Hi my name is David, I was born and raised in Switzerland. After finishing my apprenticeship as a designer at Maschinenfabrik Rieter AG I worked one year prior to taking on a new challenge at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. I’m currently studying mechanical engineering and getting into my 7th semester. As a part time student, I’m working 60% as a designer for Stadlerrail. I like to spend most of my time off campus with outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, snowboarding, wakeboarding, surfing and sometimes in the gym. In the following paragraphs I’d like to tell you about my semester abroad.
These traditional Maori words, simply meaning welcome, greeted us students in Christchurch at the beginning of the semester. But this warm welcome did not just mark the beginning of the studies at the university, it actually encouraged me to explore and discover New Zealand. I’ve always been looking for an opportunity to benefit from a top-quality education in a first-class travel destination and found it in New Zealand. Its stunning and very diverse landscape plus English as the national language seemed to be ideal to further develop my personality and academic knowledge.
Since the University of Canterbury, which is located in Christchurch, maintains a partnership with the School of Management and Law of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences it was easy to find a suitable institution. A brief research about the university and its prestigious College of Engineering convinced me immediately to apply for a study abroad semester. I was considered a free mover and therefore self-responsible for the entire application process. But the very efficient and straight forward communication with the University of Canterbury as well as my early organization clearly facilitated the process. In order to profit as much as possible and to minimize a potential knowledge deficit, I paid high attention to attend courses that had a strong similarity to the ones I missed at my home institution.
I instantly felt comfortable at the university and got into a daily routine really quickly. Attending lectures every day and not being assigned to a class was unusual first but I adapted to it. It just took a bit longer to recognize all the faces and identify the students that attended multiple courses with me. Fortunately, I was able to connect with some local and other study abroad students during the first week. Especially the international welcome day, which was held prior to the semester start, helped me a lot to get social connections. Another great opportunity to connect with people is sport. It does not require that much effort either. Just be open minded and introduce yourself with a smile. During the semester connecting got harder since everybody was following its personal schedule, attendance was not mandatory and you could easily get lost in a lecture theater filled with 150 people.
From a scientific perspective it seems to me that lectures at UC focus more on details to prepare students for their master. At ZHAW on the other hand a more practical approach is chosen and students get well prepared to work with their bachelor’s degree. Some lecturers for example required us students to additionally read in a book and gain a more detailed understanding about the topic. The lectures therefore only taught the basics. Fortnightly quizzes were used as a feedback about the discussed topics and lab reports were always checked on plagiarism. I experienced the lecturer’s way of teaching as very successful and liked their interaction with the students. It is noteworthy to mention that such a semester abroad requires a certain level of English since its main purpose is to improve your academic knowledge rather than your language skills.
Besides science there was plenty of time to pursue personal interests and widen the individual horizon off campus. The tragic history of Christchurch was still very present and clearly observable throughout the entire city. Roadworks and construction sites gave a small hint about the severe damage the earthquake has caused. New buildings opened almost monthly. At the beginning of the semester a brand-new research building, equipped with the latest laboratory technology, was introduced at UC and during the semester new office buildings with bars and restaurants opened in the city center. The city is obviously recovering and coming back to live. Sadly, earthquakes will always remain a part of Christchurch and therefore get addressed in lectures about material science or design.
Within a short drive Christchurch was left behind and the unspoiled nature at one’s feet. Unfortunately, the sighting of a Kiwi, which is New Zealand’s national animal, is very rare and a lot of luck is needed. But because a third of New Zealand’s landscape is protected by national parks there are plenty of opportunities to physically challenge oneself or observe other animals besides the Kiwi. This is why I spent 5 days hiking on one of the great walks in Abel Tasman National Park. I also visited famous spots like Queenstown, the Aoraki or went snowboarding in July and surfing on the 90 Mile Beach. From glaciers to remote and gorgeous beaches, New Zealand is able to please everybody with its beauty. With rugby as their national sport, also sport maniacs will be satisfied and there is a huge reason for that. The Kiwis, to which New Zealand citizens also refer to, are home to some of the world’s best rugby teams. The Canterbury Crusaders for example are domiciled in Christchurch and the famous All Blacks are New Zealand’s national team and reigning world champion.
Reviewing my time at the University of Canterbury I couldn’t have made any better choice. Not only did I got to experience and practice mechanical engineering from a different perspective, yet it reminded me once again how important it is to approach problems from different ways. The University of Canterbury is an outstanding institution equipped with the latest technology. I felt appreciated and welcome with the first touch. Christchurch itself is a lovely and charming city. Its location is ideal to start exploring New Zealand, particularly the south island which is most visitors’ favorite. The Kiwis are very friendly and welcoming people. By arranging about 95% of my accommodations through Airbnb I also experienced their great hospitalization. After the semester I took advantage of New Zealand’s excellent location to discover the south pacific. I travelled to Samoa, the Cook Islands plus Tahiti. In each country I spent roughly two weeks sunbathing under palm trees, on stunning beaches with crystal clear, turquoise water. I personally highly recommend to everyone giving such unique experience at least once a change. It is not just an opportunity to develop one’s individual character and scientific knowledge, but also to challenge and discover oneself. It has been my forth experience abroad that lasted for several months and was again a full success. I’m able to return to Switzerland with a bigger personal backpack, stuffed with new knowledge, fantastic experiences and wonderful moments.