For my blog this week I decided to write about my experience in two parts because I have gone through two gradual but distinct stages of separation so far.:
This first section was written prior to my separation from the group I have been traveling with. I first meet up with about 90 students studying all across New Zealand in Los Angeles California and from there we all traveled together to Fiji for a pre semester trip and then later all stayed in Auckland New Zealand for some exploring and orientation sessions.
February 17th : Auckland New Zealand (orientation city)
Halfway House Phase
After a full week of being technically abroad I have yet to feel truly abroad and separated from my own culture. I left Boston on Monday February 7th, crossed the International Date Line (losing a full day) and arrived in Fiji on Wednesday February 9th. After four nights in Fiji I made the move to Auckland, New Zealand for four more nights of New Zealand based orientation.
Getting to know people from all across the United States has been an amazing experience. However, it is not what I came abroad to do. As a result, traveling in such a large group as become a bit of a trickster and has prevented me from moving into a true liminal phase. Sometimes it feels as though we are an American bubble, simply moving through another space and country. However, despite the set backs that accompany group travel I have been able to use the security of this international communitas as a positive support as a liminoid. Neither being here nor there is a thought-provoking occurrence, but also a seemingly universal one. Collectively as a group we are no longer in the US, but we are also not ‘at home’ in New Zealand. As a result I have been able to have some incredible conversations about separation and rites of passage, specifically when we visited a Maori Mari. Maori is the native culture to New Zealand and a Mari is what the call the place they live (similar to what an American would call an Native American Reservation). The Mari is a very sacred place for the Maori people. In order to enter their space we had to go through a traditional rite of passage. They referred to this as a welcome ceremony.
First, the ceremony was explained to us and we were told the significance and purpose of the process. I thought of this stage as preparing for separation, similar to the way we wrote letters and mentally prepared for our physical separation from our home life. The majority of the ceremony was in the Maori’s native language, which turned out to add a sense of authenticity to the true rite of passage experience. The ceremony began with us passing through an archway, symbolizing the separation phase- departing our old status and the beginning the liminal phase. We then walked up a grass-cove
red pathway to meet the Maori people. This space was very sacred to the culture and only those who were invited could enter. As we approached the people of the Mari a horn was blown and a traditional song was sung.
During the experience I remember feeling a faint sense of change as our two communities temporarily become one. Being welcomed in this manner joined the two communitas with the intention of cultural awareness and learning. The Maori people wanted to learn from us as much as we wanted to learn from them. This rite of passage symbolized two cultures coming together to share life as one global community rather than individuals. Following the ceremony we had officially entered the liminal phase as welcomed into the Maori culture. A farewell ceremony was also held to conclude our time together.
This traditional rite of passage got my whole group talking about the concepts we have discussed. In class we defined a rite as “a ceremony or ritual that accompanies a life transition and brings a community together,” and that is exactly what the Maori welcome ceremony did. Two communities were brought together as once in order to mark the transition from outsider to Maori visitor. As a result everyone felt connected to the culture, something we may not have felt without this rite of passage.
The experience also emphasized the idea of a Global Community. Despite our different cultures and varying beliefs, we were all able to participate in a space where differences were embraced and universal human rights were upheld. In class these ideas were merely concepts that I never truly experienced. After visiting the Mari and physically going through a rite of passage, the idea and existence of a global community is no longer a foreign philosophy but an actual entity that is impossible to fully describe without the physical experience. On page 158 Slimbach asks, “Can our substantial differences be a source of mutual enrichment rather than separation?” Based off of my experience at the Mari, the answer to this question is yes. Cultural differences that appear to separate us can actually bond us through the acceptance of a global community and the mutual sharing of ones culture.
February 19th : Dunedin New Zealand (My host city)
Two days ago I thought my transition and separation was going well. I had yet to feel truly uncomfortable in my surroundings. One of the many benefits to traveling outside the US with 90 other Americans is that home never seems too far away. After reading Chapter 6 of Becoming World Wise I realized that this is what Slimbach refers to as a “half way house,” a mix between strangeness and familiarity. This was a good way to begin the contact phase of separation. However as I said before, I did not come to the other side of the globe to move around in a bubble of American citizens. Slimbach double-edged sward description of a communitas could no be more true. The group was a good way to find my footing in a new country, but I knew I would not be able to truly experience New Zealand culture without once again separating from the familiar.
I have only been in Dunedin for about 24 hours so far. However, I am now experiencing more of the traditional abroad transition feelings. I am only beginning to enter “phase 3: Disintegration.” Although I may not have a language barrier like many other international students, there remains an abundance of unfamiliar here in New Zealand. This was particularly apparent during my first grocery shopping adventure. Having grown up learning how to grocery shop from my mom I walked into the small store here expecting to be an expert grocery shopper. To my surprise (but probably not yours) this was not the case. No brand names I am familiar with left me wondering which jar of peanut butter is best? Which laundry detergent actually works? And more importantly, how am I going to get this all back to my flat without a car? Although the initial unfamiliarity of the store was shocking, I was able to get lots of new food to try and could not be more excited to experiment in the kitchen!
During my encounters with unfamiliarity I have been able to use the skills and knowledge I gained during our workshop. The strategy that has suck with me throughout my time here has been to really hone in on the ABCs of cultural contact. Although my emotions and thoughts have been centered on unfamiliarity, I have not yet let these emotions affect my actions. As a result my ability to remain calm has been my most valued strength thus far. To date I have been able to recover from the unfamiliar in a healthy way, allowing myself to truly step back and see the full picture. There is still much more unfamiliar to be explored, but I am feeling prepared and ready for the challenges ahead.
For my pictures this week I couldn’t choose just one. Taking photos is one of my favorite things to do, so I just had to share as many of them as I could! I think the one that best depicts my transformation to date is the one of my in front of the University of Otago clock tower. It may not be the Quinnipiac clock tower, but I feel the Otago one symbolizes a bit of the unfamiliar but also a bit of the familiar, and that is exactly how I feel right now. I have just begun my transition from half way house to a true liminal status and this picture represents those emotions perfectly!