One of the many questions I found myself facing from friends and family before I left was a basic one: “are you nervous?” My response, of course, was always a quick no and an expression of excitement. In truth, I was nervous; not for the flights, or going abroad, or anything along those lines, but I was nervous that New Zealand wouldn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations. Based on today, it has not only lived up to them, it’s surpassed them.
It’s so hard to believe that my first day in Christchurch has already come and gone. Let me just start by saying that my homestay is absolutely phenomenal. Marie and Phillippe are two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. They immediately made me feel welcome in their home and they are incredibly interesting to chat with. Originally from South Africa, they came to New Zealand roughly twenty years ago. Since then, they’ve been all over the world and brought quite a bit of it back with them as they have hosted numerous international students. Currently, they are also hosting another student aside from myself from Singapore. Her name is Rachel and from what I’ve gotten to know about her she’s just as amazing. We spent my first night gathered around a world atlas, showing one another the places we’re from and sharing places we’ve travelled.
I will say, however, I was a little disappointed when the only real question they had about America was pertaining to Donald Trump.
We started the day today at the University of Canterbury, a quaint little campus with a population of 11,000. From there, we started our walking tour of Christchurch at the North side of the botanical gardens. Everything was absolutely beautiful, with the leaves having changed for autumn the trees are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately for me, I was only able to capture a few photos from the excursion as I forgot to change my settings from multiple exposure mode. I was not pleased to say the least. Still, I got some pretty nice shots and I’m going to attempt to put up a gallery at some point.
From there, we walked around a bit and caught glimpses of the Canterbury Museum and the Christchurch Art Gallery, both of which will be visiting in the next few weeks. Our next destination was a particular favorite of mine, the Re:START container mall.
Christchurch was hit with a series of devastating earthquakes in 2011 and 2012 that have left the city with devastating damage and a high need to rebuild and reorganize. Within a year of the quakes, the container mall was put up as a temporary shopping center built entirely of shipping containers. The outcome is something unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, an interesting aesthetic with a very upbeat and new sort of vibe. The shops were very cool as well, offering a lot of different items and trinkets (barring the Lululemon which is still just as ridiculously overpriced as the states). The idea for the mall was kind of a wildcard, but the place has grown from just 27 businesses in 2011 to over 50 today. It’s become a cornerstone for the tourist industry and a favorite amongst the locals.
Our next stops were more somber ones, starting with the Bridge of Remembrance. Having just been reopened a few weeks ago, the bridge commemorates all of those fallen in past wars and is one of two war memorials in Christchurch. After our visit there, we visited 185 Empty White Chairs—a memorial to all those lost in the 2011 earthquake. Each of the chairs is unique and represents an aspect of the individual it represents. The chairs range from a wheelchair, a student’s desk, to the most heartbreaking: an infant’s car seat. The 185 square meters of grass the chair sit on was originally supposed to be a temporary, with the artist’s statement being: “installation is temporary—as is life”, but following a pouring of positive feedback, speculation says it may be here to stay for good.
Following the memorials, our group stopped at the Cardboard Church, a temporary place of worship for the people of Christchurch while the church decides what to do with the old cathedral. Upon paying a visit to the former cathedral, once a hallmark of the city, it was really apparent how much damage the quake had done. Completely fenced off, it was heart wrenching to see a place of such grandeur as broken as it is now. The entire front of the building had completely collapsed and the bell towers had fallen and lay amongst the rubble, etchings of the phrase “kia kaha”, “stay strong” in Maori, could be seen all along the fence and surrounding fixtures.
One of our final stops was New Regent Street, the only complete heritage streetscape in Christchurch. The Spanish Mission Architecture is home to several cafes and boutiques, making it an extremely popular and unique site. New Regent Street is also home to the Isaac Theatre Royal, the premiere performing arts center in Canterbury. The theatre was severely damaged in the quakes, but has recently been completely rebuilt.
Following a stop at the bus exchange to fill up all of our metro cards, most of us decided to stay in the city and head out for drinks to get to know one another a little better. Having been one of the last to arrive, I felt as though I’d been playing catch up the whole time trying to meet everyone in our group. We headed over to a place called Engineers, a nifty little bar recommended by our coordinator. It had a gorgeous rooftop view with an open patio section. We stayed until about 5 (*around one a.m. back in Ohio), and then headed back to our respective homestays. Everyone from the group seems really nice and extremely friendly, which is good considering we’ll be spending a lot of time together over the next month!
Overall, New Zealand has been phenomenal so far. It’s kind of similar but the differences are extremely glaring. A prime example of this occurred this morning upon my realization that the toilet was not, in fact, in the bathroom. About to pee my pants, I finally broke down and asked where exactly it was located and my homestay looked at me as though I had three heads. In New Zealand, apparently, the toilet has its own separate room. This was obviously news to me.
Overall, kiwis (what the people of New Zealand are called), all seem to be extremely friendly and totally open to conversation. At lunch, our server was particularly funny, knowing exactly who Ohio State is, he informed us that, “scarlet and gray only belong together on speed bumps” and “who the hell calls themselves after a nut”. The kiwis very much enjoy banter, making for some very funny conversations.
To end this, I’ll list a few major differences I’ve noticed:
- “Tramping” means hiking in New Zealand. This obviously has a very different meaning in the states.
- Kiwis are very eco-friendly, for example, you won’t find paper towels in any of their bathrooms. They either have air dryers, or they use a paper towel dispenser, except instead of the paper towels its sort of like a revolving cloth towel.
- There’s gorgeous street art everywhere. Here it isn’t considered graffiti and there’s no negative connotation, it’s just art.
- DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD IS STRANGE. I’ve nearly gotten into the driver’s side of the vehicle at least four times. Roundabouts are also terrifying.
- In restaurants, there’s no tipping and you need to get up and pay, the servers don’t bring the bill to you.
- The coffee is 10x better here.
- At the university, students go “flatting” where housemates of each flight all start with a red card. This red card gets pulled at various times throughout the year, once by each roommate. When the red card gets pulled, its that roommates’ responsibility to come up with a crazy party idea or a dare for each of their roommates to complete (generally revolving around alcohol).
- I can only ever understand about 50% of what’s being said to me due to various slang words including “Ta”, “cheers”, “catch ‘ya” and loads more. I’ve also been made fun of about 17 separate times for saying “college” instead of “uni”.
- Kiwis are super friendly, love to party, and curse often. I think I’ve found my people.