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Category Archives: Accommodation

Finding resilience, educational achievement and a sense of belonging amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

NZ Scholarship recipient Huong Do (Vietnam) graduated with a Master of Sustainable Business (MSusBus) with Distinction from the University of Otago earlier this year.  This is an achievement in itself, but add parenting; living far from home; working remotely; English as a second language and the COVID-19 pandemic.  One of these ‘extra’ factors could have been enough to alter the course that Huong Do was on, but she continued on her journey and along the way discovered a sense of belonging, a resilience she did not know she had and educational and life skills that will improve not only her own life, but those that she comes in contact with in the future.

Question 1:  Where did you first hear about the University of Otago? Why did you choose Otago over other universities in New Zealand and/ or the rest of the world?

On an autumn day in August 2018, when searching in vain for a course that was most relevant to my professional career as a Corporate Social Responsibility Specialist, I unexpectedly found the line “Master of Sustainable Business at the University of Otago, New Zealand” – this was the first-time I had heard of the University of Otago. I chose the University of Otago over other universities and the rest of the world because they suited my educational needs the most and I was very interested in the course offered.  I also declined one offer from the University of Waikato (my second preference for NZ Government Scholarship) and the University of Auckland (for ADB-Japan Scholarship Program).  I had a feeling of “belonging” when I read about Otago and the selected course’s description was exactly what I had been looking for.

Question 2:  How long did you study at Otago? Did anything about life at Otago surprise you?

I spent 13 months completing the MSusBus at the University of Otago from Feb 2020 to the end of Feb 2021. Due to the complexity of the Covid-19 situation however, my stay in Dunedin was extended till mid of May 2021.

Prior to my departure from home, many friends told me that it was going to be extremely challenging with an intensive one-year studying schedule; a remote working position; being a full-time mother and in such a strange city in a land far away from my home country. But I proved myself in overcoming these potential challenges and being open to new experiences. What surprised me most was not the incredible beauty of the city, the food of a western country, the cold weather of the South Island, or the intensiveness of the coursework, but the people. I prepared myself to meet new people with different characteristics, mindsets, and lifestyles. I kept reading about Kiwi’s friendliness and kindness, but it turned out to be beyond my expectations.  From my first day at Otago and over the course of my time there I never felt like I was treated as a stranger –  I was welcomed and encouraged by both the University and residential communities. I felt happy every time I walked along the street and received greetings from people who I did not know. The kindness of Dunedinites gave me feelings of warmth and acceptance enabling me to feel secure, even when it times were tough.

Question 3:  How did you find the learning/teaching environment at Otago?  How is it different to what you have experienced at your previous university (either at home or in another country)? What was your experience with your lecturers/ supervisors like?  How was your experience with other Otago staff and people (besides your lecturers/ supervisors)?

I found the learning environment at Otago extraordinarily rich and positive. As a post-graduate student engaging with a small number of classmates and lecturers, I had a precious opportunity to observe and gain insights about the learning environment. Firstly, the program is designed and launched in a student-centred manner. The lecturers did not solely lead us – we could participate and even design the way the knowledge was delivered rather than just having to memorise it. It was my great honour to learn from experienced and wonderful lecturers who all promoted the important role of creativity and critical thinking engaging all students in exploring ideas and issues, challenging traditional assumptions and handling complexity. COVID-19 restriction measures meant we couldn’t continue in the classroom but our lecturers and the University in general quickly responded and adopted many new methods to engage and continue with our learning.

I really would like to highlight the resourceful nature of the lecturers at Otago. They kept their minds open, valued diverse kinds of students all with differing ages, professional and cultural backgrounds. Coming from a developing country and using English as a second language meant that in the early days I was very concerned and anxious that I would fall behind.   This feeling did not last as my thoughts, opinions and ideas were all respected and encouraged by the lecturers. As a result, I could identify my place in the class and gain the confidence to work on my ideas.

Otago has an exemplary learning and teaching environment. Academic and applied/ practical knowledge, skills, motivation, and the mental health of students were all positively taken care of.

