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Mid-Semester Dream

Time September 19th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have been hesitant to write this post.  Sometimes words can be foolish things, but as a writer, I will just have to find a way.  If you are reading this as someone traveling to New Zealand for a semester, go to these places, do these things, then you will understand.

This is the story of my mid-semester break.  It is quite odd to be mid-way through your semester in the same week that uni at home is starting up.  I returned to piles of emails from home; my tennis coach gathering us together, my uni president giving constant updates on how Goucher was dealing with the hurricane, but on the other side of the world, life was a little different.

It wasn’t until about a week before break that I had any plan at all, luckily, my friend, Jackie, rallied for me to be added to the roster of a South Island road trip.  I am beyond grateful for that.  Jackie, two others, and myself rented a car and joined a car full of another four American students on a journey up and down the coasts.

We first worked our way up the east coast, hitting Christchurch, Kaikoura, Picton, and Marlborough Sounds National Park.  Our week was filled with tramping, which started in Marlborough Sounds.  We climbed Mt. Stokes and tramped for a wee bit on the Queen Charlotte Track, but both of those took a backseat to the time spent at our campsite.  We found a space right by the beach that we had, being in the offseason, all to ourselves.  We built a fire to keep us warm and I had the idea to find a large flat rock to cook our quesadillas on.  It ended up working splendidly, making for a delicious meal.  After munching, singing, and socializing had tired me out, I headed to bed in the tent that was our home for the week, only to be stirred by exclamations of phosphorescence.  “Not a big deal,” I thought, “I’ve seen that before,” but the yells of glee needed to be investigated.  What I saw was amazing.  In Maine phosphorescence glitters here and there in the ocean waves, but here, here was something different.  It was as if glow-in-the-dark or black light paint was thrown into the ocean.  Every step you took, wading through the water, was a euphoric moment.  I played in the water for at least an hour, wielding a piece of driftwood as if it were a magic wand.   The next morning we utilized a pile of big shells to make hardboiled eggs in the fire for breakfast.  I do not usually feel quite as innovative as I did at that campsite.

egg shells

Our next stop, and without question the best stop on the trip, was to Abel Tasman National Park.  There we tramped two days worth of the Coastal Track, getting through about half of the whole thing.  We tramped through rainforest like bush that constantly looked down upon golden sand beaches and sky blue ocean water.  Every now and then we couldn’t resist those views.  We would work our way down to the beaches on the off shooting paths.  At the first of these stops we thought of not going down, “too many randos,” we said to each other.  We went anyway, and found that all those “randos” we wanted to avoid actually consisted off everyone we knew and loved in Dunedin.  There were yells of delight as everyone ran to each other and shared stories of their adventures so far.  At the end of the next day, when we got a water taxi back to town, we picked up some of these people and there were more yells of delight.

Abel Tasman

If I were to recommend only one thing to do in New Zealand, hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track would be it.  On the tramp I got to know these people I was traveling with, I explored beaches and caves, collected shells, learned to play hearts, at one point nearly feared for my life (don’t try crossing huge boulders with no shoes and a heavy tramping pack), but also saw some of the most beautiful landscapes of my life.  It was only two days, but it was an intense two days.  Back in Nelson, the closest town, we ate kebabs and fish and chips like madmen while trying to explain the tramp to yet another crew of people we bumped into and knew.  We were a bit off our rockers, and if I have ever felt like a stereotypical loud American, it was then.

abel

Somewhere in the planning stages of the trip, before I was involved, someone made the decision to not really plan the second half of the trip.  While it led to us sitting around the water taxi office for two hours trying to figure out what to do next, it also led to our water taxi driver giving us directions to unknown wonders of the west coast.  For the second half of the trip we drove down the coast and acted as tourists, stopping here and there at the usual sights, but also acting as explorers, trying to and, sometimes successfully, finding these hidden places.

I had two favorites of these places.  The first doesn’t even have a name.  We followed a dirt road just before Charleston until we hit the ocean.  There we exited our car and clambered up onto massive rocks.  The waves were huge and crashed spectacularly up against the rocks, giving fireworks like splashes.  There was even a blowhole spurting up ocean mist.  This simple act of nature kept us occupied for at least an hour.  Perhaps the only reason we left at all was because a monster wave, far bigger than any of the others, completely soaked everyone with a wall of water.  Only Sam, from my car, and myself were left dry, placed perfectly on either sides of the wave.  Appropriately, we shared a dry high-five.

rocks

The second of these favorite places was the Truman Track.  Just a short walk from the car park to the ocean, there was a beautiful overlook, complete with more crashing waves.  Despite the high tide, we went and explored the beach below, running to beat the waves as we went around corners that jutted out close to the water.  We found really cool caves and rock formations that the waves had carved out over time, exposing layers within the cliffs.  The sight was completely dwarfing, like something straight out of National Geographic. 

