Author Archives: lulupeach

About lulupeach

Junior environmental science major with geology and French minors at Temple University. Currently residing in: Dunedin, New Zealand (University of Otago). Contact information: lulu.peach@temple.edu

At Home Reflections and Onward….

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More than three weeks have passed since I left my flat in Dunedin, New Zealand, and started the long voyage back to Philadelphia. After sobbing on the flight to Auckland during the Air New Zealand safety video, falling asleep on the floor of LAX, and finally arriving in the City of Brotherly Love, I am slowly readjusting to life in the United States. Although I am seriously enjoying some aspects my American reintroduction (especially Reading Terminal Market, black coffee, and the busy city atmosphere), I find myself occasionally drifting into sadness when I recall specific day-to-day memories from my Dunedin life. When I walk by the Schuykill River, I can’t help but think about the Leith River winding through Otago’s campus and feel a little blue. I miss my Monday afternoon lox and toast from Good Earth, and living with my sweet flatmates.

It’s really hard. Really REALLY hard, like the kind of hard that makes your head hurt. All of a sudden, the people and places that have surrounded me for the past five months are gone, and it’s likely that I’ll never see many of them again. Small things make me feel like crying because they are reminiscent of Dunedin- an ad for a popular candy, a receipt in my wallet from a restaurant, my University of Otago student I.D. I have become so comfortable with my identity in New Zealand that I forgot what unsureness in the United States felt like. Will I be able to continue approaching life with the same degree of ease, or will I settle back into familiar traps? Most of all, I worry that I’ll become depressed or that my anxiety will rear its ugly head.

But then again, even if I’m not in New Zealand, I retain the new ways with which I approach the world. I am appreciating Philadelphia’s capacious avenues in a way that I never thought to as a child or teenager. I try to imagine the Philly skyline as a person who has never witnessed it before. An unusual feeling of joy comes to me; for the first time, I feel genuinely privileged and happy to live in a place that has seen so many stages of my life.

What is a “home?” A home is a sacred space, a space filled with love and support. It is security and safely; it is concrete and also intangible; it is whole. It is a collection of people as much as it is four stable walls. The Philadelphia area is my home; it is my birthplace, the place where I splashed in fountains with my sister as a child and sat in the park with my mom and said my first words. It is the place that led me to New Zealand to begin with. New Zealand is my home. It is where I felt like a true adult for the first time and lived away from my American life and experienced total isolation. It is where I met true friends and established my own away-from-home family. I cannot wait to meet my next home. Wherever it may be, may we meet with open hearts. I look forward to the families that you will create for me.

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Home is…. warm socks, mountains, beat-up cars, and a good shoulder to lean on.

 

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Goodbye For Now….

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10 months ago, I sat in my apartment, surrounded by travel documents and dried-out highlighters as I revised study abroad application essays and scrambled to find a passport photo in which I did not look like an exhausted axe murderer. I was having weekly anxiety attacks, going through a really rough patch of seasonal depression, and living almost entirely on a diet of black beans and Greek yogurt. My hair started falling out in the shower, I was completely overcommitted to work, class, and extra activities, and I was getting at best six hours of sleep a night.

10 months later, I am not depressed, less anxious than ever, and sitting in a very cute Airbnb in Melbourne, quite full of Ethiopian food (red lentils and rice to be exact) and some fancy gelato. I am a resident of Dunedin, New Zealand. I live on Cumberland Street and there’s a little patch of daisies in my backyard that I like to pluck at when I read in the grass. There are two windows in my bedroom; one faces the Otago clocktower, and the other looks out onto a very perky magnolia tree. My room smells like vanilla because I like to light candles while I paint, and under my bed there is a sushi-print sock that I am too lazy to retrieve.

I live thousands of miles away from my entire family and many friends, who I have not seen for more than five months, but I am okay with that. I miss them from time to time, but I know that we love one another and will see each other eventually. I like having a residence that is temporary, not living in the same place for more than a year at a time before going on to the next. I think that after I graduate I am going to keep this up for a little while, go to grad school somewhere far from Philadelphia and travel as much as possible while I’m young. I love to be with people, but I also don’t mind being alone.

