Motivational Statement – December 2014
Flipping through the pages of my eighth-grade geography textbook, waiting for class to start, I stopped at a man, eyes bulging, tongue flailing, tattoos circling his face. I had never seen anyone like him.
Captivated by this man’s fearsome presence, I read the caption, and I discovered that this indigenous man was a Maori from the island of New Zealand. I always kept that image of New Zealand in my mind after that, and my brother, presently on a mission in Mongolia, emailed me last week reminding me of this man, and the first time New Zealand entered into my mind. I came back to New Zealand via film a couple years after seeing that tattooed man: I was finally old enough to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After watching 37 hours and 22 minutes of television, I fell in love with New Zealand again. I had never known such a majestic, green, and wondrous place existed, but that’s New Zealand–it defies all expectations–and I knew that one day, I had to go there.
My chance to go finally arrived subsequent to my early graduation from high school and acceptance to the Honors College at UNLV. In a freshman seminar course, a study abroad representative came to my class, handed me a neat brochure, and began to ask us where we thought we belonged. I said New Zealand; she said, “we have a program there.” I nearly jumped out of my seat. I could go to the Shire, see this enigmatic man from my textbook, feel pure Wellington wind blow against my face. I did everything in my power to get myself to New Zealand following that presentation, and now, as a proud passport holder, and Massey University student, I am four months away from embarking on my first trip outside the continental United States with USAC’s Study Abroad Program.
I had no problem picking Massey as my host university. Their Wellington liberal arts hub has partnered with Weta Digital, churned out many fantastic artists, and created an innovative environment that I crave to be in, even if only for a semester. As an English major, being creativity is my forte, so Massey University’s Creative Campus, situated in the “World’s Coolest Little Capital City,” has my name plastered on it.
I know Wellington will live up to its title. I have seen countless videos delineating all it has to offer in terms of cultural immersion, history, unique foods and beverages, and beautiful weather. I will, of course, make up my own opinion about the city once I get there, but I have only seen and heard marvelous things about it. My time in New Zealand will not solely be based in Wellington. I will take full advantage of my breaks during the semester, traveling from windy Wellington to the long harbor of Dunedin. I will tread lightly on the sacred island of New Zealand, learning new ways of being, and seeing what “the real Middle-Earth” truly has to offer.
Special Report: Invercargill
I was lucky enough to get to ride a plane to the bottom of the South Island because of the graciousness of Education New Zealand. I went to Invercargill, and I kept thinking of the movie, Goodbye Pork Pie, and that quintessentially kiwi catchphrase, “I’m taking this bloody car to Invercargill!”
I had the best time getting to know my Air BnB hostess, Tina, and her husband and lovely though gigantic dog. I’ll always remember walking through the forest and along the river in the sleet. It was beautiful there, and quite a bit different than Wellington. I went to the local museum, and I was greeted by one of the curators who promptly told me about all the sites he set up, about the waka submerged in some preserving liquid, the Maori wood carvings, the hull and life preservers of a ship, the penguins, albatrosses, and just a whole bunch of fascinating stuff.
After my tour of the inside, I went outside to the rose garden. They were all wilted from the harsh winter setting in, but it was still quite stunning. The green trees lined the whole garden, and the occasional statue peeked out from behind masses of leaves and fallen flower petals. I never saw such gigantic trees in my whole life. I then exited the museum, and walked around the city of Invercargill. I found the cinema, some shops, a cafe, and a number of things just by walking. I’ll never forget the gust of wind that kept me trapped in the corner of this church for about a minute. I literally couldn’t move the wind was so strong–it was quite the experience.
I’m a bit ashamed to say that I saw a movie that day. I was too cold to walk around anymore, and so I decided to go see a film, and I was the only one in there aside from two couples. The film was really good, and I was glad I did end up seeing it on that cold day.
Report 4: Birthdays
I go home in 26 days. I can’t seem to shake that off my mind now, and even though I have had such an amazing time, I don’t want to leave. Before I came over here, I was told by several friends whose brothers, sisters, cousins, roommates went to New Zealand that they stayed here and never came back to America. I’d love that to be my story as well, and yet I knew when I came here that it all would end eventually.