Aside from my lecturers and supervisor, my main engagement with other Otago people was mainly around International Student Advisors, Ask Otago, and cafeteria staff. Typing these lines reminds me of all the grateful memories I have. During the hard time of isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions, the cold of winter or the pressure during the thesis writing period, I was not far from the warmth of emails, smiles and greetings from them all.

Question 4: While studying at Otago, what were other activities that you engaged/ experienced (Part time job? Travelling? Volunteering? Tutoring? Etc). Please share with us any thoughts/observations that you gained from these experiences.

2020 was a special year for every person living, working, and studying in New Zealand. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic many people could not fulfil goals and objectives. But thanks to the safe and effective measures put in place to control the situation in New Zealand, I felt still luckier than many students and citizens in other countries. While studying at Otago, other than spending most of my time completing my studies I was still able to handle a job in Vietnam, travel around, learn new knowledge and skills as well as engage in some light volunteer work.

As a student enrolling in the Master of Sustainable Business I always found the relevant opportunities to enhance and apply my knowledge of sustainable development. By maintaining my job as a Senior Compliance/ Sustainability Officer I could create links between the theories, frameworks, models, methods, case studies and my real work with my employer . At the same time, I could turn my occupational experiences into valuable input and examples for the classroom.

Regarding travel, trips end but memories stay forever. Although I could not travel alot due to the limitation of time and effects of the pandemic, I was inspired by the New Zealand tourism industry. Among a variety of destinations, Queenstown and Auckland were my son’s and my favourite places. While Queenstown reminded me of a small but famous tourist oriented town in my home country, the vibrant and crowded Auckland attracted my son. No matter how far and long our trips were, we both felt the beauty of NZ’s landscape and the warmth and friendliness from the people we met.

Over summer I had opportunities to attend cooking and bread making classes, as well as learning how to compost in our flat/ house/ office with the ‘Summer at Otago’ program. Volunteer work at the Community Garden also brought me new experiences. I was grateful to take part in these programs and activities as they all related to my interests. They not only made my stay in Otago more memorable but also equipped me with insights and knowledge which I can apply when I returned home.

Question 5:  Overall, how did you find the ‘culture’ of the students, staff, and people that work at the University of Otago?

From my perspective, everyone studying, working, and serving at the University of Otago successfully shapes its uniquely diverse and consistent culture. I was impressed reading about the University’s history and was amazed upon my arrival at the campus on the first day. The atmosphere around the campus was extraordinary – relaxed and comfortable yet the spirit of people was very strong, focused, and positive. As the oldest university in the NZ Otago’s culture was rich with traditional values, but the modern aspects of the University are applied and promoted by students and staff. I read about the University’s four core values, and I observed these values were present in the students and staff I met. The respect, integrity, curiosity, and community values were reflected through the words and actions of the people I encountered, no matter what level of management, where they were from, what they were studying – all were working to contribute to the development and success of the University.

Question 6:  What were the standout features of living and studying at Otago?

I personally love Otago as it suits my ideal for living and studying so much. Dunedin is a smaller and less populated city than my home city, it is not as crowded or noisy.  It is peaceful yet convenient so a student can focus on studying while at the same time enjoy the beauty of nature and people.

Question 7:  Overall, did Otago Uni meet your expectations? Tell us why or why not?

The University of Otago completely met my expectations. The fear of not finding a feeling of “belonging” prior to my arrival well and truly abated during my time here.  Although I lived far away from home, the University of Otago and Dunedin became my second home and I felt fulfilled both academically and socially. It was not only about the academic quality, but Otago also widened my graduate employability as I gained knowledge for interpersonal and conceptual skills, strategic planning, and independent judgement. Furthermore, Otago will always stay in my mind for its beauty –  magnolia blooms, cherry blossoms, moody clouds and sustaining rain,  I felt such pride being in one of the world’s most beautiful campuses. I also appreciated the communication given – even during the tough times of Covid-19, I could see the quick responses, firm decisions, clear and positive communication from the University management and staff. This helped me to better plan, stay strong, and be positive that together we would overcome the hardship.

