University of Canterbury Review Part II

From July 2009 to April 2010 I was in New Zealand as part of my semester abroad. In this final report I would first like to describe my general impressions of the country and its people. I then go into life in Christchurch and then describe my studies at the University of Canterbury, specifically at the Mathematical / Statistical Institute. Again and again I will give little tips on the side that I might have wished for before starting my studies.

Since I want to describe New Zealand, the first thing that comes to mind is an image that burned itself into my head on the flight from Australia to New Zealand in July 2009. I had a window seat, looking down at the Tasman Sea, when suddenly the long white coast of New Zealand pushed into my field of vision. Then everything happened very quickly. The coast turned a lush green, then rose to snow-covered mountains, then fell again and became the other coast to the one on which Christchurch lay. In short, New Zealand is as beautiful as everyone says.

Both islands offer great hiking trails. For example, I ran the Milford Track on the South Island. From November (the second semester is over in mid-November) you can tackle the easy to manage four-day hike. The track leads through forests, in marshland, up mountains, where there is still snow in one place or another, and ends at Sandfly Point, from which a boat takes you to Milford Sound. In large, well-designed huts, you can go looking for kiwis with a DOC employee at night. It should be noted that the Milford Track is in great demand, ie you should book online with the DOC three months in advance!!! But don’t worry – if you don’t have time afterwards, you can delete the booking again.

Perhaps the question arises with one or the other why I am describing the Milford Track so precisely. It’s not so much about the track for me, there are many others (on the North Island even the mud bubbles along the way), but the point is to clarify what New Zealand is all about, what to expect, and above all, what to do definitely not to be missed. You can bungy jump in Queenstown if you like, but you should take some time after the semester to enjoy New Zealand’s nature. A small excerpt from what excited me:

  • Kayaking on Milford Sound: Although breakfast is served on the big ships, there is peace and quiet in the kayak and there is also a waterfall that can be viewed up close
  • Beach vacation on the KariKari Peninsula: In New Zealand it is difficult to find beautiful beaches in the immediate vicinity of backpackers. If you’re traveling by car, that’s not a problem. Unfortunately, the road then leads right past many beaches, which is not conducive to the holiday feeling. The KariKari Peninsula is very isolated from tourism, especially Maoris live there. I took a kitesurfing course there on the beaches and was the only participant in the three-person course there in December!
  • The glowworm caves in TeAnau are beautiful. You go in there with a small paddle boat.
  • The Waitomo Caves are a lot bigger, but also more touristy.
  • You are welcome to take a look at the Franz-Joseph-Glacier. I do not recommend a tour up – it costs a lot and consists of waiting and climbing the stairs that the guide has knocked out of the ice, which you wait for in turn. You don’t get particularly high that way anyway.
  • If you want to go skiing or snowboarding in the European summer, you can of course do so in New Zealand. But you shouldn’t have too high expectations. In some ski areas there are only anchor lifts. Others also have chair lifts, but of course this cannot be compared with the slopes in the Alps, although there are really nice fun parks.
  • Otherwise you can still hunt, dive, fish, shear sheep, etc. I haven’t done all of that, but I’ve listened to great stories.

One more thing to travel:

There are a lot of backpackers in New Zealand, especially German high school graduates. Admittedly, that can be disappointing, because that’s not why you traveled to the other end of the world. It is all the more recommendable to find alternatives to the usual backpacking – for example, to register in university groups, to get involved in church communities, maybe to spend Christmas with a New Zealand family, to register for sports. This creates opportunities to get to know the country and the people in a completely different way.

Speaking of people. How are the New Zealanders actually?

To answer this one has to distinguish a bit, although this distinction will also be permeable. Let’s start with the older New Zealanders, the parents of the students I studied with. They are incredibly down to eath and hands on – really normal people, many are farmers or come from families in which you have been farmers for generations. Some people like to go hunting or fishing, watch rugby matches and have a few beers while doing so. The women work part-time, take care of the household and keep the family together. Of course I am generalizing now, but that is the impression I got. Some have never been to the South Island, but have been to Europe a couple of times – relatives from Great Britain. At weddings, people dance late into the night – there are a large number of relatives. I was always warmly welcomed. Somehow there was also always a distant relationship to Germany, or at least to Europe, of course. If you spoke positively about New Zealand, it was always well received, as if you were enjoying confirmation from outside every now and then, since New Zealand does not play a major role in global politics. On Maoris, many New Zealanders of European origin that I met were admittedly not very good at speaking. Some people have reservations and see a certain injustice in the treatment. It has to be said that there is a Maori party in New Zealand and many Maoris are demanding redress. There is high unemployment among the Maoris, and social benefits are relatively high. When you have made a Maori friend, you practically become a family member, and hospitality knows no bounds. Here is a small example to summarize the attitude towards life in New Zealand: Whenever a New Zealander leaves a public bus after a trip, he calls out to the driver: “Thanks, mate!”

