction; I will just have to go next time!

Sunday night we were able to check out the nightlife. After living in Christchurch, I was amazed at Wellington. The city absolutely comes alive at night. I have never seen so many people my age thronging the streets. There was music coming from every corner and people everywhere. Lights put up across the streets illuminated all activity in a soft and gentle glow. It was a fantastic finish to a short trip to the capital city.


The next morning we got up and caught a taxi to the airport to head home. Our stay was short but sweet. Wellington is a remarkable place. I definitely recommend it to anyone thinking about visiting.

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Smog the dragon, just chilling at the airport

Combined Christian Ball – The CCB

I wanted to grow. I wanted to be pushed. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. Those are a few of the many reasons I chose to study abroad. It’s funny how quickly I forget them on a day-to-day basis…


Several of my friends from Church and Bible study had been bugging me for weeks about the CCB, the Combined Christian Ball, a massive dance for all of the Christian groups registered with the University of Canterbury. These groups ranged from different church denominations to organizations such as intervarsity and campus crusade and also included various Catholic institutions.


I typically try to stay away from dances, not being confident in my ability on the dance floor and also not fond of the awkward milling about that I always seem to end up doing. Whenever anyone brought it up I always responded in a disarming “we’ll see… I’ll have to check my schedule as it gets closer…” knowing full well in the back of my head that I had no intention of going.


Finally it was the week of the dance. I had to make a decision. Per Max’s persuasion I decided that it was worth going for relationships – besides, it was an excuse to finally use those dress clothes I had lugged halfway across the planet. Hamish, a buddy from church picked me up so I could get ready with him and some other guys over at his flat. We blasted music and ate burgers while we got dressed. It was strangely reminiscent of getting ready for high school prom. We drove over as a posse and walked up together. There were probably about eighty people already there when we first arrived and that number swelled over the course of the evening.

Nothing like a picture in headlights

The theme was Get Smart and we were divided up in different teams with different objectives depending on our registration numbers. The game was fun 14480671_1469998539693316_650830605695902945_oand took place over the course of the evening, but the music was far better. There was a LIVE BAND playing all sorts of music and with the low lighting with color strobes the party atmosphere was perfect. I soon saw the rest of my friends from church and we got a table for our group of 16.


IMG_2027Spending the night dancing, talking, and puzzling through clues with these new friends made for an awesome evening. During a pause in the music they ran an awards ceremony for cutest couple, best dressed etc. I was sitting at my table when I heard, “and the award for ‘life of the party’ goes to…. Jonathan!” at first I looked around to see who else shared my name, and then when my friend Nav started shouting and pointing at me I realized that I was the Jonathan. They were referring to me – I had won the prize!


I got called up on stage, given a gold trophy and a bar of chocolate and a hug from each of the judges. I couldn’t stop beaming and laughing – I could not believe this had happened! My night was made!


After the ball ended our group went back to Hamish’s for an after party. I fell off a skateboard and pierced my hand on a nail but was soon up and running again. Following our time there, we decided that we still had energy to go out and went to a club in downtown Christchurch at 1:30am. There we danced away until 3:00am. Random people would come up and ask to join our group because we looked like we were having so much fun.


By the time I got to bed I was exhausted, but I was very thankful for my friends and the incredible time that I had experienced.


Marae Visit

This past weekend I went on another IES excursion – a must do for anyone visiting New Zealand and wishing to learn about the culture and people. With other IES students we stayed out at a marae. A marae refers to “meeting grounds” and is central to all Maori communities in New Zealand. The marae usually is composed of a complex of carved buildings and grounds and belong to an entire iwi, or tribe, for community uses.

Friday evening we caught a shuttle out to Ngati Moki marae, at the base of lake Ellesmere. We were greeted with a Pōwhiri, a traditional welcome, which included the removal of shoes and exchange of verbal introductions in affirmations – in Maori of course.


After the welcoming we went down to a lower building beside the main hall to prepare our beds in a communal bedroom. Because there were not very many of us, we were able to double up some of the mats to make the bedding more comfortable. Following getting the bedding situated we went back to the hall for a dinner. Dinner was a fabulous array of New Zealand beef and kumara with several side salads. It was served buffet style and then we all helped with dishes.


We then went into the community meeting room, removed our shoes (everyone must as a sign of respect), and learned Maori string games, similar to cats cradle, while listening to a lecture on tribal (iwi) history. We were taught how to swing poi, soft white balls on a string used in traditional dancing, and learned a community song often taught to Maori children. By the time instruction wrapped up it was 10:30pm and we headed to bed.


