1. Settling In
It is important to think about when to arrive. You don’t want to have too long before you start studying, nor do you want to start just the next day. Also, you may be aware to arrive while student life is still happening because you want to adapt to this student lifestyle, not just in the local manner of living.
Arriving to a new country and adapting to your new life day by day is not always easy. After a long airplane ride to New Zealand the last thing you want to worry about once you land, is where to sleep and eat.
For example, I arrived 10 days before I started my studies, but I had arranged my housing and food one month before. I booked a room for 16 weeks and made a two-week meal plan.
I decided to take the university accomodation services because they helped me in the first week with everything. They picked me up from the airport and they took me to a shopping mall to buy the basics (toilet paper, hand soap and a local mobile number). With all this preparation, I could worry more about my studies than about how to settle in.
2. Supportive learning environment
In general, doctoral studies at New Zealand universities have no official start day. But the general suggestion is to start the same season other postgrads in master’s degree. For example, I started in October and coincidentally it was the same month as the welcome session day with the dean and the “GradFest” - multiple workshop sessions about research, the educational system in New Zealand, IT skills for postgrads, scholarship opportunities and how to improve our careers.
Also, we enjoyed seminars about different services in the library, the recreation centre, the academic skills centre (experts helping non-native English speakers develop their writing and oral presentation skills), the well-being student centre (helping students to deal with personal issues) and the health center.
Specially, in the University of Canterbury we have “SOAR advisors”. It is a programme where PhD students in their last year help to first-year PhD students with assistance in their areas of expertise such as: cultural adjustment, mentoring, academic writing or referencing.
My supervisor organised a meeting with other Latin American PhD students and teachers from South America to welcome me to university and the country. Then I had the opportunity to ask questions and get advice about my career journey and research, and also to make my first friends in the faculty.
Finally, the first three months helped me to understand the culture, adapt to local mannerisms and enjoy the cultural diversity here in New Zealand. I started meeting people in the different places I go for my hobbies and personal interests. For instance, I went to the climbing club and met people who wanted to travel for rock climbing the next weekend. Also, people at church had a welcome session about spiritual leadership, and when I went to the library I met people in the Maker Space - a room with many hands-on options for developing your hobbies and soft skills.
Thanks to all of that, the first three months I managed to settle in, meet friends and enjoy my hobbies to start exploring this amazing country.