People are always coming up with excuses for not doing things, even things that they’ve thought endlessly about. Before I left for New Zealand, there were hundreds of possible adverse scenarios that I came up with that could’ve prevented me from going. How do you get a visa? What if I get really sick and don’t have enough money to fly home? What if I’m miserable and hate it? As much as these thoughts plagued me, I knew that NOT going to New Zealand would be much worse than not trying to go at all. Even negative experiences produce meaningful thought, experience, and perspective. Living in New Zealand could’ve been a complete disaster, but it ended up being the single most important experience of my life thus far. I feel so much more comfortable with myself, have a much clearer vision of how I want to live my life in the upcoming years, and think in a healthier, more optimistic way.

My final message is simple: just DO things. Don’t overthink! Don’t procrastinate! If you truly are interested in doing something, use every means possible to make it happen, go with the flow, and enjoy the outcome. Doing something is better than worrying and doing nothing. A few bumps on the way to completing the thing of your dreams is better than a regretful life. My dad had an opportunity to live in England for 6 months when he was younger and he STILL regrets not going 30 years later. “No regrets” is the phrase to live by!

Finally, I would like to make one small, shameless plug for New Zealand. This entire blogging experience has been my love letter to the country where I felt like a full-blown adult for the first time in my life. I know that the flight from the United States to New Zealand is a brutal one, but oh mama is it worth it. New Zealand is the land of minimalism, environmental mindfulness, “tramping,” and pure happiness. The water is more blue, the air smells more sweet, and the grass is more green that any place I have and probably ever will visit. There is such a sense of wholesomeness and joy that permeates every sheep-ridden valley and snow capped peak of this gorgeous country. Thinking about leaving makes me want to cry, but I have no doubt that I will return in the (hopefully not too distant future). New Zealand, I love you long time. Thank you for all you have given me.

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“The most beautiful place on Earth.”

A Thrift Paradise: Minimalism and NZ Fashion Thoughts

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What movie instantly comes to mind when you hear “the nineties?” I think immediately of the Clueless crew- Cher Horowitz, Dionne, Ty, and their band of glamorous Californian sidekicks. The quintessentially nineties fashion, music, and chaos that ensues in that movie has made a serious comeback in American mainstream culture. Interestingly enough, it appears that 90s culture is also thriving in New Zealand. On my first day at the University of Otago (after getting severely lost and frantically asking the international office for directions), I felt like I had stepped into Cher’s high school in the Valley. Never before had I seen such a concentrated group of long-haired boys carrying longboards and sauntering around in high top Vans! Or girls wearing overalls! Or dreadlocks! Or denim jean skirts! It was as if I stepped out of Doc Brown’s Delorean and into a grungy nineties wonderland!

Dunedin students are at a definite fashion advantage due to an abundance of local thrift shops. At home, I thrifted loosely, getting a cool sweater or pair of jeans from Philly Aids Thrift or the Salvation Army in Manayunk, but the majority of my clothing came from chains like Urban Outfitters or Zara. As soon as I got to New Zealand and realized how much I would be spending on hiking/camping/skiing/living the outdoorsy but also not cheap NZ lifestyle, I decided that shopping for new clothing from expensive, popular chains was not a priority. Instead, I decided to scope out the best thrift shops in Dunedin, get rid of clothing that I no longer liked/wore, and spend my time looking for inexpensive, funky pieces that I could love for a little while and later recycle. At first, I started out with a specific clothing item in mind- I love turtlenecks not only because they make me look like female Steve Jobs but also because there’s something very snuggly and safe about having your neck covered. After scoring a few really cute turtlenecks, I branched out to high-waisted jeans. It’s really hard for me to find pants that fit me in the legs and waist, so I started buying comfy men’s jeans and re-sewing them so that they fit properly. Two months in, I had a pretty solid set of basic thrifted pieces (all for a total of 25 NZD!!) and started to look for brighter/more unique items to add. My most recent favorite is a bright pink short sleeved sweater that makes me look like an extra in an 80’s exercise video.

