The Student's Guide to Everything

The Student's Guide to Everything: university student and graduate life from a New Zealand perspective

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Location: London, United Kingdom

I'm a marketing communications professional, writer and blogger. I can't live without the internet, I love to travel and I'm a photography nut.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Link love: un(der)employed graduates edition

Graduated, but having trouble finding a job? Having to work retail or waiting tables again to make ends meet? Trying your hardest to get into a competitive field with fewer openings? Join the club! With the combination of the global economic downturn and the current job market, it's going to take longer to find a job.

(I'm in this situation myself. And I'm hearing similar stories from my graduate friends in NZ, the US and the UK.) So what should you do in the meantime, apart from getting to know the inside of your local WINZ office better?

Some options for unemployed graduates from Kevin at 20's Money.

JD Roth has some excellent tips on finding a good job in a bad economy, and whether to stay in a more secure job, but one which is not in your field. (The comments are interesting, too.)

Penelope Trunk has a good post about 5 things to do when you're unemployed. (It's not job-hunting.)

Here's something to make you feel better.

Don't be afraid to take a temporary role, and look for something better on the side. I'll post later about internships, and why you should do one.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

First-years: The Honeymoon

Right now, uni's like one big long honeymoon. The sun is shining, the classes are interesting. You're meeting people. There are parties every single weekend. You go out clubbing afterwards every single weekend.

Make the most of it, people - it's going to die right about the time your first assignment is due, and you realise that you really didn't want to know that much about the Mongolian Death Worm. Or Postmodernism. Or whatever. But don't let this faze you - it will happen all over again next year as well. And the year after that. And you'll realise that you enjoy uni regardless.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First-years: Surviving the first three weeks

The first three weeks of uni can be a minefield: possible pitfalls include feeling lost, walking into the wrong classroom, waiting in line for hours to buy books and missing class.... It's normal to feel nervous about starting uni.

Here's some tips to help you navigate:

Before uni:

  • Finalise your courses if you haven't already done so. Make sure you're doing enough papers to qualify as a student for WINZ, if you receive a student allowance or loan. If you
  • Make a calendar of the times of prospective courses you are taking, to ensure no classes clash. Do you have enough time to get between classes in different locations? Make sure you always have this calendar - put it in your diary or organiser.
  • Go for a walk around campus and work out where your classes are held. This way, you won't feel as lost when you start.
  • Organise your stationary. (See What to bring to class.) Take advantage of "Back-to-school" sales if you can.

The first week:

  • Sign up for tutorials - check against your calendar to make sure they don't clash. Be fast - class sizes are limited, and you may have to take an alternative time if your first choice is full.
  • If you need to change classes or discover you're completely not into that subject, do it in the first two weeks. After (usually) 6 weeks in a course, you'll lose your refund if you drop out.
  • Talk to as many people as you can, especially in your hostel or your classes.


  • Make a list of all the books on your reading list (marked, "required". Don't buy the ones marked "recommended". You won't use them enough.)
  • Buy as many books as you can from the 2nd-hand book sales or online in the first week or two, to save money. Textbooks are super-expensive, especially in the sciences or law. (Check edition numbers carefully to make sure the book is still up-to-date.)
  • If you're ultra-frugal, reserve the books you need at the library ahead of time. Remember usually about 5 textbooks per class are held at the library, so you may still need to buy one come assignment time.
  • Be prepared for long lines at the student bookstore. And even longer lines at the student notes bookstore. The best time to go is early in the morning, or later in the evening.

The first two/three weeks:

  • Be friendly to everyone you meet - you never know who your friends will turn out to be. New Zealand is a small place, after all.
  • Decide if you want to be involved in any sporting or cultural clubs. (Look out for a "clubs day" when all the clubs advertise in a central location at uni. At least for the free lollies!)
  • Check out which local establishments offer student discounts!
  • Establish a spending budget. (More on that later.)
  • Have fun!

Remember that everyone else around you is also feeling insecure and a bit out of their depth, no matter how confident they seem. It's a completely new environment, with different rules, and it's going to be an adjustment from high school.

Because it is a different environment from high school, you can completely reinvent yourself if you so wish - you're not restricted by other peoples' preconceived opinions of you and what you should or should not be or do. Even if you still see them on campus. Get involved in some of the clubs and activities on campus to meet like-minded people - there are so many fun things available.

You may also be living on your own, away from your parents, for the first time. This is a huge adjustment - suddenly you are responsible for yourself and your choices. Don't beat yourself up if you forget a class, get lost, or make a mistake. It's OK. You're learning. You're allowed to get it wrong sometimes. It's all part of the process of making your own rules and growing up. Dont be afraid to talk to your lecturers if you're having a lot of trouble, or you're worried.

