Tales of a Wannabe Kiwi

A classic New Zealand view of rolling hills

Kia ora! My name is JT, I am a senior studying Music composition, Media Arts, Entertainment Management, Chinese, and Global Leadership.

My abroad experience this last semester took place at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, NZ. I really didn’t know what to expect from this semester, but I never thought in a million years that I would get so attached to New Zealand that I would want to move back in the future.

My adventures actually began with a crazy “no-reservations” style trip across the world before I ended up in New Zealand. I planned to go the “other” way around the world to get there and I ended up in Europe and Asia. I don’t know why I felt like I needed to dive headfirst into culture shock, but I did. I was both trying to test the limits of my comfort zone and trying to get artistic inspiration from every facet of life—people, landscapes, food, language, culture, everything. I also gave myself a chance to stay in countries that spoke other languages than English.

Every part of Iceland was just a masterpiece

I visited 5 countries—Iceland, Denmark, France, Italy, and Japan—before ending up in my final destination. Each place offered some of the most crazy experiences of my life. I honestly never thought I could pull something like that off and navigate through five completely different cultures. Prior to this trip, I had never been overseas, so I felt like I was always missing out on a lot. I never realised how much world travel changes your perspective on humanity and your own life.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen
The beautiful Trevi Fountain in Rome
Best Valentine’s Day to date
My favourite statue has always been the Venus de Milo and it was so breathtaking to see it in person

Now I really feel like I have the confidence to conquer almost anything after learning some Japanese to navigate the 200+ exits at the Shinjuku Station in Tokyo or eating fermented shark in Iceland. When you remove yourself completely out of your normal environment you are so much more inclined to step outside your comfort zone.

The streets of Shinjuku, Tokyo were always packed, even at 2am

When I first arrived in New Zealand, I already felt like it was a home base for myself. Instantly, I was greeted with several Kia ora’s (hello in Māori) and incredible hospitality (even from the airport security guards). My host university wasn’t shy to throw me into several social settings with orientation events, downtown parties, and several student groups.

My kiwi friend, Jodie and I at Piha Beach outside of Auckland

My initial global theme was Technology and Society but that quickly evolved to add the theme of Social Inequality and Human Rights. I was primarily there to focus on music courses, but my class in Decolonization Methodologies and Indigenous Research turned out to be one of the most rewarding classes I have ever taken in my life. It was tough at first, especially not knowing Aotearoa history very well and not knowing practically any Te Reo Māori (Māori language). However, my eyes were quickly opened to the injustices that Indigenous people face everywhere, not just in the US. As progressive as New Zealand is, they are still working to make amends with current Māori iwi through treaties, political representation, integration of Te Reo Māori in everyday life, and many other ways. However, I think the integration of Māori culture and language in everyday Kiwi life is something that I think could serve as a model for every country.

The beautiful Bridal Veil Falls (Te Reo Māori: Wairēinga)
Marokopa Falls looked like a scene straight out of a movie

It was also just simply crazy that I was in New Zealand during a global pandemic. I first thought I absolutely had to come home, but a gut feeling told me that with the leadership and isolated nature of New Zealand that it would be heaps safer to remain there. It was insane to experience firsthand a very successful way to handle the COVID-19 crisis living outside of my home country. The lockdown was rough intially, as I had no contact with anyone outside of my bubble at home and online music schoolwork was rather frustating at times. But however, because of the great leadership from the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and people’s collective attitude to keep each other safe, soon everything was back to almost normal and I was out and about again.

Post-lockdown, I had the crazy idea to bungy jump off of a 155ft cliff into a river
We love Aunty Cindy!

I was also able to work and collaborate as well with other music students in the music department at Waikato and was able to write a few works based on landscapes and experiences from my travels. I was even lucky enough to perform a mini-recital in the Gallagher Recital Hall after the lockdown. In that short period of time I already was able to make some great connections with music professors and students around the North Island and now I am heavily considering doing my Masters of Music in New Zealand. I worked closely with my bassoon professor, Ben Hoadley, throughout the whole semester and he told me repeatedly that bassoonists are heavily needed in New Zealand and that I would readily have gigs available if I ever came back. I never thought that I would ever have options in a foreign country, so it was so incredible that so many professors/mentors were very encouraging of my future career goals in music.

Views from Auckland Harbour
Drive 2 hours one way and you have a sunny surfing beach, drive 2 hours another way you’ll see a snow-capped volcano

I really still never thought that I would become so accustomed to the life in New Zealand. Soon I was eating Fish and Chips (or Fush and Chups as they call it) almost everyday and saying “Sweet as, mate” to everyone. I was clearly American whenever I talked, but I tried my best to do everything remotely Kiwi-esque.

I would love to live in Wellington some day. Incredible art scene, but very windy!

I made some of the most incredible friendships in my entire life there as well, it was actually pretty dang hard to say goodbye to everyone. I lived with my two Norwegian friends, Lillian and Kristine and coincitendally, with my friend and fellow GLI-er Bri. I learned a lot from them all whether it was sharing our family backgrounds over terribly-made enchiladas or exploring nature all over the North Island. I also made a lot of friendships with other international students from China, Japan, Finland, the UK, Canada, India, Australia, and several other places. It’s so cool knowing now that I have all these places to visit now! I guess my bank account would say otherwise.

Made some incredible friends that I’ll never forget and hope to visit again in the near future (well Bri is a fellow GLI friend here, so I can see her whenever…it was a lovely coincidence that we ended up as flatmates.)
I would never think to criticize food of another culture, but I never understood the chip buddy, which is just butter on white bread with fries and tomato sauce

All in all, this was one of the best experiences of my life and I feel like I came back to the states with a completely new perspective on everything. I know for a fact I’ll be back at some point after graduation. It felt like a second home to me. It was hard to say to say haere rā (farewell) to the place I grew so close to in six short months, but this journey thought me that I’m never stuck in one place and that the world will always be waiting for me to explore.

If I missed anything the most, it’s this giant hand in Wellington.

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