Hey, I'm Jonas, 15 years old and an international student from Germany.
I'm going to tell you guys about my six months stay in Taranaki, more specifically in New Plymouth. I'm not going to write the mainstream report about being and studying in New Zealand, telling you how interesting, beautiful and nice it was, instead I want to share my experience as honest and personal as possible. I should mention that this blog and the photos are entirely written and taken by myself. But let's carry on.
The motivation I had to do half a year in a different country was clear. Wouldn't you like to experience six months 'on your own', leaving the home, being away from your family, your city and a bit of everything you have been used to? It's not only about getting to know a new country and new people, it's about a different lifestyle and mentality too. And of course, I also wanted to improve my English.
I attended Francis Douglas Memorial College (FDMC), a Catholic boys’ college in New Plymouth. To be honest I hadn't even done much research about New Zealand and its regions before going there. The company that had organised my stay had suggested I go to FDMC because of a good football team and an outdoor education class. Since I wanted to do outdoor education at any cost I gave the OK for FDMC. I want to share my experience with stories and some photos.
I arrived in July to stay in New Zealand for terms three and four. July is right in the middle of winter, and the coldest month in New Zealand. It was cloudy and rainy, in the first week I didn’t even see the region's landmark Mount Taranaki.
The school needed getting used to; wearing school uniforms, being only boys and having the same subjects every single day. But I got into it and started enjoying it. Also, on a nice day, you had an amazing view on Mount Taranaki right from the school ground.
I chose my subjects carefully, trying to get subjects as different as possible to the German ones. After a few modifications I had my perfect timetable; maths, English, physical education, outdoor education and agriculture. Other possible subjects for those of you who aren't interested in outdoor stuff would have been design, business studies, photography, media design, wood work, metal work and many more.
Don't get me wrong, you're not only doing practical work in those subjects, but they're still much more interesting than German ones, learning some practical and useful skills for your future life. A couple of weeks after school started I began doing volunteer work once a week called 'Breakfast in Schools', a programme for high school students to help prepare breakfast in primary schools. I really enjoyed it; seeing the kids walking away with their breakfast and a smile on their face can easily make your day!
Another big and important component of New Zealand schools is sport. At my school there were many different teams for every sport, e.g. rugby, football, cricket, basketball, tennis, swimming, wakaama (traditional Māori rowing).
Since football and rugby are winter sports that are mainly played in terms one and two and the seasons were almost over when I arrived, I could just train a couple of times with the football team. After the training was over, I decided to start doing Wakaama and it was a perfect way to enjoy the weather and the sea.
Shortly thereafter term three was already over, I was settled in pretty well and term four was about to start. As I couldn't carry on with the "Breakfast in Schools" project I started volunteering at the Alzheimer Society and even though the short term memory of those was affected by Alzheimer’s disease they had heaps of interesting stories to tell and I had a good time helping and spending time with them.
Also the weather got warmer and nicer and I started visiting attractions around New Plymouth. On a beautiful day we climbed up Paritutu Rock, a massive rock right at the waterfront and with a stunning view over the sea.
Also, I came to New Zealand wanting to learn to surf, I had never surfed before and was determined to give it a try. Luckily Taranaki is such a good surf region that is has an entire highway named “Surf Highway 45”, with heaps of spots all around the coast. At the start of term four I took a surf lesson with a proper teacher and I loved it. The best thing was I was able to borrow a board from a friend and I started going surfing regularly.
However, even though everything I wrote before was awesome and loads of fun, it was kind of hard sometimes too. For instance, in the first term, especially in the first weeks, it was very difficult to talk to people. Not only was it difficult to understand people when they spoke, it was hard to find topics to speak about too. Kiwi’s interests can be pretty different to German interests, often talking about farming, farming machines and that sort of stuff.
Looking back I would have managed things very differently. When you can't speak a language fluently, you still have problems understanding it properly and sometimes you just don't know what to talk about. You can get frustrated and unmotivated. In my case I found myself just playing at the phone many times, too unmotivated and perhaps feeling a bit shy as my English wasn't perfect. I experienced this 'problem' especially in the first term, where you find yourself confronted with different people and a different mentality. They had told us before we would have to step out of our comfort zone and I took it as obvious and easy. But trust me - it's not! As mentioned earlier, I would have behaved differently in a few situations. Even though it got much better in term four, I can give you one piece of advice, your parents, teachers or mentors, are right, step out of your comfort zone, put down your phone, talk to people and make as many friends as possible.
Let’s move on to the next topic, clichés about Kiwis. Most of the time, these clichés are right, they are very friendly, open and welcoming. They have a relaxed lifestyle. In general they can be described as weird.
For instance, I had been told before leaving Europe that the Kiwis don't really care about style and the newest look. I just couldn't imagine it to be true and brought almost 30kg, the allowed weight in the plane, of clothes. However, you don't need them. After using the few winter clothes I had I adopted the kiwi mentality regarding your appearance. More than half my wardrobe wasn't in use for the rest of my stay, but I liked it. You don't get criticised if your style isn't on point, you can wear whatever you want without anyone looking at you in a deprecating way and most importantly, you stop spending money on clothes you don't necessarily need. That's only one example, but just like that I changed my mentality in many different ways. It's definitely worth it.
Since Taranaki is a very rural region many people like hunting and fishing. It's great. Once even I went hunting, it was so much fun.
Also my host Dad had a fishing boat and we went fishing every time the weather and the sea allowed us to. We weren't the only ones. When the sea was calm and the weather was good it felt like every fisherman from Taranaki came to the port and went fishing. I once saw a farmer who drove down with boat trailer attached to his tractor to go fishing: one of the most kiwi things I've ever seen. But in some way, it makes you happy.
It was great being able to escape German society, which is more materialistic and concerned with personal status. In New Zealand you get to know people who truly live their lives, doing what they love and want to do. This is what makes New Zealand, and in particular Taranaki, so special. You have a mountain with beautiful bush walks just a few kilometres from the sea with some great surf and fishing spots. You have a small city just next to farmland and bush to explore and go hunting in - it's magnificent!
Another thing that is different is the relationship between students and teachers. It's hard to explain if you haven't experienced it but most teachers really trust their students, it's just warmer and more relaxed. It's common for teachers to coach some sort of sport team as well, one teacher being my Wakaama coach and another one regularly going out with students to surf. Also we made a trip with a couple of students to camp in the bush for one night, and it felt like paradise.
In that exam period I also made trips with a nearby school to different must-see attractions. As the Māori culture is very present in everyday life one of these trips was to a marae, a traditional Māori meeting place, often used for ceremonies too. We learned a lot about the culture and cooked a traditional Māori dish, hāngi, which is food that is slow cooked in the ground.
Obviously I loved the time I spent here and despite a few challenges, it was an awesome decision to come to Taranaki and have that experience. I hope I was able to convince you to come to Taranaki, the region "like no other". Enjoy your time.