Kia Ora from Christchurch!
My name is Ed and I'm studying in Christchurch, which is on the South Island of New Zealand. I've been here since July 1st. I didn't really have that big of a first impression; it wasn't that big of a change. I was just excited to get out into the wilderness. I think my experience here has been unlike most other people's in the sense that I feel like I'm at home, not a new home, just regular home with mountains and hiking. There are trade-offs that even things out; any weekend I can go hiking/surfing/kayaking, but without a car and being in semi-dead city, I don't really do all that much during the weekdays, so whereas I can do more during weekends at home, I do less during weekdays.
Christchurch was hit hard by an earthquake in 2011 and I've been going out into the community and helping with rebuilding projects (actually in a class learning about the idea of 'service learning') so my experience is by no means a vacation, but by going out into the community and working with people who actually live there and getting to know them, I feel like I'm getting to know the place I chose to study on a much deeper level than most people will. I think the coolest thing is actually all the international kids I've met; CHCH brings in a lot of people who just want to be outdoors in one of the last untapped wild places of the planet - other than the small numbers of Maori on the South Island, there weren't even 50,000 on the South Island until like 50 years ago; there are more sheep on the South Island than people. So I've met a ton of kids who have come from all over the world with the same mentality as me - wanting the purest experience of nature as possible. I've met kids from 23 countries if I quickly count it up in my head (I have kids from Russia and Singapore living with me), and hiking around and staying in huts in the mountains I've met countless other people of all ages who are here from every corner of the world.
I've checked off all but two places I want to go in NZ so far (I've seen more of NZ than most of the locals), I've been to Fiji, I'm headed to AUS later this month for 10 days, and I come home Nov 14th and I think I'll be ready. I haven't really experienced any of the phases, not drastically at least, and I think it's in part because I've met so many people and have so many other travel plans now. I met a girl from Copenhagen and we're going to visit each other (we aren't in love - do not fall in love abroad, it's dumb!), I have a 6 week trip planned (after I talk to the religious department at EC) where I'll be heading into the mountains of China with my South African friend to study at a monastery for 4 weeks, then I'll stay with my friend from Tokyo for a couple days, then fly to St. Petersburg to see my Russian roommate, then Germany, then Norway/Copenhagen/etc etc - all hoping around homes of people I've met whilst being here. I've travelled extensively before this, but New Zealand has been the greatest experience thus far just because I have a home all over both islands, and now I have homes all over the world. It's opened up endless possibilities in terms of future exploration and while New Zealand isn't that much different than America and I have almost no culture shock, CHCH specifically is a melting pot of international students and I've gotten to learn about every part of the world.
I know this is more of a conclusion rather than a 'first impression', I've been here for 3 months though and I've taken so much in. It might sound boring but I miss working and my usual Midwest routine, but that's not to say that I haven't cherished and loved every moment here. I'm just not someone to get overly attached I guess, I'm not sure because I have met kids here who don't know how life will go on when they leave, and it's just sort of whatever to me haha. I think only a specific kind of person would like CHCH; I think Europe is boring and I don't care about art or that culture, I just wanted to be outdoors and away from big cities and stuff. Down here, every one wears hiking boots and if you're going to go on a date or go out to a bar, to get ready you basically just take a shower. It's simple here and everyone, no matter where they're from, are similar because you wouldn't come here unless you were ok with going out at night to look at stars instead of drinking (which I must admit I do miss!). I've slept in a tent almost every weekend. I picked up skateboarding just because I wanted to get around the city/neighborhoods on foot so I could take more in. We don't even have wifi here so most of the time I'm without a phone, and while it's allowed me to focus more on the moment around me, that's one of those things that I'll be pretty excited to get back to the states and take in all the unlimited data I want haha. But all in all, I wouldn't trade my experience here for any other place, I knew that I was either going to study abroad in CHCH or not at all because I could travel where ever I wanted, but you really need to be down here for an extended amount of time to really appreciate the nature and how it's all tied into the Maori's beliefs and how such a young country has such an ancient feeling most places have seemed to lost.