The Otago Embrace

Was it the iconic party life that drew me to Law school in Dunedin? A desire to live that much coveted scarfie experience? Or was it the true ‘embrace’ of Mark Henaghan? In all honesty, it was probably a bit of all three.

After spending two years at Victoria University of Wellington, I made the decision to pack up my life and enroll in Otago University to continue studying toward my Law and Media degree.  I can now safely say it has ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.

Being a born and bred Southlander, when it came to choosing a Uni after school I quite honestly wanted to get as far away from the deep south as possible. Trying to avoid the cold and get away from small town life, Wellington’s ‘bright lights’ drew me in tenfold. Hopping on a plane and looking around Victoria Uni at it’s annual open day, I fell in love. It was a beautiful sunny day, the campus was bustling, and the LAWS101 lecturer Grant Morris was as charismatic as ever (think Mark Henaghan, but with Wellington trendiness).

So, while everyone was on edge about whether they would get into Arana or Studholme, I was applying for halls I had never even heard of before. I was lucky to be accepted into Weir House, which was back then one of the closest Halls to the Uni, and had a pretty impressive pass rate for law.

At the start of 2013 I flew up to our capital city and lived in Weir House. I’m lucky in that I made some amazing friends. Weir House was, I guess, like any other hall – a mix of nerdy kids, jocks, super sporty kids, strictly Lululemon only cool girls, and all other groups in between. It’s always hard to say retrospectively where I fit into that mix, but I know I made some lifelong friends who are now dotted all over New Zealand. Overall first year was great, and I feel like Vic does offer you a true student experience. I guess it wasn’t until second year where I started to feel like I wasn’t quite in the right place.

First of all, finding a flat was horrific up in Wellington. With no student area we found ourselves having to compete with yo-pros and the like, meaning a flat remotely close to Uni was going to be close to $200 each a week. We managed to land a cold as hell flat up the top of a huge hill, at least half an hour’s walk from Uni in the suburb of Northland, and paid $185 a week. Living at least a 20-minute car drive away from any of our friends, flat parties became a bit of a mission to get to, and nights out in town always ended with a ridiculous cab fare home. But that’s all I knew, so I guess I kind of just sucked it up.

Uni life in second year was cool though, after getting through competitive first year law (which I vouch is just as hard as down here in Otago as opposed to many rumours).  Law classes were way different to what I’m now acquainted to down here. Most of the time now I’m dragging my sorry ass to lectures in Archway, hungover from a big weekend and sharing half my attention with the lecturer and half with Facebook. Up at Vic we sadly did not have this luxury. Through the implementation of the infamous Socratic method, the lecturer by the end of the year would know most of us by name, and would call on us randomly, and frequently, to answer questions. This meant instead of crawling out of bed 15 minutes before class and having half shut eyes at our dreaded 9ams, you had to be alert, focused and ready to answer questions. This meant I always HAD to be on top of my readings before I went to class, for fear of being grilled about a case for 10 minutes straight. Although Socratic was in theory really great for learning, Otago has a good thing going on by actually letting students relax in class.

Vic does however trump Otago in one respect, and that’s being based in the old government buildings. This was insane, and having our own law campus right beside Parliament and the Supreme Court just can’t be beaten – sorry Castle 1 but Vic hands down beats you in that department. The buildings were beautiful, and studying in the law library consisted of roaming through the hallways until you found a random little room (formerly government offices) where you nestled up and smashed out assignments.

I wouldn’t say I hated Vic. It was fun, and the law school was great, but there was just one thing missing, and that was student energy. Wellington is simply owned by young professionals, who hustle down the Wellington streets grabbing their short blacks in between work meetings while wearing their designer suits. Wellington certainly does not belong to students. At times I felt like I totally loved the city, but at other times I felt like I was merely visiting – I was a student that didn’t quite fit into the urban landscape.

So it was in my third year while I was down partying during O-Week that I realized what I was missing out on. Admittedly, I was on a bit of a bender, and I was lying around hungover with some of my friends that were already studying down here. It was weirdly then and there I realized that this is where I wanted to be. Dunedin is built around students. They’re not visitors, and they give this otherwise dead town an iconic vibrancy. As students we embrace this, swarming together in student areas, all going through the journey of being a scarfie.

So that Friday, I decided not to catch my flight back up to Wellington. In hindsight, it was pretty bloody irrational, and I should have made the decision a lot sooner than when I did. But fuck I was happy I made it. The following years have been so great. Yes law school is stressful at times, and yes I miss my Wellington pals, but nothing compares to living in Dunedin while you are studying. The sense of belonging and togetherness I’ve felt down here is second to none. So now when my friend’s younger sisters and brothers ask me where they should go, I hands down sing about all Otago’s bells and whistles.

Studying law at Otago is, in my humble opinion, the best in New Zealand, and the only mistake I made during my Uni years was not coming down to join you guys sooner.


Written by Lucy Kingsbury.


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