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Franz Josef Glacier, Abel Tasman, and Nelson

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Dear friends,

As it has now been over a month since I came back from mid-trimester break, I’m basically really over writing about it. So this will, thankfully, be my last post referencing break. I gots other stuff to report!

But to give you my daily update about my current happenings, I’ll have you know that I am currently sitting on my couch watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with Kelsie and Will, and looking up prices for Harry Potter World. My day has been uneventful. I got a lot of reading done, and I finally scheduled an appointment to get my prescriptions refilled! CRAZINESS!! Onwards…

Day SEIS y SIETE y OCHO Y NUEVE: Queenstown -> Franz Josef Glacier -> Abel Tasman National Park -> Nelson -> Picton -> Wellington

  • Franz Josef Glacier: The only really awesome part of Franz Josef was hiking down to the base of the glaciers. It would have been so much more awesome if we had actually hiked the glaciers themselves, but we had neither the time (by the time we got there from Queenstown, it was almost dinner time) nor the fundage to do so. If/when I come back to New Zealand, I will most certainly put that on my list of must-do’s. We stayed at a lovely little YHA which had a sauna that we took full advantage of. We also put together another puzzle! Oh the lives we lead. And we randomly ran into four girls from IFSA-Butler who had gone to Dunedin instead of Wellington. We hadn’t seen them since orientation, naturally, so that was kind of shocking.
  • Abel Tasman: One of those seven-wonders-of-the-world-type places that you should probably visit at least once in your life. We stayed at a hostel called “The Barn,” which was, quite literally, a barn. But a nicer barn! We had a little hitch when we got there, though. Up until then we had been wondering if we even booked our stay there, because neither Kelsie nor I could find any email reservation confirmations, which was a little concerning. When we arrived, we discovered that we had not, in fact, actually booked a room. Luckily, it was basically empty, so we still got a place. Our room was an 8-bed-dorm that also acted as the one hallway in the building, so everyone had to walk through our room to get anywhere else in the place. A little awkward, but luckily we had curtains in front of our bed/nook-combo-deals, which were kinda more like little rooms in themselves. Totally brought out my inner fort-loving-child. Our first full day at the park, Kelsie and I got up early to go sit by the beach, but ended up going on a coffee hunt instead. After walking like half an hour to the closest “town,” we were told by this lady who worked at a convenience store that they didn’t have coffee in the winter. (WHO DOESN’T HAVE COFFEE IN THE WINTER? THAT IS PRIME HOT BEVERAGE CONSUMPTION SEASON. WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?!) Needless to say, we were very put off by this, and had to settle for some pre-bottled “iced coffee” crap and salty chips, which we proceeded to consumer while sitting on a beach-side bench, feeding crumbs to birds. My favorite part of Abel Tasman, besides the beautiful location in itself, was meeting this duo from Switzerland and this girl from Holland named Ingrid. We were the only six staying there the first night, and we all ate dinner together and had some drinks and sat around the fire getting to know each other. It was what I wished all our hostel experiences had been like. The two guys were Evan and Jack, and we ended up hanging out with them the whole time we were there, for the most part. They played us music and we shared our stories, and we ended up giving them a ride to Nelson when we left.
  • Nelson: A cute city halfway between Abel Tasman and Picton, where our ferry would take us back from. Having Evan and Jack and all their belongings with us in our car made the drive a little more challenging, but it was fun. And we had to stop at a tattoo place, since Brandi had planned on getting her tattoo in Nelson, and the boys came with us because they literally had nothing else to do. So the five of us went in the shop. Kelsie and I flipped through their design books while Brandi discussed logistics with the only guy working there, and suddenly we saw it – the design that we had briefly talked about maybe getting, if we could find a cheap enough place. So we bombarded the guy with price questions, and when we talked the price down to bearable, we jumped on the idea. The three of us left with brand new tattoos. Probably the most spontaneous decision of my life. No regrets.
  • Picton: …not a whole lot to say about Picton. We got there way early for our ferry, so we bought ourselves some chips (our fries) and chilled a while. The ferry ride back wasn’t nearly as calm as the one there, and took a lot longer for some reason. And the movies they played sucked so bad I wanted to cry. (Battle Los Angeles, followed by Little Fockers, followed by… wait for it… the Justin Bieber movie, whatever that was called.) On the bright side, Kelsie and I befriended a 3-year-old named Theodorerobinson (how he pronounced it), who told us all about his cat and his mummy and daddy and Thomas the Train and his favorite movies and was simply adorable. He also spat out a lot of crackers at us while we conversed – I’m sure all kids do that when super excited, right?
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Queenstown

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As I write this, I have baking in the oven of 4 Landcross a legit, completely 100% homemade pumpkin pie. I know I’ve posted this update on Facebook multiple times already, but I am just SO EXCITED. I’ve been hardcore craving pumpkin pie and other pumpkin/fall-related things pretty much since I got here, and hearing about fall at home just made the craving worse. So I decided to stop moping about it and make my own! Which turned out to be much more of an undertaking than I thought, seeing as NZ doesn’t believe in canned pumpkin for some reason, and it took most of the night. But SO WORTH IT. Anywho…

Day CUATRO y CINCO: Oamaru -> Queenstown

Queenstown was definitely my favorite part of the whole big trip. It looks like what I’ve always pictured Colorado to look like – a big ski resort type village. Not that I’ve ever been to Colorado nor would I know what it looks like, but it was one of those vibe kinda things. Anyway, it was beautiful of course, with lots of unbelievably reflective lakes and towering snow-capped mountains. The city was packed with tourists, but it was lively and pretty I and enjoyed it. Highlights:

  • Exploring the city while Kelsie went bungy jumping. It felt like a more rugged version of Wellington. Lots of street performers and pedestrians, with cute little shops and pubs with outdoor fireplaces. We went into this positively amazing candy shop that gave us unlimited free samples of fudge.
  • Dinner for Kelsie’s birthday. We went to this Mexican place and spent an ungodly amount of money on dinner. (Queenstown is unnecessarily expensive.) But it was so delicious. I tried each of their extensive collection of hot sauces, and I was in heaven. Oh how I miss Mexican noms.
  • SKYDIVING, obviously. I DID IT. It was the one thing I really wanted to accomplish in NZ, but I had been consistently battling with myself about spending the money to do it. My soul would not let me back out, though. I was the only one of the three of us to go, but it couldn’t have been a more perfect day. B & K were allowed to come with me to the drop zone, so I had at least some moral support. After I split off from them, I befriended some dudes from Auckland who would be jumping from the same plane as me. I was the only girl, so naturally my level of intrigue rose by like 100%. My tandem diver’s name was Colin, the strong yet silent type. We bonded over our love of doing twirly things in the sky after the parachute went up. Skydiving is one of those things that you’re completely positive you’re going to kill yourself doing, and you convince yourself you’re not really going to jump, but then you kind of have to because there’s a much bigger-than-you dude strapped to your butt, and once you do it it’s like you’re the coolest person on the planet, and nothing compares. Freefalling is weird. You really can’t tell that you’re even moving at all because of how high up you are. So it just feels like a really big dude is pushing you really hard for like 30 seconds and you can’t breathe too much, but somehow it’s a good thing? And then up goes the parachute, and suddenly you can breathe/hear/feel your face again and life is beautiful. And then you’ve got a good five minutes of bonding time with you’re tandem diver. Colin and I discussed such stimulating topics as his hometown of Christchurch, beer, sheep, the comfort of wearing jumpsuits that ride up like whoa, and of course, doing twirly things in the air with parachutes. When I landed, I felt brand new. And to celebrate, I got some free coffee which unfortunately had no lid, so I spent the ride back crouched in the back of the van, holding my scalding hot coffee as far away from myself and others as possible while still trying to keep it from spilling everywhere. Initially I tried to chug it before we started driving (because I realized the precariousness of the situation), but wow was that a mistake, which I learned after burning my entire esophagus. Luckily, I was still in major adrenaline-rush mode, and in love with the whole world.
  • FERGBERGER. Homygosh. Queenstown’s famous burger joint. These burgers are huge and fantastic, and I met a very nice British lad who worked there, who told me I had incredible eyes and who I probably should have married on the spot. Ah well, live and learn.
  • Bungy jumping: something that everybody who is doubting what they’re capable of should do once in their life. B and I did one called “The Ledge” which is placed over 400m above Queenstown, but really you only fall about 43m. This was one where you’re attached by your waist and shoulders instead of your ankles, so you can just jump right off or anyway you want instead of being limited to a sort of swan dive, like most other bungy places. It was the single most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life and will never do again. However, I will still say it was worth it, because I’m pretty sure after doing that, I can do anything.
  • Seeing 3248 people we knew in Queenstown. As in, my flatmate and his friend, and B’s flatmate’s friends, and my other flatmate was there at the same time but we didn’t see each other. Times like these really remind you how small this freaking country is.

What I did not like about Queenstown:

  • The hostel. (Called the Flaming Kiwi Backpackers. Gotta love it.) For the first time, we actually had to share a room with… wait for it… OTHER PEOPLE. It was mildly terrifying. We had an 8-bed dorm, so it was relatively crowded. There was one girl that we bonded with, an Irish chick named Olivia, but everyone else was just mediocre or terrible, like this duo from California. These kids were OBNOXIOUS. The girl, who I had the pleasure of sharing a bunk bed with, was the most socially incompetent brat I have ever met. She started an argument with us on Kelsie’s birthday about why Macs suck and, of course, I immediately tuned her out and fought the urge to attack. And her little friend was gross and farted a lot and clipped his toenails in our sink. I was impossibly excited to get out of there.

I had mixed feelings on leaving Queenstown. Sad, because I loved the city, but happy that I would no longer have to severely depress my bank just to eat some noms. But I have a feeling I’ll find my way back there again, someday…

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Penguins, penguins, and MORE penguins!

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello everybody!

It’s a positively lovely Sunday in Wellington. Sundays, for me, mean waking up early and heading downtown. Kelsie and I, and sometimes Brandi, make our way to Wholly Bagels for some delicious bagel-y breakfasts and coffees. After these lazy breakfasts where we (read: I) tend to sit and savour every last bite of those delicious bagels – which can sometimes take over an hour – we wander down Willis Street to this little tea shop where we sniff tea to our hearts’ content and sometimes get free samples. Then we head to the weekly Sunday fruit and veggie market, stock up on fresh produce, and head home. It’s my favorite day of the week – low stress, and taking in the early morning life of Wellington. Awesomesauce. Anyway, where was I….

Day TRES: Christchurch -> Oamaru

Disclaimer: Oamaru was possibly the second-least exciting of all the places we visited, but maybe that was exactly what we needed for our third day. It was, after all, our mid-trimester break. A chill day was good. But highlights anyway:

  • The hostel. Probably the most excellent accommodation I have yet stayed at in NZ. It was called Chillawhile, and the name couldn’t have been more perfect. It was this little old house with a big porch, two stories high, and owned by the young artist with an adorable little daughter. The place was completely packed with artwork – not only hers, but also art from people who had stayed there before. She had a deal where if you stayed in the hostel and created something beautiful while you were there (art or music), you could get a major discount. So naturally, this place was like my dream. Every room featured paintings and sculptures all over the walls and floors, pianos and guitars, muraled walls, colors galore. It was amazing. K, B, and I also got to stay in our cheap 8-bed dorm by ourselves, which was very pleasant. We did a puzzle that night.
  • PENGUINS. We saw so many penguins. We visited a yellow-eyed penguin colony early in the afternoon, but no penguins actually showed up. It was too early for them to come home. Sad. BUT later in the evening we braved the cold for a night-time penguin viewing of Little Blue Penguins. They were REALLY little. So little, in fact, that I couldn’t really see them, given my terrible-but-especially-terrible-at-night eyesight. So that was depressing. But at least I can say I’ve been to two penguin colonies!
  • Oamaru has this adorable little historical Victorian village thing, with lots of little shops and art galleries, which we had tons of fun exploring. There was also an excellent used bookshop. I fell in love. We had a lovely afternoon at a wee German bakery/café combo deal run by the nicest women ever. I bought an almond macaroon which to this day, a month later, I still remember the awesomeness of.

So, overall impression of Oamaru: pleasant to the max. I loved it there, but WHOA was I excited for the next day, involving Kelsie’s birthday and our trip to Queenstown. Stay tuned.

