Category Archives: New Zealand

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

How to Guarantee Crying on the Flight Home

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After moving my flight to stay in New Zealand for an extra five weeks, I left the country a few days ago. It was a long flight. For my seat mate, it was probably longer, since it’s always awkward when your seat partner’s crying. Sorry Brian.

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Goodbye NZ!

I’m currently in California visiting relatives for a little while to further satisfy the travel bug, so I haven’t yet returned to Philly. People tell me I’ll “settle back into the swing of things,” “get back into the rhythm of it,” “feel like you never left.” But I did leave, and I don’t want to feel like I didn’t. Christchurch was good to me and for me; I’m not ready to go.

But that’s life, and I’m not the only person who feels this way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful experience abroad, and there’s nothing stopping me from coming back to Christchurch, except the price of airfare. (ChCh is hosting the First Social Enterprise World Forum in September 2017…coincidence that I graduate that May?) The real point of this post is to offer my two cents on how to have a study abroad experience that makes you feel like you’re losing something when you go back home — how to create that new life that you don’t want to leave.

  1. Don’t try to become “transformed.”

Studying abroad is very much promoted as a transformational experience. You’re supposed to live in another country for not even half a year and return a changed person, a better person than who you were before. If you don’t go home with some obvious sign of your rapid personal growth and accelerated self development gained from X country, did you even ever leave?

This semester, I noticed a lot of my fellow international students feeling this pressure. People tried to figure out their transformation, the change they would present to people at home as proof that their semester had been fulfilling. But if you’re expecting an experience to change you in some preconceived way, it probably won’t. Many of my peers ended up catering their time abroad to suit whatever change they’d previously identified as wanting to have instead of letting the experience unfold on its own and influence them naturally.

So float with the tide of your time abroad, and don’t actively try to become transformed. Studying abroad is a way to live in a different place for a few months, so do that. It will be a much more fulfilling experience if you simply live, instead of trying to figure out how it’s going to change you.

  1. Stay off social media.

STAY FAR FAR AWAY. Social media is great for keeping in touch with people, but horrible for adjusting to a new place. Looking at pictures of your friends from home at a football game is not going to help you understand rugby and meet new people. You’re going to feel left out and homesick and you’re going to doubt your decision to go abroad. I don’t often get homesick, especially if I know I’m going back in half a year, but the first few weeks in New Zealand were rough.

In New Zealand, I also chose to buy a brick phone instead of swapping out the SIM card in my American smartphone. I say “chose,” but “forced” is more appropriate, since my SIM card is apparently un-swappable.

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The Alcatel One Touch, in all its glory.

However, being unable to go online helped me focus on talking to people and living more in the moment, and some of my friends who chose to go the SIM card route said they wished they’d gone with the Alcatel One Touch (however primitive) like I did.

  1. Get to know the locals.

Meeting people while abroad can be really intimidating, and so it’s natural so drift toward other exchange students — especially other Americans. Sometimes you just need somebody to talk about our own culture with, and as an added incentive, locals aren’t always willing to start up a conversation. At Temple, how often did I make an effort to talk to the international kid in class?

In New Zealand, I had to work  to make friends. Of course, I had a group of American friends who were also on exchange, and these were the people I did most of my traveling with because these were the people who wanted to explore the country. But stereotypically, American study abroad students go abroad and party with other American study abroad students. This is heaps of fun, but just be careful not to stop there–do an internship and join clubs and follow up with people you want to get to know. Locals will make fun of your accent (affectionately of course), but they’ll also show you the ropes, include you in their social circles, give you an authentic look at your host country, and let you stay with them when you have to move out of your flat three days before your flight back to the States (thanks Loz!).

Personally, I met people by joining UCanDance, UC’s ballroom dancing club, getting involved in the community through my internship with Ministry of Awesome, and constantly inviting people for lunch or coffee until we became friends. It worked (!) and I’ve formed friendships with a lot of New Zealanders that I know will last.