I still remember at the end of NZAID scholars’ integration week, Associate Professor Vivienne Anderson let us write a letter to ourselves in the near future, to describe our expectations and desires while we were at Otago.  When my journey was nearing its end I had the chance to meet her and other scholars, where I received the letter I had written upon the start of my journey.  I felt amazed. I had a good performance in my learning,  become acquainted with study and the lifestyle of Otago. I also spent precious moments with my companion, teaching him and learning from him at the same time.

When you’re back home:

Question 8:  How would you describe the University of Otago to somebody who was thinking of studying as an international student at Otago?

When thinking of studying as an international student at the University of Otago, I am sure that you have searched and read a lot of valuable information posted on the University’s website and other trusted sources. I hope this advice is helpful to you – you can trust what you read and heard about Otago as it is true. Follow your heart as it can lead you to an incredible place.  Finally, do not hesitate to challenge yourself at Otago – you will have one of the most wonderful times in your life there.

Question 9:  What is the best memory you will take home with you from your time at the University of Otago?

Every moment at Otago is memorable and beautifully captured through my camera and my memory. I also have my companion reminding me of many events that happened during the time we spent at Otago together. However, if it is a must to choose the best memory, I will talk about the Scholarship Completion Ceremony held last October. During 2020 many classes were transferred to an online platform, many events were virtually hosted, and a lot of ceremonies were affected or cancelled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Completion Ceremony was successfully organised just one day after my very last class of the final semester – an important milestone for our journey. Thanks to the NZ Government, MFAT and the University of Otago I travelled so far to pursue my dream. The ceremony then gave me an official opportunity to present my gratitude to them and my loved ones even though they could not attend in person. Being the only Vietnamese scholar and wearing our traditional costume at the ceremony, I could not hide my tears and mixed feelings. I was extremely happy and fulfilled for doing well in my classes, but I was also sad at the same time as the time to say goodbye to Otago was coming. The event also gave me a precious opportunity to meet other scholars and congratulate them on their amazing achievements.

Question 10: How do you apply the study & experience you received here to your current work? Has your experience of studying at Otago had a positive impact on your life now, at home?  If you take a look at yourself before and after going to NZ, what is the biggest change that you notice?

Since I mentioned above (Question 4) about my application of knowledge into the work and vice versa during the course, it should be noted that I did not need to wait till the end of my study and return. It meant a lot to me and my employer as my academic experience became more practical, and applied. My study at Otago has levelled up my understanding and skills on research, I was terrified about research before, but Otago positively changed that so that I could better handle my work.

My experience of studying at Otago is positively impacting my life back in my home country – like many overseas students studying abroad, I learnt how to better manage my daily routine, overcome challenges, and explore new aspects of myself. I had always assumed that it was too difficult to achieve work-life balance no matter how hard I tried – but looking at myself now, I am proud to have gained positive results from working, studying, and enriching my personal life.

The biggest change that I have noticed since studying at the University of Otago is the concept of the word resilience. I paid attention to this term when my classmates and I discussed climate adaptation and mitigation during the class of “Developments in Environmental Management” and I  have been thinking about it ever since then. I then came to realise how I felt/behaved when I was when coping with changes or difficulties – since my time at Otago my anxiety lessened and I felt more calm and confident. I concluded this in my speech given at the Completion Ceremony with a thanks to all for helping me to become a better person who is more and more resilient day by day.

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

Giving back – one international student’s remarkable journey

Growing up in an academic family, in Yangon, Myanmar, with an emphatic value placed on education, my parents always wanted to give me an education abroad.

As I had never been away from home and as parents they wanted somewhere their child would be safe and still be offered the quality education they were after, it is not surprising New Zealand was at the top of their list.

With an interest in biomedical sciences from an early age, together with my parents, I made the decision to study at the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university with excellence in medical and biomedical research and teaching.

