My Exchange year in New Zealand

When we landed in New Zealand at 3 a.m. after a 22-hour flight, the world around me was still surrounded in darkness. In the motel where we were staying, I enjoyed my first New Zealand sunrise in shorts and a T-shirt. The birds were already chirping merrily, and the first rays of sun shine were gently warming my skin. In this dreamy moment, I felt deep inside that I had made the right decision to come here.

I stood there with a heart full of anticipation and a head full of dreams, knowing that this year was going to be something very special. The strange but fascinating world that lay ahead of me promised adventure and unforgettable experiences.

My name is Lea Baeschlin and I am an exchange student from Switzerland. I am spending 12 months in New Zealand, more precisely in Taupaki. I am now almost halfway through my stay, which seems surreal to me. When I look back on the last few months, they seem more like a few weeks. I have experienced so much and yet there is still so much ahead of me. I’ve often been asked what my highlight has been here in New Zealand, and I’ve never had a clear answer. It’s hard to summarise five months of adventure and pick one highlight. At the end of the day, the whole year is an adventure. I have experienced and learnt so much during this time. I got to know myself better, tested my limits, surpassed myself and did things that I would never have dared to do before. I’ve experienced highs and lows and that’s all part of it.

In the first few weeks here in New Zealand, we travelled to Tawharanui for a few days, one of the most beautiful places in the country. I immediately fell in love with this place. My host sisters took me snorkelling, which was a wonderful experience. During our snorkelling trip, we were accompanied by a school of snappers. We also saw a brown stingray. One evening we all watched the sunset together and then went for a night walk. We had a red torch with us because kiwis can’t see red light. Suddenly two kiwis jumped out of the bush and we could watch them playing. On the way back, another kiwi crossed our path unimpressed. I have fallen in love with this place and just feel at home.

But there are so many other adventures, such as the St James Tramp, which I was allowed to do with my host family. We were able to admire the beautiful nature of the South Island together. We also spent a day in Christchurch and in Hanmer Springs, where we visited the hot pools.

I also went on a short AFS trip.
I visited Hobbiton, went up the Sky Tower, visited the thermal springs in Rotorua, drove Luge and Skyline, climbed Mount Maunganui and much more. It was so much fun exploring New Zealand for a few days with other exchange students.

However, the biggest part of my adventure here in New Zealand has been my host family who have been so welcoming. We are always comparing the culture of New Zealand and Switzerland. They show me the Māori culture, which is an incredible experience for me. We attended a kapahaka performance in the Auckland Town Hall, which was an impressive and moving experience. I was also familiarised with New Zealand’s sporting culture. I attended two rugby matches, one with the Blues and one with the Black Ferns, as well as a netball match.

There were also moments when I was confronted with challenges. At the beginning, I found it difficult to approach people and talk to them. However, I overcame this and it became easier each time to approach new people openly. My host family supported me and introduced me to lots of people. In addition to these special events, I also enjoy the everyday moments with my host family. They take me along to their activities and integrate me into their everyday life. My host mum picks me up after my football matches as I play in the 1st XI girls’ football team, which I really enjoy. The girls in my team have made me feel very welcome. We have a weekly match and training and at the beginning of September we are taking part in the tournament in Blenheim, which we are all looking forward to.

I also take horse riding lessons on Mondays, which I really enjoy and look forward to every week.

The conversations and shared experiences have helped me to better understand and appreciate the New Zealand way of life. I am extremely grateful for the love and support of my host family, who make this year an unforgettable adventure. They have given me a second home here that I cherish.