Classes concluded on Friday, and starting today, I have a whole week and two days before I have to go back to Massey and take my only exam in Language and Communication. I’ve grown to love the small nature of Massey as my home university is significantly larger than it. At Massey there’s one cafe, at UNLV there’s a whole food court. Sandwich shops and coffee havens are also peppered across campus with a string of restaurants within walking distance.
Yet, with one neat, small, single cafe, there’s a greater chance that you’ll see your professor, an old friend, or a classmate. Tussock is a venue such that the cashier knows you love long black coffee without sugar or milk alongside the occasional kombucha, and that even though he can’t remember your name, he knows your face. You don’t get that at UNLV. Droves of people flock upon Starbucks, Taco Bell, Panda Express and the other multitude of fast food at UNLV–there’s no homemade food. Meanwhile, Tussock has a plethora of hot meal options, and even vegan options sometimes. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather support local joints than chain restaurants.
This past month has zoomed in on my life as a student. I’ve completed assignment after assignment, and I’ve learned so much. Working with a group in my Creative Processes class has been so rewarding. This past Friday we did our end of the year, public showcase as a class, and our group went first. Essentially, we had to make a mixed media play, and as an English major, I was wholly unprepared for it, so seeing it come together from backstage and playing my rented flute in it was really fulfilling and provided me with much-needed closure for that just amazing class. An earlier highlight of my month was my birthday—I turned 19 here in Wellington just like Elijah Wood.
My birthdays have always been rather dull except for when my mom took me to Disneyland or to the premiere of The Pirates of the Caribbean with a bunch of friends, or my favorite 17th birthday where I had to take my AP U.S. History Exam, but I wanted my birthday here to be special. I originally had planned to go to Hobbiton again, but I decided to wait until my parents came to go again, so instead I stayed here in rainy Wellington.
While being here, I’ve become immersed in a creative world, and I have seen films I would have never seen had it not been for some influences from fellow students. I’ve fallen in love with Audrey Hepburn, Wes Anderson, and Woody Allen because of some classmates who told me to watch them. I’ve also been re-awakened to the Australian singers Angus & Julia Stone and the band Cat Power from acquaintances.
This is all partially because at Massey, and Wellington in general, is so close-knit that I have had numerous intimate conversations with people, and I have gotten to know them on a level I wouldn’t have otherwise had I just seen them passing by in a lecture hall. Back at UNLV, I am in the Honors College, and as a result, my classes are no larger than 25 students, but I still know that I’ll miss the smallness. I don’t know what it is that makes Massey tick, and I wish to take a bit of that back with me. Maybe one day, when I’m back home, I’ll realize that a part of my soul has stayed here. I’ll always have a bit of me residing in my second home, Wellington, New Zealand.
Report 3: Journeys
Today marks the 79th day of me being in New Zealand. I don’t know if I have changed as a person since being here. All I can say is that I feel like I have “gone native” in a sense. I’ve observed life after life, people who pass me on the sidewalk, many different faces; I’ve seen them. They matter just like I do, and I feel privileged to have witnessed, talked to them. There are so many unique people here. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, I have traveled and found the beautiful, and now I have to carry that with me or I won’t ever truly find it or see the enormity of the beautiful.
Every day I used to wake up in my flat, and as messy and wholly personalized it is, I felt like I was in a sort of foreign environment. That was before Spring Break. I still have a vague feeling of being foreign in my own designated place, but my flat is home. I came home from long journeys these past weeks, and I found myself collapsing on my bed, kissing my stuffed animals, and feeling that warm sense of belonging hug me. I knew I belonged here, and I couldn’t be happier coming home after walking back from the train station or getting out of a taxi from the airport. Travel is a curious thing and makes me feel completely entrenched and exhilarated by new environments while slowly pulling me back to my ‘home.’ There’s a cruel juxtaposition there. I’m glad I finally feel like my home is here, in New Zealand. When I first stepped on New Zealand ground, I would occasionally miss my home country, my house, my family, and yet, I got out of that rut by exploring more, experiencing more, and talking more. I can’t ever go back.
