I spent the spring semester of 2010 studying in New Zealand through the ISEP program. I used this blog to keep an account of my school experience and as a record of the adventures I found. Hopefully it can serve two purposes: to have kept my friends and family informed of my travels and experiences; as well as to serve as a reminder of how important the study abroad experience is, whether it's in New Zealand or not.

01 February 2011

Looking Back

It's been almost one full year since I was leaving for New Zealand. Looking back it's both really difficult to remember how everything felt and really easy. I was so ambivalent about leaving that I never really got excited. I almost couldn't believe I was really going until the plane landed in Palmy and I still feel like I can't believe it ever really happened. I look through pictures and talk to friends and I have this weird feeling I just making it all up. Four months seemed like a really long time to be away from home, but actually being gone it felt like no time at all. Only occasionally do I get little reminders that the whole thing must have happened. Like when someone here talks about something that happened and I go, "No way, but I was living with you guys and I never saw/heard that." And of course the reply is "Well, you weren't here, you were in New Zealand." When I do realize that I went there, it occurs to me how many amazing things I can take from that experience. The people I met there I'll never forget. Everyone was much more laid back and friendly. Perhaps it's not having to deal with being such a large country that's always on high alert for the next attack. Where the news is always only about people who have died or people who have killed or how the whole country is falling apart. Whatever it is, I think Americans could really learn something from these Kiwis. Then of course there were my teachers. People I wouldn't say I was close to, but certainly people I learned a lot from. They all had the same attitude: you people in America have learned a really warped way of farming, and while we don't want to act like we're judging you, we really are, so don't take what we're telling you for granted. It's almost as though they think we're a little joke. Like we're a toddler that hasn't quite figured things out yet, but one day we'll get it. They're the parents and they want us to figure it out for ourselves. I also of course learned a lot from what they were teaching that wasn't necessarily based on the differences between New Zealand and America. And then there were the friends I made. People from around the world, though mostly the US and Germany. Jessica from Maine, who struggled to balance studies and travel. I knew just how she felt. School being so different there; so much more difficult and demanding. But of course you've traveled all this way, to this amazingly beautiful country. You can't just sit around and do school work, even if you need to get those grades. It is really hard to find a balance where you don't feel as though you wasted your opportunity to see all the things you want to see and to get your work done satisfactorily. She had the added pressure of applying to vet school at the end. Which means an A average, any less and you don't get in. Period. There's no exception. Sandy was dealing with some of the same issues. She certainly had the pressure of trying to get into vet school, but she didn't have the need to travel. She had done her traveling when she came to study in New Zealand several years before and then again when she moved back to be with her boyfriend. She could focus much more on her studies, but I sensed she just didn't ever get as stressed out. Don't get me wrong, the last couple of weeks when we were studying for and taking finals, we both went a little crazy. Holed up in the common area, surrounded by books and notes, covered in our bedding, burning our legs with our computers just to get through the finals. Our only little breaks being meals and Shortland Street. Oh Shortland Street. Now there's a little something of indulgence I greatly miss. A show that airs a new episode every weekday. A TV drama, that has all the right kind of bad of TV soap opera-ness, with just enough of the good to make it a wholly worthwhile, stress relieving, indulgence. While I'm back in the US now and not in physical, face to face contact with either Jessica or Sandy, or my two German friends Nadja and Sabine, and I have no way to watch Shortland Street, I find it hard to think that any of it was more than my imagination. What seems to make it somewhat real is that I can remember how much of a roller coaster the whole experience was. At first I couldn't decide if I wanted to leave Hampshire. I knew I would be missing out on all that would happen for the spring semester. I only have so much time here and it felt like I would be wasting it. On the other hand, come on, it's New Zealand, why wouldn't you go if you could? So I finally just left it up to the scholarship I had applied for. I said, if I get it, it means I should go and I will; if I don't get it, not only does that mean I shouldn't go, but I can't afford it anyway. This way, I wouldn't be dissapointed either way. Then I had to deal with losing my passport and having to mail it away once I got it, but needing it to get into Canada. It got such that the whole thing felt like such a hassle, I just didn't know why I was bothering. Once I got the scholarship and I knew I was going, I didn't even feel excited. Not even when I was on the plane to California, or for the week I spent out there, or even when I was waiting for the plane to Auckland in the San Fransisco airport. It was when I landed in Palmy and met several other students, including Jessica, and we were on the way to the campus that things began to sink in and I started to get excited. After a while I got so used to the campus, the city, and the people it was like I had been there forever. There was a point just before Easter break when my dad told me he wouldn't be visiting me and I realized that I really missed him. I didn't have so much a desire to go home, but to bring parts of home to me. My dad did end up coming out and that seemed to quench my craving for those things home like. After that I got even more comfortable there. So comfortable that when time came to leave I put off packing until the last minute. Nearly missed my flight back to San Fransisco and then didn't accept it for a long, long time. I refused to change the time on my watch until after I made it back to the east coast (some four days after my return to the US). I felt depressed and like I wanted nothing more than to have missed my flight back in Auckland. I didn't manage to change my computer clock for months after coming back. The only thing that kept me going was getting back to my farm job as quickly as I could. A normal schedule, with familiar faces and familiar tasks. I still just wanted nothing more than to go back for a long, long time. Even now, I sometimes plan ways that I can get back there. But I think I'm starting to lean toward looking for the next thing. New Zealand is certainly a place I look at for the future, I would love to go back and maybe even live there. But there are other places I haven't yet explored and I can't find myself repeating too many places before I see some new ones. As corny as it sounds, one thing I really got from this experience is realizing how important studying abroad is. The experience of getting away from everything your familiar with. I managed to choose a place, just about as far away from home as I could get. But somehow it's really hard to fathom the distance that you have traveled, once you've traveled it. But there's just something about being so out of your element. Even when you're in a place that's so familiar. New Zealand offers a lot of the same comforts as the US, but at the same time it remains so different than home in many ways. It's great to meet people who have a very different perspective on the world and especially on the country you come from. It's an experience everyone should have. To be forced to live the way someone else does, to see another part of the world, to experience another educational system. I'm not sure how to put into words why people should study abroad or how it affected me, but I do know enough to say everyone should do it if they can.

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