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Christchurch first-hand

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Christchurch first-hand by

So! I was sitting here in my little room at 4 Landcross, in the midst of typing up some crap for my column in The Observer but not really getting anywhere, when I decided, hey! why not make this aclassy procrastination session? And so I did. Now I’ve got the jazz crooning at me as I sip my $6.99 Golden Gate “Crackling Peach” sparkling wine (it’s totally legal here, relax), and suddenly I’m inspired. Inspired to what, you may ask? Well, that’s a great question. Definitely not to write this column, that’s for sure. I would say it’s inspiration of the procrastination kind. And that’s why I’m blogging instead! So, folks, welcome back to my life-changing tale of the Adventures of Bryden, Brandi, and Kelsie on the South Island of New Zealand!

Day DOS: Kaikoura -> Christchurch

  • Before leaving the beautiful city of Kaikoura for(probably)ever, we made a pitstop at a small diner/truckstop-looking-thing, where a sign informed us that we could be given a “Maori Leap Cave tour” for a special student-discounted price! Of course we had to do it. So we bought our tickets in the deserted little diner and waited outside for the tour to start. An old, old man with a very healthy belly was loitering by us as we waited, making small talk with us in that way that old people do. He looked like he was on the verge of collapsing from old age. But to our immense surprise, as the time of our tour quickly approached, the big old dude looked at his watch and said, “Well, I guess we can get started! I’ll get you some hard hats.” He was our cave guide. We soon realized, though, that despite our initial concern, this was as capable a tour guide as any! He even cracked some mildly funny jokes! Including one about the cave housing the real Tooth Fairy! (Apparently he also mistook our ages for about 10 years younger than we really are.) To convince the little ‘uns who visit the cave, this guy managed to acquire minuscule a little pair of Barbie-sized boots, a teeny phone, and real human baby teeth (from a dentist, he assured us) to place in a mini-cave in the big cave. I, for one, was convinced… that this dude was crazy. BUT lovable in his own right. And the cave was very nifty. Chock full of stalagmites ‘n tites.
  • Prior to arriving in Christchurch, Kelsie and I stopped at this place a bit off the beaten path to go zip lining! It was more like a high ropes course than anything, which I personally loved because I love climbing stuff. Kelsie wasn’t as big of a fan. But we befriended the guy who worked there, who was American and named Kyle, because he picked up the camera I kept dropping and acted as our cameraman. We named him “Connecticut,” because it was, for some reason, easier to remember than Kyle, and that’s where he was from.
  • Christchurch was, as expected, depressing. Even now, there is little to be seen of the city itself. It is very much still a broken place. You are not allowed to drive anywhere near the city centre. It no longer exists. We asked the woman in charge of our hostel to help us find this art show that we knew to be in the vicinity of the city centre, and she replied, “What city centre?” It was humbling, to say the least.
  • Speaking of our hostel, we stayed with some very interesting characters in Christchurch. It was just the three of us plus these three guys who had been there for quite some time. When we first met them we thought, okay, cool, new friends. They seemed normal enough. But later that evening, after going to the aforementioned art show, Kelsie and I attempted to hang out with two of the guys watching TV. That was our first mistake. We realized shortly after that the one guy in particular, from England, was a talker. And not the usual kind, as annoying as that would have been by itself, oh no. This one said the word “f*ckin” instead of breathing. Each sentence consisted of something like 50% actual words and 50% “f*ckin.” And that was when I could understand what he was saying at all, which took a lot of brain power to do. But, not only would this guy not shut up, he was also weird as hell. At one point he called me a “sexy septic tank” when he thought I had changed his facebook status (explain THAT logic). I had no idea what he was talking about, or that he was addressing me, at first. But when Kels and I got up to leave, he said “I @$#@$ hope @#$#@ I @#$#@ didn’t @#@!@# offend @#@$ you when I @#$@# called you a @#$@ septic tank.” And then he proceeding to explain that Americans are sometimes referred to as “tanks” because it rhymes with “Yanks.” You learn something new every day, eh? We ran away – to our room next door, where unfortunately the dudes knew we were staying. About 5 minutes after we had recovered from that strange encounter the sailor-mouthed came knocking on our door, asking if we wanted to watch that new gypsy wedding show with them. In order to avoid any further conflict, we joined them. Of course, we couldn’t actually hear the show because the talker wouldn’t stop talking. The next day, he asked us for a ride. Umm, no. We ran away again, for real this time, to Oamaru.
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Mid-trimester break: Kaikoura

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello again!

It’s been awhile since I’ve actually posted anything substantial, and I feel mildly guilty about that, so I figured it’d be a good time to catch you all up on some of the more exciting parts of my life, specifically my mid-trimester break. As most of you already know, it was AWESOME.

But here is where I get more specific about the cooler stuff I did during those epic nine days. It might be hard to keep it brief, so forgive me if I start to ramble. It was just so AWESOME. I might write about each day separately so your brains (and my hands) don’t explode.

Here we go:

Day UNO: Wellington Bluebridge Ferry -> Picton -> Kaikoura.

Highlights:

  • The ferry ride was super cool. I ate a brownie and an apple while we waited to get on, and watched as 2 semis and a tractor drove onto the ferry. (Cray. Cray.) I’ve been on much smaller ferries in Germany and one other time in NZ, but this one was INTENSE. It was the size of like a stadium or two or more-ish, and inside it looked like what I’d imagine a real snaztastic cruise ship would look like, except we only had access to one floor. But everything was shiny and there were little windows to look out of and some doors onto the lower decks that I most def. took advantage of. There was a café (SHOCKING) and a cafeteria that sold toast (win!) and a couple of play areas for the little ‘uns and a movie theater-type thing, where I watched about 3/4 of The King’s Speech until I passed out from boredom. Overall success.

