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Category Archives: Campus life

5 steps to becoming more mentally fit….

What is mental health and fitness?  Is it like physical fitness in that you can gain it or lose it?  What knowledge and support is there when people need to get help?  Or how can people retain their resilience and keep well when life throws its various curveballs?  This is an enormous topic, but we are going to keep it simple. 

Research shows there are five simple things you can do as part of your daily
life – at work and at home – to build resilience, boost your wellbeing and lower
your risk of developing mental illness. These simple actions are known
internationally as the Five Ways to Wellbeing and are actively being promoted by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand – mauri tū mauri ora.

Are mental and physical fitness the same?

Without getting overly complicated or indepth the answer is yes.  You can be mentally fit, or un-fit, just as you can be physically fit or un-fit and both can be gained or lost.  Depending on a variety of factors, you may be more susceptible to suffering from illness due to mental health than another person.  We are all different, and unique and I think it is really important to remember this.  Not one size fits all.  Understanding your own version of ‘normal’ will help you know when things aren’t feeling right for you.  Getting to know ‘you’ is one of the best things that you can do to safeguard and keep yourself mentally and physically well.  Let’s go through the five ways to wellbeing as recommended by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

1.  Connect

Feeling connected to others, and feeling valued and appreciated by those around you, whether in a personal or a professional context is a very important part of mental fitness.  Human beings are not designed to ‘go it alone.’  In saying that, I’m not suggesting you have to be an extrovert and the life and soul of the party, it just means that we all need connection with others.  Strengthening your relationships with your inner circle and your work/study colleagues by talking with them and listening to them are all safe guarding your mental fitness.  Healthy connections with people make us feel good about ourselves and where we fit into the world, they also help others understand our own unique perspective on how we view the world and can help support us in times of need.

2.  Keep learning

Neale Donald Walsch famously quoted “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  And although it is lovely to feel safe and comfortable in a daily routine, it also pays to be aware of new opportunities that come across your path.  Be open to new experiences.  Yes, it may very well be challenging, but that is part of what growing and developing resilience is all about.  It is frightening and stressful to try new things and go outside your normal level of comfort, but once you have overcome these initial fears you may completely surprise yourself – this alongside the feeling of self satisfaction will be totally worth it.

3.  Take notice

We are all guilty at times of worrying about the future and reminiscing about the past, but trying to ‘live in the moment‘ is another step to mental fitness.  Be aware of how you are feeling at any given time, and attempt to understand why.  Most importantly remember that all feelings, both good and bad eventually pass.  So living in the moment and taking time to appreciate the world around you can also help you keep mentally fit and boost your mental well being.

4.  Give

It really is amazing the difference a kind word or gesture can make to your day.  Carrying out random acts of kindness, whether small or large are a win, win situation for both the giver and the receiver.  The person receiving your kindness feels noticed, valued and appreciated, and as a result you feel positive about yourself!  In fact carrying our random acts of kindness can increase happiness, life satisfaction and general well being.

5.  Be active

Looking after your mental fitness is helped greatly by looking after your physical fitness.  Being physically fit and keeping active is known to improve mood, wellbeing and decrease depression, anxiety and stress.  If you are of student at the University of Otago, or the University of Otago Language Centre and Foundation Year programmes you will have unlimited and free access to Unipol Recreation Services.

So whilst this post has been about how to keep, or get mentally fit and improve your wellness, there are times in life where you feel that your version of ‘normal’ is not your usual and that’s when you need to ask for help.

The University of Otago International Office has a specialist team of Student Advisers that are here to help you in a variety of ways, including mental health issues.  There is also a designated Student Health Mental Health & Wellbeing Team offering a free service to help guide you.  There is also an amazing student led initiative called Silverline Otago that actively promote student mental health and wellbeing in the form of events, groups and resources.

So, look after yourself, both physically and mentally and try the five steps to wellbeing above, see if it makes a difference.  You might just surprise yourself……

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!

Surfing…….just another reason to come to Otago.

We hear lots of reasons why students choose to come to study and live in our little city at the bottom of the world; our world class rankings and reputation, our friendly and welcoming atmosphere and our drop dead gorgeous environment.  Choosing to come to study at the University of Otago for the surf is not a reason we’ve come across before, but it is exactly what led Celine Clausen from Norway to our doorstep.

Celine Clausen doing what she loves to do the most – surf.


Celine is a passionate surfer, so her criteria when looking to study abroad was to find a world class university in a city that also provided her with incredible surfing opportunities.  She found two options; Sydney or Dunedin, and she chose us, but she was completely unprepared for the reality of what she found when she arrived here.

St Clair Beach, Dunedin, courtesy of Kieran Scott Photography.

Incredible environment

“I have been completely overwhelmed by the incredible lifestyle offered here and the natural beauty of the surrounding environment.  I knew there would be good waves but I had no idea that I would be paddling in the ocean alongside seals, sea-lions and penguins!”

The University of Otago campus with accomodation and amenities all within walking distance.


The close proximity of the university and Dunedin as a whole was also something she was unaware of.

