The University of Canterbury is a one hour flight and a whole world away. As if we didn’t know it already, UoA has a shit (read: non-existent) student culture compared to our South Island counterparts. My boyfriend and I took a few days during the holidays to visit his brother who studies down in Christchurch, and we came back amazed at what we experienced, and annoyed at ourselves for choosing to study in Auckland. What they have down there is truly rad.
We were picked up on a Tuesday evening from the airport. At 5pm there was no traffic to speak of, and it was probably only a 10 minute drive to the flat. So far Christchurch is winning in my books. They all used an adorable ski-bum set of slang, swore like sailors and made a lot of sex jokes jumping on any opportunity to boast about how loose the student life was in Canta. When we got to the flat, it had everything we don’t up here in Auckland. Cheap rent, no water bills, a lax landlord due to earthquake damage rendering the house unsellable, messy-yet-cosy living areas, and an eclectic mix of students from different faculties who had all the important things in common: a love of skiing, and drinking.
Nightly flat dinners with a different cook each night, ski trips, and general yarn spinning were part of daily life, interspersed with the occasional test or study session that was sidelined to other aspects of student life. We spent the first night drinking about 50 beers between 6 of us with a few beer runs to Pak n Save right down the road (we had a sober driver dw). After a day of leisurely perusing the Christchurch sites on bicycle (which everyone apparently does here), we drove up to Temple, the University ski field the next day.
Those Christchurch people are tough. Well, if I’d lived through sub-zero winters and earthquakes I probably would be too. As it was, my boyfriend and I just about died on the hour and a half vertical walk up a mountainside to the student ski lodge. This hike up to Temple followed a solid two hour drive from Christchurch, which is a weekly event for many CUSSC members. Apparently it’s even been known for some to do this, ‘slay the pow’ for a couple of hours and then head back for an afternoon lecture at uni… Nuts. In comparison, the University of Auckland is fundamentally a serious institution. International students come here because it’s where their rich parents know they’ll get the most study done, not the most partying.
I think, though, that you can have both. UC students are invested in and proud of their University, and the Student Association (UCSA) elections are hotly contested, with 33% of students participating this year. The student election special of their student magazine Canta had about 10 pages of election based content, with teams of contestants and their goals for the University. The flatties actually discussed and debated the merits of each candidate, albeit with a fair amount of jibing and mocking of appearances – but it was there! Both Executive and Portfolio positions are paid, with the President receiving $45K a year. UCSA members are also paid for turning up to student council meetings. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Up in Auckland, elections for AUSA executive have less than 1% turnout. To rub salt into the apathetic student wound, you get $100 for writing feature articles for Canta, the student magazine. But instead, I go to UoA and write for Craccum, an under-funded magazine that no one reads, let alone cares about.
There is more of a club culture than general student culture at UC, and when we went along to a CUSSC (Canterbury University Snow Sports Club) committee meeting with the flatties, it was evident that the 20 odd exec members are not only crazy students rabid for a piss-up, but also passionate about their sport and pretty bloody onto it in regards to organisation. In an hour they discussed a packed agenda with everyone contributing enthusiastically and intelligently. The club has a few thousand members who regularly pack the CUSSC vans up to the mountain each weekend, so they have no choice but to be committed once they’re on the committee.
Canta has around 140 student associated clubs on campus, including sporting, performing arts, department associations, industry (there’s even a Forestry Society), and random interests, like the Fish Society. All these clubs actually pull off sick events, such as annual balls, treasure hunts and productions. UCSA fought hard to keep alcohol allowed on campus so that clubs could continue holding events on campus, and to be honest this is probably a big part of what make them so successful. There’s nothing like a bit of social lubricant to help get everyone enjoying themselves.
I don’t know what bigger clubs at UoA are like, but the ones I’m a member of (admittedly more sjw type groups) can often be quite half-assed, despite there being around 200 on campus. There are a few really amazing individuals leading some of these clubs, but the members are often too far-flung across Auckland, or simply don’t have the time to really turn it into a community. For many groups it’s totally weather dependent on whether 5 or 50 people will turn up, no matter how well planned the event is.
To reference Caitlin Abley’s column ‘A-pathetic University’, Auckland Uni does have some form of culture, but it is separated into departments like Auckland Law Revue, and generally (to my knowledge) doesn’t extend beyond faculties. The diversity levels at UC are a bit shit, i.e. everyone is white and middle class. Let’s face it: to be able to ski, let alone go regularly as well as going flatting you must have a fair bit of financial capital. To conclude this yarn, what we all need to do is either move ourselves and our University campus to South Auckland so we can afford to go flatting (a necessary condition for student culture), or move to Christchurch. I’m seriously considering it.