  • When we got to Picton, there was a woman waiting at the station holding a sign with Kelsie’s last name on it, which was rather shocking, and made us feel all important and such, and hell yeah, I’d consider that a highlight. She then drove us to the car rental place (in our new rental car, “Prince,” another white Nissan Sunny) and sent us free on our way.
  • KAIKOURA. Ahh, so beautiful. Picture, if you will, clear blue, crashing ocean that suddenly meets and somehow transitions into astonishingly whitegrayblue mountains. There’s really nothing in between them, or so it appears. It’s unreal. The beaches are clear and white, free of gross American tourists (except us), and parks, playgrounds, and trees abound. It’s quiet. The town is small, but it’s got a used bookshop, and in my mind that’s all it needed. We stayed at a hostel on the main road, near the waterfront, called “The Lazy Shag Backpackers,” the meaning of which remains ambiguous. It had amazing mountain views and we managed to get a room all to ourselves.
  • Our one activity of significance in Kaikoura was this famous walk that everyone visiting apparently HAS to go on, called the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, which, as its name implies, takes you all around the peninsula that Kaikoura is known for. We three decided to attempt the (supposedly) 3-4 hour walk, having nothing else planned and wishing to take in one of NZ’s most gorgeous places. So we head out on this walk, and it’s not that early in the day anymore, so the goal is really to get home reasonably before dark. What we did not realize was that a) our hostel was nowhere near even the beginning of this walkway, and b) the map we had was very deceiving in terms of distances. So we meander along, slowly but surely, taking in the beautiful landscapes as we go. We saw seals! Lots and lots of seals! A couple of hours into walking, we came across a seal colony, and holy eff were there a ton of seals. They were so cute I almost died. This colony was also the point at which the official Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway began. We were very tired already by this point, because it had been a long walk, but after some discussion we decided that we may as well keep going, because ultimately the walk was supposed to loop around back to where we started. At this point, though, it was getting later in the evening, and we knew we should probably walk a little faster if we wanted to get home in the not-completely-pitch darkness. So we head up this mountain in time to catch the Kaikoura sunset, which I honestly cannot even describe the awesomeness of. Sorry. There are no words. Totally worth all the ridiculousness to come. Speaking of which, things kind of got crazy after that. Sunsets tend to imply impending darkness, which we were well aware of, and for some reason assumed the rest of the walk would be easypeasylemonsqueezy. Wrong. We continue, chasing the remaining daylight home, and the path becomes more and more precarious. We’re on the edge of this massive cliff, following a path that is becoming increasingly nonexistent, and trying to keep our cool. No small feat. And then, all of a sudden the path is GONE. Peace out mofo. We attempt, at this point, to just follow our impeccable senses of direction (haha) to find our way. After crossing a very dimly lit, massive expanse of what I presumed to be sheep pasture, the path came back, and we, relieved, followed it. Perhaps another half an hour passed by, and it is now almost completely dark. At this point, we’re at total WTF point, and then… we come to a fence. And in this fenced enclosure there is not a massive expanse of sheep pasture, but instead a rather massive herd of cows (is that what you’d call it? A herd? I am sadly unlearned in bovine lingo.) and Kelsie freaks out. Because as it turns out, and as Brandi and I were surprised to discover, Kelsie has a fear of cows. Or rather, being trampled by them. All right. So now one of our team is incapacitated by fear as we convince her to try to keep going anyway. But about halfway through the cow enclosure, lo and behold there’s a bull. A BULL. Stopping dead in our tracks, we decide to reassess the situation, and choose turning back and subsequently LIFE over continuing on to our deaths. Hearts pounding, we manage to shuffle back to the fence and climb back over it. It was terrifying, but we survived. Only to realize the full gravity of our situation, which was that we were now about an hour into this mountain-top walk, in the now-pitch-blackness, with another two-ish-hour-long walk back to the hostel after we managed to get off the mountain. And I, being near-blind in the dark and thus rather terrified of our current predicament, freaked out. So needless to say, the trip back was oodles of fun. However, we somehow managed to find our way back. I slept well that night. And it was an excellent story to tell the grandchildren. Or it will be someday, when the pain and terror of the experience fades to a mild and humorous nostalgia.
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Plans for spring break – Kiwi-style!

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I know that I’m long overdue for a post – I have two separate drafts of two different topics saved, and just haven’t gotten around to posting them – MY B! I did promise to post something before I left for break, though, SOOO…

Here are my, Kelsie’s, and Brandi’s plans for the rest of our mid-trimester break, in a totally non-detailed itinerary sort of format:

August 24:

  • Bluebridge Ferry leaves Wellington at 8:00 a.m. (I gotta get up around 5:30 to make this happen. FML.)
  • Pick up rental car from Picton, drive 2ish hours south along the east coast to Kaikoura.
  • Walk the Peninsula Walkway; See the Maori Leap Cave.

August 25:

  • Christchurch
  • See what’s left of the city center.
  • Christchurch art festival – “Earth from Above”

August 26:

  • Oamaru
  • Blue Penguin colony nighttime tour.
  • Oamaru Gardens

August 27 & 28:

  • Queenstown!
  • Kelsie’s birthday bungy! At Nevis Bungy! Followed by a night out in Queenstown in celebration.
  • Brandi & I partake in our own adventure activities, more on this later.

August 29:

  • Franz Josef Glacier
  • Tramp the glaciers, take in some serious beauty.

August 30 & 31:

  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Tramping, chilling, hot tubbing, more chilling, maybe some kayaking thrown in.

September 1:

  • Journey back to Picton through Nelson, where Brandi will get her tattoo!
  • Arrive back in Wellington around 11 p.m.

And that’s all I’m giving you for now! Bed time! Pictures and stories to come when I get back!

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Napier

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I had to get out of Wellington for a little bit. I love this city, but the longer I stay in one place, the more restless I get. And I hate feeling restless. It also majorly adds to my increasing homesickness, which I planned on not experiencing, ever.