Now, with only two (sad!) weeks left in Dunedin, I own a wardrobe that has been almost entirely thrifted. After accumulating so much funky vintage garb, I decided to sort through the clothing that I brought with me to Dunedin and ended up donating a lot of it to Salvation Army. As I mentioned in a previous post for the Temple Study Abroad blog, consumer culture has really gotten me down recently. Through thrifting, I have escaped from the sameness and apathy that is associated with massive clothing chains and fast fashion. Rather than just wearing whatever clothing item is currently popular, I find it rewarding to hunt for special items that no one else will own. To me, hunting through a thrift shop is a therapeutic experience. If I’m having a particularly rough day, I can pop in my headphones, grab a hot chocolate, and wander through rows and rows of orphaned clothing. Sometimes I feel like my mood is particularly cyclic or lacking in some way, and finding/wearing the right clothing item can help to put me in a healthier mindset. Being able to recycle and replenish my wardrobe in a way that is so cheap and entertaining has also taught me to be more conscious about other products that I buy. I realized a few weeks ago how bothered I am by the amount of waste that is produced just from my weekly food shopping, so I started buying almost exclusively items that do not require packaging, carry a reusable bag/mug everywhere, and decided to go vegetarian (for the animals but also for the ozone layer)!

Once again, New Zealand has proven that minimalism triumphs. This, more than anything else, is what I am going to take back with me to the US in two weeks. I cannot emphasize enough the increased mental ease, happiness, and appreciation of life that I have gained through living a simpler life in Dunedin. This has been a result of multiple small changes that all started with my thrifting excursions. If you do not deeply connect with personal belongings, people, or jobs, cut them loose.  Time passes ridiculously quickly. Life is too short for rude people, bland food, and boring outfits!

For any friends reading this who are looking to thrift a little bit in Dunedin, here is a tiny list of my top 5 recommendations:

  1. Salvation Army – this is my personal favorite! I like to start at the front where all of the women’s pants are located and work my way back to the 50 cent rack (I have scored many cute 50 cent items here!). Salvation Army is also cool because you can buy other neato things in addition to clothes. I got a nice little needle/thread set and some books the last time I popped in.
  2. Vincent de Paul – the first time I visited this shop, I was not impressed but went back again and found so many things I liked. St. Vincent de Paul is more hit-or-miss than Salvation Army, but will deliver some really awesome items from time to time. My 80’s sweater (as discussed earlier) is an example!
  3. The Hospice Shop – in terms of pants/tops, the Hospice Shop is not great. However, my friends and I have had a lot of success with finding cool coats/jackets here. Slightly pricier than the first two but worth it for a nice fluffy jacket.
  4. Paper Bag Princess – in terms of ambiance/cool stuff, Paper Bag Princess definitely wins! I’ve been to locations in Dunedin and Wellington and both have unique clothing. PBP is also expensive for a thrift shop- be prepared to spend a little extra $$ if you plan to shop here.
  5. The Dunedin Vintage Market – to be honest I have no idea when this will happen again but it’s a real good time! The market is a pop-up event that lots of local Dunedin vendors come to to sell vintage jewelry, gifts, costumes, clothing, etc. I bought a really awesome pair of jangly earrings with blue stones for $10 and my friend Alex got a really suave looking velvet jacket that makes him look like a magician. When I went, the market was right by the Octagon in Burns Hall.
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Modeling a groovy turtleneck and (not so well seen) high-waisted black jeans that I resewed! Hooray!

 

Abel Tasman and New Zealand Backpacking Psychology

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What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word “backpacking?” My mind immediately wanders to the Gilmore Girls revival, in which Lorelai Gilmore abandons her attempt to do the Pacific Crest Trail after realizing that she can’t fit freeze-dried mac n’ cheese into her pack. Maybe you think of adventure, campfires, and fresh air. Or perhaps you cringe at the thought of spending even one night in a tent. In New Zealand, backpacking culture is everywhere. Tourists come from all over the globe to explore New Zealand’s national parks and live for a week in the bush. Much like the other international students at University of Otago, I arrived in New Zealand with the intention of hiking, camping, and adventuring all over the country as frequently as possible. Although I had a good amount of experience car camping, I had never been backpacking before, but knew that my first backpacking adventure should absolutely take place in New Zealand.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to do the Abel Tasman National Park coastal track with several friends. Our plan was to conquer a total of 60 kilometers (37.5 miles) in four days, with three nights of camping. To be honest, I didn’t think much of our trip until the morning of our departure arrived- I was an experienced camper and hiker, and didn’t see how backpacking could be much different. After cramming bug spray, cooking gas, and a sleeping bag into my already bulging pack, I felt ready to conquer Abel Tasman.

