Last fall I had the opportunity to study abroad at Massey University, just outside Auckland, New Zealand–land of the Kiwis. When I first got to New Zealand I was overwhelmed. I had a huge 70lb bag, a 70L backpack, a small roller bag, and another personal size backpack. And little 135lb me was trying to take all of this through customs without the use of a “trolley” because when the kind woman who worked at the airport asked me if I wanted a “trolley” I was like no what the heck is a “trolley.” I definitely don’t need one of those… But guess what a trolley was. Yep, that’s right, a luggage cart. It probably would have helped considering how much I was trying to carry, and especially since right after I turned down the trolley offer my 70lb bag toppled over right in front of me, and the extra momentum I had from my pack caused me to nearly trip right over it.
After collecting my tent and hiking boots that had to be inspected by Biosecurity, I wandered to what looked like an information desk and asked the embarrassing question, “so how do I get a taxi to the hotel I’m staying at tonight?” I got a confused stare from the woman at the counter, who replied,”Just walk outside and ask for a taxi.” Yeah, apparently it was that simple.
So I walk out of the airport and see row after row of taxis that stretch beyond the eye could see…”how do I choose?” I think to myself. So I ask one of the millions of taxi drivers before me for a ride, and they respond in quick foreign tongue that I should really just take the bus because it’s much cheaper. Okay, that was really of them to suggest that and not take my money. But now the question is ‘what bus do I get on and how do I pay for it,’ because at this point I have no New Zealand cash on me. So I walk to a ticket dispenser machine and see that it requires coins to purchase a ticket. I have no coins. Back to the taxis I go. Taxi driver says no, no, no, take the bus. I say AH but I can’t for the life of me get a ticket! Lost, confused, stressed me continues to try and acquire a bus ticket. Then the bus driver gets off of her bus and angrily shoves coins in the slot to produce, huzzah, a ticket! I proceed to get on the bus with all my luggage, but no one assists me with lifting my 70lb purple monster of a bag on to the luggage rack. But I was like, nah, its fine I’ll just hold onto it, my hotel is only 2 blocks away.
Well, what I was not prepared for was the most insane bus ride of my life complete with about 10 roundabouts entered at what I’m sure was this bus’s maximum speed. So I’m standing in the middle of the bus, it’s just me and this other kid with an afro who is also studying abroad, and I’m trying to have a nice conversation with him because apparently we’re both staying at the same hotel. But the bus is taking sharp turns and spins around the roundabouts and I’m holding on to those yellow hanging straps buses have for my dear life. And my purple monster of a bag is rolling every-which-way as the bus takes sharp turns—and its smashing into me and dragging me all across the bus. And my heavy 70L backpack displaced my center of gravity and every time the bus swayed, I nearly toppled over trying to keep my balance while wrestling with the great purple monster. In the midst of this chaos, I’m still trying to act as natural as possible and have a conversation with this guy. It was a disaster. My face was flushed, my pits were sweaty, and I swear I was on the verge of tears, but I fought it off and kept a smile on my face while I tried to continue the friendly small talk. But by the end of it, afro kid was just laughing at me, and I had made a complete fool of myself. I did, however, manage to make it to my hotel with all of my luggage. I swung open the door to my room, aggressively shoved those bags inside, and threw myself onto the bed. Tomorrow would be a better day, and holy heck at least I was finally in New Zealand!
Despite the rough start, I had the most incredible time during my 6-month study abroad. I loved my ecology courses, I made the most amazing friends, and I got to travel what is arguably the most beautiful country in the world with them. I learned so much about New Zealand’s sustainability efforts policies, and had the opportunity to meet with the Director of Sustainability at Massey, John Shimwell, who has maintained contact with me and is helping my GLI cohort and I implement our capstone project on Massey’s campus. Meeting him and seeing how excited he was about working with our program was wonderful, and we ended up having a wholesome discussion about sustainability efforts in New Zealand and how they compare with those utilized in various parts of the US. Moments like this one, as well as the continued contact we have had moving forward with my GLI project, make me so grateful for my abroad experience. Additionally, on a more personal side, my ecology courses allowed me to see first-hand the incredible appreciation Kiwis have for their environment in general. The many field labs and trips provided me the opportunity to both learn the intricacies of conservation and management concerns in New Zealand, and throughout my travels I saw how their Department of Conservation worked to maintain Natural Parks and promote increased awareness and preservation of their beautiful ecosystems within the ‘tramping’ (hiking) community.
My kiwi friends were so loving and welcoming and wanted us to have an incredible experience. They introduced me to tea time, late nights on the town, wharf jumping into the ocean in the dead of night with stars lighting up the night sky. I will always remember the first time my Kiwi friends taught me how to “properly” swim in the ocean. The rush of putting my hands together and diving under a white-crested wave that towered 4-5 feet above my head. The feeling of plunging under the surface of the water while the waves crashed over my back and rolled off the tips of my toes—it sent a thrilling, tingling sensation throughout my whole body and I couldn’t get enough of it. That’s probably one of the things I miss the most. Salty hair, itchy eyes—who cares about those when you’re in the most beautiful body of water being pulled and pushed and pummeled by raw powerful waves.
For the most part I traveled the country with my American friends because they had the same drive and passion to do so. Throughout my time there, we ended up buying two different beat-up cars (because the first one broke down on us!), and had the time of our lives road-tripping throughout the island nation. Cape Reinga, Tane Mahuta, Kai Iwi lakes, Raglan, Bay of Islands, Pakiri–all of these were just words on a map, but we turned them into places filled with unique and special memories that brought us all closer than I could ever have imagined. I will always feel like my words inadequately express how incredible my time in New Zealand was because of them. New Zealand is just a place in the world. Beautiful, yes, but in the words of Alexander Supertramp “happiness is only real when shared.” When I think about my time in New Zealand, I’m typically brought back to these memories of driving through winding country roads. The windows are rolled down, Kesha’s blowing her lungs out hitting that high note in “Praying.” There are cows and sheep to either of us standing among the rolling hills of green pasture, staring at us as we drive while they chew in a sideways motion. If I’m not the one driving, I’m sitting in the back with my feet up on the console looking out the window. We didn’t talk to each other much on these long drives, but we did listen to music. At first I thought it was kind of strange, but now whenever I listen to the playlist of songs we rocked out to in Ricky Baker (our trusty 1998 Honda CRV), I’m temporarily brought back to the rolling green pastures, fiery sunsets, dramatic ocean cliff sides merging with turquoise waters, crashing waves and sea spray. There was so much laughter, so many tears, and a complete feeling of joy and peace life that filled the tiny box of a car that we lived in part-time during our adventure. My kiwi friends always said we were doing way more than they had their entire lives in New Zealand. And I was shocked, but at the same time if you don’t know any different it’s harder to appreciate what you have. That’s one great thing I think that came out of my Kiwi friendships. They gained more appreciation for the beautiful place they live, and I think we inspired many of them to join us or make plans to explore more places in the future. Once you see how much people value and appreciate what you consider your home, it definitely gives you more of an appreciation for your home as well.
In the end, I couldn’t me more thankful to have had this incredible abroad experience–for the opportunity to travel and see such a remarkable country, for the people that made my time there all that it could have been, and for the new knowledge and international perspective I gained both in and out of the classroom.