So I went to Napier with Kelsie. Booked a cheap bus ticket, and left on Saturday afternoon. Got there around 9 p.m. and discovered a city of my dreams: full of TWINKLE LIGHTS. Yeah, no joke. And at once I knew Napier was a good choice. It was dark when we got there, and these huge pine trees all along the waterfront were lit up with freaking Christmas lights. I couldn’t stop smiling, looking up at all those trees lit up. It was the perfect welcome to the city. Of course, with the good comes the bad, and somewhere between getting to the town and checking out our room at the YHA, I lost my precious camera. Seeing as I just got the camera right before coming to NZ, I was more than a little distraught by its disappearance. So distraught, in fact, that after thoroughly checking every pocket in every article of clothing and every bag I brought and seeing that it wasn’t there, Kelsie and I retraced our steps, and this involved digging through trash. Because, you see, I had thrown away a McDonald’s bag on the way from the bus to the hostel, and as I was at the time completely positive I left the bus carrying the camera, Kelsie thought that it was more than likely that I had accidentally thrown the thing away with the bag. So we walked back down the waterfront, checking each rubbish bin along the way with a flashlight and our hands in order to find it. Alas, the camera was nowhere to be found, and to this day remains AWOL. But not having a camera has been a good thing for me, I think. If you haven’t noticed by now, I take a LOT of pictures. So many, in fact, that I’ve come to realize I may be missing out on the full effect of experiences in my hasty attempts to photograph them. So this trip to Napier was, for me, all about taking mental photographs instead of tangible ones – taking images that stay much truer to the actual moments they are meant to hold still. I took in breaths that I could have spent searching my pocket for a camera, fumbling for the on switch, adjusting settings, keeping busy, but instead spent just breathing in – and looking, smelling, touching – those moments I won’t ever get back. I think I’ve figured out the key (well, my key, anyway) to real traveling.

Less philosophically, Napier was a phenomenal place for a holiday. We stayed at a beachfront hostel in a room all to ourselves. Every day was sunny and beautiful and warm – and there were palm trees everywhere. We took a walk to Hawkes Bay to take in some truly stunning landscapes, napped on the beach in front of the YHA, befriended ducks at a tropical park, sipped some cold coffee beverages (AND THE WORLD’S LITERAL BEST MILKSHAKE EVER) in the sunshine, got sunburnt, ran into some friends from Wellington (I’m telling ya, small freaking country), ate ice cream, got Kelsie a donut sundae (yup, exactly what it sounds like, a donut with ice cream on top – disgustingly delicious), saw circus people, watched the Rugby World Cup semi-final: Australia vs. the All Blacks (WE WON, BY THE WAY) at Napier’s own fanzone – an art deco-inspired theatre showing the game on the big screen, ate Pizza Hut, watched Blood Diamond, and of course put together a puzzle, among other things.

So it was a good trip. And a beautiful place. I’m very glad I went. But, as you will see in my next post, things got much more interesting when we left Napier, and decided to hitch our way back to Wellington. Stay tuned!

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A trip to the Shire!

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So my friend Kelsie and I have been super obsessed with seeing Hobbiton ever since we went on this cheaper Lord of the Rings tour just around Wellington (which, by the by, was jolly good fun) a few weeks ago. We had also heard good things about Rotorua from some of our friends who went there earlier as part of their different study abroad programs. So we planned a little weekend excursion – Kelsie, Brandi and I – involving the world’s cheapest rental car (a white Nissan Sunny???) and hostel (called Crash Palace – classic) and a relatively pricey tour around Hobbiton.

The weekend really began late the night before we planned to leave, last Thursday, when it suddenly hit me, as I was starting to get those irksome sleepy feelings, that I had yet to pack, and that none of us had bothered to get directions. Around the same time I got a facebook chat from Kelsie expressing a similar sudden freak-out about the aforementioned lack of directions, as well as the added little conundrum that the car rental place wasn’t exactly a short walk away (as in, like, an hour+ by foot) and we had no idea how we were getting there the next morning. I dunno how these little details slipped our minds, but anyway. So I hopped on Google maps and spent an hour writing down directions to and from Rotorua, and to and from Matamata. There was a curious little reason that it took me so long to write down, though. Driving to Rotorua from Wellington really only involves driving down one very long road for about 5 hours, so you would think it would be fairly simple to jot down directions. But NO. Because for some unknown reason, that ONE street that we were taking has about 18 different names, and some of them repeat and some have variations, and it’s just DUMB. And I had a serious dilemma because of course I was looking at the map as I was writing these down, so I KNEW it was only one road with 283420384 different names, but I couldn’t NOT write them all down because it’s freaking New Zealand and who knows how their roads work, ya know? Sigh. So I did all that while Kels looked up buses that would take us to the car rental place, and threw a bunch of stuff in my backpack and one other bag, and went to bed.

The next morning we left around 9, walked half an hour to this bus stop and got confused again waiting for the bus. Spent another half an hour or so just trying to figure out what we were doing and waiting for the bus to arrive. While we were sitting there, it became more and more apparent that there was, for some unknown reason, a rather large line growing even larger in size behind us. We had no idea what drew the crowd, but there appeared to be some sort of radio station booth set up in front of an Adidas store. It was very curious. In the midst of our general state of oblivion we notice a couple of security guards walk right past us, followed by a set of really big dudes with huge necks, followed by another couple of security guards. It took us a couple seconds, and a couple of people freaking out and pointing, to realize that we had just been within arm’s reach of some legit All Blacks players.  I got super excited, and announced that I planned to blog about it.

As you are probably aware, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. This created just a bit of emotional turmoil in the oldest member of our little trio, Kelsie. Being 21, and thus the onemost accepted as able to rent a vehicle (technically anyone with a license can rent cars here, but there are less strings the older you are, so we all agreed to let Kelsie do the driving for at least this first weekend trip), she was faced with somewhat of a challenge.

So we get in the car, and take our places, and we’re all ready to go. And it took us quite a bit of time to figure out exactly how to get the car to move, but our fear of embarrassing ourselves and asking the dude at the counter how to start the car was the motivating factor in trying to figure it out ourselves. After a stressful process scooting our way out of the garage, we were finally on the open NZ road. Except that really it wasn’t open at all, there were OTHER CARS ALL AROUND US. And it was mildly (read: extremely) terrifying for a spell. And Kelsie was freaking out at first. And I was doing my best to keep her calm and navigate us there in one piece, so it was rather tense in ol’ Earl (name of rented car) for a bit. But eventually things calmed down, and Kels got comfortable, and we were having a great time getting out of Wellington.

But then we realized the parking brake was on. And all hell broke loose.

Not really. I mean, the parking brake was on, and we were like “what the fuhhh?” but there wasn’t really any breaking loose of hell or anything. We just pulled over and fixed it, dying a little bit in the process.

