Thursday, February 21, 2013
New Zealand study trip gives OU scholar a fresh perspective
When Oakland University student Alex Pieters sought more adventure in his college experience, he got something he never expected – a new perspective on life.
“The first fall of my freshman year, I realized I was sick of the mundane,” said Pieters. “I was ready, mature enough, and wanted to test myself by doing something really different. I ran across some study-abroad information on the OU website, looked at flyers, and set an appointment to learn more.”
With hundreds of options to choose from, Pieters narrowed his program choices to three locations. “I went back and forth between Spain, New Zealand and Australia and finally ruled out Spain,” Pieters continued. “Although I had taken five years of Spanish, I was concerned about the language barrier.”
A recommendation from his grandparents influenced his decision to study in New Zealand.
“My grandparents vacationed in New Zealand and came back with beautiful pictures that inspired me, and the direct enrollment program offered at the University of Otago in Dunedin allowed me to take classes that counted toward my bachelor’s degree in physical therapy,” said Pieters.
Oakland offers direct enrollment programs at English-speaking universities in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England through partner study-abroad agencies AHA and CIEE.
“Many of our study abroad sites provide lots of support but a limited range of courses because they are dedicated exclusively to study abroad students. Direct-enrollment programs are more complicated to set up and require more initiative and independence from students, but they allow students to take classes in all disciplines available at the university,” said Brian Connery, director of the Office of International Education.
Pieters also took classes that satisfied general education requirements.
“One of my classes was New Zealand literature,” Pieters said. “It was fascinating to learn so much about the history of New Zealand by reading literature.”
The calendar for the academic year is different in the southern hemisphere, so Pieters' academic program ran a full semester from the beginning of July to mid-November. Pieters lived with two New Zealanders and two Americans in a university flat, which is a house with a common area. This living situation helped Pieters become more familiar with local culture, something he considered a high priority.
“At first I gravitated toward Americans and then wondered ‘why am I doing this?’” he said. “To meet more locals and get a different cultural perspective I started training, running and biking with New Zealanders who were fitness oriented, and also joined a church group.”
By getting involved, Pieters was able to embrace New Zealand’s culture.
“The whole culture is very friendly and hospitable. Before I left, I was a motivated, driven, and competitive person. New Zealand’s culture taught me to put balance my life - cultural balance, life balance, and social time,” said Pieters. “They have a slower pace of life. So I asked myself – ‘why get stressed out all of the time?’ There, they are relaxed and have a good time. It changed my outlook on life.”
Study abroad scholarships are available from the OU Alumni Association for study and travel in a foreign country and through the Oakland University Sharp Scholarship program. Alumni and Sharp award applications are accepted twice per year. Pieters was able to use his Oakland University Presidential Scholarship to support the cost of his study abroad.
“You can’t put a value on what you learn living in a different culture, so try to not get overwhelmed by the cost and the money,” said Pieters. “Traveling to the other side of the world was daunting, and by doing my study abroad in New Zealand, I conquered my fear of living on my own so far from home. I will definitely go back sometime. I have a lot of friends and contacts there now.”
There is still time to apply for a summer study abroad program for the 2013 semester. A number of study abroad information meetings are scheduled for the next few months. The deadline to apply for most programs is Friday, March 1.
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