My information gap, a rather pressing one, is how I am going to get myself to New Zealand safely, affordably and legally. This is a wide open question and it is going to have one specific answer, so I know I will have to sort through a lot of information to figure out what I need. The situation arose initially because I decided to try to find a practicum opportunity abroad. I have had to define and answer a lot of questions along the way to making this happen, from where should I look for a practicum, how can I get in touch with people there, how will Kent feel about it, up to the questions I have now like how can I get there, how will I live there, and how long I can stay. The particular question of how to get there is something that really materialized after I set up some of the broader parameters of the trip like the exact location and dates. Now that those are in place, the logistical considerations of this are really becoming apparent.
The very first query I made was to myself. What exactly am I asking for? This is sort of a reference interview that is completely necessary since the topic is so broad and undefined. It is almost more of a project in some ways with parts having a higher priority or different schedule for completion than others. Organizing my questions helped me define my information search strategy. I varied my approached to finding information by including people, books and internet sources. In some ways, I was making the most of what I had available by being open to what kinds of information were available and following the trails that seemed to hold the most promise for answering the questions I thought I needed to answer. Often, the sources became interconnected when people I talked to would recommend internet sources, for instance.
The first question was the most basic: how much are place tickets? I entered "fly to New Zealand" to google and got www.newzealandair.com as a result. Getting to Auckland has an open-ended arrangement of options, so I realized that I would define an "answer" here as a sense of common costs, rather than a specific number. For example, flying from Cleveland costs more than flying from Chicago or New York, but getting from Cleveland to those places adds to overall cost of travel. Apart from that, I want to keep open the possibility of staying in New Zealand for an extended period. All the plane tickets I had bought up until now were for specific dates. I asked a friend for advice and she suggested tickets with an open ended return date, which are more expensive. This option did not seem available on www.newzealandair.com, so I emailed my new, more specific question. It turns out that I can get tickets with flexible but not completely open ended return dates. In order to find out if these costs were normal or exorbitant, I talked to friends who have traveled far away both to that area of the world and others. Another route is to look at other airlines, or airline fare aggregators such as www.expedia.com or www.kayak.com.
After the initial search for tickets (still unresolved), I knew from common experience that there might be a need to get a visa. This question is very thorny. I asked one of my coworkers, who happens to be from New Zealand, about visas and how to find out more information about them. She suggested the New Zealand embassy in the U.S., which she had contacted before for immigration matters. I searched google for their site and found it. The common threads to information were displayed prominently. I fall under the category of "going to New Zealand", but after that I am unsure. I clicked on studying in New Zealand to learn more about student visas. Technically I am studying in New Zealand, but not in affiliation with a New Zealand educational institution. I am not really working in New Zealand because I am not being paid for my work, as per Kent's requirements. I used the email contact information on the website to send a description of my plans to the embassy to see how I should proceed. I may not even need a visa since my practicum work will last just shy of three months, which is the cut off for needing a student visa. I also searched google for "new zealand immigration" which led me to the Immigration page for New Zealand. There is a lot of information about visas here also, but I think this will be more useful if I find a way to stay longer than my period of study.
Finally, I have been searching the Kent State Office of International Affairs to determine if they are able to give me information. Their website says they offer help getting visas, which could come in handy if that proves difficult. It seems like they deal more in helping students from abroad enter enrollment at Kent, or students who are engaging in a more traditional study abroad program, than graduate students, but I think they may have some practical experience with the processes.
I am still unresolved on most of these issues, but I feel much more well informed about them. I have a sense of what things will cost and what needs to happen, and around how long it will take. My decisions about this information are to act in the next few weeks even though I am not leaving until October. I am thinking about this information, price of plane tickets and visa requirements, to be valid because I am getting the information from the very organizations (i.e. airlines and government agencies) that will issue me the documents that I need. In this sense, it meets my needs for information on a overview level but there are specific details that I have yet to work out. I will continue in this vein until I have acquired the correct tickets and visas. The search for information will not be complete until I know exactly what documents I need to send and have some confidence in my travel schedule, at least enough to buy plane tickets.
Finding this type of information is not new to me, but writing about it is. This blog post is illuminating in that I see how many questions I ask at once and how much I try to juggle before I know I can move onto another stage of planning. I also see that the being more definite about the information I am seeking allows the searching yield better and more useful results. Another interesting factor is how bundled information leads leads to new questions as much as it conveniently answers current ones. On the airline sites, there are answers to my questions about costs, but there are also ideas about what to do in New Zealand, and how to get around while there, for instance renting a car. The immigration websites answer my questions about student visas, but also give me notions about how to move there permanently if I chose to try that. I did not go to those sites to get new ideas, but I ended up discovering them because the designers of the sites decided that the information about each was worth placing next to each other. I essentially am browsing for ways to enhance my experience that would not have been included in a mere filling of the information gap as I perceived it initially.