The first days and weeks of any semester abroad are naturally comprised of endless new acquaintances, as one, either confidently or timidly, expands and adapts to their new mileau. In my experience, I would say roughly 75% of these introductory conversations with strangers contained some variation of the following questions: “Where are you from?”, “What school do you go to back home?” and “What made you choose New Zealand?” One doesn’t have a choice of how they answer the first two questions, but the third is more ambiguous. However, my response always started out the same, claiming The Lord of the Rings to be my initial inspiration to one day visit “The Land of the Long White Cloud,” as I’m sure was the case for many others. For years I had imagined strolling barefoot through Hobbiton or ascending Mount Doom, but when I learned these childhood fantasies could become reality, New Zealand soared to the peak of my bucket list.
I grew up in Moscow, Idaho, a relatively small college town in the northern region of the state, and chose to stay and attend the University of Idaho. Having never really left home, studying across the globe in New Zealand appeared to be a drastic and daunting endeavor, yet I knew it was a life necessity. Believe it or not, northern Idaho is far from a culturally diverse place. Shocking, I know. Being fortunate enough to even have the opportunity to live in a foreign environment, I couldn’t let fear of the unknown become an obstacle. When I was fairly certain Wellington would become my destination abroad, reading blogs of past students’ experiences only strengthened my resolve. Each post I read mentioned the friendliness of the people, as well as the laid-back lifestyle in general. Kiwis highly value their time away from the office, pursuing various types of outdoor recreation, and I believe that is one of many factors which cultivates a slower pace of life than we are accustomed to in the United States.
Along with small towns comes the notion there isn’t much to do, true at times in Moscow’s case. But due to countless family road trips and camping excursions, I learned to appreciate the forested mountains, meandering rivers, and fertile rolling hills which Idaho has in abundance. I found nature to not only be an escape from every day responsibilities, but also a powerful medium through which to clear your mind and relieve stress. The physiological benefits of nature are undeniable and not particularly surprising, considering humans spent the vast majority of our evolutionary history living off the land. My personal interest in hiking and exploring, along with the extreme popularity of outdoor activities among Kiwis, made New Zealand the ideal country for a semester abroad. Maybe the friendliness and relaxed pace of life is a direct result of spending abundant time outdoors and reaping the benefits. They say correlation doesn’t lead to causation, so I decided to find out for myself.
The world awaits…discover it.