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The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand

Study Abroad Testimonial - Danielle

Name: Danielle Wolhuter          
Program of study at CQUni: Bachelor of Accident Forensics
Host Institution & Country: the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand
Period & Year of Exchange: 3 months, January 2014 – March 2014

Earlier this year, I visited Wellington in New Zealand for just over three months. The subject that I was going to use to RPL the experience was a professional practice placement subject, so I was doing an internship rather than taking classes at another university.

I had a fantastic experience working in a fairly new facility with the Safety Investigation Unit, a team of eight investigators who each specialised in a particular type of aircraft crash. They were all very experienced and really welcomed me in as part of the team, despite this internship being a first both for the CAA and for the Bachelor. By the end of the stay, they had become good friends (above).

While I was there, my main project consisted of safety research which was going to contribute to shaping new advisory material. It was a huge challenge because it involved learning the details of a whole different set of legislation, travelling to Hamilton, doing some interviewing and analysis, but it was a fantastic learning experience. I also was able to participate in the on-site investigation of a fatal aircraft crash near Christchurch (right), which I was really well prepared for by the Bachelor of Accident Forensics. Another highlight of my internship was assisting in putting together a report for a crash which had occurred nearly a year earlier, and that was one of the most interesting things I've done.

During my time in Wellington, I stayed with a couple that my family knew through a friend. The University granted me $1000 through the Outbound Mobility program, so this went a long way toward covering accommodation and was a real help. I'd definitely recommend staying with someone local in a foreign town, as it can be so helpful with getting to know the area and what things to watch out for, and having a way to make friends.

The stay was a little more expensive than I'd hoped for, but looking back on the amazing life and career experience I gained, I'd prefer to look at it as an investment into my future rather than an expense.

Life outside of work was a huge adventure – on weekends I liked to explore Wellington (easily done as most of it is reachable on foot, it's a very compact city). Other people were generous enough to take me places, my host family took me to the beach at Petone, my mentor took me sightseeing up to Paraparamu (NZ place names are just the best) (left) and our unit admin took me to the Wellington Zoo and for some general tours around the area (including Weta Workshop, which was amazing).

Wellington is the coffee capital of New Zealand, so a cute café was never far away.  It has a very unique vibe, with plenty of op shops, handmade items and trendy little restaurants. The Te Papa museum is not to be missed, I spent an entire day wandering around learning about NZ through all the exhibits. Considering it's only a few hours across the ditch, I didn't experience any culture shock, although I'll admit to being amazed at being able to be sunburnt at 8pm (above)… I never quite got used to that! Or the slightly different accents… I never thought I'd have a half hour conversation about the finer points of pronouncing 'pin' and 'pen' like an Aussie.

My advice to other exchange students would be to give every day your all, because the time goes so quickly. Get out and go on an adventure, you can't remember the places you never visit. On a more practical level, always make sure you have a bit of cash on hand, pack light and budget for more than you think you'll spend: you'll always bring some stuff you don't need and forget some stuff you do.

I absolutely loved getting stuck into all the challenges and learning about aircraft safety investigation. It's what I wanted to do since starting the program and I was a little scared that I would go on the internship and not be able to handle the pressure or freak out over fatalities or decide I hated the specialisation entirely, but I'm more excited and driven now than ever to make this my career.

I could go on for pages about the best things I did – getting to travel as part of the job, getting involved in the crazy Wellington Rugby Sevens, putting on biohazard gear and investigating the real thing, the great work culture at the CAA, making new friends and new families. I definitely grew as a person and developed useful skills for life and for my profession. I'd recommend studying abroad to anyone.