Esther in Whanganui

Skiing in August and Swimming in December - my experience in a country where they do everything the other way around

When I was on my way to the Zürich airport in July 2019, I couldn’t stop smiling as nervous as I was. I would spend the next five months in New Zealand, so far away from my family, my friends, basically everything I’ve known my entire life. I had no idea what to expect and I certainly didn’t know how amazing it would be. I only lived five months in New Zealand, but I’ve found a second home there. I’ve seen the country, learned about its culture, took over their relaxed lifestyle and found friends on the other side of the world. It was and will always be one of the best times in my life. 

I lived in a small town on the west coast of the North Island. Whanganui translated to English means «big harbour». The town with an estimated population of 40’000 is next to the sea and a river flows right through it. It’s a rather sleepy little town but certainly has its own charm. Spending a day on the beach, sitting by the river or simply just walking down Victoria Avenue, Whanganui’s main road - that’s how I spent my weekends or the time after school. I lived with my lovely host parents and my two younger host siblings. With whom I’ve played countless games. Even though I lived outside of town I spent most my time in Whanganui, my school was there and all my friends were living there. I’ve made so many memories in this small town and enjoyed every single one of them. Whanganui will always be a special place to me and one day I’ll go back there. 

School is in general easier than in Switzerland. So was definitely mine. School began everyday at 8.40 with twenty minutes of whanga class (formal class, where you got updates about everything that’s going on at the school). After that you’d have five periods each one hour with two breaks in between. School finished everyday at 3.00. The rest of the day I could do whatever I wanted to do. Homework or studying were more an exception. I only had five subjects of which only three had to be academic. So I also took Outdoor Education, a subject were I did a lot of mountain biking and multiple trips. 

I’ve got to know Kiwis as open, laid-back and very generous people. They don’t hesitate to help you when you don’t know what to do and are dedicated on showing you a bit about their country whether by teaching you some slang, telling you about New Zealand history or translate a Maori word for you. New Zealander maintain a relaxed lifestyle, they love the outdoors and don’t seem too care too much about their looks. Walking around in gumboots or even barefoot seemed normal there. Going somewhere new is also a great opportunity to try new stuff. Schools often offer sports or other extra-curricular activities. I tried hockey for one term which I really enjoyed. I was also lucky enough to get to try surfing with my host dad. I also volunteered (during school time) at a RDA (Riding for the Disabled) horse park, where I’ve helped with the horses and the riders. 

My exchange is full of highlights. I went Bungy Jumping in Queenstown on the South Island Tour I did. The South Island Tour was really fun and a good chance to see the South Island, especially because I was living on the North Island. We traveled from Christchurch down to Queenstown and up north again. We went jet boating, stayed overnight on a boat in Doubtful Sound and explored the astonishing nature. Not just on the South Island but also on the North Island the landscapes are breathtaking. Being able to spend a day at the beach or go skiing were all things I really appreciated to do. In general this experience helped me to try, see and learn new. 

When I was on my way to the Whanganui airport in December 2019 I couldn’t stop crying as devastated I was that I had to leave New Zealand. I was really sad to leave the life I’ve built there. Now, almost two weeks since I’m back in Switzerland I’ve realised just how lucky I am to have made all those experiences. I’ve learned so much and I’ve grown as a person. Everything seemed to be the the opposite way there, the seasons, the 12+ hour time difference - but still I found a second home there and I can’t wait to go back to the future again one day.