Dr Htin Lin Aung

I started my affiliation with the University of Otago in 2001, firstly completing a foundation studies course before moving onto studying genetics. I received my Bachelor of Science Degree, with first class honours in Genetics in 2005, after which I worked as a research assistant both at the University of Otago and Massey University in order to have the skills to pursue my PhD in 2010. I was awarded a PhD in Microbiology in 2013.

Immediately after my BSc (Hons) graduation and my PhD graduation, I started my employment at the University of Otago. I am currently leading an international research programme combating tuberculosis (TB) in New Zealand and my home country Myanmar through a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Research Fellowship awarded to me by the New Zealand Health Research Council.

How did you find the learning/teaching environment at Otago?  Do you think it gave you the skills and knowledge to enable you to find employment?

I would say that my experience at Otago gave me a chance to discover myself and my purpose in life. I have always wanted to make a difference and to contribute back to the community. Therefore, I selected the health sector as my way of doing so, particularly TB, which daily claims 5,000 lives mainly from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

What was your experience with your lecturers/supervisors like?  Were they approachable and helpful?

Lecturers and teaching fellows were so helpful and supportive. Some of them are my longstanding mentors, and I can proudly call them my lifetime friends.

How have you found the ‘culture’ of the students, staff, and people that work at the University of Otago?

The culture of the students and staff at the University is that we courageously keep on tackling big challenges, which is the reflection of the University’s motto “Dare to Be Wise”.

How would you describe the University of Otago to somebody who was thinking of studying as an international student at Otago?

Truly home away from home – when I first arrived here I felt homesickness. But people here at the University and in Dunedin are amicable  and welcoming, so Dunedin quickly became my home away from home.

Did Otago met your expectations?

Exceeded.

How does it feel to be an Otago alumni?

I am a proud scarfie and a true University of Otago product (from Foundation Studies to PhD and now an employee of the University).

What is the best memory you have from your time at the University of Otago?

Unforgettable student experience – some of my best memories include my time at Cumberland College, a residential college I lived in first as a student and later as a residential assistant supporting other students. I am now a College Fellow at Cumberland, providing mentor ship to students within and beyond their academic life.

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

Inspiration for women who want to be the boss.

Otago alumna Bhavneet Chahal

E-learning company GoSkills’ co-founder Bhavneet Chahal says her experiences at the University of Otago kick-started a career helping others learn about IT and realise their potential.

Bhavneet completed a Bachelor of Applied Science with first-class honours, majoring in molecular biology in 2006. She later gained a Master of Entrepreneurship.

While working for Groupon in Sydney, Bhavneet realised that online courses were a growth area but that they were not always providing the quality content required by professionals looking to expand their skills.

Since being founded in New Zealand in 2013 – with input from Otago Professor Paul Hansen – more than 104,000 users have signed up to access GoSkills’ 50+ online learning courses.

Bhavneet backs up her advice for young women wanting to start their own business with practical assistance; she proudly supports two $2,000 scholarships each year. The title of these awards leaves little room for misinterpretation: they are called the Scholarship for Women Who Want to be the Boss.

question Q  How did Otago help to shape your life and career success?

I studied Applied Science as an undergraduate and, while I always enjoyed science, I couldn’t see myself pursuing a career as a researcher or scientist.

During the last year of that degree I found a student business competition on campus called Kickstart. I entered the competition with a business idea and I was a winner in the first round and a finalist in the competition’s second round.

This opened up my eyes to a totally different world of business and entrepreneurship. I then completed a Master of Entrepreneurship to learn practical skills to start and grow a business.

This degree was right up my alley, I learned the fundamentals of business and felt prepared to one day start my own company.

question Q  Highlights and interesting memories of your university days?

Definitely the residential colleges; when I first arrived at Otago I stayed at St Margaret’s College. I later worked as a Residential Assistant (RA) at Cumberland College, which was known at the time as being a bit of a party Hall. It was then that I realised what being an undergraduate at Otago was truly like! I was glad I started off at a relatively tame place and could ease into uni life. Some of my best friends today are people I met at both St Margaret’s and Cumberland!

question Q  Recollections of favourite or standout lecturers?