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Annual UCanDance Ball!

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Some UCanDance friends and I on a short hike during my last day in NZ.

4. Depth over breadth.

You are not going to see everything while abroad. Half a year, or usually less, is but a blip. I’ve noticed that many international students try to go somewhere every weekend, or travel to as many neighboring countries as possible, but personally, I think the “depth over breadth” travel philosophy is better. Instead of getting glimpses of many different places, get to know a few in-depth. People ask me if I left New Zealand while there — no, I didn’t, but I know and understand NZ and I have relationships in NZ.

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Missing those mountains already.

So, if you want to be like me and make your airplane seat mate uncomfortable, get to know local people in your host country, stay away from social media, and don’t try to cater your experience abroad to what other people expect. Let it be an experience, and take it slowly.

 

 

 

WWOOFing as Things Wind Down

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One benefit of studying abroad in the Southern Hemisphere is extra time — a normal semester is four months, but because my classes in New Zealand started in the beginning of July and exams ended mid-November, I started school two months earlier than Temple and was also able to extend my time abroad for an extra five weeks with no rush to be back in Philly. I’m lucky to be able to spend six months abroad rather than the usual three or four.

An extra month and a half abroad free of academic responsibilities, however, begs the question of how to fill it. Personally, I decided to spend a week volunteering at Unreasonable Lab New Zealand with my internship in Christchurch (mentioned in a previous post) and then two weeks WWOOFing before saying my (hopefully temporary) goodbyes and packing up my life. If you’re wondering why I haven’t written any posts in a while, WWOOFing often features limited Internet.

WWOOFing stands for both “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and “Willing Workers On Organic Farms.” The basic premise — WWOOFers work for a few hours each day in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food from their host. Usually, this happens on — you guessed it — farms. In New Zealand, however, people use the term “WWOOFing” to refer to other types of jobs in hostels, childcare, or small businesses as well.

I’d wanted to give WWOOFing a try for a while, and it’s a good option to travel cheaply. I impulsively decided to work in a hostel in The Coromandel, a beach paradise on the North Island of NZ and the “hippie capital of New Zealand.” The hostel I worked in, called The Lion’s Den, was homey and friendly, and in exchange for two hours of cleaning/gardening every morning I got to sleep in a bed, do my laundry, go to the beach (one of the top 10 in the world!), check out some cool hikes and Coromandel landmarks, and meet people from all over the world. (The Lion’s Den is also the name of an adult video chain in the States, but that’s not important.) My hosts, Abby and Sy, were so welcoming and I really felt a part of the community in Coromandel Town, where they live.

 

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Day trip to Cathedral Cove (tagged along with some other hostel dwellers).

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Sunset in The Coromandel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In hindsight, WWOOFing was the perfect experience to cap off my time in New Zealand. I’ve been lucky enough to attend uni and intern here, and form lasting friendships with many Kiwis.

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A lovely place to WWOOF!

Living in The Lion’s Den gave me a taste of the true backpacker life, though — and backpackers are a very common sight in New Zealand. I met a lot of solo travelers, a lot of wandering souls, my rad WWOOFing partners Frankie and Hank, and three super cool English guys who were living in the hostel as well (George, Ash, and Jez — there’s your shoutout. Hope you appreciate my American vocabulary). There is no doubt that I have the travel bug, and WWOOFing gave me a taste of what I’ll hopefully be doing after I finish my degree.

 

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The Lion’s Den common room.

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Cards after a group dinner in the hostel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WWOOFing jobs are available all over the world, as are Helpx and Workaway gigs (similar “work for accommodation” opportunities). Naturally, you have to be wary of being taken advantage of or treated poorly, but overall WWOOFing is a great way to meet people and travel inexpensively. I highly recommend it as a life experience, if nothing else.

Things are winding down — as I write this, I have T-minus five days until I fly back to the States. Luckily, I’ll be visiting my cousin in California for a little while before I head to Philly — anything to keep the travel bug satisfied a little longer!

