Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cost of Living as International PhD Student in New Zealand

At the end of the year, it seemed right to do an overview of the fixed cost of living as an international PhD student in New Zealand, now that there is over a year's worth of data. No warehouse stores or coupons, so it is more difficult to get a bargain. Costs are annual unless stated otherwise and in NZ dollars.

$7,200 Postgraduate PhD tuition and admin fees

$600 - Medical insurance for university international students
(basically equivalent to travel insurance)
$58 - Doctor's visit at university health center
$25 - Dentist visit (10-minute cleaning and X-rays) subsidized by university
(normally ~$80)
$80 - Hygienist visit (30-minute cleaning) at separate location
$22 - 3 months of generic drug at university pharmacy
(with prescription, not covered by ins.)
$36 - 6 months of oral contraception at university pharmacy
(with prescription, not covered by ins.)
$1/pill - most other medicines at any pharmacy (e.g. pain relief, allergy)

$200 - Annual government car registration
$115 - AA car insurance, Third Party policy (not required but good to have)
$60 - AA membership
$2,000 - Gas costs (~$70-100 per fillup with older car) with two roadtrips around islands

$19,240 - Rent ($370/week in lower-income neighborhood)
$8,000 - Groceries and household supplies ($120/week for low-carb groceries for two)
$2,000 - Electricity costs ($150/month summer, $300/month winter)
(being away during weekdays)
$900 - Internet, unlimited data, slow speeds ($75/month)
$265 - Contents/renters insurance
$240 - Cell phone plan, 500MB data, unlimited texting ($20 topup/month)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hiking, Hakas, Hail, and Star Wars

We've been to a couple new places around Christchurch recently. I also found out about a project called Christchurch 360 Trail that is working on a kind of hiking/biking trail around the city that goes into different kinds of terrain and can be broken off into chunks. Our walk in Bottle Lake Forest Park turned out to be more rocky than we hoped and is really more suited to biking than walking. Many of the trees are growing to be harvested, so the scenery wasn't that memorable.

Sumner Beach was pretty and the weather was nice.

I attended the annual Maori Graduation Celebration (Hui Whakahonore) which is a more intimate affair than the regular graduation (which takes place in a stadium with hundreds of graduates in multiple ceremonies), although Maori graduates also participate in the regular ceremony as well. The smaller setting allows Maori families to perform a haka if they wish when their graduate receives their certificate and pounamu, or greenstone, necklace. I had never seen a haka before, and it was a very unique and emotional experience. They originated as war dances but are now used for special occasions and ceremonies. Some people (mostly men) rhythmically stomped their feet and shouted, while other people sang or spoke to their graduate. You could feel the energy in the room and it was so much more than the mere clapping or whooping that I'm used to!
I have been doing Christmas baking and bringing a taste of American treats here, although I've had to make substitutions because some ingredients aren't available here (no Chex cereal!!). For a country with such a diverse group of people, the suggested Christmas desserts in the newspaper and ads seem limited to a couple items, and they like to put fruit in everything. The British influence is still trying to hold out I guess.

The big event lately has been the new Star Wars movie, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We went to a midnight showing and being in New Zealand finally meant being ahead of the game -- it showed a day early here so with the time zone difference, we saw it almost two days ahead of everyone in the U.S. It was good and thankfully not the prequels. We did a marathon of the despecialized original trilogy beforehand so the references and nostalgia were nice and fresh. We will be seeing it again this week to catch what we missed the first time! We went to a bookshop that specializes in science fiction because I was looking for another copy of Dune to lend out to people I've been telling about it, and I ended up finding one copy buried underneath several boxes of not-yet-priced books, as well as a set of the Star Wars books (I already have these back home but wanted to re-read) and a dozen other science fiction books, many from the 70s so I can see what was popular at the time. I stumbled upon several Frank Herbert short story collections that I couldn't resist, even though I'm not researching those technically. The most interesting was probably the book subtitled Understanding American History Through Science Fiction which features short stories sorted by various social studies themes and discussion questions for students. 