I had two standout lecturers. The first was Richard Higham – he was about 79 when I took his class during the Master of Entrepreneurship. I was inspired by his sharp intellect, boundless energy and superior Excel spreadsheet skills! He was able to bring our class together and teach us how to grow a business in a fun and dynamic environment.

The other standout lecture is Professor Paul Hansen – an economics lecturer and part-time surfer. I was drawn to Paul’s energy and passion for his craft – economics and business. It’s no wonder he’s won student popularity awards and it’s also no coincidence that he’s now my business partner at GoSkills.

question Q  What are your career or personal highlights?

Starting a company from scratch, pulling together people and resources and growing it into a global business. Our team can work from anywhere in the world and we sell to customers the world over. Building a business that pushes the boundaries of being in a global and connected world has been extremely fulfilling.

question Q  What are your future goals?

Keep building businesses, help others build and grow businesses, and world peace – naturally!

question Q  What advice do you have for current students or students considering studying at Otago?

Make the most of every opportunity. There are so many facets to university life – try them all. Join random clubs, try sports you might not have ever considered, enjoy the unexpected friendships you will form along the way. It’s only when you try loads of different things that you discover what you truly like and figure out who you are. University is a time to try things in a safe environment and set yourself up for a future that most aligns to who you are and where you want to be.

Many thanks to the team at the University of Otago Alumni & Friends for providing the content for this blog!

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

Study Abroad at Otago – if you love what you do, you can do it here.

Fox Meyer came to the University of Otago from Washington DC, originally for one semester, but one semester proved not long enough, and he extended his stay for a year.  We caught up with Fox, as he is a bit of an international student super-star, and asked him why he came to Otago?  What he experienced when he was here – the good and the bad, and the combination of factors that make the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand, located at the very bottom of the world, such a special place.

“Plenty of schools have good geology programmes, and plenty of schools are in wonderful locations, I chose Otago, because it has both.”

The style of learning was different to what Meyer was used to back home, more independent and ultimately down to personal motivation.  If you’re passionate, the academics will do everything they can to help you.

“Academically, the kiwi attitude towards failure was very healthy.  Professors won’t hesitate to fail you if you aren’t making the grade, but that’s not the end of the world.  They don’t sugar-coat anything.  You’re there to learn, and you need to be wrong in order to learn.  I’m glad the staff felt the same way.”

The majority of geology coursework involved fieldwork, plenty of time in tents and streams, resulting in a final product as opposed to an exam, which was perfect for Meyer’s learning style.

Otago has encouraged me to do any sort of project I could conceive of, and point me in the right direction when I’ve needed help.” 

This independence and interest for his subject led to assisting a professor looking at the thermal properties of the Otago harbour.  The data obtained from this is useful in tracking climate change, as well as prospecting potential geothermal taps.  On a whim, Meyer applied for the inaugural ‘Think New Grant,’ from Education New Zealand, and won it!

“I think that part of the reason I won was because I had so much fun applying; enthusiasm for one’s study can often be contagious, so big ups to Otago for fostering that curiosity.”

When asked what a stand out feature of studying at Otago was, Meyer refers to the social lifestyle at Otago as an international student:

“Living in the international community is a wonderful bubble. There’s something going on every night of the week, you’ll meet folks from all over the world, and if you don’t know how to cook, now’s the time to learn!”

And once again, the learning and teaching environment are top of mind:

“I was given a lot of creative freedom and deadline flexibility to produce an end product that I was happy with.  That being said, expectations are very high.  You had to ask for help, you had to explore, and you really had to get your feet wet.  That’s a good way of describing Otago:  it’s very easy to get your feet wet, and if you’d like, you can dive a whole lot deeper.”

Best memory?

“I have a year of best memories.  The most humbling was during field camp when I’d just submitted my first map sheet, and I thought I was really hot stuff.  I felt really big for my boots, was very confident with my lab experience back in the States.  Boy, was I mistaken.  Way off!  My map sheet made no sense at all and the lecturers tore it to shreds.  I asked for advice, listened to their advice, went back out, and got a 98% on my next map.  Otago taught me not to think I know too much.  There’s always room for improvement.”