You'll be OK. You survived high school! That's much worse. In a few weeks, you'll feel much more confident. Just like those second- and third-years you see walking past.


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Avoiding homelessness: Find your flat now!

Have you got your living quarters sorted for the university year? Don't wait until the end of February when everyone else wants one too - start hunting now!

So how do you avoid having to sleep on the street next to smelly hobos as the rain blows onto your cardboard box from a drainpipe in the corner? Read on....

1. Research, research, research!

First, do your research. Look at as many different flats as you can on TradeMe etc before you invest the time and effort of going to each flat. That way, you'll get a sense of what's out there in terms of price and quality. Use the internet, ask friends, look at noticeboards at uni. The best flats start going in January, and most are gone by the middle of February. So start looking now. Move fast (i.e. within the day) if you see a good one.

At the end of November, as people move back to their parents’ houses for the summer, flats in major cities often become a lot cheaper for the summer period. Take advantage of the remaining flatmates’/ landlord’s desperation to fill the flat – many are heavily discounted and in good locations.

  • How much are you willing to spend? What is the maximum you can afford?
  • How far away are you willing to live from uni?
  • What housing conditions are you willing to live in?
  • What housing conditions are you not willing to live in?
  • Furnished or unfurnished accommodation? (Do you have your own stuff?)
  • How safe are the areas you are considering? It's not as big a deal in NZ compared to, say, New York or Chicago, but cheaper rent isn't always more important than not being mugged.
  • If you live further from uni, what transport is available? What will it cost to get to uni/ work every day?
  • What about late night transport home after clubbing? Will you have reliable transport home? In many parts of New Zealand, buses and trains stop running at midnight, and sleeping at the bus station is cold if you can't shell out for a taxi.
While it may be cheaper to live further away from uni, you need to balance distance from uni with travel time and price of rent. A good general formula is (travel costs 1 way x 10 trips per week + rent per week). Compare this against the cost of a similar flat closer to uni which doesn't require travel costs. Try not to live too far away, unless you can stay with your parents and avoid paying rent. Decreased rent costs from living in a distant area is often made up in travel costs and time spent. Time you can't spend doing other things. Like that last-minute assignment. Or a mad dash to class. You're also at the mercy of any rail/ bus strikes, or a slow traffic jam.

2. Making sure it's not a dump

Once you have narrowed down your search to about 10 houses in your price range and area, call or email the advertisers to arrange a time to visit.


How big is the room? Do you have your own furniture that has to fit? What if you can’t fit your stuff through the door? Do you need a furnished house? Try to imagine how you might arrange the room. You're going to be spending a lot of time in here, you might as well enjoy it. Most student flats will come furnished, which is better since you don't have to spend money buying your own from the Sallies and dragging it home. You don't have to lug everything up the stairs. And when you leave, you just pack up your clothes and PSP. No moving vans needed!

How broken is the house? All student houses are usually 'broken', to a greater or lesser extent. Think about the checklist you put together earlier of housing conditions you're not willing to live in - are there any things on that list in this house?
  • Mould/ mildew on the walls and ceiling – this shows the flat is damp. It's unhealthy. If you are asthmatic, stay away! You'll have to live here in winter, too, and it will be much worse. Touch the walls to check for condensation.
  • Broken or dripping taps?
  • Check the lights work.
  • Open the kitchen and bedroom cupboards.
  • Is there a washing machine, or a laundromat close by? Any restrictions on where you can dry your washing? (Modern apartment blocks are more likely to have this restriction.)
Imagine what it would be like to study and live here. Is the bedroom separate and private? (I.e. no-one has to walk through your room to get to theirs.) Can you study here in peace? Or is there somewhere nearby you can go at all hours of the night, to study?

Ask the landlord about:
  • Noise levels – is there a bar or club nearby? Are 3am drag races down this street common?
  • Is the surrounding area safe at night?
  • What about proximity to amenities, e.g. supermarket, university, work? If you don't have a car, and the nearest supermarket visit involves a long sweaty walk up a big hill with heavy bags and no bus, it's going to get frustrating very quickly.
  • Are there any restrictions from the landlord regarding visitors, parties, etc? How can you contact them if there is an emergency?
  • Sunlight – does the flat get early morning sunlight? Does it lose the sun at 2pm? (This is more important if you know you get affected by the "winter blues".)
  • How much is the bond? 4 weeks' worth of rent is usually sufficient, although some may allow 2 weeks.
  • How much notice do you need to give when you want to move out? (Get that one in writing.)
  • Are you allowed to smoke in the house?

