The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Hannah Helminiak

Hannah Helminiak is from Arlington Heights, Illinois and will be studying abroad in Auckland, New Zealand during the spring of her senior year. With a double major in Environmental Studies and Anthropology and a minor in Management, her interests are all across the board, but they ultimately boil down to interacting with people and getting them interested in different sustainability efforts. Professors have been telling her for years that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and she is really looking forward to see another culture's take on sustainability efforts and natural resource management.
Tongariro Crossing–Easter Break Adventures

Tongariro Crossing–Easter Break Adventures

Alrighty, kids. The word of the day is “planning.”

First, if you book a bus with InterCity bus, it is non-refundable. Do not have that be the first thing you book. If you’re looking to book a spot in a hostel, book that first and THEN the bus. Or you’ll end up like me and my friend needing to scramble to get a hostel to make sure that we have a hostel together. Also, please make sure that you know where things will pick you up and drop you off. The Crossing is not a loop. You are dropped off in a completely different area than you are picked up from. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

The Tongariro Crossing is a feat of endurance and seeing just how well you can breathe in thin air. Oh, you’re from Illinois and are getting over a chest cold? Good freaking luck.

The views are absolutely spectacular, and unless you’ve actually gone mountain climbing with a moderate amount of risk involved, you haven’t done anything like this. There’s a sign saying “Are you SURE you’re fit for this?” They don’t just mean this for pregnant women and the disabled like on a roller coaster or something. They’re not playing around. You need sturdy hiking boots, enough water, food, and (of course) a camera. Layers are essential, as well. The weather on the Crossing is HIGHLY variable. It can be blistering sun and heat one minute and high-speed winds the next. Like, actually. We were blessed with phenomenal weather that didn’t vary a bit. Lucky for me because I would have picked up and turned around if things got out of hand.

My experience speaks to quite a few things to keep in mind when traveling overseas (especially when it’s your first time, like yours truly). PLAN. It seems straight-forward but make sure that everyone involved knows where you’re going and when. My friend and I had different ideas of what was happening, so we both packed differently. Sleeping bags are super handy to have. Invest in one that is small and warm (or borrow one from a neighbor like I did). A lot of hostels have linens for hire, but 1) I’m cheap; and 2) There’s a chance they could run out of them during a high-traffic weekend. That didn’t happen with us, but it’s still good to expect the worst.

Another thing to keep in mind when traveling is to be open to meet new people! My friend and I met a girl from Australia (originally from Brazil) at our bus stop in Auckland, and when we got off at the same stop, we figured out that we were all going to the same hostel! Cool, right?? My friend and I could have stayed at the first hostel, but (for whatever reason), we went to the hostel we originally tried to book for the remaining 2 nights of our adventure (the Crossing Backpackers). There, we met a girl from the Netherlands (Rebekka), and we all ended up hiking together! Rebekka had been in a car accident (not her fault lol) 2 weeks prior and broke her collar bone. I carried her stuff along with mine in her really nice backpack (another suggested investment). I’m glad I helped my friend, but, boy, did it slow me down. I essentially had an extra 20 pounds (9 kg) on my back for 19.5 km (12 miles), over half of which is up steep hills. I mean, you are on a mountain, after all. I wouldn’t take it back because I was able to help a friend, but I probably would take more water. Apples were my saving grace for that quick simple sugar pick-me-up and hydration mechanism. I had 3. I could have eaten 10.

Also, know that this thing is going to take you longer. People say that it takes folks 6 to 7 hours to complete. I don’t know who they’re basing these estimates on, but it must be people who have done this before. It took me a bit over 8 hours to do. I took a lot of breaks because of my congestion and added weight, but still. Most people I’ve talked to said that their first time took around 8 hours. It’s not uncommon to take that long, so if you’re trying to catch a bus back to your hostel, keep your watch handy.

I took a lot of breaks, so I was super embarrassed and told my friends to go on ahead of me. They were hauling ass while I was dragging ass. It was discouraging, but they did stop at the tops of cliffs to wait for me and take their own breaks. It would have probably been nicer to have someone to chat with during the walk because it can get a little lonely being inside your head for 8 hours. Giving yourself pep-talks out loud helps, though. This is the one time that you can talk to yourself and not look crazy.