Worst experience?

“Leaving Otago.  It’s that good.  If you’re someone who likes their independence, who can work hard and play hard, there’s really nowhere else to go.  Definitely not Auckland.” 

Future plans?

“I’ll be back to New Zealand as soon as I can, I’d like to explore jobs in the geothermal sector.  I really believe New Zealand has both the natural potential and the social support to become a geothermal powerhouse.”

Great to catch up with you Fox, congratulations on graduating with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Geology, we wish you all the very best with your future endeavours.

Our favourite takeaway quote from chatting:

“If you love what you do, you can do it here.”

To find out more about studying at the University of Otago, click the big yellow button below and start your journey!

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

Accommodation at Otago – where will I stay?

So, you’re thinking of being brave, adventurous and independent and leaving your home country to come and study at the University of Otago?  We love to see all the new and returning faces of our international students, and we also like to think that we can answer a few of the many questions you may have before you get on board that plane and take a leap of faith to come to our beautiful little corner of the world.  So today’s blog focuses on where you will live when you come here, we’ve got a few options to offer accommodation wise – it all depends on what kind of living experience you are looking for, so here we go!


University Flats (Uni Flats)

Uni Flats is probably our most popular option for international students.  Before I go any further I think a little translation of kiwi is necessary, a flat in New Zealand is actually accommodation, often a house like the one pictured above, which is shared with others.  These flats are very close to campus so you will be right in the heart of student life.  Each flatmate has their own bedroom with kitchen, bathroom, laundry and living areas as shared spaces.  So you’re living pretty independently, but you’re not alone.

The S1 2019 Uni Flats rowing team came third in the inter-college rowing competition.

Any full time international student who is coming to Otago for one or two semesters can apply to live in a Uni Flat.  Up to six international students live in a co-ed flat, accompanied by one or two kiwi hosts.  A kiwi host is a New Zealand student, who will help you settle in to your new environment and this is one of the best ways to assimilate into a culture – by hanging out with the locals!  These flats are extremely popular and are managed by the University, are autonomous but offer a supportive and pastoral care service, have plenty of recreational and social activities – so if you’re thinking of coming to Otago, make sure you apply as soon as possible.

Knox College

Residential Colleges

If you like the idea of having your breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared for you (sounds good to me), and enjoy meeting and living with lots of people, perhaps one of our residential colleges is what you need?  We have 15 residential colleges at Otago that accommodate 3,500 students and plans are afoot to build more!  There are so many different options, if you like the idea of a traditional, historic and architecturally impressive college, look no further than the castle like Knox College (pictured above) or Selwyn College.

Looking out across campus from Unicol

Or if you want to be right in the heart of campus St Margaret’s College is one to note, or take a look at the view from Unicol (University College) in the photo above – Unicol is our largest and possibly liveliest college.  We also understand that post-graduate students may also like the care provided by a college, but aren’t quite as interested in the social aspect so we have a designated post-graduate college – Abbey College.

Private, Short Term or Temporary Accommodation

If for whatever reason you’re not interested in flatting, or living in a college, or you’re just wanting to find private accommodation, or accommodation for a short time or you have any queries our international accommodation adviser from the University of Otago Accommodation Centre can offer advice – international.accommodation@otago.ac.nz.

Dunedin flats in general require a particular mention here, recently Sarah Gallagher, of the Dunedin Flat Names Project, and Dr Ian Chapman, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts at the University of Otago, have collaborated together to create a visually appealing and witty book entitled ‘Scarfie Flats of Dunedin’ featuring a selection of well known and lesser known named flats – yes, students have named their flats.

And remember If past domestic and international student’s testimonials are anything to go by, the time you spend at Otago, outside of classes and laboratories will no doubt lead you to new experiences, opportunities, friendships and memories that will stay with you for your lifetime.  Many alumni lament and say……oh, those were the days……take me back to Otago……!

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, she is a recent graduate of Otago herself – she loves Otago so much she ended up getting a job here!