truman track

We continued down the coast, staying in hostels and campgrounds, and then hitting Queenstown on our final night.  When we got home we dropped off our car at the rental place.  It was a long walk from the University, so the four of us talked and reminisced as we worked our way back home.  As we went through the downtown area, George Street, we were all hungry, so we stopped and had sushi.  A bit of a walk after that, we got giant ice cream cones from Rob Roy Dairy.  (I actually ran into some girls from IFSA-Butler Wellington here!)  As we strolled down Albany Street, we found ourselves not wanting the experience to be over.  We had been together 24/7 for so long, it was distressing to think that life wasn’t going to be like that anymore.  The boys went extra blocks out of their way, just to keep chatting.  When it was finally time to part ways, we shared a heartfelt group hug.  Now I hang out with these guys every weekend.  I couldn’t have asked for a better mid-semester break.

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Finding Home in a Far Away Place

Time August 15th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It has been over a month since I last posted and things have really changed.  I have found my place and my people.  I have had some incredible (a word I will have to retire from my vocabulary after this trip) experiences.  It wasn’t really cemented until this past weekend that I am exactly where I need to be, but now that I feel that way, life couldn’t be better.  Here’s how I got there:

A few weeks back I attended the Tramping Club’s annual Bush Ball, an incredible and bizarre trip.  We tramped for a few hours in Mt. Aspiring National Park, then had a big party, band and all, at one of the huts.  On the way home a snow storm hit, one of the biggest New Zealand has seen in some time.  We were forced to stop, for what ended up being two nights, in Alexandra.  One of those nights was spent at the local high school, watching 80s movies on the French classroom’s projector.  Alexandra’s only claim to fame is a giant clock on the side of a mountain, which I managed to hike up to and smack my forehead on.  I got a big bruised bump and spent the rest of the trip telling people that they should have seen the other guy.  I made some great friends on this trip, ones that I have stuck with for other adventures.  Connecting with the Tramping Club has been really great, I am off on another tramp this weekend!

I’ve been playing ultimate frisbee for the past two weeks.  The group is a collection of mostly American players, including my fellow blogger Sarah, but a good one nonetheless.  I only have a few months of experience in the sport under my belt, so right now I am getting a good kick in the pants by these excellent players, but I absolutely love it!  What makes ultimate such a great sport is the people that are drawn to it, so everyone is friendly and helpful.  I am already getting better.

This weekend was when everything really came together.  I had spent the week feeling a bit down, so when one of my friends from Bush Ball, Jackie, asked if I wanted to go to Queenstown, I jumped at the opportunity.  My flatmate, Stephen, whom I have also become good friends with, had just traveled there and came back claiming his life had been changed.  I had to go!  The night before leaving I headed to a party with Jackie.  There I saw people from Bush Ball, people from frisbee, and met new people as well.  There are so many international students, but the community is so small.  I hugged a friend from Bush Ball only to find a fellow ultimate player tell me that they are flatmates!  I could tell that this was the beginning of my life in Dunedin.  I found myself feeling more welcomed and accepted than ever before.  This was the point where I stopped wondering what was at home in America and started calling this place my home.

The next day we left for Queenstown, a four hour drive from Dunedin.  It is in the middle of beautiful tall mountains and is thus a big ski town as well as the extreme sports capitol of the world, the first commercial bungy jump is just outside of town.  Jackie and I voyaged up with a few French and a Kiwi I had not met before, as well as a Swiss friend from Bush Ball.  We hiked amongst the mountains, had a picnic with the view, and kayaked in the clear blue lake.  It was amazing.  At night we would hang out in our hostel room with the Australian, Chilean, and a Hong Konger we shared it with, and then hit the town, seeing lots of familiar faces from Dunedin, as well as meeting new people.  It is a great town to go out in.  Going out in Dunedin can be a bit intimidating.  The style is very specific.  The local girls tend to wear short black skirts, black tights, puffy black Katmandu jackets, and lots of make-up.  There is way to much color in my wardrobe for the town!   Walking to class today I saw a horde of nearly ten of them all dressed exactly the same.  In Queenstown everything was far more relaxed because, what person who has been out adventuring all day wants to spend so much time and energy getting made up?  It was more about having fun together than appearances or reputation.  At the end of the night everyone ends up at Fergburger, the local burger place, stuffing their face with a delicious midnight snack.

