When I first voiced my decision to spend a semester studying abroad in New Zealand, I unintentionally inspired a slew of friends, family members, and casual acquaintances to become experts on all things Kiwi. Without ever typing a query into Wikipedia, I learned so much about New Zealand, because people cared enough about me to research where I would be spending the next five months of my life. 

Palmerston North sign

Fortunately for me, it seemed that everyone I encountered knew someone who had traveled to New Zealand, had read an article on New Zealand in the paper, or had seen a show about New Zealand on television. More fortunately, all of these sources had great things to say about the country. They all said that New Zealand: is beautiful; has friendly people; knows how to have fun; has hobbits; and is full of sheep. Aside from the hobbits, I have personally experienced each one of these “stereotypes” in the month I have been here, and I can tell you that New Zealand is all that it’s cracked up to be (and more!)

New Zealand has a very diverse (and breath-taking) landscape.
My parents are devoted viewers of the television show House Hunters, and always are especially excited to watch an episode about New Zealand. Travel shows aired around the world never neglect to mention New Zealand’s finest vistas, including snow-capped mountains, black sand beaches, city skylines, and lush forests (“the bush”.)  The native birds are always singing, and travelers are guaranteed something to look at on those long bus trips between cities. As Spring gradually approaches the landscape will become even more beautiful, and I cannot wait to experience true Kiwi nature!

Piha beach

Kiwis are a very friendly and hospitable people.
Coming from the land of “Minnesota Nice,” I thought I knew what it meant to be friendly to strangers…until I came to New Zealand. At least once a day I find myself replying to a “hello” from someone I do not know, and my Kiwi classmates go out of their way to strike up a conversation with me after class. No longer are there days of the detached hallmate or cafeteria employee. The American in me wants to find this Kiwi practice slightly unnerving, but I cannot criticize a culture that accepts people for who they are and makes its best effort to welcome them.

New Zealand is the perfect place for thrill-seekers and adventure enthusiasts.
I like to brand myself as an energetic adventure-seeker, but it’s more likely you will find me curled up with a book on the sofa than out tramping in the wilderness. The good thing for people like me is that when we do decide to trade our slippers for hiking boots, there are plenty of adventures to be discovered. I jumped off of a 192-metre building in Auckland, and am planning a horse trek and luge experience over mid-semester break in Queenstown – the adventure capital of the world. New Zealand is the birthplace of bungee jumping, and also caters to skydivers, rafters, hikers, skiers, and thrill-seekers of all varieties. Try as many adventure sports as you can handle (but don’t tell your mom until afterwards.)

Auckland skyjump

New Zealand is full of sheep.
This, as far as I can tell, is true, but is in no way a bad stereotype for New Zealand to have. Sheep do not roam the streets at random and children do not ride them to school, but chances are there is a sheep farm within reasonable distance if you ever have the urge to see one. This country could be overrun by pretty much any other animal and it would be far worse off – Australian spiders, anyone?

New Zealand, for the most part, has met all of my expectations toe-to-toe…but it has also been full of surprises. For example, for all the students and backpackers that travel here, New Zealand was named the safest country in the world for 2013. No one prepares you for Auckland’s hills, or the joy of hokey pokey ice cream, or the exact sound of a magpie when it sings in the morning. New Zealand has much more to offer than any travel magazine can pin down, and I can’t wait to experience all of the Wonders in Kiwiland!

Madison Dockter is a student at Drake University and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Madison is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Palmerston North,  New Zealand.