Exams, Rugby, and the Haka

My study abroad program at Auckland University of Technology is coming to an abrupt end. I left for New Zealand just about four and a half months ago, and time has gone by seemingly in the blink of an eye. While there have been instances where it felt that time was moving slower than molasses — especially right before my departures for trips and during exam weeks — it’s hard to believe that I will be boarding a plane to the United States within the week.

The last few weeks have been dominated by preparing and studying for final exams. I had one test in each of the last three weeks. Exams here at AUT were all three hours and 10 minutes long, and consisted of answering multiple essay questions. This was somewhat of a challenge compared to my final exams at San Diego State, which were mostly multiple choice tests and take-home essays that I tend to be better at. Eventually, after what felt like hours of writing and enormous strain on my writing arm, I completed my tests and have finished my junior year of college.

Before my last exam, however, I took a short trip during the weekend to a town called Rotorua, which is famous for its hot springs and thermal activity that give the area a pungent smell of sulfur. I had visited Rotorua briefly once before during my road trip through the North Island, but the second visit was sure to be much different.

One of the only things I knew about New Zealand before doing more research in my pre-departure stage of the study abroad process was about the country’s passion for rugby and their national team, the All Blacks. So, the first trip I organized for my time in the country was a weekend in Rotorua to see the Maori All Blacks, which is comprised of players who have confirmed Maori genes (Maoris are the native people of New Zealand). Unbeknownst to me at the time, they were to play against the British and Irish Lions, who only tour once ever four years, making it a rather hyped up and anticipated event.

After taking a bus to Rotorua from Auckland on Friday night, I could already tell that the town was buzzing in eagerness while waiting for match day on Saturday. There was a festival celebrating Maori culture that culminated in a fireworks show, and visitors to Rotorua were decked out in either All Blacks or Lions gear. Incredibly, I was walking down one of the main streets and I started talking with a fellow San Francisco Giants fan who saw my Giants sweatshirt and said hello. It turned out that he was from my hometown of Piedmont, California, a small town of about 10,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area — it’s a small world, as they say.

Saturday began with an unexpected twist, as I had heard that there was going to be a world record attempt for the largest haka ever performed. The haka is a Maori chant that is perhaps most well known for being demonstrated by the All Blacks right before the start of a rugby match. I made my way to the field and was greeted by nearly 8,000 people practicing the chant and its accompanying movements. I watched the experts and read the lyrics of the haka to try to help break the record and, with the oversight of a representative from the Guinness World Records, our huge group of people performed the haka for five minutes to break the record (while not yet official, the representative was confident that we had smashed the previous record).

After the haka, I ate lunch and rested while waiting for the game to begin. I made my way to a local bar to mingle with the locals and the visitors and spent a couple hours there to get the full rugby match experience. The buses were free to accommodate the fans, so I took a bus to the stadium — but not before having to wait in line for about 40 minutes.

I arrived at the stadium and made my way to the only open seats I could find, which happened to be front row. While the view wasn’t ideal, the atmosphere of being right next to the field was definitely cool. There was light rain and fog at the beginning of the game, which made for an excellent backdrop for the All Blacks to perform the haka, while the spectators looked on in silence.

As I’ve never been to a rugby game before, and am not a big fan of the sport, I did not know if it was a particularly good match or not, but it definitely was a fun experience. While it was cold and rainy, and the seats were made of concrete, it was an enjoyable night for sure.

I left for Auckland on Sunday, and returned to study for my last test that occurred on Thursday. This was great experience, and a nice way to spend my last trip in New Zealand before I leave for the United States.

Jack Barney is a junior studying business management. He is studying at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand for Spring semester 2017. 

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