I know now how hard it will be to let New Zealand go, to get on that plane back to Los Angeles, and I can’t really bear to think about it. I keep on joyously taking each day for what it’s worth while carrying the beautiful I’ve come to know and experience with me. From Papamoa Beach to Hamilton to Auckland to everywhere in-between, I explored the North Island over Spring Break. Before, I met the mayor, went to Hobbiton, hiked the Tongariro Crossing, and presented a box about myself to complete strangers for a class. And yet, after all that, I feel like I could have done more. During Spring Break, I was all by myself, and I am grateful for that alone time—it gave me a good long while to think about myself and how I fit into this island country. I had the most magical of journeys on the train to Auckland courtesy of Kiwi Rail’s Northern Explorer.
As an inexperienced rail traveler, I was giddy when I finally got on the platform: this was my first train ride. When I got on and took my seat, I just sat and looked at everything. I was in the perfect car with the viewing car behind me and the cafe just two cars away. The viewing deck was my favorite part. I could feel the air rush up against my cheek and see rushes of green and blue and millions of sheep pass me by. The journey was long; indeed, I left my flat at 6:30AM in order to get to the check-in station at 7AM and I didn’t arrive in Auckland until 8:45PM. I wouldn’t have spent those hours any other way. Fast forward to just this last week, and I went on an adventure with a dear friend of mine around the Wellington coast. After our class, she just capriciously asked me if I’d like to go on a short road trip along the coast, and of course, I said yes. I owe Amanda Palmer for that affirmative (and, by extent, for the trip in itself). I wouldn’t have seen all these miraculous things if I didn’t realize how important it is to say ‘yes.’ Before New Zealand, everyone knew my favorite word was ‘no;’ travel, Amanda Palmer, Rebecca Solnit, my professor, Jaclyn Costello, and just experience has changed that for me.
I now accept the unknown and say ‘yes’ to the world whenever I can. On that trip around the coast, my friend gave me a tour of all the lesser known parts of Wellington. We first stopped at a mini golf course and artistic treasure called Carlucci Land. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this little spot, but it felt like something out of a Tim Burton movie, to say the least—eccentric, detailed, amazing. From there, we traveled to Owhiro Bay, Houghton Bay, Lyall Bay, Breaker Bay, Seatoun, Maupuia, Miramar, Oriental Bay, and back to my flat in Mount Cook. We stopped at Miramar and went inside the Roxy Cinema which I was told is a landmark of the suburb. Miramar also houses the famous Weta Workshop (which I have toured twice now). The Roxy is related to Weta in that it was revitalized by Tania Rodgers, who is Sir Richard Taylor’s partner. My friend actually used to work at Weta, and she knows Ms Rodgers, so it was cool to receive some insider knowledge. After the road trip, I didn’t know what to say. I was mesmerized by the whole experience, all I said was, “thank you so much.” I simply walked up to my flat on the fifth floor and flipped through my pictures.
The experience (made all the more meaningful being with a friend) will always stay with me. All because I said, “yes.” Yes to the trip, yes to coming to New Zealand and yes to myself. Another meaningful experience this week has been the ongoing ANZAC day celebrations. I was privileged to attend the dawn service for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing on Saturday. The service was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and there was so much reverence and genuine respect for the fallen. I was so shaken by the service I couldn’t go back to sleep that day. I will always remember that ceremony. This month has, as you can see, been busy, but I have taken each day and lived it as best I can. I’ve had the time of my life, and I have explored what some of my Kiwi friends have said to be basically all of the North Island. I have immersed myself in this country, and I will take it’s beauty into my heart, and carry it with me as I continue my study. I can’t wait for what’s to come.
Report 2: An Update
As of this writing, I have now been in New Zealand for 51 days.
53 days ago, my mom drove me, my dad and Aunt Becky in her little gold Prius from my hometown of Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
52 days ago, I was trying to sleep on my Air New Zealand flight from LAX to Auckland.
51 days ago, I landed in Auckland, went to customs and biosecurity, and hopped on another plane to Wellington.
As I sit here now, I can’t believe the days have gone by so quickly. I’ve already done so much, but looking back, my experiences were all so meaningful, and I want nothing less than to have every day be an adventure. I don’t want these days to pass in vain.