The next morning we got up for a breakfast of muesli, yogurt, and crème. Following that we went outside and learned how to cut grass for weaving. We then walked out to the beach and split up into two teams. Each team had three hours to construct a whari, a traditional hut. Our hosts would judge us.

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After the three hours we got pictures by our huts and walked back to the marae. A late lunch tasted fabulous after an entire morning in the wind down at the beach. We were taught ti rakau, a game involving throwing sticks in rhythm with song. We then ended with the song that we had learned the night before and said goodbye to the wonderful hosts who had spent the weekend with us.


It was a fun time and gave a lot of insight life on the marae and Maori life in general. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to understand life in New Zealand, particularly Maori and their rich tradition and history.


I am always down for a road trip. Being stuck in a car with people, watching scenery go by out a car window, listening to endless playlists – to me it’s a sign of a good time.

This past weekend I traveled with Max, three other American students, and two Canadian students (who had a van) to Queenstown. It was a five-hour road trip but was more than worth it. We had a classic time driving South from Christchurch, Through the Southern Alps, stopping at lake Pukaki and seeing its gorgeous chapel, and then continuing to Queenstown.



We stayed at Nomads, a hostel that was located directly in the city center (what we would call downtown). We were two buildings away from the crystal clear IMG_1747bay that the city is situated on. Queenstown looked like it was a small city that was picked up out of Switzerland or Austria and placed in Southern New Zealand. When the sun shines, the city and views from the surrounding hillsides are absolutely breathtaking. I would definitely recommend doing the surrounding hill walks to get a view of the Queenstown basin.


Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. Bungee jumping was invented there. Not being so crazy about the idea IMG_1890 IMG_4757of jumping headfirst into a canyon, I decided not to bungee jump, but I was up for doing the Nevis canyon swing. This is the world’s largest swing with 70meters of free-fall. You can reach speeds exceeding 120kph which when only strapped to a swing feels far too fast to be healthy.


Our group went to do the bungee and swing, with people choosing whatever activity they would prefer to do. It was an adrenalin filled morning and we were all excited for each other. When I got up to the swing, the operator started talking to me and then dropped me mid-sentence. I was not at all prepared. The free-fall was amazing but even thinking back to it now I get shaking. Heights are not my thing.

Vudu café
Vudu café








Queenstown is also known for its amazing food. There are two places in particular that I would like to recommend. One is Vudu café, they have amazing breakfasts and brunches. The atmosphere is very hip while being laid back and relaxing. The other place I would recommend is Fergburger.

IMG_1796Apparently these are the best burgers in the entire country. I didn’t believe it until I tried them. Don’t be fooled by the lines outside the restaurant. These are worth the wait.


Overall Queenstown was an incredible city to experience. It has a very young, and mobile population, but remains a quiet, quaint, little town nestled in the Southern Alps. Simply walking along the park peninsula will give you shivers of appreciation for the beauty of this place.

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Cass Field Station

Coming back from the Cook Islands I still had another week without class. However I had a field trip for one of my classes, Bio 375, Freshwater Ecology. The field trip was four days and took the entire class to the University’s field station IMG_1334at Cass up in the Southern Alps. We stayed in a wooden cabin that was built in the 60’s but was warm and friendly. About a stone’s throw away from the cabin was a very small, low building, set IMG_1423into the ground. This was the laboratory, with enough wet desk space for about 25 students. It fit our class perfectly.


On the first and second days we spent time exploring different types of IMG_1360freshwater streams, braided rivers, creeks, ponds, and lakes. At each we took benthic invertebrate samples and worked at identification and classification. On the evening of the second day we assembled into pre-organized teams of three and worked on experimental design – the ultimate goal of the trip.


On the third day, each team went out to a specific location in the field and ran their experiment, coming back and analyzing the data that night and working it into readable figures and tables. It was such a beautiful setting to work in, out in the mountains in New Zealand. I was constantly looking around me and marveling at the scenery. Here I was adventuring in the mountains – for class! It was hard work, and the write up that I will have to do on this experiment will take weeks. However the experience is fantastic and setting is unparalleled.

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The fourth and final day consisted of packing and cleaning the cabin up, taking a field test, and then driving back to Christchurch.


If anyone has the chance, I would more than recommend taking a course that has a field trip option – it is more than worth it!

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Vacation from a Vacation

So IES has a little secret. They arrange a field-trip vacation for you over your mid-semester break. When I registered for my study abroad semester in New Zealand I was not aware of this. However, that made the realization all the more exciting when I was told that for my break I would be going to the Cook Islands!