The Scoop on International Internships

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While in New Zealand, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience both uni life and professional life by interning at a super rad start-up called Ministry of Awesome. Before going abroad, I had planned to do an internship for credit — not because I actually wanted to do an internship, but because I thought international work experience would spice up my resume. And it does look good, and it is a plus in the job market — but I sigh at my pre-New Zealand self for being motivated solely by a resume.

It has to do with American career culture, for sure. On my first day at Ministry of Awesome, my boss, who moved to Christchurch from California herself, smiled at my questions and said, “You’ll be fine. We never have a problem with the American interns.” And they haven’t — at Ministry of Awesome, Lauren, Catarina, and Erica (my bosses) valued my opinion and entrusted me with real responsibility. I wasn’t around to observe; I was around to be involved. Honestly, it was a treat.

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It would be helpful if I explained what Ministry of Awesome does, exactly. In a previous post, I blogged about the rebuild efforts in Christchurch following the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, and the entrepreneurial hub the city has become. Ministry of Awesome is one of those start-ups that emerged from the earthquake, and focuses on helping social entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.  Social enterprise start-ups are like non-profits, but support themselves by making their own money rather than relying on donations. What’s not to love about helping the world while also making money?

Ministry of Awesome (MoA) is central to the Christchurch community as well. MoA only has three full-time staff (the aforementioned Lauren, Erica, and Catarina) and operates a co-working space out of their headquarters to help support themselves (office space is lacking in Christchurch at the moment). MoA also

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Yours truly hosting Coffee & Jam.

provides resources to entrepreneurs (they are the self-proclaimed “starting point” for New Zealand entrepreneurs) and runs a weekly community event called Coffee & Jam where two speakers pitch ideas on how to improve and rebuild Christchurch. Coffee & Jam also features delicious locally sourced coffee, bread, and spreads, and allows time for people to chat and get to know each other. There are regulars, there are newbies, and mostly there are inspiring, organic conversations. At the end of Coffee & Jam, anyone can give a “20 Second Shout Out” asking for a job, advice, offering a service, etc. It’s a lovely event, and I’m actually hoping to start something similar once I am back in Philly.

This week is my last week with MoA, and I’m wrapping up my time here by running the social media campaign for Unreasonable Lab New Zealand, a social enterprise conference that MoA is running in conjunction with a start-up in Boulder, CO called Unreasonable Institute. It’s an absolutely inspiring conference — check it out! Or help me out and see the hashtag #AUL15. (apologies for that shameless plug)

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Unreasonable Lab interns and volunteers!

 

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Unreasonable Lab New Zealand in action!

So, to give you the scoop on international internships — they’re invaluable. Working at Ministry of Awesome, I’ve become more aware of both the pros and cons of American work culture. New Zealand has taught me that leisure time is invaluable, that networking should be about forging real relationships rather than just using people for their connections, that competitiveness and overstress are overrated, and that a sense of humor and social skills go much further than a spiced-up resume. That being said, I also value the “American work ethic” more — we definitely get things done in a timely fashion. But I have never felt so supported by a community as I have in Christchurch, and I’ve never felt so nurtured in a professional environment.

I highly recommend an internship abroad. Not only did mine illuminate the highs and lows of my own culture, it also enriched my experience abroad by exposing me to more than one type of community. Do you really know Philly if you only hang out with college students? Of course not. I’m indebted to New Zealand and indebted to Ministry of Awesome for an incredible ride, and who knows? Social enterprise could finally be my thing.

*(all photos courtesy of Erica Austin)*

 

 

 

 

 

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Kiwi Food

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Food isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of New Zealand — try Lord of the Rings or beautiful scenery, as annoying as these clichés are — but it’s a crucial part of any place. Food is so central to the identity of a culture—it brings people together, represents local traditions and history, and fuels the lifestyle. For this post, I decided to reprise the format of a post I wrote while blogging for Temple in Paris, and answer some questions from friends back home about the cuisine in NZ.

