Break the Mold

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I’m a lazy introvert. My idea of a good time used to be sitting in my room watching TV. Don’t get me wrong, there are many good things about it, but it felt kind of empty. This habit persisted through my college years, and even into the beginning of my abroad experience. I traveled most weekends, so my only time to myself was a few hours each weekday, which didn’t seem excessive. Then spring break came, and I found myself leaving the friendly confines of my flat in Christchurch, New Zealand and traveling over the length of New Zealand’s north island for 10 days.

I had really been looking forward to this since the north island is very different from the rugged wilderness of the south island. However, 4 cities in 10 days meant a lot of traveling, and not a lot of resting. When my plane arrived into Wellington very early on the first day of break, I spent the rest of the day visiting sights around the city, mostly on foot. By the end, I was ready to just lay down and relax, which I did. The second day was similar, but at a more reasonable pace, and taking a bus to some further away locations, such as the Weta Cave where they house props from movies they produce such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Chronicles of Narnia, Planet of the Apes, and many others.

Returning to my room that night after eating a lovely dinner on the waterfront thanks to some very conveniently placed food trucks felt boring in some ways. I was not tired. I felt like there was more I should be doing around the city. So I decided to walk to the closest bar and just relax there for the rest of the evening. The bar was a small welsh sports pub with a nice fireplace in the one corner. I went up the bar and ordered myself a nice beer, content with just watching the rugby game. I could overhear the gentleman beside me talking to the bartender, judging him to be a regular by their conversation. We exchanged a few pleasantries as the night went on. At one point I left to walk around the rest of the building, and when I returned, I had a full glass of beer, courtesy of the gentleman next to me. I thanked him of course and started to chat with him. He was born and raised near Wellington, and had never left the country. I could tell his view of the United States was heavily influenced by movies and TV shows, many of which I had seen and could adjust to his views accordingly. We talked for quite a bit, then he invited me to stay a little later as trivia was soon starting. I stayed and, despite an embarrassing loss, had a fantastic time. I walked back to my hotel room and fell right asleep, ready for my next day full of travel.

The next few days I spent in a very small town in the central region of the north island. I was able to hire a car, which allowed me to extend the range of my sightseeing and hiking experiences. I would return in the early afternoon, and be ready to walk around town for more sightseeing, but there was none. So, I decided to go to the town’s one pub and unwind there. As I was watching more rugby, I engaged in casual conversation with the bartender, who helped me finally understand what was going on during a rugby game. I also spent some time talking about the social differences I found between New Zealand and the States. In my limited experiences of interacting with strangers in suburban Pennsylvania, I had always found people generally nice, but not always welcoming of conversation. Kiwis had seemed slightly less nice, to the point of not acknowledging me as I walked by on the street. However, when I did engage in conversation, it was much more likely to become a meaningful conversation rather than the empty “Hi, how are you?” that Americans are so familiar with.

This is when I first started to wonder if I am missing out of these conversations in my daily life back home. Would people be willing to talk beyond the status of the weather and share experiences they have had or their thoughts on society in the States? It’s easy to start a conversation with someone who is clearly from somewhere foreign (me in this case), but would I be able to do that with other Americans? Would they think I was just trying to sell them something or recruit them for a pyramid scheme? I started to have these doubts as I realized speaking to people in serious dialogue is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had and something I needed to continue doing after my departure from New Zealand.

My pattern of visiting rolled over into my next two city visits. Flying back to Christchurch, I felt the comfort of my flat again, but had a desire to get outside somewhere and interact with a real person. The following day I left to Queenstown for the second week of break with some of my friends. When we arrived, we were all tired and wanted to spend the evening relaxing. I managed to talk them in to going out and spending time at a local restaurant/pub. The one I selected had a great reputation for its welcoming atmosphere. It was situated overlooking the lake, with candles on each table and several outdoor fire rings. It was indeed a wonderful atmosphere for talking to my friends and finding out how their trips to Fiji, Bali, and other exotic places had been the previous week. Unfortunately, they soon grew bored and elected to return to the hostel rooms and watch TV there.

My discovery of the importance of social interaction had not reached these people, who would rather just relax in front of a screen instead of holding a meaningful conversation with people, just as I had preferred several months prior. Of course, it did feel good to just sit on a comfortable couch and let my mind float off, especially after several days of straight travel. But I still felt like there was more I could be getting from that experience. I made sure my next excursions around New Zealand and over to Australia after the semester were inclusive of enough sightseeing to know I had actually been to these places, but allowing myself time to interact with the people there. I still try to make time to interact with my friends in some regard where we just sit peacefully and talk, with no technology involved, sharing experiences, and allowing our minds to grow.

Article by Josh Custer