During the first day of our trek, I felt tranquil and completely at ease. Although we arrived at Te Pukatea, our first campsite, a bit later than expected, our first meal and night in the tent went smoothly. However, the hours that ensued were much more challenging than I anticipated. After about 3 miles into the day, my head began to hurt from dehydration. Unlike much of New Zealand, the water at Abel Tasman has to be treated before consumption, so I was unable to fill my bottle at a stream nearby. My pack, which weighed about 25kg, dug into my shoulders and made it harder to march along the path. After hiking, driving, and being slightly uncomfortable during my first night on the ground, I felt exhausted. However, we had a total of eight hiking hours to catch up with friends who started the track a day earlier, and I had to find ways to entertain my mind- otherwise time would pass excruciatingly slowly.

At first, all I could think about was my own discomfort, but I gradually became appreciative of the fact that my body was physically capable of hiking so far while carrying such weight. I noticed the way that my feet softened to the contours of the track, the way that my lungs filled with air as I stopped and took a look at the view, the manner in which the muscles in my legs hardened as I clambered uphill. This consciousness reminded me of the self-consciousness that I struggle with in my daily life- specifically how others perceive my personality and intentions. I started to wonder how and why this personal discomfort came to be, and tried to focus on my own experience and thoughts rather than what others were seeing in me. This led me to take in my surroundings more deeply. I examined the changing landscape of the trail- from tropical forest to sandy coast- and inhaled the scent of fresh growth. As I approached the six-hour mark of our hike, I realized that I had entertained my mind with a constant cycle of self-examination that I had never accomplished before in my life.

Unfortunately, the last two hours proved to be much more of a challenge than the rest of the day. As my toes began to blister and my legs weakened, my psychological thought cycle was punctuated by thoughts of discomfort. Eventually, pain consumed me psychologically, and I had to concentrate solely on forcing myself to complete the hike.

Every day of Abel Tasman that followed led to hours of sleep lost, increased dehydration, and exhaustion. Although my psychological musings continued each morning, they were broken increasingly rapidly by thoughts of discomfort.  On the last morning, I awoke with a fever, and had to resort to sheer psychological willpower to get myself to our final destination. After exiting the trail, driving home to Dunedin for 10 hours, and finally laying in my bed, I gained a profound sense of gratitude for civilization.

What did I learn from Abel Tasman? I have thought about this question thoroughly since my trip, and compiled the following list of lessons:

  1. Backpacking, like many other things in life is NOT a race, but a journey. Rather than going as fast as possible, it is so important to take things slowly and enjoy the experience.
  2. Isolation leads to self-discovery. Along the trail, I was able to identify things about my life that bother me that I am usually unable to pinpoint in daily life. After backpacking, I am committed to identifying those problems and erasing them.
  3. Things will go wrong! The best way to handle any adverse situation is staying calm, not jumping to extreme conclusions, and allowing a solution to slowly materialize.
  4. I want to be a vegetarian! This one is super random, but I have been thinking about going veggie for a while now for environmental reasons. After spending 4 days eating only dried fruit, nuts, beans, and rice and being perfectly satisfied, I’m doing it! Hello veggie life!
  5. Life is too short to surround yourself with negative people. Shed the ones who bring you down, and gather those who make you feel happiest.
  6. There’s nothing like a challenge to make you appreciate your life. After spending 4 days in the wilderness, I have never cherished running water, hot showers, my bed, or my laptop more.

On a final note, nothing fuels my passion for environmental conservation like a backpacking trip. Being totally immersed in the natural environment makes a person so much more aware of the intricate biological, chemical, and geological systems that drive life on our planet. I’d like to think that the current American administration would stop whining about how climate change is a hoax if they were all forced to backpack for a week. At a time in history when unprecedented sea level rise, global temperature increase, and environmental degradation are wreaking havoc around the globe, it is imperative for individuals to gain greater understanding of the natural world that serves as our home. As we attack the natural environment with increasing force, she will only come back with a more powerful vengeance.

Comfort in Isolation: Unravelling Ease and Examining Expectations

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As of September 27th, I have been in New Zealand for three entire months. Despite this relatively lengthy portion of time spent abroad, I’m not quite sure that, psychologically, I have accepted that I am living in New Zealand. Rather than feeling like my American accent sticks out like a sore thumb, I tend to forget that my voice sounds different at all. I walk to class surrounded by seagulls and the occasional palm plant, unfazed by the fact that I am currently thousands of miles from my permanent home. Without blinking, I digest Kiwi colloquialisms and respond in my own American slang. I am used to spending my weekends underneath the stars at some gorgeous national park on the South Island with a hoard of international friends. This is NORMAL to me now. To be honest, the level of comfort that I have attained in New Zealand is startling. To reference the unbelievable and frankly profound Lizzie McGuire Movie, I have reached a level of abroad-chill that only Ethan Craft can speak to.

