Torbjoern Klatt at University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

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Report About a Semester Abroad
University of Otago
Dunedin, New Zealand
2nd Semester 2009
Torbjoern Klatt
Applied Mathematics of Life Science (BSc)

Click here to find my personal blog about my Semester Abroad!

About University of Otago

The OU (Otago University) is the oldest University in New Zealand and the biggest on the South Island. The “campus” is covering a whole quarter of Dunedin and with its 20,000 students living in the typical student flats it is characterizing a large area of Dunedin. The campus is made up of several buildings of contrasting architectural styles separated by smaller and bigger greens. The essential needs of all students and stuff members are considered by some good and cheap coffees and snack shops.

Beside the oldest building, the Clocktower Building, the most impressive is the Central Library with its facade of glass and room for almost 2,000 single working spaces. The whole RheinAhrCampus would fit in that building. With the Student-ID card and a four-digit PIN every student has got access to several computer workstations around the clock and depending on the department additional access to special labs and facilities. All stuff members are always very friendly and hospitably while organizing everything with the students – especially with the internationals.

Department of Mathematics

Situated in the Science III building together with the Science Library and the Department of Physics, the mathematics and statistics utilize some of the more ugly offices. But this does not have any effect on the lecturers as those are very helpful and answer questions all time. The lectures itself are quite challenging and demand high effort of spending endless hours on answer sheets and lab courses. In contrast to the mathematics and statistics professors at the RheinAhrCampus the lecturers at Otago do not utilize the chalkboard that much. They prefer PowerPoint slides and text books. Thou the lectures and exams (3h, no calculators) are rather hard they are marked fairly.

Department of Computer Science

Recently moved into the Ohweo Building at the eastern end of the campus the computer science can offer several computer labs now. All labs are equipped with 22” iMacs running either OSX and Win7 or OSX and CentOS in parallel. The stuff behaves as a big family as is the atmosphere of the courses. I've taken COSC326 and had a lot of fun during this challenging paper together with my colleagues. It was an “everything-or-nothing” paper, which means you had to finish each and every task during the semester to pass this course and gain 100%. As this course requires rather high programming skills it is not suitable for students, who had their first and only programming experiences in “Programmieren I/II” at the RAC.


With its 120,000 inhabitants Dunedin is the fourth biggest city in New Zealand and therefore it offers satisfying shopping possibilities. Although it might not win the award for the most beautiful townscape I can attest Dunedin is lovely and you will miss it soon! It has got a rather considerable interesting nightlife during lecture time and can offer some good student bars and clubs. As well you should not miss the pubs at the Octagon with their life music and diverse atmospheres. Tip: Alibi Bar and Craft Bar. A short car drive outside of Dunedin's suburbs several beaches invite everybody for shorter or longer visits on sunny days. But take a wind-proofed jacket with you as you always have to expect a lot of wind! In case you have not got a car take a walk to the Botanical Garden but be aware of your orientation as it is quite big and therefore easy to get lost. Make sure your camera is working and the memory card big enough!

Flat Life

In case of rainy days – and those are very common – do not be afraid of getting bored. The flat life is amazing! Although the flats would not be called “houses” in terms of German standards and expectations (old, no insulation, bad heating) they do their job as roofed shelters and space for countless home parties. “Flatting” is the most common way of student living in New Zealand and changing the flat every year is as usual as drunken Kiwis on the weekend. The best way for internationals to get into this community is the Accommodation Office, which owns several flats around Dunedin. Applying for a place in one of these flats is easy and will result in living together with one Kiwi (host) and some other internationals, who fit your expectations pretty well. It is impressive how well the Accommodation Office is mixing together the different characters. The standard rent for a room in one of those flats is around NZ$120 per week without power. The power is prepaid and might cause some exciting hours when it is run out. The rent has been increased since my time in Dunedin as all UniFlats have got wireless internet access included now.

New Zealand

“Aoteaora – The land of the long white cloud”. It is so true, but I have to expand this definition by “and very fast weather changes” as four seasons in one hour are not as rare as expected. So in case you are not satisfied with the weather – just wait 5 minutes! When planning your stay at Otago it is not worth a second thought traveling around New Zealand afterwards. You have to! The best way of getting around is talking the own car. Although there is a well established and cheap bus network I do not recommend using it as you will miss the most interesting places and only get to the very crowded tourist traps. Buy a car (for around NZ$ 1,500) when getting to New Zealand and sell it short before leaving in Christchurch, Auckland or Wellington. It will be your best friend during your time of your life!

Impressions of South Island

Like all backpackers I used to stay in BBH hostels as those can be found everywhere and are cheap while offering satisfying facilities. I recommend to avoid big hostels and always try to get into the smaller (<30 beds) ones. Those have got a very nice atmosphere and are privately owned, which means the owners are always around and help you out with almost everything. While traveling around just with my backpack I hiked for several days on Stewart Island (Kiwi spotting!) and in the Fiordland. I strongly recommend traveling around New Zealand during spring in October and November. Although the weather can be quiet crappy the big wave of tourists has not reached New Zealand yet and you can enjoy the wideness and silence of New Zealand. I cannot give a list of places you have to visit as there are to many and different ones. Probably the best travel guide is the Lonelyplanet, which also offers a special edition just for the hiking tracks.


Otago University and the Ranke-Heinemann-Institut recommend a monthly budged of around €500. You should take that as the absolute minimum without traveling. Finally I spend about €750 per month in average and did not bought a car but used the bus network for getting around. Although it was quite an expensive semester it was worth it and I had the time of my life. I got to know a lot of different people from around the world and made friends for life. I have seen a lot of New Zealand and made awesome experiences. I only can recommend to do a semester abroad at the OU. In case I got another opportunity to go there and would do it again – definitely!

Links to visit


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