Coming to New Zealand for my study abroad semester was the first time that I traveled to this side of the globe. This trip is now more than five years ago, but thinking back to that time wonderful memories pop into my mind. Memories of a time that had an immense impact on my life.
To give a short summary: it was a trip that was full of life, freedom, and lovely people – all captured within the borders of a stunning piece of land in the middle of the ocean.
My first experience that I will always remember and that actually mirrors the unique little something of the rest of my stay was right at the airport in Auckland.
My plane landed in the middle of the night and I felt a bit lost not knowing what to expect from the few months ahead of me at the other side of the world. A lady from “the village” (the student accommodation on campus) told me to take the Supershuttle which would drop me right in front of the door of my apartment. Well, I did have an address and a phone number, but it turned out to be very unclear for the driver where to go to. Basically, he didn’t know what I was talking about. I was tired, my brain didn’t really feel like jumping into solution mode and before I even had a chance to turn on my desperate thinking, the driver was so kind and arranged everything for me. “Give me the phone number, my dear. I’ll sort this.” He called the village office, made sure someone would be waiting there to welcome me, and took me right there while chatting to me about the world. I was touched by his gentle kindness and couldn’t thank him enough.
This turned out to be something typical for anyone I met in New Zealand. This genuine kindness and being open to help at any time and whatever it might be about. There was always someone to talk to. What really impressed me was that even the lecturers were always keen to take their time after class and answer questions, discuss any doubts, or provide help with an assignment. And the feedback!! I have never received such detailed and honest feedback before. Reading not only the mean shiny red lines about what was bad or needs to be improved, but also what was good and remarkable – that was real motivation. It made me think how so often we are pretty quick at pointing out the negative, but shy away from mentioning the positive, good stuff. And that doesn’t account just for assignments at uni…
In general, going to uni felt wonderful. It didn’t seem to me like spending a day at a place, where I had to study in a serious, boring enviroment, and was looking forward to get home from. Not at all! The campus, so wide, and so diversified, that one could almost survive just being there. Besides the green open spaces, there was a café, a bank, travel agency, hair dresser, computer rooms everywhere, libraries, book shop, dairy, sports center,……. and not to forget the HUB. This was the meeting spot for students. Usually there was always something going on, whether it was a cultural food market, free BBQs, paintball or other game sessions, second hand markets, sports events – it was always fun to go there, even if it was just to grab a snack and enjoy the lunch break.
It turned out that a great bunch of other exchange students from all around the globe stayed at the village, too. Most of us got to know each other at the Introduction Day that was specifically set up for international students. Welcomed by the traditional “Haka” of the Maori culture, followed by a speech of the director, we all were invited to a shared lunch.
The village soon became something like a big family. Whether we had dinners together, jumped on the shuttle to the supermarket, hung out, went downtown, to student parties or to the free dinner nights provided by the village – anything. There was always someone around. Of course, there also was always a reason to party, which meant the village usually turned into a big beat-box by nighttime. Besides partying, what brought us so close together was sharing the interest of travelling around New Zealand while being there. This meant, whenever someone had an idea or plans to visit another place, soon there was a group ready to join. It was just impossible even trying to believe feeling lonely.
Auckland itself is full of attractions and exciting spots; just thinking about the beautiful view on the volcano at Mission Bay, a trip on the ferry to Waiheke Island, a drink at the top of Skytower, or the small things like walking to uni.
I know this might sound quite a bit lame after the other attractions, but the first time I walked down the stairs into a jungle-like little forest crossing a bridge next to a waterfall while looking at parrots and plenty of koru ferns – yes, this was something that made me feel like walking in a dream.
Yet, New Zealand is definitely not all about Auckland. Oh little did I know what this island had to offer. Once getting out of the city, I couldn’t stop falling in love with this country even more. The beaches, where the sound of the massive ocean is filling your ears; mountains that make you feel like flying when standing at the top and looking into the blue sky; flowers so bright in their colours and having palm trees as their neighbours; birds singing with such an amazing voice that no music in your ears was needed. North as well as South Island – gorgeous!
My apartment was home to a Samoan guy and his girlfriend from Australia, a Kiwi and a Maori girl, one guy being half Kiwi/half Chinese, and me – German. I have to admit it was the first time for me that I heard about Samoa and got to know people from Fiji, Tonga, Cook Island, or other Pacific Islands surrounding New Zealand. And it was the first time that I saw so many tattoos. Everywhere. Especially, in the Maori culture it has a unique meaning to the people and is part of their tradition. Beautiful tattoos worn by men and women, sometimes even on their faces. Also the Pacific Islanders hold a tradition of tattooing and I couldn’t believe that many of them still apply the original approach: stone and cotter! This also explains why it takes quite a while, sometimes weeks, to finish a tattoo, because you wouldn’t be able to stand the pain!
Over time I realised more and more that New Zealand’s culture is made up of so many pieces that were added by immigrants from all over the world. The different tastes of food, the events of different cultural groups, music from Chinese and Indian to Pacific Island HipHop and Reggae – this made it always exciting to get to know new people and spend time at different places of this country. Not to forget the Maori culture that is a journey for itself. If it wasn’t the people, than it was the nature or the relaxed atmosphere that kept on fascinating me. I had to get used to the fact that everything runs a bit slower and usually being punctual meant to be ready half an hour, an hour later. But this was fine. Life seemed to be so much more complete and the priority was put on spending time together; the social moments were those that made you smile and kept you moving. Yes, success at uni and work is awesome, too, but this is something that will always work out in the end (for some more, for some less). The most important was being there, living life, and living it together with others.
Iwi (the Maori word for family) is used in the day-to-day language for a good reason. New Zealand made me find wonderful friends and family and provided me with a place that I literally call my home now (yes, it had that much of an impact on me). And even though I haven’t watched any of the Lord of the Rings movies (which is not a crime, but it sometimes was a bit frowned upon), from all the stories about New Zealand being one of the top countries to visit and leaving you speechless; from all the stories that I have listened to before going there myself, I can say now for sure: yes, all of this is true and if you ever get the chance to go there yourself – DO IT!
Now that I am enjoying this beautiful country day by day, I was lucky enough to travel to even more of its precious places – something I am looking forward to telling you more about in a different post 🙂