How does any person, completely isolated from everything that they know, cope with solitude? When I was little, I wanted more than anything to be older and living on my own. I used to build leaf forts in my parents’ backyard and pretend that I was a research scientist camping in the Amazon rainforest. I imagined that my bedroom was an apartment, that I was an adult professional living my best life in a beautiful city. The older and more independent that I become, the more comfortable that I feel. Truthfully, I think that my most blissful moments of happiness have been spent completely alone, fully aware of my of self-reliance. In this way, I believe that solitude is something that I have never needed to cope with, but an experience that I crave. Perhaps the ease with which I conquer daily life in New Zealand is simply due to the fact that I have, for the entirety of my life, desired to experience total independence.

Sometimes, when I talk to my family members or close friends from home, I wonder what it will feel like when I return to the US. Will I slide again comfortably into the niche that I abandoned in June? Or will I carve new spaces for myself as a result of my foreign travels? I think that I will slip rapidly back into my life in Philadelphia, hopefully armed with some wisdom from my international meanderings. If I can quickly adapt to life in New Zealand, I have full confidence that my transition back into American life should be just as simple. What I am not prepared for, however, is the emotional aftermath of my Kiwi life.

At Aoraki National Park, I gazed upon enormous glaciers and pristine blue pools. I hiked through shrublands and up volcanoes at Tongariro; I conquered fields of frozen wheat in Queenstown. And what did I feel upon completion? Exhaustion, hunger and sleep. I was terrified and humbled by the marvels that I encountered, yet this was broken by the conscious thought that I had to continue on my designated trail. In order to complete the journey at hand, it was crucial that I briefly indulged in my surroundings before moving on.

Am I as tough and independent as I’d like to believe? Or is my relative ease in New Zealand due to the fact that I know, subconsciously, that I cannot be homesick because that would prevent my own psychological stability and general happiness from flourishing in Dunedin? Who knows. I may still not by the time that I depart for LAX. What I do know is that eventually, perhaps several weeks after I return to Philadelphia, my life in New Zealand will hit hard. At certain random moments in my life, it seems that I have a ridiculous sense of clarity- like everything around me is suddenly so real and tangible and makes life seem utterly glorious. When one of these moments hits back in the US, I am positive that I will immediately think of my life in New Zealand and be brought to tears. In just a month’s time, I will dream of the Otago peninsula with its bird-infested piers and deep gray waters and feel lucky to have lived such an incredible life. Despite each day that I pass the Otago University clocktower without so much as a glance of appreciation, Dirty Dunners is slowly, and without conscious detection weaving its way into my heart.

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Taking in New Zealand and all of her glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Eating: A Literal Interpretation of “Food For Thought”

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Scenario One:

It is a Monday morning, and I have not gotten enough sleep. Outside, a miserable sheet of rain is unleashing its wrath on the few students who have summoned enough courage to venture outside. I am not this brave. In fact, I doubt that I will drag myself out of bed for another hour or two. However, I suddenly remember that I can’t miss my 1 pm geology lab, making fruitless attempts to find my hairbrush and put together a normal outfit. Food is less that an afterthought; if I had to rank my daily priorities on a scale from one to ten, eating would be a negative number. Instead, I stop by the coffee cart outside of Paley Library, gulp down the last milky dregs, and rush to the lab.

 

Scenario Two: Dunedin

It is a Monday morning, and I have not gotten enough sleep. Outside, a miserable sheet of rain is unleashing its wrath on the few students who have summoned enough courage to venture outside. I do not have a morning class, but I should really mobilize and work on a few essays that will be due in the upcoming weeks. However, the constant grey-ness of Dunedin has really been bumming me out, so my motivation for work is low. I decide to have a treat-yo-self kind of morning to raise personal morale, throw on a sweater, and head to Good Earth, a really awesome local café by my flat. One thing that New Zealanders seem to have down is the art of egg-making; whereas Americans seem to be constantly scrambling theirs, Kiwis enjoy a wide range of fancy egg preparation, from frying to poaching to boiling. I decide to embrace fancy egg culture and order two poached eggs in Hollandaise sauce with a layered potato cake. As I wait for my breakfast to arrive at my table, I crack open “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and sip a flat white. When my meal arrives, it is piping hot; everything tastes amazing and I spend more than an hour just relaxing, munching, and reading. With a full belly and caffeinated brain, I eventually depart, fueled and ready to work on essays at the central library.