The younger generation of New Zealand loves sports, nature, their cars and partying. Some Friday evenings they spend the whole evening in the car. In the back seat there is drinking and partying, the driver engages in small races with other boy racers, as they are called. Of course, that’s only a small part of the people who spend their Friday evening like that, but you can tell when you live in Christchurch. The students are ambitious, the goal is to be able to support a family at some point. Too much success and too much money, but not well received. This corresponds to the down to eath mentality that I mentioned earlier.

Before my stay, I completely underestimated the Asian proportion of the population. Ten percent of the population are Asians. Accordingly, there are numerous Asian restaurants and supermarkets in the cities. The cultural diversity is fascinating.

According to iamaccepted, the University of Canterbury is in Christchurch, fifteen minutes by bus to downtown. In contrast to the capital, Christchurch had a lot of space to spread out. The city lies on a wide, flat plain, so everything is easily accessible by bike (you can buy cheap bikes at www. trademe. co. nz). If you don’t feel like it, you can use the good public transport network. By New Zealand standards, Christchurch is big with just under 360,000 inhabitants, I think even the largest city on the South Island.

I am accomodated in Sonoda, a building complex that is part of the University Halls, one of the student accommodation provided by the university. Sonoda consists of a series of two-story houses separated by green spaces. There is a large common room with billiards, table tennis and Sky TV. In addition, a warm dinner is served in the dining room every evening from 5:30 p. m. The actual apartments are five-room shared apartments with a kitchen and television. Except for the private rooms, the apartments are cleaned by staff once a week. Many New Zealanders live in Sonoda who have only just started their studies, as a kind of temporary solution until they have settled in at the university and found a flat share. Besides the New Zealanders there are many Asians, who study English in the neighboring College of Education. In addition to Sonoda, there are also other University Halls, some without meals, in which many US Americans stay. If I choose one again now. If I had to decide where to stay, I wouldn’t go to University Halls. On the one hand, most of the students there are very young, or else international students, and on the other hand, the rent is very high. You can also easily come to Christchurch from Germany, first find accommodation in a backpacker in the city and then look for a shared apartment where you can choose who you live with. Especially at the beginning of the semester you will always see a lot of requests on the information boards of the university.

The introductory week for international students at the beginning of the semester is very well organized. You actually get all the information you need. Club day also takes place at the beginning of the semester. All university clubs present themselves in the center of the university campus, and there are plenty of them. Whether ultimate frisbee, rugby, hiking, rowing club, diving, manga club, fantasy book club, you will find it.

The University of Canterbury is a campus university. Large sports fields, tennis courts and a fitness studio are nearby. There is no cafeteria on campus. Instead there is a small Indian restaurant, a bistro and a fast food Asian restaurant where you can eat well. These are of course not the canteen prices, which is why you often take something with you from home. The students in the postgraduate area also have kitchens with microwaves and stoves in the individual faculties. There are even showers in the faculties.

There are no courses in the first week, they start in the second week after you have done everything organizational and already know a little bit about it. In my mathematics / statistical faculty there was no more introduction. I had chosen four 300/400 level courses. 400 level courses correspond to the postgraduate area, which I could do well with my intermediate diploma + two semesters. I have to say that only two of these courses were correspondingly labor-intensive, so it also depends a little on the course choice how busy you will be. In retrospect, I would recommend three courses so that you also have enough time for club activities and other things.

The courses take place in manageable seminar rooms. The number of participants varied between five and twenty students, depending on the course. The professors often work with slides, but I also had a course in which people wrote in front and the students took notes. You don’t have to buy books. The library has a good selection and there is also a so-called course reader for each course, a bound script sold on campus at the beginning of the semester. Everything you need is actually there. The lectures lasted only one hour each, but were given twice a week. In addition, some of them had an exercise that lasted an hour. Each week either assignments, i. e. exercises, had to be submitted, or small projects were worked on over a longer period of time, and a report then had to be written about. The exercises were not submitted as a group submission. The submissions were partly part of the final grade, but a final exam still had a major impact on this.

Statistics and pure math are two different courses in New Zealand. So if you as a German mathematics student choose courses from the field of statistics, these are much more applied than you are used to from the local faculty. The evidence is not given as much time as the actual implementation of the theory. So it’s more about the preparation of reports, the analysis of data and the use of programs such as R, Matlab and LaTeX. Many honored students, i. e. students who can get their master’s degree faster through good performance, work on data analyzes that have been commissioned by external authorities such as the Department of Conservation (DOC). Even if you haven’t had that much experience in this area, that’s not a problem. You can get in there quickly and everything is explained. The professors are always available. One speaks by first name and is generally very relaxed in dealing with one another.

If you don’t like a few courses at the beginning of the semester, or if there are overlaps with other courses, you can change courses for free, or even deselect courses completely. Then you get the fees back without any deductions.

In summary, I can say that I can only recommend a semester abroad to everyone. The courses helped me to advance at university, the country and the people gave me great moments. The best proof of this is probably that I have extended my stay by three months and that I will soon be flying back to New Zealand.

University of Canterbury Review Part II