We knew we’d arrived in Rotorua when an interesting smell of rotten eggs somehow slithered right on into Earl, infesting our nostrils and awaking our rather tired senses. We’d been warned of the sulphuric geothermal hot springs that Rotorua is so known for, so the smell itself wasn’t terribly shocking. But it was everywhere. I’m quite certain we brought some of it back with us when we came back to Wellington.

Crash Palace was a fairly epic hostel, very cozy and homey, with free pasta, rice, coffee, tea, movies, and a hot tub (which obvs we took advantage of). There was graffiti all over the place, reggae playing always, and, as per usual, a fascinating mix of people. There was a French trio who cooked green curry alongside me as I made my far less awesome toast with peanut butter and tea combo. There was a 30-year-old German guy who smelled really good. There was a Canadian kid who tried really hard to hang out with us, but he was a little strange so we wouldn’t have it. And there was an American guy who I once caught coming out of the ladies’ room, giggling at being found out. Strange. Brandi, Kelsie and I somehow got a room to ourselves, which was excellent luck considering how little we paid for it.

Since we didn’t actually arrive in Rotorua until it was dark outside, we didn’t really plan to do much besides find food and chiil. We settled in and got some dinner at this restaurant called Fat Dog, featuring a literally foot-tall veggie burger and generally overpriced food. Afterwards we wandered on over to this little convenience store because Kelsie wanted ice cream really bad.

So we get our treats, and are walking out of the store, when we hear a voice say: “Oy, are you all Americans?” Assuming we were the ones being addressed, we turned to our left and saw these two kids who appeared about our age sitting on some benches right outside. We replied that we were, instilling great excitement in the two boys and launching a thorough inquisition from them about the most random assortment of topics I’d ever heard. They asked things like:

“What’s Obama like?”

“Do you know what ‘planking’ is? Wanna see a picture of me planking?”

“Do you guys have ghettos? What are they like?”

“How’s your weed?”

“How young do kids start drinking there?”

“Is Lil Wayne still in prison?”

“Can you say ‘Bob Marley’?” (Our response, being “Uh, yes, Bob Marley,” was for some reason that I assume had something to do with our accents hilariously entertaining, and set them both off in great heaps of uncontrollable laughter.)

“Can you say ‘fish ‘n chips’?” (See above.)

“Do you really have rednecks?”

“How old are you?” (On informing them of our ages, they shocked-faced us, admitting that they had thought we were closer to their age, which was I think 17. Awkward.)

…among other things. And the three of us were so amused by these kids that we stayed there and chatted with them for maybe half an hour. We covered a world of issues, and probably the best tangent we went on began with a comment by the kid named Regan:

“You know what’s weird? Australians.”

And the other kid, Carl, kept bringing up the history of his and Regan’s friendship, one that began with Regan calling him a very racist name (Carl is Maori. Pakeha, or white, New Zealanders refer to Maori people as black. There are very few New Zealanders of actual African descent that I have seen here, and I have no idea what they, then, would be called.) and threatening to kick his ass. Not too sure exactly why they are now friends, because apparently Regan rarely associates with “black” kids. But the two were quite a pair that day, and finally left to go find some weed and sit on the beach.

The next day we woke up early to explore steamy, sulphuric Lake Rotorua, the main cause of the super-stank that infested the city. Afterwards we ate some breakfast and headed out to Matamata with Earl. The Hobbiton tour itself was, in my opinion, well worth the $60 we paid for it. We saw all the currently existant Hobbit Holes, including Bag End, and the lawn where the party scene was in the first film, among other things. It was pretty awesome, and I purchased some “SobeRing Though” ale and a shot glass at the Matamata iSite upon our return. Again, well worth it. There was really nothing all that bloggable about it, though, so I’ll let you creep on my pictures and figure it out for yourselves.

We got back to Rotorua later in the afternoon, got ourselves some nourishment, and stopped at a nearby hot springs park (free!) to check out some more steamy goodness. It was getting twilight-y, so we didn’t stay too long, but we pranced around a wee bit and Brandi found a cat to amuse herself with and I tried and failed to climb a tree, so overall success, I’d say.

That night was boring. We tried to find something to do out on the town and failed miserably. Rotorua doesn’t have quite the night life that Wellington is so graced with. So instead we stayed in again and watched movies. Le sigh. But the NEXT DAY!

…ZORBING.

Zomg, so much fun. We went fairly early in the morning because check-out time was 10 a.m. It was quite nippy out, and I was in a swimsuit, but Jesus was it worth the cold.

Zorbing, in case you aren’t aware, is the most ridiculous-looking activity I’ve ever personally witnessed. It involves a giant, clear plastic ball, probably twice my height, with a slightly smaller clear plastic ball inside of it. There’s an awkwardly small hole leading to the innards of the center ball into which those wishing to Zorb must enter. (Was that as confusing as I think it was?) A dude then shoots hot water into the hole, enough to form a butt-encompassing puddle, and it is time for Zorb-ers to get in. Said getting-in process is rather an impossible one to describe, however I shall try. Zorb-ers must, one at a time, form their bodies into a shape comparable only to that of an obscure yoga pose, with hands in praying formation held high above the head and a stance similar to Warrior III, prepped for action. A running start must then be made, followed by what should be a graceful dive into the nucleus of the Zorb. My troubles arose right around this step, when midway through my “graceful dive” I got stuck in the very grippy hole and after a series of embarrassing flails had to be pushed in from behind by the dude in charge. Awkwardness at its finest.

Anyway, so I finally got in, followed by B & K, and suddenly we were given a push and took off rolling and bouncing down a postcard-worthy New Zealand hill. We even had sheep as spectators. I really can’t even describe how fun this actual rolling part was, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. I truly felt like a hamster, and boy was it grand.

We head back home after Zorbing, driving back through the unnecessarily twisty roads through the mountains, a random military base city where we stopped to get petrol (I know, I know, military in New Zealand? Apparently, having nothing better to do, they were at one point employed in the construction of Hobbiton. True story, bro.), and a desert of sorts. We finally arrived back to Wellington as it was beginning to get dark, and had to walk about an hour back home, since the buses looked sketch and would have taken too long to wait for anyway.

Successful weekend? Yeah, I’d say so. I got to see more of New Zealand, finally, and I liked what I saw. Next trip: Kapiti Coast next weekend with IFSA-Butler. Hopefully it can compare to the awesomeness that was Rotorua.

