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Windy Welly and Exchange Among the Kiwis

Kia ora everyone, greetings from New Zealand! My name is Anna and I was fortunate enough to be sent to Wellington, to Victoria University of Wellington. Actually, I am already done with my exchange and enjoying a well-deserved and long Christmas holiday. This is one of the perks of going on exchange in July – you can take a deep breath before the last hurrah of your LLB.

First, let me start by describing the university and studying in Wellington in general. VicUni (as it is called by the students attending it) is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most renowned universities. It is located in the capital of New Zealand, which is the civic and cultural center. My exchange was during the winter semester, it started at the beginning of July and officially ended on the 12th of November, at the end of the exam period. The building of the Faculty of Law is the oldest building of the university, and it used to house the government, hence its name: Old Government Buildings. Talking about locations, this building has the best of them all – it is right in front of the Parliament and the Beehive (which houses the Government), next to the Supreme Court, the Wellington Court of Appeal (in case you want to see courts in action, anyone can go in and watch) and a bunch of embassies.

I took four courses: Jurisprudence, Judicial Review, International Institutions and Climate Change and the Law. Each of them was worth 15 New Zealand credits (or 7.5 ETS). I was quite satisfied with my course selection. For Jurisprudence, I had a fantastic teacher and many challenging discussions; International Institutions elaborated on the law, history and future of international institutions, which we didn’t have time to cover in great detail during Public International Law; and Judicial Review focused on the law of New Zealand and gave me a fantastic comparative perspective on a number of issues in public law. My favorite was Climate Change and the Law, which was one of the reasons why I chose VicUni – it is a leader in climate change research in the Southern Hemisphere. Also, this course (or paper, as courses are called in Kiwi English) was taught by a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who offered a unique, policy-centered perspective on the legal problems of climate change.

Overall, VicUni offers a wide range of courses, so I didn’t have problems with not being able to get my 30 ETS. They also allow you to change courses within the first week of classes if you feel like you can’t handle it. However, you need to apply for your courses ASAP, as most of them have limited places which get filled very quickly if the course is a popular one. I applied almost four months in advance and still got rejected from two courses from my original four. As to studying at VicUni in general, it was challenging. They have a completely different teaching system, the Socratic system. Our lectures were discussion-like, and the professors expected us to go there prepared. It is not uncommon to have your final grade partially consist of a class participation grade, I had that for two of my courses. I actually enjoyed this a lot, more things stayed in my head from our 50-minute classes (yes, that short!) than from the two-hour monologues we had in Groningen (oh, Civil Procedural Law…). Still, the workload was quite heavy, so if you choose VicUni and want high grades, be prepared to commit to a lot of reading.

Nevertheless, if you are considering applying to VicUni, don’t let the workload discourage you, it is nothing that you couldn’t nail with some basic time management skills. Also, by the way, New Zealand is awesome. Kiwis, as the people of New Zealand call themselves, couldn’t possibly be more chill. For example, it is totally normal to see people walking barefoot on the streets in the middle of winter. They are also extremely friendly; it is common to have a chat about your day and your plans with the cashier while you get your groceries, and especially if you take the time to learn some Kiwi English phrases (e.g. black tea is called ‘gumboots’ for some reason), you will be accepted as one of them in no time.

Wellington was also a great city to live in, vibrant and multicultural. Even if I had tried, I wouldn’t have been able to be bored, there was always something going on, either at the university or in the city, and there was always somewhere to go with your mates after a long day. However, I didn’t get to see New Zealand’s whole magnificence until I was done with my exams and set out on a two-week road trip. I travelled both islands, going upwards from the bottom of the South Island. New Zealand is a fairly young state; its culture is still in the making. Maori culture has become an integrated part of society, and I would highly recommend learning about it, but its importance relative to European culture that came with the colonization is debatable and vice versa. So, since the country’s forming is still in process, its main ‘selling point’ is its nature. If you appreciate nature and a good day of hiking, this place is for you.

When you travel, the landscape can change from green plains with grazing sheep to blue, snowy mountains or a full, wild rainforest in a matter of minutes. Everyone can find activities that match their interests, whether those be adrenaline sports in Queenstown, relaxing in the detoxing mud baths of Rotorua or going all ‘crazy Lord of the Rings fan’ at the Hobbiton Movie Set. It felt as if someone took the best bits of several countries – the glaciers and fjords of Norway, the mountains of Switzerland, the waterfalls of Canada, the desert roads of the USA, the rainforests of Brazil, and so on – and crammed it all into this little country at the end of the world. Travelling by car is worth it, despite the long hours of driving (my road trip was 3300 km long!), since this is a place to savor at your own pace.

The things I loved:

  • The university’s support system. All staff and all my professors were approachable at any time.

  • The laid-back and welcoming people of New Zealand.

  • Farmer’s market in the harbor on Sunday – cheap fruits and veggies.

  • Nightlife in Wellington – hundreds of bars, restaurants and clubs waiting for you around Cuba Street and Courtenay Place.

  • Things to do around Wellington – there were just so many things, like hiking, rugby, surfing, varieties of art performances, gallery openings, museums, theme parties… it was impossible to be bored.

  • The nature of New Zealand. In case you didn’t realize from my poetic description above, I am in love.

  • Learning about Maori and their incredibly rich culture.

The things I liked a bit less:

  • The cost of living. The essentials of life in New Zealand aren’t cheap, so be prepared with either a larger budget, or a visa with a working permit. Don’t rely on your grant, mine didn’t even cover my plane ticket.

  • My housing, which was poor for the amount of money I paid for it.

  • Very-very strict deadlines and the whirlwind of applying. You really need to send your documents ASAP if you want accommodation and a place in your chosen courses.

  • Lack of support from the Exchange Office in Groningen. Since I went on exchange earlier than the most, much of the information I required was provided too late for an orderly management of some of my administrative stuff.

  • Long way there, long way back.

  • The wind in Windy Welly, which can literally blow you away.

And whether I would do it again? Without a second thought.

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