 

Notice a difference? In terms of activities that are imperative to human existence, eating is one of the most significant. Eating culture varies from country to country, with each state, province, or territory exhibiting its own unique subset of foods or eating traditions. When I was younger, I was reminded of this constantly by my grandmother, a cooking enthusiast who understands that the process of eating is one to be celebrated. In the mornings at my grandmother’s apartment, I would always sit at the same spot at her dining room table, laden with a beautiful fabric placement, different glasses for juice and tea, perfectly arranged silverware, and my favorite plate- one that showed four chubby chefs preparing a meal. With unmatched grace and agility, my grandmother would lay out our breakfast bounty: crisp toast, eggs, fresh fruit and yogurt, and the occasional bacon. I think that when I am preparing to die and reflecting on my own human experience, these breakfasts with my grandmother will go down in the top-ten best memories from my existence, though they may seem inconsequential.  Nothing to think about but the complexity of the music accompanying our food, the process of eating, and the pleasure of one another’s company. My grandmother is the sole person that I credit with teaching me to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate a really good meal.

 

It makes me sad to think about, but eating culture in the United States is trash. This sounds harsh, but compared to many places around the world, it’s kind of true. America has been the ultimate proponent of worldwide fast food grab-and-go culture. Nothing says “I don’t have time to enjoy or care about what I’m putting into my body” like a $2 Whopper special from MacDonalds or an enormous, extra sugary Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to go. The purpose of FAST food is to spend as little time as possible savoring the food that one eats, enjoying the time spent eating, or reflecting on the physical act of consumption. As a result, the quality of prepared foods in the United States has fallen miserably to the point where we barely care if we’re putting wholesome ingredients or absolute garbage into our bodies. This has led to reduction in price of high-demand, terrible cheap foods and an exponentially expensive cost of eating well.

 

Living in New Zealand has given me a heightened respect for both the process of preparing foods, the origins of the food that I purchase, and the activities surrounding consumption. Almost the food that I eat comes from the local farmer’s market or Veggie Boys, a tiny shop that sells beautiful veggies for cheap. Instead of blindly walking into a supermarket and picking up items, I have started to contemplate various facets of production that occurred between development my food item and the incident of purchase. Did my kale from a farm that uses sustainable growing practices? Did this piece of salmon come for a large-scale fishery that doesn’t consider the ecological impact of irresponsible mass fishing? What type of lives do the goats that produce my cheese experience? New Zealanders are so big at sustainability, limited wastefulness, and conservation that these questions will now inevitably pop up as I grocery shop. Now, the process of cooking a meal has derived new meaning as well. After a stressful day, I like to turn on some peaceful music, carefully lay out all of my ingredients, and being lovingly arranging them into a meal. Cooking reminds me of the careful, precise techniques that I employ for research at my lab at home. The practiced motions of each activity bring me a kind of numbing, happy peace. To the subconscious mind, is there a difference between measuring out a graduated cylinder of 1M HCl and pouring vegetable oil into a measuring cup? For meditative purposes, I would argue that there is not. In New Zealand, I also have the pleasure of enjoying nightly flat meals with all of my flat mates, which is refreshing as I normally eat quickly and alone. Through these dinners, I have really bonded with the people that I live with, and have had the pleasure of trying typical Kiwi meals that my New Zealander flat mates prepare.

 

It would be ridiculous to say that I’ll never participate in “grab and go” food culture again in the United States. Let’s be honest: some fast foods (hello pizza) are amazing in their own greasy, delicious ways. To say that I won’t hit the Mexican burrito stand at least twice during my first week back in Philadelphia would be a lie. However, I want to extend my newfound appreciation food preparation and enjoyment to my friends and family back at home. Instead of munching on pasta in my room as I churn out my latest assignment, I will force my roommates to put down their work, sit down together, and eat some good food. Of all of the best relationships, moments, and memories of my life thus far, most of them revolve around consuming, preparing, or gathering around amazing meals.