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I flew with 12 other IES students and our program director Eunice McKessar to Auckland and then Rarotonga, the largest island in the Cook Islands the morning after our last day of class. We stayed there for a week and it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. Despite only having a total of 7 hours of “free time” our field trip was chocked full of some of the greatest adventures that I have ever had. We did so much that we were busy non-stop from 8am to 10pm at night.


A highlight for me was visiting a local school. We got to watch the children in IMG_0581class, talk to them about what we are studying, and play with them during recess. I enjoyed a game of rugby with a group of boys that were there. Each team fought over me viciously because I was able to truck through and score a tri only because of my size in comparison to anyone else.


IMG_0616It was beautiful to see these kids play outside, with each other, in the sunshine, and just laugh. These children were actually children! It was almost weird to see. It highlighted to me how much a typical “childhood” in the United States has been lost. Thinking of the schools that I have been to at home, I get the feeling that American children IMG_0888where I come from progress from infant to adolescent, being robbed of a childhood. Watching these children and their pure joy in life was so refreshing and inspiring!


Another highlight was participating in a Hangi – a meal cooked in the ground, with a local Cook Island Maori family. They taught us how to weave our own plates, and make sarongs. Following dinner we had a dance competition and I won for the men!


Other notable activities were a cross-island walk over a mountain, biking around the island, going to a local market, snorkeling on the coral reef, and eating seafood on the beech by a fire. The week was busy but one of the greatest times of my life!

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My Home away from Home


“You have to taste a culture to understand it.”

– Deborah Cater

I would definitely agree with Deborah on that point. Food is an integral part to a culture, as well as sharing time around a table and being with family. In Christchurch I have enjoyed a homestay with a Kiwi family. Renee, my “Mom” has been an absolutely amazing chef and has made sure that I was definitely able to taste New Zealand through her Kiwi inspired meals.

Before I left the states, I spent several weeks joining forums, poking around online, and contacting various people to find out about homestay possibilities. While still Western in nature, Kiwi culture is different from that of the U.S. and I wanted to experience it at a deeper level. Through the website christchurchhomestay.org I finally got in contact with my host family, the Richmonds.


An average dinner around the table at home. Abdullah, another student from Pakistan who was staying with us is excited to have a carrot cake for desert 🙂

Our family consists of Lee and Renee, and their two children Julia (4) and Lucas (2). It has been great being able to stay with them. From hearing about Julia’s day at pre-school to having a beer and watching a rugby game with Lee, I feel blessed to be able to participate in the lives of this family and see what is the same and different from my family life back home.

Campus Church and Uni-Connect

It was 4:40pm on Sunday and Max and I had just gotten back to Christchurch after an exhausting weekend in central south island for IES orientation. I was exhausted and I wanted to sleep – but Max pressured me to go to church with him.  0a103524866226378d35414bf54f3b56_470The church service was at 5pm and gathered in “The Foundry” a bar near campus. After a few minutes of persuasion I sleepily agreed to go with him. It turns out that was one of the best decisions I have made here in New Zealand.

When it comes to joining a church the best piece of advice I can give sounds IMG_2536incredibly basic – attend. It is so easy to get wrapped up in work or be “too tired” but making the weekly commitment to relationships is more than worth it. That first week that I went with Max we were immediately taken in by a group of other students who went there and were invited to join Uni-Connect, a group of students that gathers on Tuesday nights for dinner and bible study. The group of students is about 40 strong and then breaks out into individual groups of 6-10 people each. Within a week of classes of beginning, Max and I were fully active members in Campus Church and Uni-Connect.


14570623_900105470125555_1621606457906396347_oAll things take time. Yes conversations were awkward at first. It felt uncomfortable going places where I did not know anyone. But that changed. Max and I were invited to go hiking with Nav and Courtney, a couple students at church. We jumped at the chance. Getting back from the hike we were all best friends. Soon we became closer with their entire circle of friends, and now I am blessed to have a group of Kiwi students that I can call good friends. They have been such an immense blessing. We have had collective dinners, movie nights, gone to events together, and celebrated each – others’ birthdays. It is amazing that in such a short amount of time I have been so embraced and brought into an amazing friend group. I am incredibly blessed for each of these people and the friendships that I have with them. New Zealand has been amazing so far, but the relationships have been the best part of it by a landslide. It’s a good reminder of what is truly important in life!

