Inbound student exchange story

Nicolette's New Zealand story: Experiencing Elam

As a photography major, the lure of New Zealand was strong for Nicolette Bonagura. When considering her options for a semester of overseas study, Elam, the University of Auckland and our country’s scenery won out over Europe.

Inbound student exchange student, Nicolette Bonagura.

Arriving in the middle of February from Arcadia University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a strange experience compared to that of her classmates.

“Our courses had started back home, and many of my friends have just recently graduated at the end of the semester,” she says. “But I’m okay with missing out on that, I’m having a pretty good time here!”

With no real culture shock affecting her, Nicolette found the biggest difference was in the delivery of the fine arts programme. Arcadia runs medium-based classes, with a heavy emphasis on the technical aspects of photography. “When working on a project, there is definitely a specific way we’re meant to work and present our images,” she explains of assessment at Arcadia. “We’re graded on that process. My professor will look at my Photoshop documents. At Elam, it was my installation which was graded, along with my material research. There’s a lot more independence at Elam. It’s opened my eyes to different parts of my practice.”

Nicolette especially enjoyed the wider range of resources than she has access to at Arcadia, such as colour darkrooms, a variety of loan-out cameras and the lighting studios.

It’s a much bigger art school, so the resources are more extensive.

Nicolette Bonagura

Nicolette enjoyed the challenge of having to trade project ideas with a fellow student, which formed the basis of her work while at Elam. “I took the original concept and took it in a different direction,” she recalls. “I began taking abstract pictures of water, all black and white. Moving waters, still waters, all outdoor waterways. As the images came together it became clearer it was water, and then I started to work on abstraction. I would use blurry images and abstract them myself, making the images more about colour and light, how they play off each other. I then moved into using water as the abstraction itself through the use of reflections.

”Nicolette’s work was informed through her extensive research of impressionism and paintings, then moving into contemporary photography. “The research aspect was new to me, I’ve never had to do that before. It was challenging, but it helped me define why I do certain things.”

Photograph taken by Nicolette Bonagura during her time at Elam.
Photograph taken by Nicolette Bonagura during her time at Elam

It’s not all been hard work in studio, however. Nicolette had the opportunity to tick off most of her tourist to-do list.

As part of a group of American exchange students studying across the University of Auckland, Nicolette hiked the Tongariro Crossing, travelled to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga, climbed Rangitoto Island, went caving at Waitomo and took in an All Blacks game.

“I’m a photography major, so it has been great travelling and seeing all the gorgeous views,” Nicolette says, especially referencing her mid-semester break road trip around the South Island.

“We started in Wellington, but then travelled to Picton, through to Queenstown and Franz Joseph Glacier, finishing in Christchurch.”She’s also had exposure to New Zealand culture through undertaking Kapa Haka as part of her General Education requirements. “It’s been hard, but really interesting,” she says of the course.

When I think about it, we’re not exposed to Native American culture and traditions back home. Here, the Māori culture is all part of the country, the government and experience.

Nicolette Bonagura

Nicolette took the course with some of her fellow travellers through the exchange programme, giving them a well-rounded overview of Māori culture from their five months in Auckland. Based at Carlaw Park Student Village, Nicolette was handy to the city’s amenities, transport and events. Compared to her home campus at Arcadia, the University of Auckland is wide-spread.

“Learning where all the buildings are was the biggest challenge,” she laughs. “Arcadia is tiny, campus wise. But I’ve felt very safe walking around campus and the city by myself. Everyone has been very nice and helpful when I managed to get myself lost.”

Now back in America, following final exams for courses outside of Elam, Nicolette has one final year of her degree at Arcadia, and is considering grad school to continue to polish her practice. “I’m interested in the range of job options for photographers,” she says of her future plans. “I could be a consultant, or take the fine art route. Maybe spend a couple of years doing one thing, wedding or food photography, and then switch to something different. I’d be happy with a variety.”  

Nicolette has taken with her a vast collection of learnings, memories and friendships. “It’s difficult to pick just one highlight,” she comments. “I can’t say that one moment was better than the rest because they were all great. Everything I experienced was new and exciting, and the friendships I made along the way were awesome. If anything, the biggest take away for me has been to get out and see the world, experiencing everything I can.”

If you are interested in studying abroad, or looking to come to the University of Auckland, visit 360 International for more information.