An Ode To Mom: Personal Values and Studying Abroad

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A few days ago, I was sitting at a cafe in Tongariro National Park in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. My friends Claire, Clara and I had just finished a massive, day-long hike to Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom to those Lord of the Rings fans reading this) and were sitting in silence, too tired to say much of anything. I decided to crack open a book that I recently bought from a really nice used book shop near my flat when I noticed a very tiny, fluffy-haired girl toddling around next to us. We made eye contact, so I smiled and waved. She cackled and waddled back over to her mom, who smiled and scooped her up into her lap. The girl continued to wriggle around and do lots of annoying little-kid things that parents hate (eat crayons, point out inappropriate things loudly, generally ignore the indoor voice/outdoor voice idea), but her mom continued to smooth her hair and pat her back. This immediately reminded me of another very tiny and energetic blond girl who, over 18 years ago, was probably annoying her adoring mother in the very same way.

This probably sounds lame, but my mom is one of my best friends in the entire world. She has always been my real-life Lorelai Gilmore. When I’m sick of my friends or the smell of North Philly or classwork, I take a 20-minute train ride to my mom’s apartment to be showered in gluten-free snacks, Keeping Up With The Kardashians references, and new succulent plants. My mom wears clogs non-ironically and can rock a mean pair of cat-eye sunglasses. She is probably the most patient person alive, and has been for the entirety of my life.  This is the first time in my entire life that I’ve established permanent residence more than 20 minutes away from where my mom lives, and let me tell ya, it is hard. I find myself frequently thinking about how lucky I am to have a parent that I miss so horribly. More recently, I’ve been having random flashbacks to things that my mom used to do for me when I was a little kid, like make hot chocolate on snowy days, or feed ducks bread with me in the park, or braid my hair in the mornings before elementary school.

In the United States, I take a lot of things for granted. My apartment building is automatically heated and cooled depending on the temperature outside. If I’m ever out too late somewhere in Philly, I can call Uber to get home almost immediately. My dad will reliably treat me to free Vietnamese food once or twice a month. If I run out of vitamins, deodorant, or almond butter, I can run to Trader Joe’s and reliably pick up the exact products that I want. And- given that time differences are irrelevant- I can call my mom whenever to say hello or pop by for a visit. In New Zealand, everything that I do is so much more calculated. Most foods here are prepared differently than in the US, so I always have to check menus thoroughly before ordering because of allergies. If I’m having a rough day, I have to wait until either late at night or early in the morning to call my friends or family because of the 16 hour time difference. I’m careful not to get sick or break any bones because of international health insurance hassles. I use my favorite Roses’ Lip Balm liberally because there is no Urban Outfitters to stop by in case I run out. A chronic victim of clumsiness, I try to avoid spilling things on the few clothing items that I have here in NZ because I know they’d be expensive to replace.

This might sound stupid, but I hate the string of apathy that follows mass consumerism in the United States. Things that you buy are cheap and disposable, and immediately available when their predecessors are used up or broken. This “buy/throw away/replace” culture makes it so much easier for Americans to devalue personal relationships and belongings. We’re constantly looking for the next best item to buy, or significant other to pursue, or friend to hang out with and we don’t appreciate the things that we already have. Being isolated in New Zealand, far from many of the people and things that I love, has made me truly value the people, things, and experiences that I do have here. I feel like I’m living a much fuller, more valuable existence because I appreciate my life more. My morning cup of coffee is not just a drink, it’s a delicious boost of caffeine that will enhance my mood, help me settle into my morning routine, and taste awesome! My boots are not just boots, they are warm, comfortable foot-hugs that help me to easily traverse the planet! My bag is not just a bag, but a beautiful, leather container that guards my passport and money from the world and keeps my beloved sunglasses safe! So meta, New Zealand!!

That last part may be a joke, but it’s kind of true- for the rest of my life, I want to own, become close with, and seriously value a select number of personal belongings and people. I think that it’s so important to get rid of bad relationships and unnecessary belongings in order to truly value the ones that you need or love. So long are the days of buying 10 pairs of moderately cute and cheap shoes from Buffalo Exchange- I want to own the pair of my dreams, cherish them forever, and wear them to my grave! Goodbye wastefulness and apathy! Hello appreciation and love!

