A broad abroad: journey to New Zealand

Tips and stories from Elena Deeter’s adventure abroad in Middle Earth.


Elena Deeter

Eleena Deeter crossed “seeing Hobbiton” off her bucket list in Matamata, New Zealand. Hobbiton is part of the official “Lord of the Rings” set.

Elena Deeter, Senior Reporter

When you start thinking about studying abroad, you imagine having the time of your life; you’re studying new things, meeting new people, experiencing spiritual awakenings, and partying it up with the locals. Yes, that fun stuff can happen, but essentially we romanticize studying abroad. Traveling for a semester in New Zealand was one of the best experiences and opportunities I’ve been through, but most importantly it was real and not a vacation.

In New Zealand I was able to see my first snowy mountains, jump in my first (ice cold) ocean, accidentally step in my first quicksand, which is more like hilariously slow non-threatening sand. I walked in a rainforest, slept in a marae, herded sheep, walked in a hobbit hole, camped in the middle of nowhere under the brightest stars, and tried to poke a blue penguin—don’t poke penguins.

My first tip of studying abroad, other than not poking penguins, is to let yourself be vulnerable. I was someone who wasn’t spiritual, and it turned out that this program was heavily focused on Maori culture and spirituality. It took a while to let myself become uncomfortable and try to understand what spirituality can mean for someone who’s not religious. Once I relaxed, I learned lots about how spirituality can be scientific and educational.

Tip number two is to try anything (within reason). When your classmates want to go legally skinny dipping in hot pools, go for it. If a farmer asks you to feed the lamb, of course you feed the lamb. When your Maori supervisor asks if you want to try a raw mussel, eat that raw mussel, and then never again eat a raw mussel. Don’t waste time abroad being shy. When there is an opportunity available in which you’ve had a temptation of participating, take it.  

Tip number three is to not give up. Through all of these life-changing adventures, I was still dealing with normal life. I still got homesick, got actual-sick, went through all the usual mental health issues, had to work hard for my grades and went through the anxiety of missing out. Studying abroad isn’t a vacation and life back home doesn’t stop, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Studying abroad truly does change you for the better. I am more environmentally conscious from seeing climate change impacts and working an internship at the Green Party. I am more independent from spending a semester with a bunch of strangers in a foreign country.

From staying with Maori people, hearing their stories and learning about modern effects of colonization, I am more knowledgeable in indigenous cultures and systemic and institutional racism and have a drive to want to learn about the United States’ indigenous people. I’ve learned how to cook, clean, and how to reluctantly digest pounds of beets and yams.

Please, if you’re thinking about studying abroad, take that risk.