It’s hard to believe I’m saying this, but…. I’m officially halfway through the semester. A lot has happened since I arrived, so I figure now is as good a time as any to take stock of what I’ve learned, what I didn’t expect, and what I still want to do before I leave this remote little corner of the world.
First, a laundry list of what I’ve figured out since I got here:
Kiwis really are some of the most inclusive and friendly people, and they do walk around barefoot ALL the time. “No shirt, no shoes, no service” absolutely does not exist in this country. The food isn’t as expensive as everyone makes it sound (unless you’re looking for American brands), and it really is better. As is the coffee and wine (oh god, the wine…). The internet isn’t that slow, and yes, they do have Netflix now. Yes, New Zealand is straight out of a picture book (or Tolkien’s imagination)—but there are still flat stretches of road, run down buildings, litter and broken glass on the sidewalks, and noisy traffic. Just because it’s Middle Earth doesn’t make it immune to humans. Sheep are actually everywhere, and no, they haven’t stopped being exciting. I’ve learned that I love beetroot, you don’t have to refrigerate eggs, Kiwi tomato sauce is better than ketchup (!!!), afghan cookies are sent from heaven, and that kale is my new best friend. I’ve also discovered Kiwi and Aussie music (hello, Sticky Fingers), become a vegetarian, started meditating, and learned the value of solo-adventuring. This country is changing me day by day, and I have a feeling that the more I see, the more I’ll learn about both it and myself.
Even though it feels like I’ve already done so much, there are definitely some limitations I didn’t expect. As much as I adore Dunedin, the biggest difficulty I’ve had to overcome thus far has been actually leaving it. Like many Americans that come from rural areas, I’ve never had much difficulty getting around because 1) I’ve had a car, 2) my parents could drive me, or 3) I knew dozens of other people with cars I could mooch off of. I knew it would be more difficult to travel here, but I assumed I could easily figure out a solution once I arrived.
The things I love most about Dunedin—it’s relative isolation and small size—are also its downfall. There are exactly two busses that leave Dunedin’s city limits, both of which are expensive and neither of which go to the scenic areas and parks I want to visit. Cars are also not nearly as prevalent in the states, which I knew beforehand—I just didn’t quite visualize the consequences. I’ve still managed to see new places and be active on the weekends (thanks mid-semester break and Jake’s car!), but not nearly as much as I expected to.
This made it far too easy to fall back into a comfortable routine because it’s not hard to convince yourself that just being in a new country is exciting enough—and that problem is only compounded when it takes considerable work to travel anywhere else. You start to take where you are for granted because you know it’s waiting right outside your door, and that it will still be there tomorrow. Living in a constant state of new stimuli is a ready-made excuse to take days off, relax, and settle into the rhythms you had back home.
But I didn’t study abroad for that, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. I didn’t come to New Zealand to go out with friends 3 nights a week and sleep my weekends away, or to stay up watching Netflix, or spend my Sundays in the library. I came here because I wanted to be outside in one of the most physically diverse countries in the world, and because I wanted to remember why I chose to study Environmental Science in the first place. So for the second half of this semester, I won’t settle back down into my comfort zone anymore—it’s my goal to take more long drives to new places, to spend nights freezing in tents, to get up stupidly early for the sunrise and watch the frost burn off the tussock grass. I want to be sore, tired, uncomfortable, and cold, because that’s an indication that I’m pushing myself and getting out there to do something new.
This weekend I’m headed up to Mt. Cook to camp, so hopefully this is the start of a trend of actively seeking out new ways to leave my adopted home. There’s so much left for me to see, and I’m not going to take any more weekends for granted.
Jenna Tiller is a student at Miami University and an official API student blogger. Jenna is currently studying abroad with API in Dunedin, New Zealand. If you enjoy her photography as much as we do, follow her on Instagram at @jenna_renee13!