Where and when did you GO?
I went to New Zealand over winter break, so winter 2015/2016 in the North Island.
Why did you choose New Zealand?
Well, part of it was when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go, I had this huge list of places, and after my father saw it, he crossed out like all of them, except for Greece, Germany, Austria, and New Zealand. I thought New Zealand was probably the quirkiest one out of all of those. Plus, I figured I could go to Europe any time in my life, and when would I ever be able to go to New Zealand again? Also, I’m a big fan of the Lord of the Rings, so I was like, gotta go to New Zealand, right?
What is an aspect of your trip that you don’t get to talk about often?
Probably that while we were there we were learning about not just the larger population of New Zealand, but also the Maori people, who are native to New Zealand. So we did a lot of activities and trips and such that were gonna teach us about the Maori. For example, we went to the Waitangi treaty grounds, which is the treaty between the British and the Maori. We also went to Whakawerawera, which is a living Maori village and they’ve been open for people to tour their village since the 1800s. While we were there, it was really cool to see everything, but it was all kind of uncomfortable because it was hard to tell whether they were doing it because they were really proud of their culture and wanted to share that or if it was because it was the only option they had to make money, to kind of exploit their culture. At one point during the tour, we all sat in this little arena and watched them give a show with traditional Maori dancing, but then they also did the Hokey Pokey at one point and it felt like a tourist trap. We were all very uncomfortable and wondered, “Okay, is this the only way they’re allowed to share their culture now? Or are they actually very proud of their heritage?” So, it was a cool experience, but a lot of us felt really uncomfortable, and we’re still not really sure how to feel about it.
Any interesting food experiences?
One thing that the Maori people do, especially in the village we went to, which is a geothermal hotspot area, is cook their food in two separate ways. One way is in a bag and then just dump it in a hot spring, and it cooks the food for them. They also have these little wooden boxes with hot rocks in them, and they’ll put the food in that to cook it. They call it their “Maori microwave.” That was called the hangi. For the most part, they have similar food to the U.S., but there’s certain things that are more popular. For example, we were trying to save some money, so we tried to buy some food for the hostel and we thought, “Oh, peanut butter and jelly!” But when we went to buy jelly, there was no grape jelly and strawberry jelly was basically a rarity. It was all apricot and cranberry, raspberry. At one point we went to the Shakespeare Pub in Auckland and I was really excited to get a burger, so I got what was called “The Complete Works of Shakespeare.” It had this red jelly slab on it. It was made out of beets, which I just thought was the weirdest, kind of odd thing to put on a burger.
How did your experience change your perspective?
I guess partly how my perspective changed over there is that people in New Zealand are incredibly happy. At first we thought it was just Auckland. Everyone there was super smiley, which we thought was weird for a city. Random people were just waving to us and saying hi, how are you, cheers, everywhere we went, and we were all wondering what was going on. Part of the thing we had to do there were research projects about different aspects of culture and one group actually did it on happiness. One of my friends was in that group, and she actually asked someone, “Why are people here so happy?” And his response was that they don’t have anything to not be happy about. There was no reason to not be happy. And their work ethic is completely different. Over here, it’s more that your life is work, whereas over there, it’s not at all. We were there over the holidays, and there were businesses closed for weeks, just so people could spend time with their families and celebrate their holidays. It was insane. Our professors were explaining how they get four weeks of vacation every year and kids there take a gap year between high school and college just to travel the world. Their entire outlook on life is just so different. And we all started wondering, okay, why is America so stressful? We’re so focused on success and reputation and work. Why can’t we just relax and spend our lives hanging out with our families like the people in New Zealand do?
What advice do you have for students who have yet to study abroad?
I guess there’s a couple things. One is that I would say to go somewhere you think you’ll never have the opportunity to go to again or some place that you would be scared to go to by yourself, or it wouldn’t be easy to go there by yourself. You go in with professors who have been there before and who know a lot about the country, and it’s just so much easier to do it with them than to go alone. Also, I guess just make the most of it. We had a number of free days on our trip and don’t take those days just to relax. I would suggest going out and actually doing things and seeing the country and just take the time to explore. It’s worth it.