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Source: University of Waikato

When Mason Ashford arrived at the University of Waikato from Florida for her Study Abroad semester at the start of the year, she probably wasn’t expecting a global pandemic and a country-wide lockdown part-way through her studies.

Nevertheless, she was determined to make the most of her experience studying marine biology abroad by fitting in travel when restrictions allowed, making friends and taking in all campus life had to offer. She says looking back on it, there were still plenty of positives despite five weeks of lockdown.

“While lockdown wasn’t ideal and not exactly what I had planned for my exchange experience, I was still able to make the most if it,” she says.

“I maintained my normal schedule as best I could so that every day I was doing school work and internship work which made sure I wasn’t getting behind.”

She also credits University staff for keeping things as normal as possible for students. “It wasn’t easy for anyone but Professors were so accommodating as we shifted to online learning. Staff made it way easier than it could have been.”

Mason’s internship with marine ecologists at NIWA still went ahead despite lockdown, and she was able to complete her data analysis project largely uninterrupted.

“Even though the project was on my own and in my room due to COVID, the team all reached out to me to offer help and support. We did weekly virtual meetings and everyone was so nice and accommodating to me. They easily could have cancelled my internship and left me out to dry, but instead they went out of their way to make sure I could complete the project.”

Mason says she also managed to fit in a good amount of travel before and after lockdown.

“That would be my biggest tip for others on Study Abroad – take advantage of travelling. I did a fair bit before lockdown but once I was in lockdown, I wish I had done more.

“My point is, if one of your new Kiwi friends says ‘hey, want to drive to Raglan to see the sunset?’ Always say yes. You’ll never regret taking every opportunity that comes to you.”

Other highlights for Mason include meeting people from all over the world, going on field trips as part of her studies, and being welcomed into an inclusive community on campus.

“I felt so welcomed as an international student. We were made to feel like we belonged to the Waikato community, even if we were only there for a semester,” she says.

“There’s almost always something going on around campus, which is a great way to get involved and meet new people. I now have friends for life all over the world and that is a really cool thing to have.”