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Major mixed feelings

Time October 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I hate to keep bringing up my dwindling time here, guys, but it’s literally unavoidable at this point, and it’s gotta be said. I’ve got about 23 days left in New Zealand. And then I go home. And I never really understood the meaning of “mixed feelings” until this point.

On the one hand, I’ve never been more ready to get home. I miss my friends, my family, my puppies. My Taco Bell cravings have gotten to that almost painful point (my friends think I’m kidding – if only they knew). And the things I would do for a Pumpkin Spice Latte right now… whooooowee. I miss Cleveland, I miss Phoenix, I even miss Case. I can’t wait for the traveling-home excitement. Even the airplane food I’ll get on the way to LAX sounds appetizing right now.

But at the same time, I’m dreading the leaving part. I have rapidly formed a new, secure life in Wellington. I’ve got real best friends here, just like I do at home. Not as many, sure, and not the same kind, but I will take these people with me wherever I go. I’ll have to explain to all my friends back home all about the things my friends here and I have done, and the effect will be lost. New Zealand is a place that quickly sucks you in with its beauty and people. I’ll be back one day, but the returning is never quite the same as that first visit to a new place. I’m going to miss it as soon as I leave, and knowing me, sometimes it’s going to be a truly painful kind of missing.

It’s the kind of feeling that I think can only be really understood by other study abroad kids. It’s great, but it also sucks. I’m in super-limbo right now.

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The first week

Time August 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

3 July, 2011

It’s Saturday, around 11:30 PM NZ time, or about 5:30 AM Cleveland time (I think). This is the first time I’ve had to actually sit down and record some thoughts about everything so far. Which means that I’ve gathered a lot of thoughts since the last time I wrote anything. It’s hard to know where to start, exactly. For now I’ll just jot some things down quickly, but if I have time I’ll get into more detail later on.

In the past 7 days I have:

  • Flown over 18 hours on various planes, finally arriving in NZ two days after leaving home (thanks to crossing the international date line). Watched the sun rise over the Auckland skyline.
  • Met over 40 new, interesting fellow adventurers from all over the US (and world).
  • Gone kayaking on the Pacific, subsequently seeing my first real shipwreck, and exploring a hidden beach only reachable by boat of some sort.
  • Relaxed in natural hot spring pools – they were really hot.
  • Seen 3 double rainbows within one day.
  • Learned a new skill I do not have – archery.
  • Learned the rules of, and – wait for it – actually PLAYED rugby. RUGBY. PLAYED.
  • …RUGBY. Yeah, I know.
  • Learned two traditional Maori songs.
  • Heard NZ babies speak with NZ accents. Adorbs.
  • Stayed a night in a Marae, witnessed a Haka, and shared meals with Maori.
  • Eaten baked beans on toast for breakfast.
  • Bought 4 cappuccinos, as well as a “short black” which apparently is a shot of espresso.
  • Tasted wine at Villa Maria estates.
  • Wandered the streets of Wellington all day, all night, in a pack of obnoxious Americans.
  • Climbed to the top of Adams Terrace and Landcross to find my place of residence for the next 4 months.

Most importantly, here’s what I’ve learned this first week:

  • I’m really not afraid of flying after all. In fact, I think it’s one of the coolest things people can do. Looking at the world from that height is surreal and freeing, kind of like peeing outside. (?)
  • NZ lingo, such as:
  • “Sweet as” = cool, legit, etc.
  • “No drama” = it’s not a problem, don’t worry about it.
  • “Flash” = cool.
  • “Nibbles” = appetizers.
  • “Sneans” = sneakers with jeans, which is apparently super socially unacceptable to wear, by the way.
  • Some Maori words, such as:
  • “Wahine” = woman
  • “Kai” = food or a meal
  • “Kia ora” = welcome.
  • where to find kiwis. (as in the birds.)
  • NZ is COLD.
  • …and expensive. :(
  • But most most importantly, I guess I’m capable of way more than I thought I was.
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The greatest things

Time August 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve been in New Zealand for two weeks and one day. I’ve been in Wellington for a week less than that.

Time goes by quickly, but every day is so full. And to think that I will still be here four months from now is a very strange feeling, indeed.

I started class yesterday. So far all I’ve had is Children’s Literature. Allow me to quickly relay the awesomeness of my book list for this class. Please, hold your applause until the end:

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Tom Brown’s Schooldays (which I have actually never heard of, but it looks like a quick read)
  • Little Women
  • Stalky & Co.
  • Five Children and It
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Autumn Term (also unheard of)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Catalogue of the Universe (sounds cool, but no idea)
  • HARRY FREAKING POTTER AND THE FREAKING PHILOSOPHER’S FREAKING STONE. OH MY GOD.

Not only have I read half of these already, but it also does not appear that I’ll be straining my brain all that much for this class, at least. Though we are expected to read one of these a week. But really, they’re kids’ books. They’re short and fun, and I’m more excited than stressed about this. Not to mention that in order to get credit for these courses back at Case, all I need to do is pass them. Good deal.

I’m gonna back up a little bit.

Here’s what’s up with my living situation:

I was the first of my flatmates to get here, so I was able to settle in pretty quickly and get my bearings and such. My place is amazing. It’s this little 4-bedroom flat on the very top of one of Wellington’s many massive hills. The view when I leave every morning is totally stunning; I can see the whole city, the campus, the coast, everything, just walking down my little street. I live with 3 other American study abroad students, 2 guys and a girl. I was kind of disappointed that I’m not living with any Kiwis, but my flatmates are pretty cool at least, and I’ve had other opportunities to meet some native New Zealanders.

There’ve been a lot of quite cool things about being abroad, but I think my favorite part of doing this has been discovering that it’s entirely possible to recreate a life for myself in a foreign country very quickly, one that’s altogether different from life at home; yet there are certain things that are shockingly similar. For example, I have found a coffee shop that I’ve deemed “mine.” Of course. (Side note: the coffee here is phenomenal, but devastatingly expensive.) It’s this little artsy place called “Midnight Espresso” that is one of the few cafés open late (til 3am!) here that is not also a bar. There are chalk drawings all along the walls, and they sell excellent vegetarian food and desserts. Sort of reminds me of Phoenix, which is probably why I initially gravitated towards it. And I’ve also made a couple of very close friends from my study abroad program, which I think has helped ward off any symptoms of homesickness. I’m grateful for that. I have a routine now, and my room has developed a sort of perpetual mess that makes me feel at home. I’m so excited to see what the next few months have in store.