I can’t do justice to New Zealand. Everything is far too gorgeous to describe with just words. On a bus ride to Matamata two weekends ago, I remember gaping at the beauty from my window: I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much vibrant greenery in my entire life. None of the flora or fauna from the dusty window seemed to be real. I stared out the window for nearly the entire bus ride, until we stopped at a Palmerston North and a kind-faced Māori woman sat down next to me (my friend, Marta, wanted more room so she sat behind me). She said to me that she loves to see young travelers like me, especially in New Zealand, because it makes her remember just how much she has grown up with. To her, New Zealanders forget how beautiful their country is and they lose sight of it, but seeing others in awe of a sheep for the first time, like me, roaming around on a green hill surrounded by swirling white clouds makes her remember to love her country.
Whoever she is, I am privileged to have spoken to her, even though it was only for a few hours. With little wrinkles around her eyes and a smackering of grey hairs about thick black bun, she reminded me of someone, but I didn’t know who. With her soft brown skin, wide grin accompanied, and imperfect teeth, I felt safe sitting next to her. You could tell she was a mother. Cautious of her son, lovely to strangers, and curious to the point of being protective. She warmed up to me. I felt safe detailing my life to her, and she, to me. I loved making her laugh, and managed to get her to around five times. I didn’t even know her name.
You meet a lot of people like that in New Zealand if you open yourself up. I realize now that the best memories I’ve had have not been by myself, to my surprise. Yes, my walks around Wellington Central and Newtown have all been truly memorable, but those are introspective memories. I’ve met so many interesting and remarkable people here, though, and being with them and engaging with them stick out the most in my mind. From eating dinner with a Māori family up in Porirua my first night here to meeting a bunch of vegans in Newlands, or to watching a Star Trek movie marathon at someone’s house that you just met in Wadestown, these memories hold more meaning than those that you just made by yourself.
For instance, on that bus ride to Matamata, I had met Marta the first week of school, and we capriciously decided to take a trip up to Hobbiton together, and then this past week, we went on the Tongariro Crossing with some other international kids. I guess that’s what traveling is about: you learn about yourself, but you also engage with people who you’d never imagine meeting if you stayed home.
Wellington is my new home. I love its compact nature, chill atmosphere, and the smell of coffee walking down any and every street. At first, I remember thinking it was so small, and I was amazed that I could literally walk around the whole central part of the city in a single day, but now, I love it. I can’t imagine studying abroad in another place. The ocean is literally ten minutes away from my flat; the town belt, fifteen. Everything I could ever want is within walking distance, and you can’t say that about many places in America.
I am proud to be here. I am accepted for who I am here, and even though I feel like this is all a dream, I love it. Nothing makes me happier than waking up in the morning, seeing the sun rise, and realizing that I am in New Zealand.
Report 1: First Impressions
Nearly a week has passed since my arrival here in Wellington, and I couldn’t be happier.
I began my adventure in my Southern Nevada home with my Aunt Becky, mom, and dad last Friday. Around 10AM that morning we jetted off in my mom’s little Prius for Los Angeles because it was cheaper to fly out of LAX than McCarran, plus my flight NZ1 flew straight to Auckland.
If I have learned anything today, it’s that everyone, even the stupid girl from America parading around the streets of Wellington can find amazing people and do amazing things.
This day began at 6 PM Friday night at LAX, and didn’t stop until just now, 8:13 PM Sunday night. I began the day wholeheartedly amused and excited for my adventure, only to badly end once my feet touched New Zealand ground. Who came to my rescue but my beautiful mom, a patient, kind, gracious mission president and a wonderfully warm, welcoming, and loving Mormon Maori family. I will never be able to repay all of these people for being so wonderful to me. Here I was lost in Wellington, not knowing what to do about being locked out of my apartment with the wrong keys, not knowing where to look to buy a water or toilet paper, and then out of the blue, I received a phone call. Steven was his name, and he was so patient with me as I tried to scribble the numbers on a can in the dairy I was looking in. I had no pen, my phone’s battery was dying, and I had no power in my apartment or my charger, and I was genuinely stressed out. When he called me back with nothing but good news and that he heard his friend wanted to bring me over for dinner, I couldn’t contain myself. Steven put Ariel on the phone and we had multiple lines going at once, and my heart screamed yes! I was so overcome with emotion that I just cried. I cried talking to Steven, cried seeing New Zealand after my 12-hour plane, and now I was crying in a corner dairy over being invited to a “stranger’s” house for dinner. This was the New Zealand I wasn’t looking for it was totally what I needed to comfort my racing heart and aching mind.
