The Soft Pretzel That Brought Me To Tears: A Tragedy

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Kia ora, friends- hello from beautiful, cold, and rainy Dunedin, New Zealand! This past weekend marked my one-month anniversary of arriving at the University of Otago, where I will be studying for the next three months. After several disastrous attempts to locate my classes during the first week, one awful bout of the flu, and much exploration of the Dunedin area, I finally feel (relatively) settled in here.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting human phenomena is memory through smell. Everyone should understand what this means: you’re casually minding your own business and enjoying your day when suddenly you’re hit with a smell (sometimes great, sometimes terrible) that reminds you of an incredibly specific occasion. Interestingly, I haven’t been experiencing homesickness in New Zealand, unless I suddenly catch a whiff of a Philadelphia-esque scent. This probably sounds bizarre, but it’s true! Here are a few scent-induced episodes of homesickness that I’ve encountered in Kiwiland:

  1. Homesickness by pretzel: a few days ago, I was on a hiking trip in Queenstown, a popular skiing village in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. After a long day of trekking, I stopped in a bakery with a few friends to peruse the treats available and came across a beautiful SOFT PRETZEL! In all honesty, it was a lame soft pretzel compared to some of the luscious, salty, Philly-style ones at home, but it still had that incredible, pretzel-y smell that we Philadelphians adore so much. Oddly, the pretzel scent immediately caused me to recall happy memories from home and my eyes started to well up. I looked like an absolute freak and may have scared some small children out of the shop.
  2. Homesickness by melted cheese: back home, my all-time favorite Philadelphia restaurant is Parc, a French-Belgian eatery located on Rittenhouse Square. Without a doubt, the best dish there is French onion soup, which is loaded with layers of delicious, melted gruyere cheese. Last week, my flatmates and I decided to have a flat dinner of shepherd’s pie (a very common Kiwi meal), which consists of mince (ground beef), cheese, potato, and other yummy items baked in a large pan. After the shepherd’s pie came out of the oven, the layer of cheese baked onto the top smelled exactly the cheese in Parc’s soup and gave me some very nostalgic vibes.
  3. Homesickness by old books: one of my favorite childhood memories is accompanying my Dad to lots of local Philadelphia thrift shops to hunt for books and cool art. The smell associated with this experience is not particularly pleasant- it’s a combination of moldy paper, dust, and general mustiness. During my art history class this morning, we visited the Hocken Collection at the University of Otago, where many old books, paintings, and illustrations are housed. As soon as I caught a whiff of that musty old book scent, I immediately thought about my dad and started to feel pretty down.

Luckily, there are several things that I’ve discovered in New Zealand that remind me of how much I love my new home and help to reduce any homesickness I experience! Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Pineapple lumps. By far the best New Zealand candy that I have discovered so far! These consist of squishy, pineapple-flavored marshmallow coated in a thin layer of milk chocolate. Be warned Americans- most of my friends from the US who have also tried pineapple lumps think that they’re disgusting. I, however, strongly disagree!
  2. Ravensbourne track. This is a small running/walking/biking track a mile from my flat in Dunedin. It runs about 10 km down the Otago coastline, is generally empty, and has incredible views of the Otago harbor. When I run here, I feel like I am basically in a Baby Einstein “ocean sounds” video- nothing is more soothing than fresh breeze and flowing water!
  3. Ginger slice. Right by the old Dunedin railway station, there is an awesome coffee shop called “Morning Magpie” that sells all sorts of tasty coffees and pastries. However, my total favorite pastry to buy is the “ginger slice,” which is a thick, cookie base covered in ginger cream and topped with crystallized ginger chunks. Something that I definitely want to incorporate into my US snacking habits is ginger! Why don’t Americans eat more ginger?!

Although this blog post has taken several unusual turns (tears by pretzel; Baby Einstein), the general message rings true: study abroad, while filled with many excellent moments, also has its fair share of unpleasant incidents, including illness and homesickness. There was one day last week that I couldn’t drag myself out of bed because I was missing my family so much. However, these incidents are most definitely outweighed by the day-to-day discoveries and excitement that I encounter in New Zealand.

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Enjoying a caramel slice (the cousin of ginger slice) at Morning Magpie.

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