1. What exactly are NZ foods?

One doesn’t come to New Zealand for the cuisine, and before I arrived in NZ I had a very vague idea of what to expect food-wise. There are, however, some staples of the Kiwi diet; I’ll detail a few here.

Pies, stemming from New Zealand’s British influence, are very popular. Pies are usually filled with meat, potatoes, and/or vegetables, and can be bought anywhere from a fancy restaurant to a gas station convenience store. If you find yourself on the South Island, Sheffield Pies in, you guessed it, Sheffield, or Fairlie Bakehouse in, you guessed it, Fairlie, both sell phenomenal pies.

Pavlova is a Kiwi dessert made out of meringue and usually decorated with fruit, especially kiwis (the fruit, not the bird or the human!).

A pavlova making event put on by my External Program provider, Arcadia University.

A pavlova making event put on by my External Program provider, Arcadia University.

Hokey pokey is an ice cream or chocolate flavor that consists of bunches of honeycomb. Absolutely delicious.

Fish and chips are also popular, thanks again to that British influence.

Marmite is the Kiwi equivalent of the Australian Vegemite. A salty breakfast spread, it’s usually on toast or Weet-Bix in a very small amount with a ton of butter. I tried it once and have been scarred ever since.

Lolly cake is another Kiwi dessert, a type of candy-cake concoction I haven’t quite been able to figure out.

Hangi  is the traditional Māori way of cooking food using heated rocks in a pit oven underground. For a hangi, Māori usually cook meat, vegetables, and kumara (New Zealand sweet potato). The food has a delicious smoky flavor and usually cooks for a long time.

Tomato sauce is the closest thing you’ll find to ketchup in NZ. It’s sweeter, and served with meat, fish and chips, etc. Aioli is also super popular here, available nearly everywhere and served more frequently than even tomato sauce with chips (French fries) and other fried foods.

2. What is a food that is eaten mainly at social gatherings?

Depends on the social gathering. A hangi, mentioned above, is usually prepared for gatherings at Māori marae (meeting houses) or parties. If you’re hanging out with uni students, however, “sausage sizzles” — daytime barbeques with plenty to drink and grilled sausages served on a single slice of white bread with tomato sauce — are quite popular.

3. Do Kiwis use a lot of natural ingredients? Are their ingredients locally grown or imported?

Surprisingly, New Zealanders use less locally-sourced products than I had expected. Farming is a huge part of New Zealand’s economy, especially dairying, meat farming, and certain types of produce. However, the majority of these products are exported out, leaving Kiwis with very expensive locally-sourced foods or very expensive imported foods (shipping costs aren’t cheap when you’re so far away from everything).

That being said, there are a ton of farmer’s markets in New Zealand, which offer reasonably priced local meats, dairy, eggs, produce, fish, and baked goods. I usually buy my produce for the week on Saturday mornings at Riccarton Bush Farmer’s Market, about a 25 minute walk from where I live. Since imported prices are so high, I can support the local community for the same price or cheaper, and farmer’s markets are popular with almost everyone. Local ingredients are definitely more accessible for a wider range of people here.

Some stalls at the weekly Christchurch Farmer's Market, which also features buskers. (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer's Market)

Some stalls at the weekly Christchurch Farmer’s Market, which also features buskers. (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer’s Market)

Delicious locally grown vegetables! (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer's Market)

Delicious locally grown vegetables! (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer’s Market)

I will definitely miss some of the culinary staples of New Zealand, and especially the fact that the food tastes fresher and better than what I’m used to. Also, I may be forced to make my own hokey pokey once I’m home….

Diversity in New Zealand

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Earlier this semester, a group of elementary school students visited my Māori Studies (the indigenous people of New Zealand) class to see the Māori art on the walls of our lecture room. The group of children was mostly white, with one black student, one Asian student, and a few Māori students. After the class left, my professor said, “Isn’t that the most diverse group of little kids you’ve ever seen?”