3. Winning the flatmate lottery

Don't flat with friends. Please don't. Not unless you're entirely sure you know what they're really like to live with. Lots of friendships have been broken this way. Who knew what disgusting habits he had, or that she had p*rn star-worthy sex with her boyfriend at 3am? You will discover horrible sides to your friends that you never knew they had!

Randoms are usually better. Pick randoms who you think you can get on with and eventually become friends with. Likewise, don't live with your parents until you're 24. You're supposed to be an adult. It won't help you pick up chicks, guys, if you're sneaking them back to your bunk bed.

What are your prospective flatmates like? Are they messy or clean? What are the deal-breakers? While you're looking around the house, pay attention to anything you think might annoy you later. Do dirty dishes left in the sink annoy you?

Once you move in, it's often a good idea to discuss expectations of cleaning, sharing the kitchen etc. so you're not surprised.

4. What if it goes pear-shaped?

You have rights as a tenant, and so does the landlord. But you both also have obligations to each other as well. The Department of Building and Housing has an excellent section on what rights you have as a tenant, and what your obligations are.

If something needs to be fixed, tell the landlord as soon as possible so they can sort it out. This is especially important if it could be dangerous.

If things really go pear-shaped, and you can't sort it out with the landlord yourself, the Tenancy Tribunal can step in. Try calling 0800 TENANCY (0800 83 62 62) for the department's helpline first.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ways to stay safe over New Year's

So you've got your beer sorted, your camping buddies, someone has a car and you're all ready to hit the beach on New Year's Eve. Great!

Here's some ways to ensure your night to remember, doesn't end up being remembered for the wrong reasons:
  • Have a drinking buddy and watch out for each other.
  • Ladies, try to stay in a group - predatory guys can take advantage of drunk girls.
  • Keep your cellphone on you.
  • Don't drink and drive - the Police will be out in force on New Year's Eve. (Also, it's just dumb.)
  • Similarly, don't provoke the Police or hang around if a fight is breaking out - just walk away. Don't give them any excuse to arrest you.
  • Watch out for alcohol-free zone bylaws - some public places such as parks or busy main streets may have them.
  • Mixing herbal/chemical highs and alcohol can be dangerous - do one or the other, but not both.
  • Avoid mixing spirits and beer / wine unless you want a killer hangover!
  • Drink a glass of water before bed to minimise your hangover in the morning.
By following a few common-sense guidelines, you'll ensure you have a fantastic holiday and are ready to do it all next year! Happy Christmas and New Year's, everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Seven awesome weekend trips on a student budget

Now that it's getting closer to summer, it's time to think about holidays! Here are some short weekend breaks that shouldn't break the student bank or force you to get another overdraft.

1. Wellington: Days Bay, Eastbourne

Days Bay in Eastbourne features a fantastic swimming beach, golden sand to park your towel and Williams Park across the road for icecreams and shade.

Getting there: Take the ferry across from Wellington (or for the truly budget-minded, the bus).

What to do: Jump off the wharf at high tide, or fish there. Look for the 'Kleinjan Brothers' inscription on the first step - my grandfather built it.

Walk south along the beach to Eastbourne itself. If you're a bit more adventurous, take your mountain bike and ride the gravel road along the coast towards Pencarrow lighthouse. Watch out if it's windy! Look out for large spiral Cook's Turban sea shells.

If you're into tramping, walk to Butterfly Creek in the next valley, for a gorgeous bush walk.

2. Wairarapa: Martinborough/ Greytown

Greytown and Martinborough are cute small towns in the Wairarapa, with interesting shops and vineyards.

Getting there: By train from Wellington (station Woodside), then by bus to the towns. Or get off the train at Featherston and take a bus from there. By bus from Palmerston North.

What to do: Lunch at the Deli Cafe on Main St, Greytown. Browse Greytown's antique shops and art galleries (try not to buy anything). If you have a car, a few kilometres north of Greytown are orchards and berry-picking in summer.

Visit Martinborough's vineyards and the shops around the Square in the centre of town. Kitchener Street (next to the big white hotel) has the best shops. Hang out in the Square. (Avoid the Toast Martinborough wine and food festival unless you have tickets. Which usually sell out in minutes each year.)

If you have a car and some extra time, head to the ocean at Lake Ferry, 30 minutes south of Martinborough. Don't go swimming, there are rips! Watch the sun set over the South Island at the Lake Ferry Hotel with a beer or a coffee.

3. Auckland: Devonport

Devonport is a suburb of Auckland featuring fantastic beaches, green spaces and naval history.

Getting there: Take the ferry from downtown Auckland, or the bus.

What to do:Devonport Beach and Cheltenham Beach are great places to park your towel and sunglasses. Torpedo Bay is a good swimming beach at high tide.