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I See UC

As a student of Hope College, I have always wondered what that “big school” experience was like. I wanted to know what it was like to have a massive campus, to find my way to class in the maze of a small academic city, and to share a school with thousands of other students. Thanks to studying at the University of Canterbury of Canterbury (UC) in Christchurch, I can now say that I have had my big school experience – although it is somewhat different from what I would imagine a big school in the United States would be like.


As New Zealand’s second oldest college (founded 1873) and approximately 15,000
enrolled students, the University of Canterbury provides quite a draw to the suburb of Ilam, about two miles West of the heart of Christchurch. So much is the same to what I am used to at home, and so much is different. No-one uses the word “college” instead they say “I am a uni student”, or “I go to uni”. “Uni” – an abbreviation for “university” seems to be the term used to refer to college education here. Instead of taking classes we take “papers” – it must be a reference to the insane amount of writing that we do! Additionally we have a school chancellor instead of president – I can finally relate to Kelly Radner from Neighbors.


The structure of learning is also different. I have written more papers and more words in this semester than I have written in my entire combined time at Hope College. It seems like every other week I have another paper due. From a teaching standpoint I see the purpose in this. To be able to articulate your thoughts well in writing requires that you truly understand a subject. To balance all of the writing however, there are barely any exams! When I first got my syllabi for each of my four “papers” I was shocked to see that one of them had no exams, and the other three only had a final exam. My excitement was checked however when I noted that the weight of this one exam in each paper varied between 40%-60% of my grade for the entire paper. Also it was essay style – big surprise. Yet other than writing a short novel’s worth of words for each of my classes and handful of online quizzes, all I had to do was show up to class. Honestly I did not even have to do that as all lectures were video recorded and posted online making it easy to watch from bed as many kiwi students do. But don’t worry – I still went to class.


At Hope I am very used to online homework, worksheets, exams every three weeks (non-essay style), quizzes online and in class, reports, and papers. I feel that I always have something to be studying for. Strangely I never had that concern here at UC. What was even stranger was that I felt that I have been learning more. Due to the relaxed nature of classes and requiring papers, every time I had to write for class I truly was able to put 100% effort into my work because I was not drowning in other work. Having more time made the work more important to me, which also then peaked my interest, meaning that I ultimately learned more. Hope College gives a quality education and I am so blessed to be able to attend. Going to UC has been a different experience but despite an “easier” and more relaxed approach to assessment, I feel that I personally have been able to learn more and remain excited about what I am learning! I look forward to finding ways to bring the mindset towards learning that I have earned here back home and apply it at Hope College.



Abel Tasman – The Great Walkers

This past weekend I was a bit of a rebel – I decided to leave Thursday night and travel to Nelson, on the northernmost part of the southern island with some friends. Did I skip school Friday? Well, yes I did, but I was getting a different kind of education!

How this came about was through friends that I met at church. I have started going to a church near the University, and I have met a lot of other students there. We had talked about possibly going tramping (its what they call “hiking” down here). We decided to go from Thursday night to Sunday night and spend the time tramping Abel Tasman, one of New Zealand’s nine great walks.

New Zealand has 9 of these “Great Walks”. They are known as New Zealand’s premiere tracks and infamous for showcasing some of the greatest beauty in the country. They are maintained to a very high standard, consequently making the experience more enjoyable and feasible for a variety of different hiking abilities.

Thursday night we set out, driving 5 hours and staying at a hiker’s hostel in Motueka. On the trip were myself, Nav and his girlfriend Courtney, and Sean, another American from the University of Canterbury. Friday morning we set out

Starting out, day 1.
Starting out, Friday morning

on the track by 9am. It was partly cloudy but nonetheless beautiful. We finished for the day by 4pm and camped in Bark Bay.

Saturday we hiked for another 6 and a half hours before setting up camp. We got an early start and were able to have a relaxing day around camp. We were right near the beach and although it was cold, I still got to lay near the water for a bit! We ended the day by making s’mores Kiwi style (flavored marshmallows between cookies) and stargazing. Nav pointed out the Southern Cross in the sky. It is also featured on the New Zealand flag. Because we were so far from any civilization the stars were absolutely amazing. It was also unique to look into the sky because the southern hemisphere stars are different.

Sunday morning we woke up to frost! It was so cold! We got moving and completed our hike after another 5 hours, catching a bus back to the beginning of the track and our car. Sunday the was definitely the most beautiful weather and I got to truly appreciate the beauty of all the individual beaches. Thank you Nav, Courtney, Sean, and Max for a fantastic time!