Viktoria Funke is a German gap year student who is doing the Green River to Australia and New Zealand gap year program. She just got back to Green River from Australia and New Zealand so I interviewed her about her experience in this program. Contact Green River for more information.
Why did you decide to do a gap year program?
“After I finished high school in Germany last summer I did not want to start University at home right away. Some people think that taking a gap year is a waste of time. I disagree. Of course you might need a year longer until you finish university, but you gain a lot of experiences, become more independent, and you meet a lot of international friends. I had already done a few study abroad trips during my summer vacations and I loved it, so I thought, why not?”
Why did you decide to do the Green River to Australia and New Zealand program?
“After I decided that I did not want to start university right away, I had to decide what I wanted to do. The three most popular gap year options in Germany are either attending a foreign university, working as an au-pair or doing ‘work and travel’. I have never really wanted to work as a nanny. I liked ‘work and travel’ for the travelling part because normally if you attend an average foreign university you stay at one place. The Australia/New Zealand program of Green River gave me the opportunity to do both studying in a foreign country and travelling to a variety of places.”
How was the start of your gap year at Green River?
“On the one hand, the first few days were a little rough. I had no idea how college works and I was jetlagged. I remember being close to black despair when I had to register for classes for the first time. On the other hand, I really liked that I have never been alone. Since I am living together with a lot of international students in the Campus Corner Apartments, it literally took me half a day to find friends. Moreover, you get a lot of help as a new student here at Green River and in my opinion it is quite normal to freak out a little bit at the beginning when everything is new and unknown.”
How was the switch from Green River to Australia?
“After my first quarter was over, attending Green River College seemed to be normal for me. I was used to my daily life and to the other students around me. In comparison, the first week in Australia – our orientation week – felt like a summer camp. We had barbecues, a scavenger hunt and we went to the beach while it was up to 100°F (36°C) warm. I love the heat so I really enjoyed that. And even after the classes had started it was very different from my time in Auburn since we all had classes together as a group.”
What was your first impression of Australia?
“It was love at first sight. After the grey and cold months in Seattle and Germany, it was awesome to see the sun again and to feel the heat. Melbourne is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. It is a big and busy city with a lot of things you can do but at the same time it is so clean and green.”
Where did you live in Australia?
“In Australia we lived at Newman College. We all had dorms next to each other. Instead of cooking for ourselves we received lunch and dinner in the dining hall. In my opinion that was a very good solution for the first few weeks. We were all very close to each other which enabled us to get to know the other members of our group better. Nevertheless, we still had our own rooms and were able to shut the door if we needed some time alone. Moreover, our classroom was literally next to the dorms so we were able to sleep longer. Newman College is only a 20 minute walk or a 10 minute tram ride away from the city center of Melbourne so it was very easy to go there whenever we felt like doing something. Additionally, Lygon Street was only two blocks away and there one could find heaps of nice restaurants.”
What did the program in Australia look like?
“We stayed in Australia for five weeks. During the first four weeks we had biology, culture and history classes and all of these were related to Australia. We did not have any final exams. Instead we had to write a long term paper for each class. On most of the days we had in class sessions from 9am to 12pm and then in the afternoon we visited museums or other cultural sights. Furthermore, we did a couple of biology field trips. I enjoyed these a lot. In my opinion it may be interesting to hear something about the habits of marsupials but it is a lot cooler to hike through the rain forest and see them in real life. In addition to that, we were divided into eight groups at the beginning of the week. Each of the group was assigned an Australian or New Zealand movie which they then had to present. Therefore we had a few movie nights. This was the educational part. On the weekends we had time to explore the city and its surroundings. One weekend a group of girls and I did a two day tour along the Great Ocean Road and through the Grampians National Park. This is where I got the opportunity to take a selfie with a kangaroo, which was on my bucket list for this trip. The fifth week in Australia was our break week. Seven of my new friends and I used this week to fly up to Cairns – a town on the coast of the Great Barrier Reef – and got certified in scuba-diving. This was one of my highlights of the whole trip. We lived on the sea for three whole days, swam with a lot of fish I had never seen before, we swam with sharks on the night dive and saw gigantic turtles. Additionally, we had no service or wifi for three whole days which was very relaxing. It was just eat, sleep and dive. I still want to go back onto this boat when I am thinking about it.”
