Sunday, March 7, 2010

Easy Oar

As many of you know I am an avid fan and participant in the sport of rowing. I rowed in high school and now for my college in DC, American University. My decision to come to Wellington forced me to miss the spring season of rowing, the more competitive of the two seasons. However, when researching Vic University I discovered they had a rowing team, so back in December I emailed the team to let them know I'd be here for the semester and wanted to row. After the assured me that an international student could partake in the sport I was pumped!

Today was the first practice! Or I should say first two practices. The team is divided like most teams into four teams: novice men, novice women, varsity women, varsity men. Although here in NZ they call varsity "senior". So I was fortunate enough to be able to join the senior team. The practice schedule is somewhat different to teams in the US. The senior women's schedule goes something like this
Monday - 6 am and 6 pm
Tuesday - 6 am
Wednesday - 6 am and 6 pm followed by a visit to a pub for "team bonding"
Thursday - No practice (to recover from the hangover I assume)
Friday - 6 am
Saturday - 8 am
Sunday - 10 am.
So where as in the US we usually take Sundays off as the day of rest, here in NZ Sunday is NOT the day of rest. New Zealand is certainly a culture of drinking. Such sports as rugby are centered around drinking, and I guess rowing is no exception to this, so they work it into the schedule.

The practices today went quite well. I expected that the calls would be somewhat different to the calls we use in the US, which they were, but it was not difficult to pick up on them. The title of this post "easy oar" is what the coxswain says to stop the rowers. Where in the US we say "weigh enough" sounds like way-nuff. They call port side "stroke side" and starboard side "bow side". I guess that goes along with the rigging of the boat (for those of you who know much about rowing). Also to increase the stroke rating, the cox said "flip the rate". That one definitely through me off.

The coach is a young guy, a few years older than me I believe. His first name is Dougal. Definitely a kiwi name. When he asked this morning who rowed "stroke side" and "bow side". I was a little confused, but when he discovered I rowed port he asked if I had ever stroked (which I normally do) and I was excited to exclaim YES!! Then I realized, oh wait, the calls are going to be slightly different and I don't want to look like I have no idea what I'm doing. Well I did end up stroking and luckily the girl sitting 7 seat (behind me) translated the calls after the cox made them. After a few minutes I was back in the groove.

As I may have mentioned before, Wellington is a very windy city. This morning when we went out around 6:20 the water was quite flat and easy to row on, however this evening at 6 pm it was choppy enough that a sailboat we passed was keeled way over. We got waked several times and I definitely had a look of grimace on my face, as the water was COLD!! But cold water never deters me and I have to say that it was very enjoyable to be back on the water after a few months away. Between splashes from water, I had a grin on my face.

Rowing in the Wellington harbor was actually similar (scenically) to rowing in Washington. We rowed past the Wellington airport (always row by Reagan National in DC). I was able to see the city from where we were and it's glow before the sun rose (the Washington Monuement, Capitol Building, and everything in between is always illuminated in the early morning). And then of course I saw the sunrise out over the ocean. That was absolutely wonderful! Oh and of course one more similarity..the cox had to constantly watch out for buoys and white cans marking the channel.

Another oddity about University rowing in NZ is the length of the season. 5 Weeks! We practice from now until April 9th and then the team competes at Uni Games, south of Dunedin and then the season is over. Unfortunately (but fortunately) I won't be able to attend the one regatta as I'll be traveling to Japan then to see Tiina! The regatta falls right in the middle of our semester break and I had already planned a trip to visit her in Tokyo. Luckily the coach said "no worries" when I told him this and said that I was welcome to come to practice and once he determined the lineup for the boat, I could go out in a single. I just love the sport of rowing too much to pass up his offer. I'm going to continue to attend all the practices and social events as I love being out on the water and it'll be a great way to meet some more Kiwis who love it just the same.

Here's a picture of the two boathouses on Wellington Harbor, Vic rows out of the smaller, white one.

Hope everyone is doing well! Cheers!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Back to the Books

After three months of no assigned reading, 10 page papers, or class lectures, on Monday March 1st I started school as a student of Victoria University of Wellington (Vic). The school has some 20,000 students, which is much larger than what I am accustomed to (AU is just around 6,000). I am taking three courses, two media classes and one political science course. The two media classes, which is really communications here at Vic, are really going to force me to learn more about pop culture and how kiwis really feel about their worldwide reputation. The first media class, popular media culture, is all about the media outlets here in New Zealand and the ways in which various ethnicities, genders, and cultural differences are portrayed. This class will also help me out with the other media class I am enrolled in, politics in the media in New Zealand. This class is about what the title implies. In the very first class, yesterday morning, the topic of American Politics came up and the way in which 24 hour television news sources, such as CNN and Fox skew the American public' view of the world. At least this is what one Kiwi student said and felt. Time will only tell whether the professor and students will use American political media to compare NZ political media.

Speaking of politics, it fascinates me how interested in our political system and figures Kiwi students are. I've seen multiple students wearing Obama shirts and several more with newspaper clippings post-election day of 2008. When discussing this with some of my Kiwi friends they were all very interested to hear I had been at the Inauguration. They all admire our political system, as they think it is much less catty and more serious then theirs. They believe their politicians make more negative personal comments to one another on the floor of Parliament, then actually accomplish policy-making. If only they really understood Congress or heard of Rep. Joe Wilson.

My third and final class is political philosophy of international relations. In the class we'll look at various philosophers from ancient Greece to Karl Marx in the 19th Century and how the philosopher's writings affected political action. Should also be a very interesting class (but tons of reading).

All the class sizes are gigantic here! The biggest class I ever had at AU was around 150 students and that was Freshman year macroeconomics, since then all of my classes have been between 25-45 students. The largest class I have here is 355 students and the smallest was around 60. Here at Vic, most classes also have an additional section called a tutorial. "Tutes" are pretty much like TA discussion sessions and only occur once a week for about an hour.

Luckily I don't have class on Friday, so I can continue to plan some weekend trips around New Zealand. I would like to get to Queenstown and Milford Sound before the weather starts to turn.