The most rewarding experience I’ve had while being abroad in New Zealand was joining the Otago University Snow Sports Club (OUSSC). Joining OUSSC allowed me to meet so many Kiwi students, learn more about New Zealand culture, and engage in an activity that I wish I could do more in the United States.

I came to New Zealand with the goal of making it out to the mountains to ski at least once, so I decided to join the university snow club with the hope that I could make it on a trip. My first time meeting members of the club was during a flat crawl one evening. I was really nervous about showing up since I assumed it was going to be a pretty tight knit group, and I would stand out as an international student who didn’t know anyone. Luckily, going to that flat crawl was the best decision I made my whole semester. I quickly met so many people and everyone was so welcoming and enthusiastic about the upcoming ski season.

Fast forward to a month later, I was able to go on my first OUSSC trip. I was wondering how it would be to be new to the club and if I would get along with everyone, but I was welcomed in so nicely. I already felt close to so many people just on the first day.

Throughout my semester with OUSSC the two most significant lessons I learned from the club was becoming a better skier and being more open and outgoing. Although I have skied a decent amount in the US, I haven’t been able to ski as consistently as I have this past semester. Even though I only went on three trips with OUSSC, I felt like a much stronger skier by closing weekend than I had on my first trip. It also helped that everyone on the club is at different skill levels and everyone just wants to get better and have fun on the mountain. The people I met in OUSSC have also taught me to be more outgoing. The club has such a fun and welcoming community, they love planning fun bonding activities and they dress up for everything. I can’t think of an event that I went to for OUSSC where I didn’t dress up. It allowed me to break out of my comfort zone and embrace the judgment-free, fun environment that is created by OUSSC.

One of my favorite parts about OUSSC was getting to meet Kiwi students. Since I lived in UniFlats, which is international housing for exchange students, I found it sort of hard to meet Kiwi students. Getting to become friends with Kiwi students through OUSSC was such a great experience because I got to learn more about life at University of Otago, the different areas of New Zealand, and overall the culture of New Zealand. They were also super curious about the US and my life back at home, so it was a lot of fun talking about the similarities and differences of our lives and experiences. I’m so glad to have a community to come back to if I visit New Zealand again in the future.

Going back to the US, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experience with OUSSC and how it will affect my experiences back at home. I want to take my positive experience with OUSSC as a way to encourage myself to break out of my comfort zone and focus on things that I enjoy at home. I think a lot of the time I stick with activities that are familiar to me or that I feel like I need to do. Although joining OUSSC was scary for me, it was so worth it.

Joining a club at my university abroad was definitely the highlight of my time abroad. I highly recommend anyone studying abroad to join a club or get involved in some way with a university program. Something that seemed so scary originally, ended up giving me so much comfort by the end of my time abroad. It was so reassuring knowing I was part of a loving community and I had made the most of my time in New Zealand. Overall, it was a great way to gain unique experiences, connect with the community, explore New Zealand, and engage with local students.
By: Elena Skender
Arcadia Abroad – University of Otago
Fall 2023