Hello From New Zealand!

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Hi there!

Seeing as this is my first post, I’ll tell you a bit about myself.  My name’s Jake and I’m a Secondary Education/History major at Temple, but I’m writing to you from New Zealand, nearly 10,000 miles from home.  I’ve wanted to come here since I was fifteen years old and first heard of the country.  The fact that it’s a young country (only inhabited by humans for about a thousand years), has one of the most pristine environments on earth, and was once an English colony that dealt with various social issues concerning the native people (the Maoris), have all contributed to my desire to come here.  It took the better part of a decade, but I am finally here.  Although I’ve only been here for a week, I feel that I can say it’s been worth the wait.  Also, I didn’t come alone – my girlfriend of almost five years, Sam, is also studying abroad at the same school.  She’ll be mentioned throughout my posts, and took many of the pictures I will post.  I’ll now recount the events that lead to my arrival in the country.

Sam and I flew from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last Sunday.  We stayed with our friends who live out there named Cecelia and Chris.  It was my first time on the west coast, and I can’t understand why.  It was a wonderful/totally surreal time.  There was a skatepark ON Venice Beach, meandering canals, parrots, and more cross-dressers than you could shake a stick at!  While we were walking along the canals of Venice, we came across a young lady standing in a cardboard box.  She was handing out flowers to passersby (under the supervision of her mum).  Undoubtedly, the cutest thing I ever did see.  There’s a place in Los Angeles called the La Brea Tar Pits, where they excavated (and continue to do so) a giant tar pit and made a museum to display their findings.  During our short visit, we were lucky enough to eat (probably our favorite past-time) fish tacos, our first In-N-Out Burgers, Argentinian tapas, and lots of avocados.

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Clockwise:  Sunset at Venice Beach, Wooly Mammoth at La Brea Tar Pits, Cecilia Gets a Flower, Skatepark on Venice Beach.

This brings us to the 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland.  While the plane and our seats seemed rather spacious in the beginning, by the seventh hour things started getting a bit claustrophobic.  However, we arrived in New Zealand after stealing a few hours of sleep.  Even though we felt disgusting and uncomfortable, seeing the country for the first time made us forget about all of that, and we took in the beauty of our new home.

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We landed in Auckland around 8:00am where we met the IFSA-Butler team (the people who run the program I used to get to New Zealand) along with the staff of the YMCA camp from Whangaparaoa.  I will refer to this conglomerate of people as the Orientation Crew from here on out, if that’s quite alright with you.  Great!  Below is a map that I will reference so you can get an idea of where I went.

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The star on the map marks Auckland, and the southernmost circle is Dunedin.  The Orientation Crew brought us to the YMCA Camp on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula (marked by the small circle above the star on the map) after we landed.  There were 43 of us, the majority would study in Dunedin (like me!), but about ten were going to Christchurch following the four-day orientation.  Naturally, we were all exhausted from the plane ride, so the Orientation Crew decided that the reasonable thing to do was to take us out kayaking in the ocean, cliff jumping, and then heading out to a water park.  While this idea seemed unpleasant when they announced it on the way to the camp, it ended up being the best thing for us, as we all collapsed in our beds at the end of the day, and got a fantastic night’s rest.  The camp itself was quite beautiful, overlooking the ocean, and surrounded by a hill upon which many sheep grazed.  Here’s a look:

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Over the course of our time at the YMCA Camp, I was lucky enough to experience and try many things for the first time.  This included new activities like archery, orienteering, and ‘touch’ rugby.  I am reluctant to believe that such a thing as touch rugby exists because while deliberate injury was forbidden, this did not diminish the inherent violence that comes with the sport.  However, I made it out with nothing more than a nice gash on my face.   I was also introduced to some new food at the camp, like beans/spaghetti on toast, various ‘hokey-pokey’ (or honey-comb) flavored sweets, and most importantly, L&P, a soft drink similar to a blend of Sprite and Ginger Ale.  These things aside, it doesn’t seem like there is a distinct New Zealand cuisine.  Rather, it is a blending of culinary practices from the UK and various Asian countries.

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Now, a bit on the Maoris.  The Maoris are the first known inhabitants of New Zealand, and traveled via canoe from Eastern Polynesian islands to the country sometime around 1250-1300 A.D.  Despite their recent arrival (historically speaking), they have a very rich history and tradition that has enjoyed enormous success and suffered major blows, particularly upon the introduction of Europeans.  Today, the Maori people preserve their culture so that it will continue to grow, and so that non-Maoris may learn about their way of life.  However, they are a fully integrated people.  A wonderful woman named Mrs. Simons (a second mother to me), had asked me if the Maoris were an assimilated people.  For example, do they use cell phones and other modern technological devices?  I did not know the answer prior to my departure, but I was soon to find out.  Our group was fortunate enough to visit a Marae, a Maori meeting place committed to the preservation of the tradition.  I was especially lucky in that I was one of the two ‘elected’ chiefs of our group.  As a chief, I lead our group up to the Marae, where we removed our shoes, and entered the building.  When inside, an exchange between the Maoris and our visiting group ensued.  Myself and the other chief made speeches in the Maori language speaking of gratitude to our hosts, accompanied by songs performed by our entire group.  It was a truly unique experience, and I am certain that I will not soon forget it.  We were taken on a tour of a replica of a traditional Maori village, and watched a group of Maoris perform various songs, dances, and recall stories.  While the Maoris do a great deal of work to honor their history and make it available to others, they participate and enjoy most aspects of life that non-Maoris do, to answer Mrs. Simons’ question.  The founder of the Marae we visited, Thomas, was consistently using his cell phone, and wore suit pants, dress shoes, and a button-up shirt all through our visit – a far cry from the traditional dress.  We bonded a great deal with the Maoris over the course of our visit, and learned more than we could have hoped.  Leaving the next morning was an emotional experience.  We sang a song to the Maoris as we drove away on our bus.  Ka kite, ka kite, ka kite ano.  We’ll see you, we’ll see you, we’ll see you again.

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Clockwise:  Maori Dance and Song, M’self Giving a Speech, Up Close and Personal with the Maoris.

Just as soon as we left the Maoris, we arrived at the airport to fly to Dunedin, our home for the next five months.  We sat next to a young man on the plane from Malaysia whose name was Colin.  He’s going to Otago for the next four years, and only brought one suitcase!  From that point on, we’ve made a great deal of new friends and acquaintances of people from all over the world.  More on that in my next blog,  where I will also go into detail about my flat, Dunedin, and my new school.  Until then, take care.

~Jake

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