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Studying Abroad: New Zealand vs Europe

When I first looked into study abroad options, I was facing a map with countless virtual pushpins, each representing a possible destination I could spend a semester studying in. It was overwhelming. How do I choose a continent, much less one specific city within a country?

Personally, I wanted somewhere new and I wanted a place full of adventure and natural beauty. I happened upon New Zealand and immediately fixated on coming here and nowhere else was even a close runner-up. My heart was set.

When I told others back home I was studying abroad in New Zealand, many were surprised and I got a range of responses from “Oh wow, that’s actually cool. I thought you were going to say some place in Europe” to “Where is that?” Many Americans do study abroad in Europe, but I feel like a lot of them are missing out on New Zealand by not even considering this amazing country as an option. Everyone who I study with here, whether they planned on coming to New Zealand or had no choice because of their major, has said they’ve been so grateful and have absolutely no regrets on choosing New Zealand.

To help readers (YOU!) decide between the two destinations, I talked with my best friend Amber who studied abroad in Florence, Italy last autumn to pinpoint the main differences between the two places, so maybe you can get a feel for which place would be a better fit.

New Zealand vs Europe

New Zealand mountain range


Compared to the States, both Europe’s and New Zealand’s food is a lot fresher, better quality and packed with fewer preservatives than we’re used to. So yes, that means your bread won’t last as long, but you also feel a lot better about what you’re putting in your body. Personally, it has influenced me to eat healthier and I’ve become a vegetarian since coming here. The vegetarian diet is easily accommodated here and I have no trouble finding delicious meat-less meals at restaurants. However, if you are a foodie and want to spend your money abroad on trying cultural foods, I will admit that Europe would probably suit you better.

Warning: Peanut butter is a rare find in many European destinations, as it was in Florence. Alternatively, I’m writing this while eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich!



Class & Local Interaction

Amber went to a country where English wasn’t the first language, but Italian wasn’t necessary because she took classes through her study abroad program with fellow Americans. Because she took classes with her program, she did not get to interact with locals much and was even told that locals avoided getting close to study abroad students or other tourists.

Friends made in New Zealand

Friends in New Zealand

Weekend Trips

Amber and I both travelled most weekends. This is the best part of studying abroad – constantly exploring and living new adventures every week. Amber would travel to different countries while I travel to different towns within New Zealand. Both are amazing, just different, experiences. For Amber, she saw many different cultures and landscapes, while I explored my study abroad country and felt more connected to the country as a home. Also, I must note that even though you are in the same country, New Zealand has way too many amazingly different cities and mountains and views that you still can’t see every amazing site in your five months here. No trip was the same and I never got tired of the views.

Amber often travelled to touristy cities and would see picturesque architecture and monuments, venture through cities, and go shopping. While New Zealand does have some cities – I had fun visiting Auckland and Wellington – most trips are for adventures in the outdoors. We often go hiking to see amazing views, go whitewater rafting, visit hot pool beaches, go bungee jumping, etc. This was my main deciding factor to come here; looking out over a mountain or lake will take my breath away like no building ever can. It’s also my personal belief that this attracts a certain type of person. While Amber described to me a lot of drama among her study abroad group, I feel close to my entire group of 36 Americans and feel everyone is laid-back and just wants to have a good experience. This is also the lifestyle of many Kiwis, so you feel unrushed and can just step back, breathe, and enjoy yourself.

I hope it’s been clear that I’m not definitively saying one destination is the better choice. One may be the better choice for you while the other is better for someone else. Pick a place you could see yourself feeling at home at while simultaneously being inspired to adventure. But regardless of where you go, just go. Studying abroad is sincerely a life-changing experience and it’s what you make of it.

"Studying abroad is sincerely a life-changing experience!"


Surfing, New Zealand

Here in New Zealand, I am directly admitted into a local university. I take classes varying from 50 to 90 minutes long with local Kiwi students. The difficulty of the class depends on the subject, but overall I’ve found myself less stressed than at home. The university also has multiple clubs you can join to meet students and get involved with your local community. Some of my closest friends here are New Zealanders. I’ve heard so many stories from locals, have learned a lot of culture through them, and have gained a greater appreciation and connection to this country because of this opportunity. My American friends and I have even adopted some Kiwi slang into our regular vocabulary.

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By Jessica ToneyUS Study Abroad Student

Updated 4 years ago

Jessica Toney was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri but went out-of-state to study statistics, economics and business at Indiana University. Despite the common saying "Midwest is best" from back home, New Zealand has become one of her favourite places, surpassing all of her expectations and giving her a sense of adventure, empowerment, and pure happiness that she will hold onto for the rest of her life.

*Views expressed are the blogger's own
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