Nope.

"Rima" wall art similar to the walls of my lecture room.

“Rima” wall art similar to the walls of my lecture room.

Coming from a diverse city in the Northeast U.S., New Zealand was an adjustment. Additionally, I’m based on the South Island, which is notoriously less diverse than the North Island. Still, diversity in New Zealand (or lack thereof) is an interesting topic. I’ve split this post into different aspects of diversity I’ve come across.

Religious Diversity

On Clubs Day this semester, I fully expected to find a booth offering the New Zealand equivalent of Hillel. I did not find one, but I did get free candy from a Christian youth group.

It makes sense that New Zealand has much less religious diversity than the U.S. Nearly everybody is Christian, and the few other religious communities are comprised of students from other countries, temporary travelers, or recent immigrants to NZ. Surprisingly though, I feel less aware of my status as a minority here than I do in the U.S. (then again, it isn’t quite the Christmas season yet). In general, religion isn’t a big part of life in New Zealand. A huge proportion of the population identifies as atheist, and those who don’t are quite private about their beliefs. There aren’t any Bell Tower Preachers.

For many Kiwis I’ve met here, I’m the first Jew they’ve come across. I find myself answering a lot of questions about Judaism, some of which require me to reach far into the depths of my memory and think back to my days of Hebrew School. I’m glad I can answer the questions, and although I’ve felt like a token Jew, I’ve never felt discriminated against.

I did manage to track down the only synagogue on the South Island, which happens to be in Christchurch. My friends Becca and Molly (also Jewish exchange students) and I attended on Rosh Hashanah, and it was so nice to be surrounded by my own culture for a few hours! There are 600 Jews on the entire South Island, and now we joke that there are 603.

I’ll be more appreciative of the Jewish community in Philly in the future, and I miss the conversations that come from being among people with vastly different religious backgrounds. For now though, I’m happy to be an ambassador for my culture.

Racial Diversity

In the words of a friend, New Zealand is “an island full of white people.” This is very much an overstatement, but…yeah. That’s what happens when a bunch of British and Scottish people move to the South Pacific.

Obviously, Māori also make up a large proportion of New Zealand’s population, although there are no fully-Māori people left. There is also a large Korean and Chinese population as a result of immigration.

An interesting aspect of race relations in New Zealand is the concept of biculturalism vs. multiculturalism. We discuss it a lot in my Māori class, which is about the Treaty of Waitangi (1840 document of cession between Māori and the Crown). Since the Treaty was signed between two parties, Māori and Pākehā (white people), there is an ongoing debate in New Zealand concerning whether their society is bicultural (i.e. Māori and everyone else who isn’t Māori) or multicultural, and whether that consideration should affect the legal system, politics, and other organizations.

Socioeconomic Diversity

As with religious and racial diversity, New Zealand also has less socioeconomic stratification than the U.S. The North Island has more cities and struggles with more poverty and homelessness than the South, but in general one can comfortably support a family on minimum wage, and there are no private universities (and university is cheap — one year as an international student at UC costs the same as one year in-state at Temple). Most of New Zealand seems solidly middle-class.

New Zealand will be an interesting country to watch in the future and see if diversity increases as the world grows. In the case of Christchurch, many people have told me that they believe the earthquake was good for the city — people are more open to the differences in others post-quake, and different types of people are moving into the city.

And worst comes to worst, we can all unite over cheering on the All Blacks — beat Australia!

I will be waking up at 4:30 am to watch the World Cup Final...when in New Zealand... (photo courtesy of the All Blacks website).

I will be waking up at 4:30 am to watch the World Cup Final…when in New Zealand… (photo courtesy of the All Blacks website). (In the picture, the All Blacks are performing the haka, traditional Māori battle dance, which they do at the beginning of every match.)