10 Things That Surprised Me About New Zealand

Heading into a study abroad, you can and should do a ton of research on the country you’re heading to. You can read blogs, like the USAC blog, watch videos, talk to friends, and speak with your USAC advisor about what to expect in your host country. But no matter what you do, there will be cultural things that surprise you when you move to a new city. For me, these are just a few of the things that surprised me about studying abroad and living in Auckland, New Zealand.

#1. You have to switch on outlets before using them

For starters, New Zealand’s outlets look different from the ones found in the United States and having an adapter is essential. All outlets, new and old have small switches on them, like a light switch that allows you to turn them on and off. The reasoning behind this is that is saves electricity, which decreases your electricity bill! There were many times where I forgot to turn on the outlet before charging a device because it’s something I’m not used to, but it’s an easy adjustment to make!

#2. Grocery stores charge you to use single use plastic bags

One of the last purchases I made before leaving was a set of six reusable shopping bags. I wasn’t sure what my shopping situation would be like, or how often I would go, but I felt like the bags would come in handy at some point while studying abroad, and boy was I right. Grocery stores charge shoppers 20 cents to purchase single use plastic bags to detract shoppers from using them. When I went to the store, I was shocked to see everyone carrying out their groceries with reusable bags. I am proud to say that I never once used a single use plastic bag during my time in New Zealand!

#3. People drive on the opposite side of the road

It’s very obvious that people drive on the opposite side of the road in New Zealand. I had the opportunity to drive in the south island, and found it just the same as driving in the United States. The only issue that I had was the turning signal and window wiper gears were in opposite places! I also had to learn to look right and then left when crossing the street, which is something I struggled with up to the day that I left.

#4. There are no nickels or pennies in the currency system

The New Zealand currency consists of brightly colored notes in shades of orange, green, blue, and purple. Their coins come in values of 2 dollars, 1 dollar, 50 cents, and 10 cents. I found it extremely convenient that tax was already included in the cost of items, which left you with rounded numbered totals, like 26 dollars. It made a lot of sense having 10 cents as the lowest coin value, and I never collected too much unnecessary change!

#5. Customers do not tip at restaurants

People do not tip at restaurants, which was something I had never considered before. I’m still not sure of the reasoning behind this, except for the fact that minimum wage is much higher in New Zealand than it is in the United States.

#6. You can use the AT Hop bus to get all around the entirety of New Zealand

As a student without a car, I became VERY familiar with the AT Hop bus system. Individuals can purchase a card and load it with money to use on the bus. Students are eligible for a tertiary concession which saves money on fare. The bus system is convenient and accessible to everyone. I rode it often to the city, beach, and suburbs of Auckland. I made some great memories that I will never forget taking the bus!

#7. Maori words are frequently used

I learned a little bit of the Maori language, te reo, while abroad. Many places have native names, which were hard to pronounce in the beginning, but as I learned the phonology of the language, it made more sense. For example, Aotearoa is a nickname for New Zealand which translates to “Land of the long white cloud” and Rangitoto which is a volcanic island off of Auckland named after Maori folklore.

#8. Students can get discounts just about anywhere

With my Massey student ID card, I was able to get discounts to many of the nearby attractions and accommodations. Being a resident, even just temporarily gave me access to places like the library and museums. I was even able to get discounts at a few hostels while traveling which was really nice!

#9. People don’t wear shoes all the time

“Jandals” or sandals are the most popular shoe for Kiwi’s in the summertime. But some people skip them all together and go barefoot. Everywhere. In the United States, the policy is generally “No shoes, no shirt, no service” but that doesn’t exist in New Zealand! I saw people in just about every setting wearing no shoes! I was shocked that their feet could handle the hot pavement or that they choose to walk through dirt and puddles barefoot.

#10. From Auckland you can island hop

One of my favorite activities during my time studying abroad was island hopping! After taking the bus from Massey to downtown Auckland, you can take the ferry to one of many islands that are nearby. My favorite trip was to Waiheke Island, which offers beaches and hiking to visitors. Few people live on the island which gives it a quiet feeling compared to the busy city of Auckland!

New Zealand is full of surprises and small culture shock that you will get used to over time. Overall, be open minded and embrace the cultural changes you’re going to encounter and experience during your time abroad.

Abby Priest is a USAC New Zealand alumna. During her time abroad she served as a USAC Digital Documenter