Being Independent Abroad

When I originally imagined studying abroad, I didn’t think my daily life would be that different from what I experienced at Amherst. After all, I was already used to living on my own, away from my parents, for months at a time, and the changes in my living situation – that I would live off campus and need to cook my own meals – didn’t seem too significant.

I was wrong. Even though my circumstances truly aren’t that dissimilar from how I lived at Amherst, I still feel these days like I have one foot in the university world and one foot in the “real” world.

The numerous chores and activities that come with living on your own without catered food services, from grocery shopping and hitting up the farmer’s markets (for the cheapest and freshest produce) to making meals and cleaning up represent a major part of my life these days.

This isn’t, however, a complaint. My newfound independence is something I find myself thoroughly enjoying. I’m not someone who had a lot of experience with cooking before coming over, so I’ve been able to greatly enjoy myself while also honing a wide range of new culinary skills – many of them taught by my much-more-food-savvy girlfriend Maddy. And, on the occasions that I don’t feel like experimenting (and dealing with the risk that always accompanies my somewhat temperamental oven), I have admittedly fallen back on instant noodles and the like.

I live in student housing, but (relative to Amherst) quite far from campus. My daily walk to classes is twenty minutes uphill, so I tend to stay up on campus all day when I have lectures in the afternoon, instead of hiking back down for lunch.


The view from the library.

However, I don’t at all begrudge my living situation – in fact I’m situated extremely well in the city. The nearest grocery store is a ten-minute walk, though the cheaper one is another ten minutes past that. Every Sunday there’s a fruit and vegetable market in the old parking lot across the street from my building, where I buy whatever’s in season – during the summer, nashi pears, peaches, and plums; now in the fall, feijoas (a fruit native to New Zealand), kiwi fruit, and apples – as well as farm fresh cage-free eggs.

I’m also only a couple of blocks from Cuba Street, a pedestrian avenue lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants with a weekly night market and constant street entertainment. Just a little further away is the Mount Vic suburb, home to what I’ve been told is the city’s best fish ‘n chips shop – although I admittedly have yet to try it.


Cuba Street’s famous bucket fountain.

If you walk all the way down Cuba, you’ll find yourself at the waterfront, resplendent with activities and where a second farmer’s market pops up on Sundays. Nearby is the free national museum, Te Papa, and the waterfront path, where I run frequently – although not as often as I should!

I wouldn’t say I’m in the middle of town, but Wellington isn’t a large city – I can get to anything in the city proper by walking. Public transport is also available for reaching the suburbs, like the hilltop of Khandallah where my girlfriend lives, and although the public system doesn’t run on the same oiled schedule as the transportation authority of my native Chicago, it’s still much more frequent and helpful than the PVTA! Also, it’s green, with the buses hooking up to electric wires in the downtown areas.

So, needless to say, I spend a lot of time exploring the city. I’ve stumbled on a wide array of food trucks, including a Churro truck with which I have a loyalty card, as well as other nooks and crannies in the city with good and cheap bites. I also find myself wandering along Lambton Quay on a reasonably frequent basis, a broad avenue with more high-end shops than those on Cuba street, but also with a pop-up cookie stand and a secretive bubble tea shop, hidden away in an arcade lobby.


The city’s best bubble tea – since the earthquake destroyed Bubble Central, at least!

Perhaps part of the sense of independence I feel simply comes from being in a city as opposed to small-town Massachusetts – but then again, I’ve lived in and around Washington, D.C., Brussels, and Chicago, and never felt anything similar. Most likely, it’s simply a confluence of factors – prepping your own meals, living in the city, living off campus, etc. But the fact that I’m in a foreign country certainly contributes to that as well.

I can’t guarantee that everyone will have the same experience as I have while on study abroad. Some programs are more structured, and students might feel less able to engage with the city and country around them if they aren’t fluent in the language(s) spoken. But I can say that study abroad provides an opportunity to experience this sort of independence, particularly before we graduate and plunge into it headfirst.

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