My name is Isabella Medaris, I am a neuroscience and psychology student at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA. After completing my undergraduate degree I intend on attending medical school and either doing research or working in a clinical setting. 


I chose BCA Dunedin because I love the outdoors (New Zealand has amazing nature) and because the University of Otago is recognized internationally as a great University. The University of Otago is an internationally ranked university. With this reputation, there come limitless opportunities in both the classroom and through extracurriculars where you can get a fantastic education while abroad. When researching study abroad opportunities one of the biggest questions I had was what it was like being an international student at these universities. While the school websites gave me some good insight into the amenities that the university could provide, the information I found most useful was that about what day to day life was like for students. So, in the spirit of giving back to the amazing community I have become a part of, I wanted to talk a little about what my experience is (or was depending on when you’re reading this) like in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The 20,000 student population here at Uni Otago is a lot different than the 2,000 people I usually study alongside. The main difference I have found in the Scarfie (student in New Zealand slang) culture here is that there is a higher level of expected self-reliance. Assignments are given at the beginning of the year in the course outline, and there are far fewer overall assignments than in the US. It is highly likely that a large portion of your grade will come from a mid-semester and final exam rather than smaller assignments throughout the semester. This model has taught me a lot of self-discipline and time management. This may not be as glamorous as the adventures I’ve gone on with my friends while here, but I assure you it is just as valuable, and it will be something I’m taking back with me to the US!

Another great thing about the University of Otago is that there is a lot of diversity, from the kinds of classes you can take to the people you will meet. As a Neuroscience major, my main focus is on Science back home. I do come from a liberal arts college, so while I do get some diversity, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone with some of the classes that I would be taking in New Zealand. One subject that I cannot recommend enough, and which is quite unique to New Zealand, is the Maori culture and language. For those who don’t know, the Maori are considered the first people, or tangata whenua (people of the land) of New Zealand. Maori culture and language is a part of New Zealand history that its residents are proud of, with hakas (Maori performances) being performed at the All Blacks games (the All Blacks are the national rugby team). I decided that I wanted to take Maori Society and Introduction to Conversational Maori. These are both 100 level classes, and give you a good background knowledge of the culture and language that you will be hearing a lot throughout your stay in Aotearoa (New Zealand in Maori). These classes are unique to New Zealand and are extremely interesting if you enjoy learning about new places and cultures (which I can assume you are, considering you’re studying abroad!). Some other classes I am taking are Pacific Island Health Studies, and Medical Anthropology, both of which I have found incredibly educational, and helpful when it comes to relating medicine (my intended field of work) with people. From what I have heard about the classes that some of my friends are taking and from my own experiences, all of the classes at the University of Otago are taught by knowledgeable and approachable professors who really do want what’s best for you and your education.

As I mentioned, the people you meet here are extremely diverse as well. Not only do people come from all over New Zealand to study at UO, but they also come from all over the world. I have made friends with people from India, Hong Kong, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Italy, from all over the United States, and of course from all over New Zealand. Dunedin is also a cultural hub filled with different interesting restaurants, cultural events, and opportunities to meet amazing people from all over the world. 

One last insight I have for you when it comes to getting your education here at the University of Otago is that the Dunedin community (both on and off-campus) is a friendly one. Whether walking down the street, going on a hike, or studying in Central Library, people will likely say hello to you and ask you how your day is going. If you are struggling with work or just need a break, there are plenty of University staff members willing to talk to you and help you figure out whatever you may need help with. For such a large University and college town, Dunedin and the University of Otago are a very open and welcoming place. There is always somewhere quiet to study, someone friendly to talk to, and a great new adventure to tackle.

Those are just a few of the things that I have learned about Dunedin’s culture while here. I hope you found this article helpful, and I am so glad that you are considering studying at the University of Otago! It is an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; the adventures that I have had, the people that I have met and the things I have been able to accomplish while here are all amazing. Study abroad and have an amazing time wherever you go– but trust me, you should definitely go to New Zealand!

About the Author – Isabella Medaris, Fall 2019 BCA Dunedin, New Zealand Student

My name is Isabella Medaris and I am currently studying abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand at the University of Otago! I am a Neuroscience Major on a Pre-medical track. I love science, but also have a passion for writing, history, and politics. Outside of academics, I enjoy playing lacrosse for my home university (Juniata College), archery, hiking, fishing and volunteering for the Red Cross. New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful place full of rich history and enormous educational value. I am so proud to be studying at the University of Otago, and to be sharing my experiences with you!

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