Another Day in Paradise

Upon reviewing my last few posts, it seems as though the same words keep popping up. “Fantastic”, “beautiful”, “amazing”, “surreal”, “gorgeous”, amongst others that basically mean the same thing. The fact of the matter is, words are wholly inadequate when attempting to describe my experiences over the last week and a half. From sprawling mountains to crystal clear ocean water, my definition of beauty has since been redefined. IT seems as though every time we turn a corner, New Zealand offers something even better than the last. It is unreal that such a place exists. I could write forever and still be unable to fully capture the freshness of the air here, or the specific shade of blue the sky gets when the sun peaks out from behind the clouds. I’m still damn well going to try though.

The last few days have been decently low key by recent standards. We spent a lot of time exploring the city since most of our afternoons have been pretty open. We also spent some time at the Canterbury Museum as well as the Christchurch Gallery of Art. The art gallery actually just reopened in December 2015 since it was so badly damaged in the earthquake. They had some neat exhibits and most of the artwork was very unique. While I enjoyed the experience overall, I do have to say that it does not top the Cleveland Museum of Art (my absolute favorite place back home), but then again, perhaps I’m biased.

Exploring the city turned out to be a lot of fun. Our aimless wandering resulted in some pretty cool finds, including a lot of street art sightings (photos are up on a separate post) and a ridiculously elaborate playground. This playground deserves a post in and of itself, complete with trampolines, zip lining, and a rope climbing station, this thing was unreal. It also kept a handful of 19-22 year olds busy for an hour or so.

One of the really unique experiences of the week was Coffee and Jam at the Ministry of Awesome. In order to promote small businesses in the Christchurch area, Ministry of Awesome hosts a small event where people from the community come in and either give or listen to pitches from local businesses. This is all done over, yes you guessed it, coffee and Jam. It was interesting to hear from all of these local businesses, which included a startup clothing company and a t-shirt printing company that uses only ethically made clothing. As well as supporting local businesses this company gives much of the money to support victims of human trafficking. Overall, it was a really neat little gathering (side note—they have lemon jam here and it is heavenly).

Last night, we decided to take a night out and go see a local band play at the university pub, The Foundry. The advertised band, The Tunes of Ire, came on around eleven, aka when the last busses start to leave so we only caught a few minutes of them before heading out. The cover band that opened for them was awesome though. Dancing to songs like Beverly Hills, Brown Eyed Girl, and Riptide with all of the friends I’ve made on the trip was a really fun time. This trip has been a blast, and the people I’ve gone with have made it all the better.

Today marked our day off from the classroom though, so we got to spend the whole day out in the country, exploring. Starting at the Tannery, a little collection of shops and cafes, we then headed off to the famous Christchurch Gondola (the best way I can describe it is sort of like a ski lift up a mountain). At the top of Mount Cavendish, we got to walk around a bit and take in the sights. The view was stunning. Looking over the mountain at the city was quite literally, breathtaking. Out in the distance, the ice-capped peaks of mountains on the other side of the mountain poked through the clouds. Upon moving to the other side, one could clearly see the ocean and the Lyttlton bay area. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. New Zealand continues to amaze and surprise me, this view being no exception. This post and the photos to follow can’t do it justice.

From the Gondola, we headed into Lyttleton to enjoy some lunch and poke around the shops for a bit. A busy port, the town Lyttleton isn’t very big or developed (hence the name), but it’s a quaint little area with a few neat shops and cafes. The Lyttleton café is amongst these (again, hence the name), and our group settled in there to grab some food and play euchre (I don’t partake in the card game, I just like to watch the tension rise as the game progresses). I ordered a chicken and mushroom pie that may actually have been the single most delicious thing I have ever eaten. From lunch, we poked around a bit in the shops and then headed back to the bus to Sumner Beach.

I will tell you that I literally ran out onto the beach the second we arrived. My jaw about hit the floor as we drove past the crashing waves, blooming wildflowers, and barnacle encrusted rocks. Walking out onto the beach was like walking onto a movie set. The crunch of the sand beneath my feet combined with the salty tang in the sea breeze was magnificent. I spent a better part of the hour taking photos and exploring the sea caves and tidal pools throughout the beach. The beach was filled with activity from our group as well as surfers, dogs, and local passerby. It was fun to watch all of the hustle and bustle in such a gorgeous setting. Eventually though, I just sat back and enjoyed the sun on my face as it started to set along the coast. Like I said, completely unreal.

Today was one fantastic day, a great way to end a full week of adventure. Tomorrow, we are set to explore Akaroa, visiting a farm there as well as taking a boat into the harbor, weather permitting. Thus far, New Zealand has exceeded every possible expectation, I don’t know how I’m ever going to say goodbye to this amazing place.

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Getting Lost in NZ (Both Metaphorically and Literally)

I’ve only been in New Zealand for a few days, but at this point I may honestly never come home (just kidding, mom, see you in a few weeks). The last few days have been pretty eventful, both in terms of actual planned trips and a few crazy impromptu adventures.

This past Friday (Thursday for you people back home), we had our first day of class, which I will only briefly overview because I’m sure nobody really cares. The class was interesting enough though, we spent a lot of time discerning the differences in pronunciation between accents around the world. One cool thing about our class, though, is actually the room it’s held in. A part of Kirkwood Village, it was put up as a temporary place to hold classes, but like most of the “temporary” fixtures it seems to be here to stay. The village is full of really neat buildings; honestly it resembles a shanty beach town more than a university. The amount of green space at the University of Canterbury is still unbelievable, everything is so open and full of plant life as opposed to back home.

After class, we had several hours of free time, which we used to grab lunch and then have one of those aforementioned impromptu adventures. With roughly five hours to kill, a group of us decided to explore campus and the surrounding areas. This was particularly cool both because we got to see a lot of interesting things, but it also gave us some time to get to know each other.

One of the most memorable stops on our little tour was at a church-run residence hall just outside of campus. We wandered in just looking for a bathroom and wound up talking to the administrator of the building. She was super friendly and passed on a few recommendations for our trip the next day including a really neat tapas place as well as mini golf attractions (“come on, you’re American, you have to go mini-golfing”). As with most Kiwis, one of the first questions out of her mouth was about Donald Trump, which made all of us groan internally, it seems as though he’s the one thing people know about where we’re from. It’s highly unfortunate.

Talking to this woman was really cool as it speaks to the kiwi culture—everyone is super friendly. Back in the states, if a group of teenagers wandered into an establishment looking lost, you’d be told to “get the hell out” real quick, but here we wound up talking for a good half an hour.

From there, we worked our way around the area, stopping at Illam gardens, which is a neat little area just off the beaten path near university. One of the best parts about New Zealand is that no matter where you are, a little piece of paradise seems to lie around every corner.

As we headed back to our meeting spot for our next excursion, we stumbled upon a small community garden. Sequestered off a partially hidden trail, we nearly walked right by it. This place looked like something out of a book, a dozen gardens were carefully sectioned off and marked with painted stones, with their occupants bursting over the edges. From Kale to carrots, they had it all. Definitely a highlight of our wanderings.

When we met up with our group, we headed over to Willowbranch reservations where we got to see a ton of wildlife from all around New Zealand. Willowbranch is a conservationist center, so they help rehabilitate animals that have been injured in the wild or need to be nursed back to health. This means that they are one of the few places licensed to help grow the Kiwi population (this is why New Zealanders call themselves kiwis, after the bird not the fruit). The Kiwi has become one of my new favorite animals, I swear. About the size of a cat, these flightless birds are covered in brown hair and spend their nights scurrying around, digging in the dirt with their elongated beak. Look them up, they’re awesome. Unfortunately, Willowbank is the only place our group will be able to see one of these fantastic creatures as they are currently endangered due to invasive species being brought over from Europe. Incidents like this are why New Zealand has such strict biodiversity laws.

While at Willowbranch, we also got to experience a bit of Maori culture with the boys in our group performing a Haka and the girls a poi (I was rubbish at it, I hit myself in the face about four separate times). We also got to have a traditional meal which was absolutely delicious, ending with a dessert called Hoki Poki ice cream that is just straight up sugar on a plate, basically.

The next day, we started our morning with the farmers’ market where I had an amazing breakfast sandwich consisting of hash browns, an egg, and bacon on ciabatta bread. Bacon here is a lot different than back home, it’s hammier and frankly just flat out better.

From the farmers, market, we hopped on the bus and drove a few hours into Hanmer springs where we went on a mini-hike up a “hill” (The kiwis and I have very different definitions of the word hill). The view was absolutely stunning. New Zealand really is a whole other world.

After our hike, we relaxed a bit in the hot springs (this class is killing me, really a tough one). The natural springs were fun and it was nice to take a load off after running around all week.

The drive home was nice, with the views becoming even more surreal with the sunset peaking over the mountains. It was also nice to chat for two hours with a new friend I made on the trip. I was a little apprehensive about my group at first, but upon getting to know them, they’re some pretty great people. Having good company has made this trip all the better.

We capped off the night by heading to a BYO—a kiwi favorite. Rather than a traditional pregame before going out, kiwis like to grab a bottle and take it to their favorite restaurant. While I didn’t partake in the drinking as I was exhausted from the day, it was wonderful to eat some damn good Thai food and get to hang out with the group a bit. One of the best parts of the night was when the owner came by, she didn’t speak a lot of English, so our group was having quite a tough time. Our friend Wes, out of the blue just starts speaking Mandarin with the woman and in his intoxicated state, his fluency was quite entertaining.

Now when we left, I did get myself into a bit of trouble. Not being used to relying on public transportation (or even really having it back home), I had researched my route beforehand. I double-checked with my driver to make sure I was heading in the correct direction and he assured me I was, but with it being dark out I managed to miss my stop. After looping through, the driver told me to hop out and my homestay would be just around the corner. This was not correct.

After wandering for about an hour and a half, attempting to make my way back with no phone service and trying to flag down a police car, I finally found a cab. I think I scared the poor man half to death as I ran at him from across the street. Twenty dollars and a few wrong turns later, I finally made it back around 12:30 at night. I had left the restaurant at 10:30. I have thus learned my lesson to make sure before hopping out of a bus.

This morning was nice as since it’s Sunday, we have the day off to relax. After enjoying a warm cup of pumpkin soup, my homestay took me on a scenic drive through the mountains. I think they are under the impression I’ve gone mute because the views just took my breath away. This was the first time I had gotten a glimpse of the ocean, and despite the crummy weather, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Driving through the twisting roads, it seemed like each turn revealed something better than the last. I’ve taken a few photos and attached them below, but trust me when I say it doesn’t do it justice.

A Walking Tour of Christchurch

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Great Adventure: The Pacific

When I was five years old, I rolled out of my twin sized bed around 11:30 at night and decided that I wanted to go on an adventure. I grabbed my Jansport backpack off its hook in my closet, packed it full of clothes and my favorite stuffed animals, and headed out the back door. From there, I threw the things I had gathered in a wagon from my shed and headed on down the street.

I got all the way through our neighborhood onto the main road before I turned around. The only reason I did turn around, actually, is because the sidewalk ended and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to navigate my wagon from there on (I was five cut me a break).

My mother was not happy when the police returned me a few hours later.

I didn’t understand her anger at me. I had just decided I wanted to expand my horizons and do some sightseeing, I didn’t mean it as a slight or an insult. I loved my family and I had every intention of returning—at some point.

While I do concede that my five-year-old adventures were ill advised at best, I think this story goes to show my innate curiosity about the world around me. From a young age, I’ve wondered what’s behind each turn and longed for new experiences and adventures. Now, at nineteen, I’m sitting at my gate preparing to travel 8,684 miles away from home. New Zealand has been a destination I’ve dreamed of seeing my entire life. It’s surreal, having the opportunity to go see a place I’ve only read about in books (It’s going to be far less surreal on the 16-hour plane ride from Dallas to Sydney, I’m sure).

While I’m in New Zealand, I’ll be focusing on linguistics and the Maori culture for my class. What’s really cool about this though, is that the whole purpose is to really immerse oneself into the island’s culture. I have the opportunity to stay with a New Zealand family as well as another international student from Indonesia. I’ll also be studying at Canterbury University, the largest in the country (not that that necessarily says much, they have more sheep than people there). We spend most of our time outside of the classroom exploring the city of Christchurch as well as getting out into the island a few times for more long-term excursions such as whale watching and Hanmer hot springs. The point is: this is one hell of an adventure.

My stay in New Zealand is four weeks long; four weeks of gorgeous beaches, breathtaking mountains, and of course, penguins. From there, I elected to extend my trip by heading over to the land down under and making my way down the gold coast.

I start my time in Australia with three days in Brisbane, where I intend to explore Bondi beach, hang out at Southbank, and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the city. From Brisbane, I’ll head for another three days in Sydney where I intend to do the Split Bridge to Manly coastal hiking walk, experience Port Jackson Harbor, and take in the views from the famous Sydney Harbour bridge. Finally, I cap it off with a four-day tour of Melbourne, which is supposed to be one of Australia’s most unique cities with an art culture guaranteed to knock my socks off. I can’t wait.

While my excitement is at an all time high, I do have to admit that I will miss my friends and family a ton, but I can’t wait to come home and tell them all the crazy stuff I will hopefully see and do. Saying goodbye to my mom at the airport today was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do (her tearing up DID NOT HELP), but I’m so grateful to everyone (especially my mom) in my life for pushing me to achieve my dreams and not be afraid to put myself out there. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my phenomenal mother and all of my friends (a special shout out to Meghan and Allie for picking me up at the airport when I get back home). A nerdy little sixth grader once held up a copy of National Geographic and vowed to see the mountaintops of New Zealand one day. At nineteen I’m fulfilling my dream and I couldn’t be happier. But that’s all for now, I’m off to the land of the kiwis where I will be spending my days amongst the whales, seals, and penguins, Oh my!

The Myth of the Blank Page

So I haven’t written in a while, and the simple reason I have for that is I’ve been doing what college students seem to have a tendency to do: I’ve been taking myself too seriously. I’ve become absorbed in my schoolwork and the trivial problems that tend to pop up in life, allowing my anxiety to build up until I became completely overwhelmed. Not exactly my smartest move, but hey, I’m working on it.

So, in my state of angst and stress, I took to the one thing that I do best: I read a book. It wasn’t a particularly good book, I’ll admit. That’s not to say it was outright bad; it was just very painfully mediocre. Still, it provided me a distraction from the calamities of every day life.

I would just like to say that I don’t think there’s anything quite so pure as a new book. There’s something incredibly wholesome about the way the spine cracks as you thumb through the first few pages. The lack of fingerprints, of creased pages, or any other blemishes, creates a testament to its unsullied status. The smell alone could earn its own paragraph in this post; that crisp, permeating scent that creates a knot of anticipation in your stomach. The feeling of a new book is something unmatched.

The reading of a book is special; one becomes engrossed in a whole new story. With each turn of the page, we become more and more absorbed in a world outside of our own, and that is something remarkable and incredibly underrated.

When I say that I turn to reading in my times of distress, I don’t intend to say that I use it as a means to an escape. As mesmerizing as a novel can be, the woes of the world are still ever-present, but they sort of fade to background noise. There’s a quote by William Styron that says, “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” I figure, since I’m busy leading several lives during the process of reading a novel, I get a nice distraction from my own. Plus, sometimes a novel can provide a little insight to a particular situation or problem one might be facing.

Now is about the time in this post where I attempt to get to the point. The whole reason I spent the last page and a half talking about books is that yes, despite that it is a cliché, there is a very strong parallel between a novel and life. But, before I get to that, I just want to take a moment to call bullshit on that whole “start a new chapter, tomorrow is a blank page” Pinterest crap.

While it is entirely possible to start a new chapter in life, tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or any day for that matter, is not a blank page. When a chapter starts in a book, it doesn’t just entirely disregard the last 455 pages. Suddenly the setting doesn’t change from New Jersey to Hogwarts School of Wizardry and the main character doesn’t transform from “the girl on fire” into a sparkly vampire with a crappy love life. That’s just not the way it works.

When a new chapter in a book starts, the plot progresses and the characters move forward. Granted, things change, but they do so based on individuals and events that have already been set in motion.

In this chapter, the main character can decide to move to L.A. or drop out of college and become an artist, but they have to go through the process of doing such. They need to tie up loose ends and buy a plane ticket or withdraw their attendance from their university. Supporting characters can leave the novel, but they need to be written out and that loss still affects the plot line whether we like it or not.

You can’t just become a new person overnight, that’s not how it happens. You can make a series of decisions and modifications that can change you, but you don’t get to just start over. We are molded by our experiences and our subsequent belief systems impact our decisions. The world is still the world and the people around us are still the people around us. Sure we can change our environment, and we can change our supporting characters, but we don’t get to change how the previous has affected us. And even still, there are factors that are out of our control. The blank page that everyone talks about, it doesn’t exist. And that’s a good thing.

I spent a good chunk of time describing the awe of a new book earlier, but I neglected to talk about the wonders of an old, familiar one. When you reread a book, the pages are often a little bent up and the cover is dinged around the edges from being toted around. Hell, there are probably a few crumbs jammed in the spine from the bagel you were munching whilst attempting to squeeze in a few chapters before class. There are a few splashes of tea when you accidentally spilled a bit while reading an exciting part. Then, of course, there are the little finger-sized indentations on each page from where you eagerly held the page, ready to move onto the next. These imperfections don’t take away from the words inside, however, they are just as, if not more, magical as the first time. All of these little marks and blemishes testify to the love this novel has endured and the experiences it has been through.

The words on the page are comforting in their familiarity, and yet, they still surprise you with the subtle things you missed the first time around, highlighted by prior knowledge. We understand why our favorite characters broke our hearts the way they did, or why a situation needed to be resolved in the manner it was. We get to see the growth of the characters as well; we relive their turmoil with the knowledge that it works out for them in the end (or doesn’t, depending on the book; if it’s Game of Thrones, the character is probably dead let’s face it).

Oftentimes, these books we reread are a part of a series as well, providing some background and insight into the latest addition of the story. Even though the material is old, it still has an impact. Italo Calvino, whose novel Invisible Cities was a contender for the Nobel Prize (he totally got robbed), said, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say”. It’s in these words that one can see why the nonexistence of the blank page is a good thing.

Our experiences, our beliefs, and the people around us, both good and bad, shape our story. They are a part of who we are and disregarding that would be a crime. So, as I attempt to start this new chapter, I’m going to look back at the recent month’s occurrences: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’m going to use them to propel myself forward, because that’s how a book works, and for that I am grateful.

My “passion” for tea

One of my earliest childhood memories is the sound of a whistling teapot and the smell of black Lipton tea wafting through my kitchen. I remember watching my mom put the kettle on to boil each morning, filling the bottom of a pale green mug with honey, and grabbing a tea bag from one of three little blue canisters that sat at the back of our countertop. She would sit there every morning, listening to me prattle on about my latest art project in school or some playground nonsense that was at the forefront of my mind at that age, sipping her tea and adding an “mmhmm” or a “that’s nice” when appropriate. At the time, these little tea talks just seemed apart of a morning ritual, something trivial, unimportant. I don’t think I ever took the time to appreciate my mom waking up early each morning just so she could see me for a brief portion of time before I caught the bus.

These early memories with my mom are some of the fondest ones I have now, looking back. At that time in my life, my mom worked long hours, making these breakfast conversations one of the few moments I got to spend with her one on one during the week. I would wake up each morning (after several bellowings of “Samantha Elizabeth if you miss the bus so help me god”; I was not, and am not to this day, a morning person) and look forward to these little breakfast chats, my mom with her tea and I with my chocolate milk.

I think that that’s where my love of tea stems from. I associate tea with those sleepy smiles and drowsy morning chats, their inconsequential nature giving them half of their charm. As I got older, I began recreating these tea talks without really realizing it. I would invite my friends over and just sit in the kitchen with cups of tea in our hands, talking about every topic under the sun. I’m smiling as I write this, homesick in my dorm, thinking about drinking tea with two of my best friends, huddled together in my basement, laughing about something that was probably completely asinine. When I sip my tea (I have an obnoxious amount each day, seriously it’s probably unhealthy at this point), I remember those moments of laughter, that distinctive brand of laughter that puts a warm feeling in your belly and causes tears to form in the corner of your eyes, threatening to fall at any second. I remember every smile, every silly moment, and it makes me feel a sense of home.

As such, when I moved 150 miles away from home, I (in Sam Harris fashion) went a little overboard in bringing that piece of home to school with me. My dorm room is lined with tea of varying kinds, from black to roiboos to oolong, you name it, and I probably have it. When my friends are sick or sad or just need a little pick-me-up, I can frequently be found turning on the electric kettle that sits in the corner of my room, the one that makes me long for that familiar whistling sound of home (seriously it makes this obnoxious roaring sound until the tea is ready that kind of makes me question its safety). From there I fill two mugs to the brim with piping hot water, tea bags delicately tied around the handles, if its appropriate I’ll mix in a little bit of honey, and then we sit and talk, sipping our tea as we do it.

I’d like to think my love for tea and this (rather poorly explained) rationalization of it isn’t too crazy. In the Middle East, getting together for a cup of tea is all about hospitality, gathering around a table with friends, enjoying one another’s company. The Arabic word for tea is شاي (pronounced “shaii”), and in many Middle Eastern countries, strangers and friends alike are served tea as a method of socialization. The tea is poured and people will “drink the day away” sipping tea and talking about life, getting to know one another. I like the idea of this, and I also like the fact that this cultural norm provides some validation for my love of tea and the significance I attach to it. I suppose that’s all I really have to say on the subject, however the fact that I was able to write over 800 words just about my love of tea is a little bit concerning. As I write this, I am currently sipping Tazo “berry trifle” out of my Toms mug, eagerly awaiting a FaceTime scheduled with one of my best friends so we can carry on our little tradition. For me, drinking tea is more than just enjoying a hot beverage on a cold night, it’s about friendship and love and all that gushy nonsense. I love tea, and I love the people I share it with, so I suppose I’ll end this post by saying if you’re one of those lucky human beings, thanks for the laughs and all the memories, I look forward to many more.

When I grow up…

I’ve known what I wanted to be since I was in the third grade. It was a definite. No questions asked. Samantha Elizabeth Harris was meant to be a journalist. My career path was one of the few things in my life that was stable; from an ever-changing health condition to just the general turmoil of growing up, things always seemed to be a little chaotic, except for this one aspect of my life. The key word being was (ooh dramatic italics coupled with a paragraph break, hang on to your seats ladies and gents, the angst is on its way).

Since coming to college, I question my career path each day. I struggle to admit this, as it feels like going against a commandment, something that’s been etched into stone since the beginning of time. Journalism has been my rock; it has been a part of my identity for ten plus years. I fought countless battles with my mom over my major, long before college applications were even a thought in my head (although, is there really such a thing as a time before college applications? I feel like college apps have been a presence in my life since I carried a Scooby Doo lunch box and traded colored erasers at recess). “You do realize there’s no money there, you’ll live out of a box”, my mother would yell, frustrated with what she perceived (maybe rightly) as my naivety. “But you’re smart”, my friends would utter quizzically after hearing my post-graduation plans. Despite the doubt, the reproach, and all of the naysayers, my mind was made up. By my senior year of high school, I finally had the world convinced. I was the minority amongst my friends in that I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. And then, I grew up. And then, suddenly, I didn’t seem to know anymore. My unshakeable resolve swiftly deteriorated into a puddle of self-doubt.

When I say I’ve wanted to be a reporter since the third grade, I mean it. Given an alternative assignment by a teacher who recognized my lack of challenge in class, I began reporting at the age of 8. My paper was colorfully titled The Awesomely Awesome News, the best name a socially awkward third grader could dream up. We employed one other writer, my co-editor and one of my best friends to this day (granted it was because our moms forced us, but we grew to like each other eventually), Allison. Allison and I spent hours pouring over news articles, sifting through headlines such as “Gas prices at all time high” and “Iraqi voters ratify a new constitution”, these major world events oftentimes lying outside the grasp of our comprehension levels. Still, we reported the news with diligence and pride (and A LOT of infighting—I mean she wanted to name the paper The Doggy Dish for god’s sake).

As I got older, I began refining my writing and defining my career path. I didn’t want to be any old journalist. Screw the fluff pieces and tabloids; I wanted to write hard-hitting news. I wanted to break Watergate, release the Pentagon papers, and unmask the Vatican’s history of abuse. I would be the voice for the unheard, calling the world’s attention to those who needed it the most. I envisioned myself travelling to remote places on assignment for Time Magazine (I, like the average human being, have had a subscription since the sixth grade. It’s normal. I swear.), The New York Times, or National Geographic. And then college happened.

First of all, it is hard as hell to write for a paper that caters to 60,000 students. It just is. I marched into the newsroom on my second day of school, signed my name up for a freelancing mail list, and waited for a story assignment to appear in my inbox. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. Sure there were story ideas, they were few and far between, but they were there. But they were bottom of the barrel type stuff. I’m not saying I expected to break the Lewinski scandal with my first article, but something other than the fencing team and some mediocre local band would have been nice.

Eventually, a light at the end of the tunnel filled with lackluster news stories did appear. With a little initiative and a lot of luck, I landed a one-on-one interview with country singer Hunter Hayes. And just like that the world seemed at peace again. The dust was shaken from the keys of my computer and my voice memo app christened with an interview that would soon be broken down into quotes, and those quotes would soon make up the backbone of a story. And that story would travel from a measly word document to newsprint in just a few short hours. I swear to god there’s no better feeling in the world than holding a hot-off-the-press paper in your hands: the memory of the printer’s heat like a ghost on your palms and the smell of ink hitting your nose in waves. It’s a high, an unparalleled sense of elation and pride all embodied by 16 pages of mechanically ground wood pulp. But alas, the bliss of breaking my reporting drought soon faded and in its place doubts filled my head. This was not what I wanted to be writing. Sure it was cool (I was shaking with excitement for hours after I left the interview), but whom did it help? What was its purpose? I wanted my writing to have a purpose, to do something. I didn’t want to just have some passing byline that a hungover college student skimmed over a morning cup of coffee. I wanted my words to have meaning. I just wasn’t (am not?) sure how to do that at this point.

I suppose that sort of brings things full circle. There is no real conclusion to this post as I guess I’m still looking for it. Writing is my passion, and I want to use that to help people (wow that sounded lame), but I’m just not sure if that’s the best way to go about it at this point. I have this vision of just buying a plane ticket to some war ravaged area like the Congo or Syria and just reporting on my experiences there while volunteering in some way, but I feel like that’s not the most realistic of plans. Plus, I don’t think I’d make it because my mother would skin me alive before I got within 10 miles of an airport. I’ve been thinking about declaring pre-law recently. I think it might be time to get practical about things. That’s not to say I’ve given up on journalism (I’m far too much of a hopeless romantic to do such a drastic thing), but I want to make a difference in the world, as naïve as that may sound. If journalism turns out to be the way to achieve that, then so be it. But I suppose only time will tell (that sounded nonchalant but please know that I lay awake at night stressing about my future at least 5/7 days a week). Until next time.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

In case it wasn’t apparent enough already, I have deep love for Dr. Seuss. I grew up with a bookshelf lined from end to end with a collection of his books, their vibrant illustrations and imaginative storylines taking center stage each night before my bedtime. I knew each book by heart; my dreams filled with vivid images of truffula trees, wockets, and of course, the ever-prominent sneeches.

Of all of Dr. Seuss’s books, however, my favorite was the lesser-known Horton Hatches the Egg. For those of you who don’t know the story (first of all, stop reading right this instant and visit your local bookstore. I’m dead serious. You are missing out on a literary masterpiece. Why are you still reading this? Go.), the book follows Horton the elephant, who is convinced by Mayzie, a lazy, negligent bird, to sit on her egg while she takes a short “vacation”, which turns into a permanent relocation to Palm Beach. Horton endures the elements and taunting by all of his friends, repeating to himself the whole time: “”I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred per cent!” Long story short (it’s actually only 64 pages), Mayzie comes back just as the egg is about to hatch and demands it be returned to her, attempting to take credit for all of poor Horton’s hard work. Since this story is called Horton Hatches the Egg and not Horton gets Charged with Felony Kidnapping, Horton winds up hatching a half-elephant, half-bird creature and gets to return home with his (child?) in tow.

Now, as a little kid, what I took away from the story is of course that perseverance is rewarded and you can’t run away from your responsibilities. Horton was clearly the hero in the story and my five-year-old self took that very seriously. Horton was good and Mayzie was bad. (Side note: I took the moral of that story to the extreme. Imagine a little kid with a bowl cut and a turtleneck reminding you of every promise you ever made with the reasoning of “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred per cent!” I think for a while there I actually thought that I was an elephant too. It was a bit concerning.)

Lately though, I have been pondering the role of the Mayzie bird. Sure, she went about it the wrong way, but what’s so bad about wanting to move to Palm Beach? What’s life without a little spontaneity? Some adventure? Now, I am not condoning Mayzie bird abandoning her child to go gallivant around on some sandy isle down south, but at the same time I do think Horton kind of needed to lighten the hell up. I mean what was stopping him from packing that egg up and living his life? He totally missed out on this giant chunk of time for no good reason other than he took himself a little too seriously.

Now for those of you who may be wondering why exactly I have spent the last four paragraphs ranting about a children’s novel, I swear there is a point. As I navigate my way through my second semester of college, this idea of responsibility obviously has a huge role in my life. I am responsible for myself in every capacity now; I’m an adult. I have to file a tax return, prepare myself to join the work force, focus on my studies, figure out what exactly I want to do for the rest of my life, etc. And the fact of the matter is, this stuff is BORING. I’m not going to tell the story of that wild night I stayed in and learned the fundamental theorem of calculus. Or that one crazy time I learned how to fill out a W-2 form. While this is all very important, it doesn’t really matter if you’re not experiencing life at the same time. This works both ways too, if you’re having too much fun, but neglecting all of your responsibilities, you’re not going to get very far.

I suppose that’s why I’m looking forward to 2016 and sort of why this blog was created (and hopefully will be maintained). This year, I think I’ve struck a good balance between Horton and Mayzie bird. While I am taking 17 credit hours this semester, I will also be preparing to travel to approximately two new states, four different continents, and 8 countries all within the next six months. While doing this, I will be earning college credit (at least for some of them), and using the money that I scraped and scrounged for all last summer (granted their was a lot of spending there that was definitely a bit on the irresponsible side of things, but we are back to pinching pennies). So while I have fulfilled the responsible side of things, the fun side of it definitely takes the cake here. The last few weeks have been unbelievable as plans have fallen into place and yes, as cheesy as it sounds, dreams have been coming true. I’ve found myself counting down the days until my adventure begins (I fly out to D.C., the first of my many destinations, on March 11). However, it has recently occurred to me that it’s already begun. While it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting in just a few more weeks, it has been a wild ride already: last year I started college, moved to a brand new city, met all new people, and have created some wonderful memories with some pretty great friends. None of that should be discounted. But also at the same time New Zealand>>>College. Nonetheless, in this blog I will (attempt) to catalog all of my adventures, both big and small. I suppose it would only be appropriate to end this post with a quote from the Dr. Seuss book for which this post is named. While most would go with the ever optimistic, “Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” I think I’m going to go with one that sort of sums up the most exciting part of this whole experience: “You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go!” Here’s to you 2016.