Another thing to note: the bus isn’t going to wait for you. My friends trekked on far ahead of me to get the bus to wait for me. That didn’t work because they didn’t know how far behind I was because there was no cell reception (big surprise). But I hitched a ride with another van that was going to National Park Village. Ask and ye shall receive.

Overall, it was a great experience. It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience…mainly because I wouldn’t want to do it again! My cup of tea that night was well-deserved.

Also, want to know how wonderful my host family is?? When I got back from my trip, they had a little party waiting for me with a cake and gifts! The kids made a big birthday sign for my door, made me a card, and made up a dance for me! How nice, right?? I really don’t think I could have been placed with a better family. I’m so thankful!


International Homestay Observations

International Homestay Observations

Kia ora, Namaste, Aloha, Hola, Hello!

This post is more informative and will cover the dynamics you may possibly experience within your study abroad community if you choose to live in a home-stay. I was pretty real in this post, and I did so in order to be candid and not sugar coat anything for the reader seeking information. I didn’t really look at any blogs before coming here (I probably should have), but I’m sure my situation is not unique to me. I’m sorry for the length (again). A “Too Long; Didn’t Read” (TL;DR) sentence-long summary of this post is at the bottom, and I think I’ll keep that a habit with my entries as I just like to type. 

Now, I’m no weirder than the next person, and my host-mom has confirmed this happening to her other “homestayers” in the past, so I know it’s not just me.

Homestayers, don’t expect to be BFFs with your study abroad crew staying in the university apartments. In a worst case scenario, expect to be ostracized by at least half of your group. You have chosen to be completely submersed in the country of your choice. It can be terrifying and invigorating at the same time. You’re not in a little village of apartments with around half of your direct study abroad crew and other international students feeling the same things as you. You’re a part of an actual real-life family, and if yours is/will be anything like mine, you will feel loved and accepted by these absolutely wonderful people. Very in-depth research is done by these study abroad professionals to ensure that you truly are paired with the best family possible. IES does a really fantastic job of this. Thus, you may not be informed of your homestay assignment until about 5 days before you’re set to leave (instead of the 2-3 weeks that the IES website says).

At least with the IES Auckland program, the first weekend you’re here, you go to a Marae, which is a sacred Maori (native peoples) meeting house. You participate in different outdoor activities, and get a basic understanding of Maori cultural practices and values. Plus, it’s a bonding experience for you and the other students in your direct IES program. They do a great job, you learn and bond together, create a Facebook page, and friend all of the people in your program because you genuinely think that you’re all friends, now. 

Along with that Facebook page, your peers will probably create a group text (via text message, GroupMe, etc.) within their own little separate apartment communities to plan outings and whatnot. But remember in elementary school when you were planning or invited to a birthday party, and your parents taught you not to talk to everyone about it because maybe not everyone was invited? Well, it’s good advice, and these apartment folks may not follow it.

Outings will still be planned on the Facebook group, and, hey, take advantage of it! I just went to the Waitomo Black Water Rafting Cave tour (Program I did: to see the cave’s glow worms with some of my direct IES group memebers, and it was awesome! However, the dynamic of the group had changed. Before, when we were all out at the Marae, anyone could strike up a really nice conversation with anyone.

Now, not so much. If you try to strike up a conversation, maybe the other person will only give very short answers, or perhaps they try their best to have the shortest conversation with you and walk away. Confusing and disheartening, to say the least. Do they not like you because you’re not in the apartments? Do they just feel awkward around you, now? It’s only been about 2 weeks since our bonding experience. However, there are still some very lovely people in the group who will talk to you first, and you’ll still have good conversations with them.

Well, this is an opportunity to step even further outside your comfort zone, my friend. Join some clubs to meet more Kiwis. I’m going to the next Tramping (Hiking) Club and Canoe Club meetings to mingle with other university students. Also, there are socializing apps (Tinder, Primate [an exclusively NZ, platonic friends app], etc.) that allow you to meet people in your area. Just be smart about it. I’ve already met a pretty incredible Kiwi off one of those apps, and it’s only Tuesday of my third week here. Meeting locals can seem intimidating because, if you’re anything like me, you don’t want to seem like the out-of-place dumb American. Well, fun fact, you’re not. And there’s no reason to lose hope. 

