Students embark on adventures in New Zealand


Photo provided by Akila Gopalkrishnan

For the past three weeks, three Trinity students — juniors Kaitlyn Curry, Akila Gopalkrishnan and Ashley Eads — have been kayaking in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climbing waterfalls and more as part of their IFSA-Butler Study Abroad Program in New Zealand.

The program, based at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, combines academically rigorous courses with an emphasis on outdoor exploration and adventure.

“I went from binge-watching A Series of Unfortunate Events to participating in the most exciting and challenging physical activities in my life,” Curry said.

This study abroad program appealed to Gopalkrishnan as a psychology major — the University of Otago’s psychology department is ranked No. 1 in New Zealand, according to the university’s official website.

“I heard that [the University of Otago] has a really good psychology program. … I’m going to be taking Psychology of Language, Psychology of Legal Systems, a communication class for Pathways and a class on Maori society,” Gopalkrishnan said. “I wanted a place that spoke English, and I’ve never been to New Zealand before, so I thought it was a really good choice.”

Within hours of arrival in New Zealand on Sunday, Feb. 10, the 56 students enrolled in the program were plunged into the Pacific Ocean on tandem kayaks in an attempt to curtail the effects of jet lag.

“[The people running the program] decided that extreme sports [were] the way to go to keep us awake until 7:30 to get over our jet lag,” Curry said. “We played kayak games. … We also kayaked out to a shipwreck, which was pretty cool — there were parts of an old boat sticking out of the water.”


As the weeks have progressed, Curry has gotten to know Gopalkrishnan and Eads, — all three are psychology students, and Gopalkrishnan and Curry are both taking a course on Maori society and culture.

“Because the program is really structured, there’s all these friendships that we’ve made and we’re really getting to know the other people in the program,” Gopalkrishnan said.

Classes started this week, so the students had time to explore their surroundings in Dunedin, which is nicknamed “the Edinburgh of the south,” because it was settled by the Scots in 1848 and its name is a Gaelic translation of Edinburgh.

“Orientation was in Auckland, and they let us explore downtown Auckland for like a few hours. [Since] we got here to [Dunedin], we’ve been walking around and exploring what we can on foot,” Gopalkrishnan said.

Gopalkrishnan and Curry both described differences in their experience at Otago versus Trinity. At Otago, professors are referred to by their first names, groceries seem more expensive and there is more emphasis on walking places by foot. However, one thing remains constant: the University of Otago is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Eads described some of the 150th anniversary activities.

“There was a [celebratory] picnic on the first day of orientation — they had food trucks come in, vendors, that sort of thing. There were several drawings and contests, and I think they had a group come and perform,” Eads said.

Curry’s experiences in New Zealand have taught her more about herself.

“I’m realizing that I’m so much more capable than I ever thought I was, especially with physical things. We went on a 30 kilometer or 20 mile bike ride, and I hadn’t ridden a bike in about six years, so it was probably the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Curry said. “But [I’ve been] just pushing through things to have this experience, and to prove to myself that I can do things that I never imagined I’d be able to do.”

Curry’s most memorable moment so far was a waterfall expedition with her flatmates to see glow worms in the forest.

“It was about an hour walk to this trail, and then another hour in the forest walking up steep rocks through a creek. … It was slippery, it was muddy, it was really dark, but we eventually made it to a little waterfall,” Curry said. “We turned our flashlights out and looked up at the trees, and it looked like the trees were full of stars, but they were really just glowing worms and it was pretty awesome.”

Eads also recalled an unforgettable outdoor experience.

“This past Saturday, we [all] went mountain biking in the Central Otago region … Just looking over the field and seeing the golden mountaintops contrast with the blue sky was so beautiful,” Eads said.

In addition to becoming better at cooking, Curry hopes to broaden her cultural awareness — especially pertaining to attitudes towards indigenous peoples in New Zealand and the United States.

“I want to take back what I learned about the native people here and kind of apply it to what I know about [Native peoples] in America,” Curry said. “I feel like here they treat [indigenous communities] with a lot more respect, and they’re integrated so much more into the culture and everyday life, like [their] language and everything is everywhere.”

Eads was excited about future activities that the program has planned.

“I think the weekend after next, we’re going out to the peninsula area of Dunedin where there’s this big castle, and we’re also going to volunteer at this eco-sanctuary with a bunch of penguins and other birds,” Eads said.

Students who want to learn more about the IFSA-Butler program or studying abroad can visit the IFSA-Butler Otago program’s official website or visit Trinity’s Study Abroad Office in Chapman 245.