 

 

 

 

Breathing Easy: Mental Health and the Kiwi Academic System

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For the entirety of my academic career, I have been a die-hard nerd. When I was little, I used to petition my dad to borrow extensive encyclopedias on animal biology for me from the library. In elementary and middle school, I took enrichment classes to plan my own independent research projects. Up until freshman year of high school, my interest in learning was just that – my own. Sadly, this changed drastically in high school when impending SAT exams and college applications began to loom. Suddenly, my interests were reduced to single items on resumes that could be cruelly analyzed by administrators; the devotion to academic toil limited to one deceivingly innocent GPA. During junior and senior year, I struggled with mental health issues and sleep deprivation, both of which were driven by the insane level of academic competitiveness of my peers and the ever-present terror of colleges that had yet to accept me. I wish that starting as a freshman at Temple helped to alleviate this ridiculous push to be a “perfect” student, but it really only worsened the situation. Immediately after accepting a position in Temple Honors, I began browsing the multitudes of courses available, challenging myself to cram a schedule with advanced material. The quest for “academic perfection” was (thankfully) thwarted spring semester of my sophomore year after suffering for weeks from study-induced anxiety attacks.

Prior to moving to New Zealand, I assumed that this crippling need for academic perfection was just the way of life for all hardworking college students. Most of my American friends at home are also guilty of over-pressuring themselves academically, so my study-induced mental health issues seemed like the norm. After two months of being a student at the University of Otago, I can confidently say that I was completely wrong. The method of study in New Zealand universities is completely different than in the United States. Rather than spending my entire day in class, rushing to extracurricular activities, and then drowning myself in studies at the library, my average day at Otago consists of one or two classes with the occasional evening or weekend extracurricular excursion. I am not expected to produce a constant supply of essays, assignments, or homeworks; my final grades for my classes are based on one or two major essays and a final exam. Instead of freaking out about what marks I’m getting on assignments, I actually enjoy the material that is presented in class and can engage in discussion. In fact, the limited length and frequency of classes encourage me to pursue course topics on my own outside of class and start essays/assignments way ahead of their due dates. Apart from attending courses and completing independent work, I have copious amounts of time for developing the types of interests that I had as a child – ones cultivated purely for the sake of enjoying something new. So far, I have taken up painting (pointilist-style, and inspired by photos from incredible hikes I’ve done on the South Island) and bikram yoga, two things that I’ve always wanted to improve at but never had the time. This relaxed schedule has essentially eliminated the mental health issues that I struggle with in the United States, as well as produced a sub-conscious motivation for me to stabilize my new found sense of inner peace and good health. Rather than scarfing down quick lunches from food trucks (no matter how tasty they are), I cook all of my own meals and spend at least a half hour eating with my flatmates. Although I ran regularly in the United States, I could never exceed past a certain level physically due to time constraints or stress. Now, I’ve been able to improve my running times and conquer farther distances.

In New Zealand, the pace of life is much slower. The “city” where I live, Dunedin, is much smaller than Philadelphia. The entire “city center” of Dunners could probably fit within Rittenhouse Square. People aren’t breaking their necks to walk to their next appointments. Shops close by 4 or 5 at the latest, and there is no threat of danger for a young person walking around alone at night. Most oddly, there is a sense of quiet throughout Dunedin – not a literal absence of sound, but lack of chaos – the type that permeates North Philadelphia so intensely. New Zealanders value mental health, personal wellbeing, and leisure time. I am a city-lover at heart, and in the United States, this seems to require a certain degree of neuroticism that is not present in New Zealand. I miss jay-walking in Center City with a piping hot La Colombe coffee in tow. I miss stuffing my face with Halal before hopping on the subway to show up mid-opener to a concert at the TLA. I oddly miss opening my windows to honking horns, shouting, and chattering neighbors- I miss the ever-pulsing heartbeat of huge East Coast cities that refuse to sleep. What I don’t miss is crying in my bedroom at 3 am because I still have a French paper to write, or hyperventilating to my mom on the phone because my anxiety is out of control. Or sleep deprivation. Or feeling like my life is completely out of control because I have stretched myself too thin.

When I leave New Zealand, I am determined to carry this newfound peace and mental stability back to the United States. Now that I am living the Kiwi lifestyle – one of increased attention to happiness, health, and peace – I refuse to let my own fixations on academic perfection and overcommitment take over my life. My new mantra is as follows: breathe deeply, sleep well, do what you love, and stay happy.

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Thursday nights, fall semester, sophomore year: stressful late-night organic chemistry study sessions

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Thursday nights in Dunedin: more free time in the evenings to do the things I love most, including Lord of the Rings movie nights with my pals.

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.