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At SFO

Time August 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

26 June, 2011

So, I woke up at 5:30am this morning. Ridiculous. Yesterday was a very not good day for my mental state. Putting off packing was the worst thing I’ve ever done. I was running around all night panicking, endlessly searching my house for things that I may have forgotten. I would have started/finished sooner, except I wanted to spend every last possible minute with as many people as I possibly could. And I did get to see most of my friends a lot this past week, which was really nice. Leaving was harder than I anticipated, though. I’ll only be gone less than five months, but considering I have no idea what to expect during that time, it’s more than a little daunting. So the excitement is still pending. As soon as I actually meet some people I’ll feel better. But my layover in SFO is 8 hours long, and the Air New Zealand check-in counter doesn’t open for another 2.5 hours. So I’ve got a bit of down time, which for me equals a lot of freak-out time.

Speeeaking of SFO. It’s a cool place. This is my first time on the West Coast, let alone in California, but I really can’t even leave the airport, so that’s a little stupid. I had a brief scare when I first got here and couldn’t find my luggage, thinking that I had checked my stuff so it would be sent here; apparently, the baggage peeps just went ahead and sent it to Auckland for me. Phew.

Random interesting events that have kept me slightly entertained:

Checking into the Cleveland airport, I discovered that an old supervisor of mine when I worked at Marc’s is now doing security for good ol’ Cleveland-Hopkins. He totally remembered me, and was all “OH HEYYY” when I saw him. Awkward.

I had an interesting encounter with this chick working at a gift shop. I was just walking around, trying to fill my 8-hour gap somehow, and I go into this CNBC News shop, which is basically just full of books and magazines and random gifty things that I really would never buy but that’s how bored I am here. As soon as I walk in, this lady pounced on me, said she was so incredibly bored because she had to work until 4 and no one was coming in and would I please just talk to her for a little while? And I was like, “Umm.” But then I, too, was bored out of my mind, so I bit the bullet and let her talk at me for like 20 minutes about her favorite books (I noticed a general theme of really cheesy/inspirational-type books, the kind that I tend to run away from, etc.) and how she hates celebrities and how she came here from China so her parents expect a lot from her but really she just wants to invest in a farm and grow some crops, etc., etc. I nodded a lot. That was my second favorite part of this airport excursion.

My actual favorite part was right after that whole luggage freak-out debacle, when I was just calming down, and I found an ACTUAL Peet’s Coffee shop in a little food court! For those who don’t know, the SAGES Cafe (where I used to work) sells Peet’s coffee, which is, obviously, the best. But the closest actual Peet’s Coffee SHOP is in Illinois. So needless to say, I was super pumped about this discovery. I took a picture. And bought an iced mocha. So good.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. Just waiting, waiting, waiting…

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Random NZ Facts!

Time August 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Taken from my Lonely Planet New Zealand guide…


Population: 4.4 million

Area: 268,680 sq. km (bigger than UK, similar to Colorado?)

GDP growth (as of 2009): -1%

Inflation: 2%

Unemployment: 6.5%

MOST IMPORTANTLY… Total number of snakes: 0 (!!!!YES)

Species of native mammals: 2 (both bats)

Distance between N and S Islands: 23 km, 14 miles

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Belated Pre-Departure Thoughts

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

I’ve been in New Zealand for 2 weeks now, but this is the first chance I’ve had to post. Before I left I wrote down some things I was thinking amidst all the chaos of leaving, and I figured it’d be good to share these thoughts with anyone who might go through this in the future! So it’s a bit late, but here’s what was in my head before I flew to NZ:

Being on the verge of going abroad has had some interesting side effects that I was never really aware would happen until quite recently.

Side note/background:

  • My decision to go to New Zealand as opposed to, say, London or Germany or any of my other top choices was fueled mostly by the unlikelihood that I will ever be able to spend an extended period of time in such a place again. I’m sure that if I find myself with a large income and a large amount of free time at some point in the future (e.g. my round trip flight cost $2018, and it will entail over 24 hours of travel/waiting-in-airports time), I could manage a trip out to New Zealand, but when will I ever be able to actually live there again? I know I’ll certainly never again be a student there – this was my one chance to become as immersed in New Zealand culture as possible.
  • Another reason I chose to go to New Zealand was because I know practically nothing about it – I have seen pictures of the astoundingly beautiful scenery within its borders, but apart from its famous appearance, I know little about the country. I have already been to Europe (see pictures below) and I know I will inevitably return one day, for far cheaper travel costs than going to NZ entails. I’d like to experience the newness that NZ holds for me.

Anyway, here’s what’s so weird about getting ready to leave the country for a semester:

– Since I’m only in the US for about half of my regular summer vacation, I didn’t bother finding a new job or taking classes or anything. So really, all I’ve been doing is attempting to hang out with as many people as I can, and otherwise a lot of nothing. Unfortunately, a common side effect of doing nothing productive is having a lot of free time to think about, or rather, stew in, all the worries I have about leaving for a relatively long time. Worries such as:

  • Getting lost in the airport(s) [this will be my first time flying alone]
  • Dying on one of the many flights I will be taking
  • Not making friends
  • Getting lost in Wellington (really, just getting lost anywhere. I’m not very good with directions)
  • Failing school (probably won’t happen, but it’s an irrational fear)
  • Losing touch with friends at home

Meanwhile, I’ve been having all these fears and such at the same time as I’ve been in this weird transitional month in which I don’t really know where I should be, or what I should be doing. To clarify: usually, summer is a time in which most of my friends either find some epic internship, job, volunteer work, class, etc… and normally, I would, too. Instead, I’ve got no responsibilities apart from planning for my trip, while everyone I normally hang out with is loaded with them. It’s disconcerting.

So in order to combat this, I’ve been keeping busy, making list after list of things I should/just want to get done before I go. But too much list-making has an eerie quality to it. Not a fan.

I kind of just want these next few weeks before I go to be done already, and I can’t wait to be on my way to Wellington.

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