When I first found out I was going to Dunedin, I remember thinking “Where’s this place? Is it true there are more sheep than people? How on earth am I going to survive knowing that shops close at 5? What can I do for fun?”
I’m sure these questions are pretty drastic but for a girl who found out she was going to Dunedin to study in less than a month… well, it was pretty understandable.
I was an interesting case because my parents were the ones that applied to the foundation school in New Zealand for me.
They wanted me to have an overseas education and pretty much uprooted me from my school in Singapore to attend a pre-university course in NZ. And I am so grateful for that every day.
Living on my own in a foreign country can be scary, especially if you don’t know anything about the city (well except from Wikipedia, of course). All I knew about Dunedin was that it was a university town and that there was probably nothing much to do after 5 pm except to stay at home and chill.
Thus, my first few weeks in Dunedin mainly consisted of me going to classes and going home. It does sound boring, doesn’t it? Well, the only way from the bottom is up and things started changing when I met my best friend Caroline.
Caroline and I didn’t have a good impression of each other when we first met. I thought she was too cool for me, and she thought I was way too quiet. We couldn’t have been more wrong about each other!
Anyway, after a rocky start, we gradually became really close and she got me to join the Otago Singapore Club (OSC) as she was the president in 2010-11.
I really admired the work she had done because she was organising all these food events, paintball events, etc. to bring us Singaporeans together. It was through her that I was able to open myself up to people and when I started to truly feel like a part of the Dunedin community.
I know some people may not agree with me on hanging out with my fellow countrymen, because who goes to a different country and hang out with the same people you hang out with back home?
But in truth, joining an activity (be it your cultural club, a sport, a musical activity) is the best place to make friends if you’re someone like me.
Otago University has a whole slew of clubs that have the loveliest people you will ever meet and will get you immersed in the university culture right away (http://www.ousa.org.nz/recreation/clubs/).
From archery, kickboxing, to dance, Otago has it all for the shy and quiet individual.
Even if you’re a naturally brave and outgoing person, joining an activity won’t hurt as you will be making new friends and learning a new skill at the same time!
Anyway, while I took the comfortable route of making friends with people from similar backgrounds, it was a great platform for me to meet people of all cultures.
Dunedin is such a small and close-knit community that it is impossible to not know anybody who is from another country.
We have so many inter-club activities that also help you meet people all over the world!
I used to joke that my friends are similar to the United Nations because my friends are from New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Malaysia, India and more.
Furthermore, one of the best things about Dunedin is the annual International Food Festival whereby the entire international clubs band together to cook up a feast for the public.
You can afford cheap and delicious food from the different cultures, and groove to the sounds of a live band. Throughout my years at Otago, the International Food Festival just keeps getting bigger and better! And it is the only international food festival in the whole of the south island.
Joining an activity/club will also give you a break from all that study.
Instead of lying in bed at 8 pm and feeling horrible about your latest assignment, you could be going out for concerts or dancing with your friends!
I don’t know about you, but I get bored easily so I always jumped at the chance of planning exciting events for my fellow international friends.
Being the president of the International Cultural Council (ICC) has expanded my repertoire outside of the academic sphere and has given me opportunities to meet people from all walks of life.
One of my greatest accomplishments this year was organising the International Cultural Night – which is basically a concert showcasing all the different cultural performances to the wider Dunedin community.
While stressful, I have never had so much fun before. It was great to be in the midst of all the action and seeing all the hard work come alive on that one night. Moreover, all proceeds went towards charity and it was nice to know that everything paid off for the better
So let me just say this: I never expected to be where I am right now. It goes to say that life is unexpected and you just have to go with the flow sometimes. But I have no regrets because being the ICC President gave me the chance to escape from those long dreary hours of study, and helped me to be a more self-assured and confident individual.
I have also met so many great people who will always remain close to my heart. So what are you waiting for? Go out, explore, and make new friends. You will be surprised to know that we don’t bite.
Picture Credits to Otago Singapore Club and Hadi