picnic

The last morning in Queenstown was crazy.  I went bungy jumping!  I am afraid of jumping from heights.   It isn’t a huge phobia.  I don’t cry and have panic attacks, but I convert completely into a mother.  When my friends jump of cliffs or docks into water at home I can’t help but say, “make sure you jump far enough out!” or “don’t go head first!”  I shriek when they hit the water, as if it were actually concrete and I certainly don’t do such jumps myself.  I hate this, so what better way to get over it than bungy jump?  I chose the Nevis bungy.  At 134 meters with an 8.5 second free fall, it is the tallest bungy jump in New Zealand.  Go big or go home!  I was the second one up.  Watching someone fall so far right before you doesn’t really help the nerves.  When it was my turn they attached me to the necessary lines and shuffled me out to the edge.  With pump up music blaring and me looking straight ahead they yelled, “1-2-3!” and off I was, flying through the air.  My eyes were closed, I can’t imagine how much more frightened I would have been with them open!  I could feel my body slowly turning until I was completely vertical, headed straight for the river below.  That 8.5 seconds lasts long enough for you to think and worry about the fact that you are free falling.  I screamed and swore like a sailor.  Just when I was about to really get concerned, I hit the end of the bungy.  Immediately all that worry was washed away.  I opened my eyes to find myself inbetween two steep green mountains and above a bright blue river, all dusted with the snow that was falling, like me, from the sky.  I went from terror to absolute euphoria.  I could have hung there for ages.  It was possibly the most incredible moment and feeling of my life.  I don’t think I am afraid of jumping from heights anymore.

Bungy

It is weekends like this that make me forget that I am not at summer camp.  Somehow the falling snow just doesn’t rub it in enough.  I can’t wait for more adventures in this distant crazy land I call my home.

 

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Otago Yacht Club

Time July 11th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Otago Yacht Club

This is my favorite picture so far.  I went for a walk towards the new rugby stadium, not knowing what I would find.  I ended up on a path by the harbor that brought me by the Otago Yacht Club, full on funky sail boats.  You can see them here with the new stadium in the background.

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How To: Make Fast Friends

Time July 11th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The term “life changing experience” gets thrown around a lot when you talk about study abroad, and it makes sense.  How can one travel the world without having their experiences affect them somehow, right?  I knew this going in, but I kind of thought that I would just have this set of experiences in my back pocket.  My life changed because “go to New Zealand” is checked off the to-do list, you know?  What no one tells you about is the hardships that make it life changing, and not check-that-off-the-list life changing, but an improvement on you as a person.

Now that I have been here in Dunedin for about a week, I can see that this trip is going to change me.  It is the very beginning and I am already learning more about myself than I thought.  This first week in Dunedin has been hard.  I love the city and I love that I am on this adventure, but I didn’t realize how much I rely on my safety net of friends and family at home and at school.  I have spent a lot of time alone because as weird as it sounds, I don’t really know how to make friends.

Let me clarify on that statement.  I am a social person and have absolutely wonderful friends, but this whole dropped into another country situation is not how I made them.  I take my time making friends.  I don’t force it.  I just spend time with people and let the bond grow from there.  It is like planting a seed and patiently waiting for the most beautiful flower to bloom.  My whole life I have been in small schools and sports teams, so I am constantly surrounded by similar groups of people.  My freshman year of college was a bit miserable because I wasn’t close with to many people, but by the end I had great friends in my tennis team.  My sophomore year, last year, was wonderful because I had great friendships with those girls already built on a backbone of time spent together.  The process happened again last year.  I joined the ultimate Frisbee team in the fall and by the end of the year I found myself completely comfortable with a group of guys from the team.  So, in summery, for me, friendship is like gardening.

Ok, back to now.  I don’t have a whole year to make great friends.  If I wait that long I will have had no fun shared on this adventure, and that just isn’t as much fun.  I have been feeling really stressed about it lately, especially because it seems like most people from IFSA-Butler have already found where they belong.  These are all people whom I really like, but how do you get in on a group that is already solid?  Is there room for one more?  And how do you get in on a group without looking desperate?  I have been asking these questions over and over in my head.  It is like I need a book, How To: Make Fast Friends.

The truth is, though, I don’t need that book.  I know what to do.  I have to stop sending myself off on my own.  I need to put myself out there, and if people don’t like it, whatever, this is a 20,000-person school.  I can loose them in the crowd while finding people who will accept me and whom I feel comfortable with.  So, this is where I am going to change.  I know I am awesome; I just have to get out there and show it.  That is how I will make not just fast, but lasting friends.

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Made It Alive To The Other Side Of The World!

Time July 7th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Kia Ora!  Hello from New Zealand.  My name is Addie Maxwell.  I am 20 years old and I am from Southwest Harbor, Maine, but right now I am living in Dunedin, New Zealand where I will be blogging about my semester at the University of Otago.  I have been in New Zealand for about a week and a half now, though it seems like much longer!  I am just now getting settled in, but here is the story of the whirlwind first few days I spent in New Zealand at IFSA-Butler orientation:

 

At the very beginning I woke up at 3:30 in the morning on a Sunday in a hotel room an hour outside of Providence, Rhode Island.  I was so excited to begin my adventure that I woke up with ease, practically jumping around the room.  Three time zones, three flights, the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, and very little sleep later, I landed in New Zealand at 5:30 in the morning on a Tuesday.  To keep us from the full rath of jet lag the people at IFSA-Butler and Shakespear Regional Park set out a full day of activities for us.  I really thought that I would pass out from exhaustion, but I should have had more faith.  It ended up being a splendid day.