I’m here in New Zealand, and I can say now, after a hectic day yesterday and a good sleep, that this is a special place. So far I’ve met amazing people who have helped me beyond measure, and I am excited to be here. Sitting here at the waterfront, I can tell I am ready for this adventure. Although, it sure is windy here! You are the same day as me finally! It’s Monday here too.
Because this place is inspiring, I wrote this in the airport yesterday:
I walked a nice footpath to get here, the domestic Air New Zealand transfers. I followed the green arrows, and I instinctively walked on the left side of the sidewalk, and I didn’t even feel strange about doing it. The air was wonderful, and the bushes I brushed my hand against were soft and healthy. I still can’t believe I’m here. It’s cloudy, but I like it. When we flew through the layer of clouds, they all looked like one ball of hand stretched cotton. There’s a beautiful lightness to those clouds. I’ve never seen so many of them in my whole life. Land of the long white cloud. That’s right. I understand now. The sky is gloriously puffy with its clouds, and to see the pink hue ring in the sunrise was unbelievable from however many kilometers up. Pink kissed the grayish blue sky and gradually stained it until it filled with a pale yellow light. The clouds came streaming in like ants, and soon the pink faded into the light, retreating behind the clouds. I’ll never forget it.
Looking Back On My First Day
Well, it’s been a week since I left my humble hometown of Henderson, NV for LAX. That drive plus that 12-hour flight was brutal, and I’ll always remember how (for lack of a better adjective) funky I felt. Squashed in the corner, when I finally saw New Zealand peeking through the dense, buttercream layer of clouds, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sleepy travelers groaned all around me when the seat belt sign finally flashed on for landing while I removed the film from my bloodshot eye sockets. Being a light sleeper combined with a small area and crying babies, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the flight, so you can believe the sheer, bloody relief that rushed over me when Auckland came into view. After disembarking my Air New Zealand plane, I thanked the flight attendants because the service was spectacular―it was just my fault for not taking enough Benadryl. I picked up my bag, walked to customs, made it through bio-security, re-checked my bag, and then had a lovely 10-minute walk outside to the domestic terminal. Wellington was my next stop. I arrived at my gate about an hour and a half early, so I jetted over to the bathroom to wash my hands and tidy myself up. My next flight left a few minutes after scheduled.
I sat next to a chatty bunch of New Zealand teens on the Wellington flight, but it braced me for the flurry of quick speech that would soon run in and out of my ears. Because I sat at the back of the plane, disembarking the flight in a timely manner proved a tad difficult. The whole time I stressed about my taxi driver taking off without me, how I would get to my accommodation without him/her, and what if my bag got lost in Auckland. Thankfully, none of that happened. My taxi driver patiently held up a sign nestled within both his hands: it read “Palmer.” I couldn’t have been happier to see my last name and a Santa Claus looking man holding it up. I said, “That’s me!” like I had won the lottery or something. I got a hold of my suitcase, and the gentleman led me along to his taxi (which looked more limousine-ish to me). He confirmed that I was going to the Massey accommodation/dorms, and we were off.
Seeing a city you’re going to live in for five and so months from the backseat window of a taxi isn’t so bad. After a long flight, I jumped at the chance to be in something cozier than a small area next to a plastic window. The drive flew by, and my driver kindly chatted to me, assuring me that I’d have a good time. However, the meter kept increasing as I counted my New Zealand Dollars. After it exceeded $20, I got worried. I arrived at my accommodation with said meter reading $35 NZD, but much to my surprise, I didn’t have to pay! The university paid for it. He handed me his card along with a smile, saying that if I ever needed anything, to just give him a call―it was unconditionally free. I got to the doors of The Cube, and didn’t know how it opened, so I awkwardly stood there with my backpack around my shoulder and my large suitcase in hand only to be greeted by some 20 something university students. E (abbreviated for privacy) introduced himself as my RA which means he’s in charge of my flat and floor. He gave me my keys and took me up to my flat. He didn’t want to intrude in my business too much, so he left pretty quickly after giving me a run down of the rules and a few papers to sign.