If I had an appropriate opportunity to ask some of these folks what’s up, I would because that’s just who I am. Though, it is a matter of picking your battles and using my social energy wisely. Shit happens, and you can’t let anyone get you down. You are a damn lovely person with that amazing thing that makes you YOU! Plus, you’re in an amazing country with so many opportunities at your feet.  This is your experience, and you get out of it what you put into it. 

With Love and A Bit Less Sweat,

TL;DR: Staying in a homestay may make your other study abroad peers not talk to you anymore, but who gives a damn because you’re here to be submersed in the local cultural goings-on, anyway. (Word count: 960. I’m so sorry.)

12247767_10205653848413302_365924241761731370_o 12772009_10205653835172971_8481170900826781665_o 12794773_10205653840733110_1298478217621026662_o 12841308_10205653855613482_361173877516219345_o 12832405_926648744108655_2755804111624509241_n <–Some Waitomo Cave pics



Crash Course: Auckland

Crash Course: Auckland

Greeting from Auckland, New Zealand! It’s around 72F here, but it feels so much hotter…as do most days. It’s humid, and there is LITERALLY a HOLE in the ozone later above us. No, that’s not us trying to be cute and make you put on your sunscreen. There is a hole. right. above. us. So put on your sunscreen, dammit.

I guess I started my post off a bit negative. Hot is great! It beats Chicago’s snow! Plus, the people are so wonderfully friendly here! We hold doors open for each other just like at Loyola! But that is just a standard for NZers. Too bad it’s not a standard for Americans.

Something about my experience so far: I’m in a homestay with 2 wonderful parents (Samantha and Jacko [pronounced Yah-ko]) and their 2 hilarious kids: Bella who is 9 and Pim who is 6. Pim calls me “his student” and gives me a hug. It’s freaking adorable. Sam’s dad comes over a lot with his little dog, Mister (who certainly helps when I’m missing my doggy!). Mister follows him around like, well, a dog. It’s the cutest thing you ever did see. The neighbors are also super welcoming and wonderful! Even the neighbor kids greet me when I get home with “Hannah’s home!!!” and give me hugs!! I just get little mini hugs all day. What’s not to love??

Some other facts, I’ve accumulated so far:
-Auckland drivers are the worst. I’m not being overdramatic. Please look both ways several times before you cross because even Auckland drivers admit that they’re bad. **Take special note of this if you’re biking around Auckland. Heavy Traffic + Crazy Drivers + Bike Lanes = Still Dangerous.** At least helmets are required by law?
-The bus drivers are on strike to keep their jobs. They have scheduled strikes where they don’t work. No one bothered to tell me this right away, so I thought they would have an indefinite strike like in the US. In that case, I would be SOL in getting to uni (university). Now they’re operating, but striking in such a way where they follow the rules to a T. That includes stopping the bus to “stay on schedule,” taking their time to switch out bus drivers, or sometimes they just don’t show up at all. You can just imagine the grumpiness. **Always allow at least an hour to get anywhere if you’re taking the bus.**
-Portion sizes are smaller than in the States. A large coffee is about the size of our small, but the coffee is the best I’ve ever tasted. And chockfull of caffeine, too. It’s a bit smaller, but it gets the job done.
-There is a very high population of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folks, so really good sushi is never far!
-Being “PC” hasn’t really come to NZ yet, so don’t be too surprised if people say something that someone would freak out over in the States. It’s just not a thing here. As an Anthropologist, it’s confusing but also refreshing.

One other (sort of related) note. I was talking to the other American in my home stay (Alex) and a NZer (Heide) who was babysitting the kids. I don’t know how it came up, but Alex and I were talking about how we (unfortunately) always have to be on our guard when trying to make friends because maybe they only want to use us, or they’re a fake friend, and so on, so we have to be careful what we tell these people. And Heide chimed in with “Wow. You guys are really over-thinking this. That has never even crossed my mind.” Damn. How refreshing. Think about it. Really.

TL;DR: NZ is different. Drivers are crazy, and they’re not very politically correct. People are just freaking nice. I love it here.

With constant sweat and smiles,