The weather also unleashed one of the worst storms I have ever seen, with a massive hail storm that brought tons of hail and wind and thunder and lightning. It decimated a lot of our plants in the garden and elsewhere, with the leaves shot through with holes. When it cleared up the first time, I went out and poured warm water on the strawberries to melt some of the ice bath they were sitting in. Then another round of thunder and lightning and rain came later. Crazy weather here!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Guy Fawkes, Dunedin, and Moeraki Boulders

A lot of the past month has been spent on two journal articles and conferences. These activities have taken more time than I anticipated, although they have been really good learning experiences. With everything now done and "summer break" beginning, I am hoping to recommit to my thesis and get a lot written, since there won't be many distracting seminars or things going on at the university.

Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) was fun as usual. We took two friends out to New Brighton, a suburb on the coast, to watch the official fireworks display, then came home and lit off some of our own fireworks. We bought extra to keep us going throughout the year and for New Year's. :)

I picked up a sweet find of science fiction and feminism books at a garage sale for $5.

The weather has been off and on hot and cold. They're predicting it to be a really hot summer, so we'll see.

We hosted a PhD student from Australia and requested he bring some Kraft Mac 'N Cheese for D to enjoy, and he brought three boxes as well as a bottle of wine! Very nice. We bought a Christmas tree and put it up along with some outdoor lights. I think we're the only house in the whole neighborhood to have any lights up, and they are solar-powered so don't last very long if it's a cloudy day. It still doesn't feel like a holiday season with the hot weather and lack of spirit. It is strange to not be bombarded by all of the Christmas atmosphere like in the U.S.

One of my conferences was in Dunedin (about 5-hour drive south of Christchurch) and the weather was unusually hot and sunny, so I went on several walks around the city in the evening because it stays light until like 8:30pm now. The architecture there is nice and there was some cool street art. Other cities are so much more alive than Christchurch -- it's disappointing not to have a functioning city center here.

On the drive back to Christchurch, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders which were beautiful and mysterious. There's a good description of them at -- here's my paraphrase: boulders weigh several tons and are calcite concretions from about 65 millions years ago. They are gradually being revealed as the soft mudstone washes away. In Maori legend, the boulders are gourds that have come ashore from the voyaging canoe Araiteuru when it wrecked on land.
Bought this in Dunedin. Really makes you rethink how we see the world!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween Party

I submitted my article finally. What a relief! It was a lot more work than I anticipated, even at the end with the formatting and last-minute realizations that I'd left certain critics out. Fingers crossed that the reviewers like it. I was only 9 words under the word count. I've now moved on to another article about pedagogy (teaching) and Digital Humanities. Then there is a conference in three weeks where I am presenting on Wikipedia and editing bias...I'll get to writing my thesis eventually.
Felt really good to haul these back to the library!

On the plane ride back from the conference a couple weeks ago, I sat next to a guy doing his PhD in Tourism at Lincoln University, and since they actually put some effort into making international students feel welcome and giving them the chance to meet other people, he works in a kind of international development role and puts on activities for them. Anyway, he invited me to their last get-together for the semester at a Mexican restaurant this past week so D and I went and had a good time meeting other international students from Lincoln. A couple of them even used to go to our university but much prefer Lincoln because it is smaller and has a more welcoming environment. The food was not quite what we expect from Mexican food, but such it is in New Zealand. There was a student from the U.S. there and we were talking presidential politics across the long table -- several of the students from China were just listening intently and after we said we should stop because we were boring them, they said oh no, we weren't boring them; they find it fascinating how Americans get all into political discussions. They were a nice bunch of students, very full of energy and excitement. It's nice to have a break from the normal routine and hear about what other people are doing with their lives.

Despite a week with cold weather, Halloween turned out to be a nice, warm day. We brought a taste of America to New Zealand with our Halloween party, and folks enjoyed the theme, the food, and the carving of pumpkins (first time for most of them). We played some Halloween Pictionary and took the pumpkins outside in the dark to light them up with tea lights. I think this part really amazed some of them -- to see their own carved creation lit up with fire! And we got lots more trick-or-treaters this year --  I believe the balloons and sign on the mailbox helped. Still had to flag down one group that were about to pass us by. Very reluctant over here.


missing items weren't ready yet: cheesecake, boo cups, and garlic bread
forgot to capture pumpkin cheesecake at the beginning

boo cups had melted ghosts but were still tasty

"feely boxes" with marshmallows, cold noodles, & crushed pineapple
got the biggest squash/pumpkins we could

they carved up pretty nicely

These are ours -- I was going for a round mouth but failed!

Some of our friends' happy pumpkins :)