I was too tired to realize that he didn’t give me the right keys. This caused my first panic of the day. The second panic took hold when I plugged in my phone to the socket realizing the power wasn’t on. I thought it was my bad for having American plugs and a faulty adapter, but after checking every other plug in my room, I figured something was fishy. I walked downstairs to discover a deserted common room: nobody was there to assist me, so I walked back upstairs realizing I couldn’t get into my room. I tried to shrug it off but I was frustrated, so I went back downstairs to go for a little walk to clear my head and waste some time. I did have my keys, phone (50% battery), and cash just not a charger or the paper with the help number on it, so I wasn’t sure what to do.
Overwhelmed, I simply walked down Taranaki Street to see if I could find some caffeine or some assistance. Eventually, I wandered into the Te Papa National Museum where I found reliable wifi and some solace to figure out what I was going to do. Lost, I decided to do what any 18-year-old would do: I called my mom. I didn’t want to bug or stress her out with my predicament, but I had no other choice. Once I got her on the phone, she told me to do all these things, and yet I really just wanted some assurance that I could figure this out. After phoning her and leaving the museum, I walked to a grocery store nearby because why not.
I got a funny phone call in there from the mission president (we’re LDS/Mormons) from Auckland calling on behalf of my mom. I felt terrible. If I’m being brutally honest, I cried ―he said he was going to help me no matter what. I even felt more terrible when he was giving me phone numbers, and I didn’t have anything to write them down with. I tried to carve them into this can with my fingernail because he wanted me to repeat it back to him, but I couldn’t. The number, which I eventually memorized, was to phone a friend of his that lived not far away from my accommodation in Wellington. The mission president ended up recalling me with his friend on the line, and I know he obviously thought I was a stupid wreck at that point. His friend, who I came to know as Mr. M (abbreviated for privacy), was a godsend. Honestly, I wouldn’t have made it through Sunday without him and his generous family. I walked back to my flat after the phone call, chucked my groceries in my flat, and went back downstairs to wait for Mr. M to pick me up with his wife. When I saw their kind eyes and realized they were Maori and Mormon, my stress simply melted. I knew I was in good hands.
They drove me all the way to their home in Porirua, and they let me eat Sunday dinner with them and on their son’s 25th birthday. I’ve never felt like I was intruding, but I sure felt like it then, and yet, they made me feel welcome, automatically and without pretense. They were so kind, and I will forever be indebted to them for welcoming me on such a stressful day. To make me feel more comfortable, they took me around Wellington after dinner and showed me where everything was, and then they took me to the grocery store for some last minute necessities.
They were so kind, and I will forever be indebted to them for welcoming me on such a stressful day. To make me feel more comfortable, they took me around Wellington after dinner and showed me where everything was, and then they took me to the grocery store for some last minute necessities. And with a final sincere “welcome to New Zealand” I hopped out of the car at the Cube only to find that there was a nice lady in the Cube office. I asked if I could have the right keys, and she graciously swapped them out with the right ones. I think the Maori Mormons (as I explained them to my parents) were good luck.
And that was Sunday.
After living in Wellington for a solid week now, I think I can now make a better judgment of the city and it’s populace. I couldn’t be happier here. Once you get to know New Zealanders, you realize that most (well all of the ones I’ve met) are the sweetest people. They would do anything for you. Wellington is a gorgeous place to live despite the capricious weather, and I am lucky to be able to stay and study here. But, I still am in disbelief that I’m even here!
Kia Ora and Happy Holidays!
I was chosen as the international recipient of a generous scholarship: the Education New Zealand Travel Awards has honored me with $2,000 to study abroad next semester. I couldn’t be more blessed. With this scholarship funding, I can now go to New Zealand completely ready for my adventure! My parents are less stressed now, and I have shown them, by winning the scholarship, that I am independent and can totally live by myself in another country. Getting ready for this study abroad experience has taught me so much–it’s been more than a year in the making, and I can’t believe I’m going in 38 days. I am so thrilled to be able to express my creativity, photographs, videos, and artwork with the Education New Zealand Travel Awards. Because I have received this scholarship, I will be creating three unique reports over my time in New Zealand, and I hope, dear readers, that you’ll be with me along the way. I’ll be sure to Facebook and Tweet when my first report comes out, so stay tuned! I want to sincerely thank all of you for your support and love, especially my dear parents and missionary brother. Cheers!