Becoming a Kiwi: My Journey to New Zealand

This is a reflection by Cierra Stevens ’20, who recently gave a presentation about her time studying in Dunedin, New Zealand as part of Elizabethtown College’s International Education Week. In this article, Cierra discusses the process that led her to have an amazing study abroad experience in New Zealand.

I knew I wanted to study abroad when I visited Elizabethtown College and saw that was something I could actually do (I always thought it was just in movies). In my head, I considered not going too far, most likely right across the pond in London, England. Once I started college, studying abroad left my mind entirely. I felt that traveling on my own and being far from my family was unrealistic as well as unaffordable. That ideal changed near the end of my sophomore year.

During a meeting with my academic adviser, I was asked offhandedly if I considered studying abroad. I expressed my uncertainty and she looked at me and said, “You should do it.” That was all it took to reignite that fire. Suddenly, I was interested again, but I kept my hopes low because I still felt that this was an unrealistic option for me. I decided to attend a presentation about studying abroad to at least see what the process was and what my options were. My initial thought when leaving that presentation was “Huh, that’s not so bad. I can do this!” That very same week, I made an appointment with Etown’s Study Abroad Advisor, Megan Bell.

The first step in studying abroad is deciding where you want to go. I knew I wanted a semester-long program. I am not bilingual in the slightest, so I knew I wanted to go somewhere that was predominantly English speaking. I also wanted to attend a school that had both my major (Sociology-Anthropology), and minor (Biology). That’s pretty much all the criteria I had, so, as I was flipping through the book of potential schools, I was overwhelmed by the choices. There were so many places I could go, so many places I wanted to go. Initially, I decided to stick with my original plan: London, England. This was a place I had dreamed of going to since I was a kid, but suddenly it did not seem like a good fit for me anymore.

So, why New Zealand? It all comes down to one word: new. I wanted the newest possible experience I could get. I had to do something different. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I wanted to go somewhere that I normally would not think of traveling to, a place I never really saw in movies or on social media. Flipping through the book, I saw the words New Zealand and paused. I remembered the student that gave the presentation I went to studied abroad in New Zealand and loved it. All I knew about New Zealand was that it was an island next to Australia. They offered a semester-long program. It offered both my major and my minor. It was English speaking. It was perfect. It felt right to me, and as I did more research I feel in love with New Zealand and the University of Otago. I was ready to challenge myself. I was ready to grow. I was ready experience a new culture, a culture I had never been exposed to before. I was ready to travel on my own to the other side of the world. I just had to get there first.

What kept me from pursuing study abroad was fear. One of the things I was worried about was the application process, but I discovered it really is not that bad. There is the initial application, which is a short essay about why you chose the program you want to study abroad in and a copy of your unofficial transcript. The post-approval application is where the bulk of the action happens, including obtaining your passport and visa. It is all online, and you fulfill each requirement of the application one step at a time. The BCA office is there to help you every step of the way.

Secondly, there was money. I felt that there was no way I would be able to afford studying abroad. It turns out that there are loads of scholarships on the study abroad website that you can apply to. Are you a STEM major? There’s a scholarship for that. Are you bilingual? There’s a scholarship for that. Do you like to blog and make videos? Become a BCA Storyteller! Every month for three months, I submitted a blog, video, and photos with a specific theme, and I got paid in return. Not only does it give you some extra cash, it also lets you be creative and share your story. I personally became very familiar with video editing, and I still do it in my free time! I also applied for and received the Gilman Scholarship, a government funded need-based scholarship for students who receive the Pell Grant. Fear almost stopped me from doing this as well. It is a competitive scholarship and I felt that there was not a chance I would get it. One application and two essays later, I got a letter saying that I was one of the over 800 students to win the scholarship out of the thousands that applied!

Third, there was the belief that I would truly be on my own with no familiar faces. I knew there would be other Etown students studying abroad in New Zealand, but I thought we would all be there individually when, in fact, I saw them quite often! The funny part was that I either knew them already or saw them around campus. The first week in New Zealand was spent with my BCA group, then throughout the semester we went on excursions together with our Resident Director. Though I did make a lot of friends and became close with my flatmates, it was nice to have a shared experience with other Etown students.

Fear had almost stopped me from experiencing the greatest adventure I have ever been on. I became more independent, from paying phone bills to buying groceries and cooking meals. I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried new things whenever I could, leading to lasting memories. I was able to learn about, experience, and participate in Maori (the indigenous culture of New Zealand) culture, which also allowed me to apply and strengthen my Sociological and Anthropological skills. I volunteered as often as I could, gaining new relationships while also helping the community.

During International Education Week, I had the opportunity to share my story with students who had interest in studying abroad. I hope to give many more presentations and inspire students to quench their fears and go on their own great adventures. If you are on the fence about studying abroad, it is possible!

To learn more about the BCA program in New Zealand, click the hyperlink above.

About the Author: Cierra Stevens ’20 – Spring 2019, Semester in Dunedin, New Zealand

Hey! My name is Cierra Stevens. I am a senior Sociology-Anthropology student from Elizabethtown College, and I studied at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand for my spring 2019 semester. I am excited to share more about my journey!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: