Cheers, New Zealand

In Maori, kia ora means hello. I’ve heard it countless times since coming here. It’s a warm greeting here in New Zealand, used by Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori/European) alike. In my time here, I’ve picked up a handful of Maori words that are used in every day practice here. However, as I packed up my bags last night and prepared for my departure in the morning, I found that I didn’t know the word for goodbye. This is a pretty basic one, so I was a bit taken aback. Upon examination though, I’ve realized that I haven’t really put a lot of thought into my leaving. This place, in the month I’ve been here, has felt like a home. It took twenty young, loud Americans in and adopted them into its culture, into its beautiful scenery and friendly atmosphere. Leaving feels wrong; I’ve found paradise and I’m not ready to let go. I looked up the word for goodbye today, noho iho rā, but the fact of the matter is, I’m just not quite ready to say it yet.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Christchurch airport, waiting to board my flight to Auckland where I’ll catch my connection to Brisbane, my next destination. While I am looking forward to it, my excitement is hampered by the sadness over leaving New Zealand. This place has taken me in, adopted me into every day life. It shows by the familiar faces I see on campus, by the little kiwi slang that’s made its way into my speech. I notice it on my walk home, where I no longer frantically search for street signs, my feet instinctively knowing where to turn and which direction to head in. New Zealand has taken a piece of my heart, becoming a home, albeit a temporary one.

When I first came here, I was incredibly nervous it wouldn’t live up to my excessively high expectations. I had dreamed of visiting New Zealand since I was little, after reading a Nat Geo article describing the lush forests, blue water, and vibrant wildlife. It has surpassed everything I could possibly have dreamed of. I am so incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to come here and to have the experience I now do at only nineteen. I would just like to take a second and thank everyone who made that possible. Thank you to my two best friends for volunteering to pick me up at the airport in Columbus despite the late hour and the inconvenience (you better not forget me). Thank you to all of the people who organized this program, as I was a bit nervous since this was the first year for it. You did a wonderful job; I wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you to my group, who made this trip that much the better. I’m so grateful to have met such a wonderful collection of people that I can now count as friends. Finally, the biggest thank you goes out to my mom for teaching me that the sky is the limit, for pushing me out of my comfort zone time and time again. I know letting me go all the way around the world wasn’t easy, and I appreciate it more than you know.

I feel as though this trip has taught me so much, both about the world and about myself. I’ve spent time acclimating to a whole new culture, but I’ve also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts. This trip provided a unique opportunity to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of life. On other holidays, you still have the stress of work or school weighing on you, you’re with your family and your phone probably doesn’t ever stop buzzing. Here, I’ve been on my own, my phone doesn’t work about 40% of the time and when it does, it’s some obscene hour back in the states. The isolation, at first, was a bit unsettling, but towards the end I relished in it. Taking a step back and being able to look at things objectively has been a blessing. This trip was sort of like hitting the pause button on life, while I’ll have to hit play soon, it’s been nice to take some time off.

I would like to think that I’ve grown a lot on this trip, that I’ve learned to take things one step at a time, to relax a bit. I would like to think that I’ve learned to let some things go and also clarified when it’s necessary give in a bit and where I need to demand more. I think the one thing I have learned for sure, however, is that my thirst for adventure isn’t going away anytime soon. Standing on top of a mountain, cruising through the Pacific Ocean, and standing on the very edge of a cliff, amongst other things have only left me eagerly searching for more, and I fully intend to find it.

It’s been a phenomenal month, one I’ll never forget. Each day, a new adventure revealed itself, each better than the last. I considered this trip to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I’ve realized I’m going to have to do it at least twice. While I’ve done a lot in my short time here, there’s so much left to explore. I’ve fallen in love with this place, so I don’t think I’m going to be able to stay away. In the meantime though, thanks for the memories NZ, Cheers.