Getting involved on-campus at the Victoria University of Wellington was one of the best decisions I made while studying abroad. Before arriving in New Zealand, I scrolled through a list of VUW clubs hoping to find the hiking club of my dreams. Hiking is something that I’ve always loved to do and I couldn’t wait to climb the beautiful mountains of New Zealand! The only problem was that a “hiking” club didn’t seem to exist.
After just a few days of being in the country, I was on my way to learning so many new terms and Kiwi slang; I learned that a New Zealander is a ‘Kiwi,’ a bathing suit is ‘togs,’ and finally, hiking is ‘tramping.’ Not until I attended the school-wide club fair did I realize I should’ve been searching for the tramping club. With this being said, I joined the club and allowed it to truly shape my study abroad experience. I’m so glad I was given the opportunity to join such an amazing community.
The club offers many skills training, first aid, and alpine instruction courses on top of weekly tramping trips. Sometimes, tramps take place over a day through the hills of Wellington, and others take the form of week long adventures through the Tararua Mountain Range or Southern Alps. This gave me so many opportunities to learn new things, meet new people, and explore new places within my wonderful host country. All I had to do was attend meetings every Tuesday, sign up for weekend excursions, and go tramping! It doesn’t sound that hard, but it sure was nerve-racking. I was an experienced day-hiker, but never had I spent the night on a mountain or had to really attempt to survive in the wilderness. VUWTC had me covered in that respect; they didn’t cater to the people who went on the trips, but really tried to teach us all how to successfully prepare for and navigate the outdoors.
Put yourself out there
It can be so stressful to join any club while abroad, but I found it to be 100% worth it. At first, I was afraid to be different than the locals. I was so nervous to go to the weekly Tramping Club meetings and when it came to going on actual tramps, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of being in tents with people I didn’t know anything about! This was pretty awkward at times. As a new member of the club, I didn’t know many people other than the president (who was nice enough to introduce herself to me), and some of my flatmates who joined the club as well. That being said, while on overnight tramps, I was surrounded by people who wanted to stick together; they wanted to sleep in the same tents and sit in the same row of seats on the bus. It was so hard for me to know my place, but also insert myself in conversations throughout the weekend. I wanted to make friends, but it seemed like everyone else already had enough!
In reality, there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of; everyone in the club was super nice and welcoming to me and other new members.
VUWTC provided me with a solid means for common ground in the sense that everyone in the club was interested in tramping! The sole topic of tramping gave me so much to talk about with others from all over the world. Despite my original belief that the members of the club were mostly from New Zealand, I learned that there were so many other international students; I met other Americans as well as people from all other parts of the world. We would talk about our favorite tramps, our least favorite tramps, and eventually recommend places for others to go tramping in various parts of the world. Gaining such a global perspective of hiking was one of the coolest things to me. One of my favorite hobbies is appreciated in so many pockets of the world.
By becoming a member of a club that is comprised of both Kiwis as well as people from around the world, I also came to the realization that it is okay to be different than the locals. I’m not a local, so why was I expecting myself to fit in as one? To be able to see clearly from others’ perspectives is a skill that I hope to continue developing over the course of my life. There are so many more people I want to meet and places I want to go, and I strive to be able to adapt to their way of life and thinking when the time comes. This is all thanks to the people I met and the places that we visited together!
Try new things
Above all, keep an open mind. There are so many opportunities to try new sports and clubs while you’re abroad—why not?! Whether you get involved with something completely new to you or something you’re familiar with, the experience will be one that you’ve never had. I thought I felt comfortable with hiking and climbing, but with new people, places, and conditions, everything proved to be challenging in one way or another. I met amazing people and experienced things I would be crazy to forget. I highly recommend putting yourself out there; there are positives to be found in any situation and “what if” questions to be tackled!
Kaitlyn Roukey is a Secondary Education and English student at Saint Michael’s College and studied abroad with IFSA at Victoria University of Wellington in Wellington, New Zealand during Fall 2019.