What was your first impression of New Zealand?
“New Zealand is a lot greener than Australia so the view while landing in Auckland was very pretty. Before we arrived in New Zealand I thought that climate and the weather would be the same as in Australia. Apparently, I was wrong. The first week can be compared to the weather in Seattle. It was neither really cold nor super warm and it was raining cats and dogs. Very frustrating. Luckily, I had my rain jacket and my sweater with me and the weather got better after the first few days.”
Where did you live?
“In New Zealand, we did not live in student dorms. We were sharing small apartments in groups of three and four. There we had to cook and to take care for ourselves. I think it was a very good idea to do that on the second half of the trip since we were able to get to know the group and decide who we would like to live together with this way. The only thing I did not like about the apartments was that it took us at least half an hour by train to get into the city center of Auckland. It made it a lot harder for us to do something during the week. But since we saw a lot of cool things on the weekends that was not too bad. I mean: we had to do homework at some point. ;)”
What did the program look like?
“The program was basically the same as in Australia. School during the first four weeks with biology, culture and history classes. We had three biology field trips, an essay for each class and four more movie presentations. The only significant difference was that we did not have culture classes in a normal classroom. Instead we learned a lot about the Māori culture (Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand) by the Māori themselves. We got to know how to introduce ourselves in Māori, we learned a few songs, practiced the Mau Rakau (an indigenous war dance) and were told about a variety of mythologies and beliefs. However, our weekends were a little bit more exciting in New Zealand than they were in Australia. Whereas we had all been a little bit helpless and unorganized in Australia, we knew how to plan trips, rent cars and find cheap hostels when we arrived in New Zealand. Hence, most of us went camping every weekend and we explored most parts of the north island on our own. Our biology teacher Jenny also offered one weekend trip to the Bay of Islands. I joined this trip and I have to say it is very recommendable. On our last week, a lot of us (including me) flew to Queenstown or Christchurch on the South Island. We got together in small groups and either drove around the Island or stayed in the city. Four of my friends and I drove to Fox Glacier and to Milford Sound before we went back to Queenstown to spend our last three days in New Zealand there.”
What is your best memory of Australia and New Zealand?
“My highlight in Australia was definitely our break week. Learning how to scuba-dive on the Great Barrier Reef was an insane experience. We lived on the sea for three whole days. I swam with a lot of fish I had never seen before. On the night-dive, we were swimming with sharks and giant sea turtles. Moreover, I saw Nemo and Dori.”
“I am not sure what my highlight in New Zealand was. When it comes to nature it was probably my trip to Milford Sound. This is a big lake in between the mountains where we did a cruise on. In my opinion Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in the world. During the cruise, I felt like I was staring on a screen because everything looked so unreal. However, Queenstown is a very cool city, too. Especially for young people. New Zealand is commonly known as the global capital of adventures and in Queenstown you can really experience that. I did the Nevis Swing which is the world’s biggest swing with a 70m free fall. Furthermore, we went to an ice bar which was a really “cool” experience. ;)”
Would you recommend this gap year program and why?
“I would definitely recommend this program to everybody who wants to make international friends and see the world at the same time. In my opinion, this is an awesome change to get introduced to the culture of the different countries. Take our culture classes in New Zealand as an example. I would have never learnt so much about New Zealand’s indigenous population as a tourist. This way I was taught by Māori people themselves which is probably the best way to learn it.”
Do you have tips for people who are considering the Green River to Australia/New Zealand gap year program?
“There are a few tips that the returning students from last year had already told me before I left to Down Under and I should have taken these hints more serious. First, be prepared for every kind of weather. Even if it is hot and sunny in Australia, you definitely want to bring a sweater, long pants and a rain jacket for the slightly colder days in New Zealand. Secondly, save your money and budget different things beforehand. You might spend more money than you originally planned to spend because there are so many cool things you can do. But they tell you about that on the orientation day. One thing I would personally recommend is renting a car for the weekends in New Zealand and explore the North Island. This way you are independent, you can see a lot and you will have time to go to the South Island on your week off which is definitely worth it. Last but not least: be open-minded, try new things and just do it! You will have a great time anyway.”