Walk up Mt. Victoria for a spectacular view of Auckland. Check out the fortifications there. Look out for the 'mushroom' air vents at the top.

If you're a history buff, check out the Devonport Museum and Navy Museum. (Ladies: as a bonus, the Naval Base is nearby... be on the lookout for hot Navy guys.) Book a free tour at the Navy Museum.

4. Nelson: Nelson City

Nelson has it all: amazing beaches, craft markets, sunshine and incredible scenery.

Getting there: From Wellington, fly or take the ferry to Picton and a two-hour Intercity bus / drive. (Hopefully you won't get the lecture on pine trees.)

What to do: One of the 'hippy hotspots' of New Zealand, Nelson city has lots of quirky shops. Check out the glassblowing studios if you have a car, or the World of Wearable Arts and car museum.

The Saturday morning Nelson Market has free entry. Spend as much or as little as you want on locally made food, jewellery, clothing and crafts.

Hang out at Tahunanui Beach or wade/ swim out to Rabbit Island.

If you're in Motueka and it's raining, visit the Gecko movie theatre. It's like movie night at your friend's house.

5. Nelson: National Parks

Source (I would use my own photos, which are better, but they're on the other hard drive and I can't get to them.)
If you're a bit more adventurous, the fantastic beaches and spectacular golden sands of Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, Takaka and Golden Bay await.

Getting there: Because it's on the tourist track, there are frequent buses to Abel Tasman National Park, Takaka and Golden Bay from Nelson. For Nelson Lakes, you'll need to drive (approx an hour from Nelson) or take the shuttle.

What to do: Walk to one of the numerous sheltered bays and hang out on the beach, or take a sea kayak for a different view. (Be warned: it's hard work.)

For something different, Nelson Lakes National Park is a gorgeous series of inland lakes and mountains. You can go boating, fish or walk one of the numerous walking tracks.

6. Christchurch: Akaroa


Akaroa is on scenic Banks Peninsula near Christchurch, with numerous small bays.

Getting there: A 90-minute drive from Christchurch. Alternatively you can take the shuttle, or the 28 or 30 bus from the Christchurch bus exchange.

What to do: Historically French (who sailed only days before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed - imagine their dismay when they arrived, to discover the British had claimed all of the South Island), Akaroa's heritage is reflected in the street names and cute colonial houses. History buffs should check out the Akaroa Museum, including the tiny Langlois-Eteveneaux House. (Use your student ID card to get a discount on the entry.)

Walk from the Akaroa lighthouse to Britomart Monument, where the British raised the Union Jack just before the French settlers arrived.

Explore the many hills, bays and beaches of Banks Peninsula, two extinct volcanoes.

Look out for Hector's Dolphins, with their distinctive rounded fin. Akaroa is one of the best places to see the world's rarest dolphins, only found in NZ.

7. Otago: Wanaka

Getting there: Drive the Crown Range from Queenstown, the highest main road in New Zealand, for scenic views.

What to do: Walk by Lake Wanaka and enjoy the view of Mt. Aspiring, or walk down to the lake's outlet to the source of the Clutha River, the largest volume river in NZ.

Tramp one of the popular tracks at Mount Aspiring National Park. (Make sure you follow the usual safety precautions if you're going on a longer trip.)

Visit Wanaka Puzzling World and play with the mazes and optical illusions. Visit local orchards and eat yummy fruit in summer.

If it's raining, catch a movie at Cinema Paradiso, which was mentioned in Lonely Planet (travel guide) and features an old Morris Minor!

Camp in the camping grounds to save money on accommodation, since Wanaka can be pricey.

Where else do you go on a cheap weekend break? Leave a comment! (Thanks to all my friends who made suggestions for this post - I'm keeping the unused suggestions for the next one.)


Monday, December 8, 2008

The 10,000 Hour Rule: why young workers struggle

Malcom Gladwell, a popular business author, suggests that young workers (and sometimes older ones too!) struggle because of what he calls the 10,000 Hour Rule: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get to the top of your field.

Why is this important? Because knowing how to succeed in work, like anything else, takes practice. 10,000 hours is about 5 years 'full-time'. As a student, if you've 'practiced' working in college and university, you're much better equipped to deal with the professional world when you emerge as a graduate. Uni teaches you how to do the work, but it doesn't teach you anything about how to survive in the business world. Getting a degree nowdays is basically the entry ticket - it proves you can stick at something. What it's really all about is what work 'practice' you already have.

You'll find it much easier to get a job if you already have some experience under your belt. Internships, part-time jobs or summer jobs are all ways to help you prepare for the working world. Start 'practicing' now!