I’ve Come Full Circle

Over the weekend, I moved into one of the University dorms, known as “Colleges” in New Zealand. I haven’t lived in one of these in a very long time. I’m surrounded by undergraduate students and a few graduate students, so you may be asking yourself why would someone voluntarily go back to those days? Two words: student flats.

Student flats in Dunedin are a bit of a tourist attraction. The majority of Cumberland Street is filled with old 1900s villas that have been converted into three to six bedroom houses that are rented out to students (see photo below).  Even if I was interested in staying in one of these, the landlords only run 12 month leases, which obviously wouldn’t work for me. Anyways, that’s not the reason I am not staying in one of them.  These houses are truly ‘historical’.  They have never been upgraded, which means tall ceilings, large windows, no central heating and no insulation during winter. Hello crazy high power bills and freezing cold interiors. Those from the good ole’ USA have come to expect heat pumps or old school furnaces in their homes. In Dunedin, it’s almost a rite of passage of a student to stay in one of these flats for a year. I’m going to skip that test.

Back to the dorm. The colleges in NZ are actually a better deal than their US counterparts. They have the same features, such as lounges, computer labs, and laundry facilities (which are free). Here’s where it gets good. All students have their own room from the beginning, which eliminates the roommate issue. The dining hall serves 21 meals a week, which means that I don’t have to cook for the next two months. The library is well stocked with reference material and fiction (they even have Doctor Who novels!). There is a separate lounge for ‘older’ students that include a self-catering kitchen and a huge TV and DVD player. There’s also a car park for resident cars that isn’t miles away (I’m looking at you BGSU). And they are centrally heated, which is not common in Dunedin. So I can sleep without using my sleeping bag and liner. Update: I roasted the first night. Luckily, there seems to be a knob that can adjust the heating element in the room.

On to the chemistry internship. The chemistry department is so cool here. They have a tea room upstairs, which supplies coffee, hot chocolate, and tea all day. And there are fresh baked goods provided daily for a nominal charge. What more could you want in the morning? In terms of research, I am working in an environmental chemistry lab, assisting one of the PhD students with his project. I will be helping to develop a procedure for extracting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from invertebrate samples collected from Arthur’s Pass National Park. This is an alpine ecosystem and the interest is in pollutants that may have deposited into snow during the winter. The hypothesis is that once spring arrives and the snow melts the run-off enters alpine ecosystems and the interest is to see how these pollutants accumulate in macroinvertebrates. This is my first time working in a chemistry lab and I have forgotten how annoying chemistry procedures are. They are lengthy and exact. So there are many opportunities to screw up and lose/contaminate your sample, especially when working with small concentrations (300 µL). So we’ll see how the next two months go.

So by settling down in one city for more than I few days, I started looking into fitness facilities. Here’s a tip. Never take two months off from the gym. Going back sucks. I am sore from a 40-minute yoga workout. At least I found a gym that was willing to do a short-term membership. Most gyms require you to sign a contract, anywhere from 12-24 months and the rate is listed as a weekly rate. So at first glance, it appears that you are getting a great deal $18…a week. So for those of us used to paying monthly bills, multiply that by 4, which equals $72 a month for a two year commitment. Membership rates are inversely proportional to the length of the contract. We won’t discuss how much my two month contract cost. If the exchange rate was better, this wouldn’t be a problem. (Come on America! What is up with the value of the dollar?! I want to stay oversees longer). I plan to be at the gym every day for the next two months. For those that are interested, I joined Configure Express, which is the ladies’ only gym in Dunedin. At least the Zumba classes are included.

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