After arriving in Shakespear Regional Park and settling into our bunk bed filled rooms we went for a wander around the grounds.  Most people wandered in a large group, but I was lagging behind so I ended up strolling with just two other girls.  It was nice to have some time away from the group.  I got beautiful pictures and a shoe filled with mud.

After making a giant sandwich for lunch we went kayaking, then to hot springs, and a drink at a pub.  The day was packed and there was an undertone of simply powering through the whole time, but it was certainly amazing.  There was almost too much to absorb.

 

While the first day was a big pile of overwhelmed, the next day was filled with little moments that sunk in with ease.  It might have been the endorphins that all the running around stirred up, but I found myself unable to smile big enough.

We started the day with competition, a quiz to get through health and safety information and a scavenger hunt type game that had us running all over the grounds of the park.  We went up and down hills and through the mud.  The backs of everyone’s legs were completely coated by the end.

After some tea and kai (the Maori word for food) we had options for our activities.  There was archery, rock climbing, mountain biking, and tramping (hiking), but I decided to go off on my own.  There is a long beautiful beach down the hill from the lodge.  I walked down there with my camera and a big scarf around my neck, as it was quite windy.  I spent an hour and a half walking all the way to the end, onto the rocks, and back.  I treasure time spent alone, so walking on the beach was a really good way to get some.

Later in the day they taught us to play rugby.  It was so much fun and with the Rugby World Cup happening here in a few months, it was perhaps the most useful thing we learned at orientation.  I had so much fun playing, but I could not catch the ball.  I am very competitive, so I was completely ashamed of myself.  Hopefully opportunities to redeem myself will be plentiful.

When the day was nearly over and many were finding their ways to bed, I ran into a few folks heading down to the beach.  The stars were out, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join them. I got down to the beach a few minutes after them and they had already scurried up into a large beautiful tree at the edge of the beach.  I could see their headlamps flashing light from the tree, causing shadows of the limbs to dance on the sand.  Next to them was the ocean, behind them was a cliff, far in the distance were the light of Auckland, and above them were the brightest and most beautiful stars I have ever seen.  It remains the most beautiful sight so far.  Thinking that I was not much of a tree climber, I wandered down to the ocean.  As the waves crashed around my feet the water sparkled with phosphorescence, because apparently I could be surrounded by even more beauty.

The tree turned out to be much easier to climb than I had expected, after a little encouragement I found myself in it.  We sat on the branches and felt the wind fly past our faces.  We chatted a bit, but also just sat there and existed in the beautiful place and moment we had found ourselves in.

 

On our third and final day at the Shakespear lodge we spent the morning packing up, learning about university in New Zealand, and savoring our last moments in the midst of the green rolling hills, as well as savoring the delicious food that we knew wouldn’t be present later while attempting to cook for ourselves in our flats.  After a quick stop at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, we were off to the Marai, a sort of Maori meeting place, where we were treated to the most amazing performance.  A group of Maori people, whom are apparently award winning, performed traditional songs and showed off weapons and whatnot.  The whole performance was done with great humor and ease.  The highlight was when they brought all the boys from our group up and had them perform a shirtless Haka.  Nothing is quite funnier than a bunch of skinny white boys trying to look intimidating.  To top it all off they had a delicious feast waiting for us.  I stuffed myself silly.  I even went back for more chicken after devouring dessert!

 

The next day, with orientation coming to a close, we said goodbye to the Victoria University of Wellington kids we had shared orientation with and hopped a quick flight to Dunedin.  Driving from the airport into town in the afternoon was beautiful.  The low sun hit the rolling hills and farmland just right.   The excitement amongst our group was ridiculous.  Stopping in at the Uni Flats office to get our keys and blankets one kid, Alec, commented, “I’ve never seen people so excited for bedding.”  I think that perfectly summed up that first day in Dunedin.  Everything was exciting.  One of us could have picked a pebble up off the street and it would have been the most fascinating pebble in the world.

 

Now I am settled in my flat and in Dunedin.  I am still waiting on a flatmate, but the three that are here are wonderful.  The first night I went out with my Kiwi host and her friends and was introduced to Dunedin in a tornado of unfamiliar streets, faces, and accents.  I couldn’t have picked a better first night if I tried.  The next day I got lost walking around and, therefor, now know where everything is.  Having figured most things out at least little is making me so excited for what is to come.  Soon the city will fill up with students and the semester will be off and running.  I can see that this is going to be a good place to call home.

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