Today is for the most important of activities – relaxation. The past week and a half has been filled with wonderful friends, great explorations, and plenty of lessons. Any attempt to explain in full detail what I’m experiencing would be futile, so I’ll try and give you just a tasty sampling.
Transitioning to New Zealand has been a growing experience. I’ve lived life on the road, away from any semblance of home, but this has been completely new. After enjoying (no sarcasm) a twelve-hour plane ride and going through a very lax customs procedure, I stepped out into the warm Auckland air on the 31st of January. I arrived a few days early so that I could get a feel for this unique city, so I came with only a phone number, a hope, and a prayer. The kiwis are very friendly people, though, and I had little trouble finding my way. For the next two days I roamed Auckland, the City of Sails.
The city is very beautiful, situated amidst mountains and islands. The first day I ferried out to Rangitoto, a volcanic island absolutely covered in trees and volcanic rock. The summit afforded a spectacular view of Auckland, the surrounding coastline, and the bay. Even more stunning was the utter silence and darkness of the nearby lava caves. On day two I biked around (and managed to get a flat tire three miles away) and sailed the harbor with a group on an America’s Cup yacht. Afterwards, I found out that the wind was about twice as strong as the boat’s capacity, but a confident crew can make even the worst of situations look completely in control. The ozone isn’t particularly thick here, so even with sunscreen my winter-toned skin was getting a little rosy.
Next came IFSA-Butler study abroad New Zealand orientation. These three days on the Whangaparoa peninsula nurtured the formation of friendships with other Butler participants that will no doubt grow into meaningful relationships. And it was the perfect introduction to the place they call nature’s playground. Our lodge was surrounded by hills, beaches, cliffs, and all varieties of natural phenomena. I got to know some awesome people while enjoying great activities. We enjoyed kayaking, orienteering, swimming, coasteering, and rugby, among other things. Some of us even got to stand on the steam pipe of a shipwreck in the bay! While doing this I think we realized that all of us had a certain piece of our personalities that we held in common. While I can’t pin it to one word, the characteristics of being venturesome, active, and eager all seem to capture a little bit of that quality. As I said, these are awesome people, and I enjoyed every minute with them.
The final night of orientation occurred at a marae south of Auckland. The marae is the traditional meeting/sleeping/living grounds of the Maori people. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the night happened when a group performed for us a mix of song and dance dating far back in Maori history. No one would disagree (especially not the ladies) that the best part was the co-performance by the Maori performers and the IFSA-Butler guy students of the haka, the (shirtless) war dance. I lost my voice after three minutes of the haka, so I marveled at those manly Maori men who used to scream it out for half an hour at a time. Of course, the Maori are not without their fine culture as well. We heard history from the Maori perspective from a woman who was instrumental in reviving Maori culture in the 1970’s. It was a rare privilege to hear.
Our arrival into Dunedin was greeted with cheers and celebration. For months in preparation to begin studying abroad in New Zealand, I’ve been reading about Dunedin, talking about Dunedin, dreaming about Dunedin. Now my destination was spread before me – and just like my arrival into Auckland, I felt a little lost. But the city is closed in by hills on every side, which makes it cozy and close, provided you have enough warm clothes. So literally and metaphorically, I’m living on the other side of the hill – a completely different place.
We wasted no time exploring – getting to know the city, our neighbors, and trying to find internet service. Although I still under-appreciate many facets of the American lifestyle, the abundant availability of wireless internet is something I will henceforth call a blessing. The same goes for cell phones, food, cars, and anything else you might need in life. We’ve got each other and support from all of you back in the States (which, along with our Butler rep is a sufficient safety net), but we’re kind of on our own for most things. I came here to have my eyes opened wider and my heart grown, and in this short time it has already begun.
Aside from stocking my flat (housing spot), I’ve been enjoying ‘old’ friends, making new ones, and having a look around to see what has been so great in my anticipation. Just yesterday several of us traveled out onto the Otago peninsula, hiking up to see Larnach castle, a unique historical landmark of Dunedin. This morning I ran up Signal Hill, which gave me a great sense of where the city lies on the coast. But we’ve got plenty of things to do and plenty of time to go. School doesn’t start until March 2nd!