“I live super close to campus and the city centre, and I’m surrounded by students and good times.  Only 15 minutes away there are beautiful beaches, nature and wildlife.  Everything is so close.  It’s also easy to travel around the South Island from Dunedin and explore more of what New Zealand has to offer.

Kiwis are so friendly

The friendly student culture at Otago is another factor that has made Celine’s time here an enjoyable one and she has found it easy to transition as an international student.

“Kiwis are the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever met and the University of Otago is no exception – I feel so welcome here.  Campus is beautiful and lots of fun – all the students live super close and students account for a large part of the population of Dunedin – internationals live beside locals – I can guarantee you’ll have a blast!”

Class size

And it’s not only the natural environment that has made an impact on her, the learning environment has encouraged Celine to delve further into her learning experience.

“Having smaller classes here at Otago makes me really feel like I belong and am a part of the class – it also makes it easier and less intimidating to ask questions and really get to know the lecturers.”

And this relationship with students and lecturers alike has made Celine feel she is not just a number lost in the crowd.

“I have a really good relationship with my lecturers and I appreciate that they know my name and who I am.  I feel they all want me to perform to the very best of my abilities and that they are happy to teach me and share their knowledge.”

We loved having you here Celine, and we hope that the memories and the friendships you made here will stay with you for a lifetime.  Thanks for the photos, your thoughts and keep living the dream of surfing your way around the world!

If you are an international student and you would like to know more about studying at Otago, following the enquiry link below.

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!




The Insider’s Top 5 Reasons to Study at the University of Otago

International students have many, many different reasons for choosing the University of Otago. Some of these reasons are well-known, like Otago ranking in the top 3% of universities in the world. Others not so much, and it’s these reasons that Nicky shares with you in this inaugural post.

When it comes to deciding which university you want to travel half way across the world to attend, there is probably no shortage of information within the deafening noise of the internet. We know international students have plenty of options, and we know what makes Otago special. But we also talk to the thousands of students that venture to Otago, all the way down here in New Zealand, and we wanted to share a few of the reasons why they think Otago is their number one.

1. Our approachable and accessible staff

Everybody, and I mean literally EVERY international student who comes to study with us cannot believe how friendly, approachable and available our academic staff are. There are no titles at Otago – you won’t find Professor Juergen Gnoth asking to be called Professor Juergen Gnoth, it is simply Juergen. Our academic staff have an open door policy a lot of the time – you are encouraged to ask questions and to receive help,  the barriers to learning are broken down by this style and as a result you will find you learn more.

2. Flexibility of the Otago degree

When you study at Otago, you could just do one degree focusing on a single major (subject). But Otago recognises that we are all complex characters with numerous interests and talents, so you could study a double major (two subjects) or a double degree/double major, or add a minor (focusing just a little bit on another subject), or….you get the picture! Plus, depending on your degree, most students get to choose a number of individual papers (courses) of their liking. Perhaps you’re studying Accounting but your real passion lies in interpretive dance, so why not dabble in DANC201 Contemporary Dance Fusions. Or you might be interested in adding a cheeky paper about selfies (MFCO224 Studying Selfies) to your degree in Botany? At Otago you can. Lucky for you we understand that one size does not fit all, so read on to number 3.

3. Broad range of subject areas and academic staff

Maybe you’re not entirely sure what you want to do in life, or what you would like to study?  Perhaps that is why you are choosing to study in a whole new country?  Don’t panic – it’s perfectly normal! Otago offers a wide range of subject areas, taught by world class academics who have chosen to leave their home countries to live and teach here. Our teaching is research-led, so the information you are receiving in class is right at the cutting edge of what your lecturer is researching outside of the classroom. You may just find your study passion is something that you never knew existed, until you came to Otago.

4. New Zealand’s student city

If you like the idea of being surrounded by thousands of students, just like yourself, within a small geographical radius, studying in a compact walkable campus within 5 – 10 minutes of your accommodation, then Otago is definitely for you. Otago is not just about academic excellence, it is about offering a student experience and culture that is truly unique. The University of Otago has a population of over 20,000 students with nearly 3,000 international students included in this. And don’t think it is all local Dunedin-ites (people that call Dunedin city home) a staggering 85% of our students come from outside Dunedin.

5. Beautiful Campus

“Wow…I had no idea it was so beautiful….”

“I fell in love with Otago when I first visited it on holiday.”

These are statements we often hear. We are one of only two universities in the world to have a river flowing through the heart of our campus. Yes…a river – complete with cute fluffy ducklings in the spring and salmon heading to their spawning grounds. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of our campus judge away… We also (not wanting to boast) have a mixture of historic buildings that would happily please the director of a Harry Potter movie set, alongside new buildings blended into this mix. Imagine all of this, set amongst sweeping green lawns, lush trees, manicured flower beds and dotted throughout a range of contemporary art works and sculptures. Being around so much beauty is a privilege and an inspiration all at the same time.

So there you have it, the insider’s top 5 reasons to study at the University of Otago!


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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!