Travel Log 4 “Studying Abroad…It’s More Than Just a Walk in the Park,”
By Abby Spooner. Dunedin, New Zealand
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Although New Zealand speaks English, has some historical European roots, and appears to be similar to the US it is actually quite different. The drastic social and societal differences between the US and New Zealand are well defined. For example the slang, food, coffee, lack of footwear, and heating practices are considerably different. As a luminod these social differences were quite apparent to me as I was in a constant state and mindset of comparing the two cultures. However, I have recently begun to enjoy these differences, a phenomenon Slimbach describes in Chapter 7 when discussing the process of settling in. He later stresses this idea again by asking us to recognizing the do’s and don’ts of society in order to get oriented. Instead of highlighting what I have seen as different or wrong I have begun to see them as natural part of life here. This process has slowly propelled me further into the liminal phase. I have gradually noticed aspects of Kiwi culture appear in my everyday behaviors. For example I have started to include Kiwi expressions such as cheers and right on into my everyday vocabulary, I can now strategically warm my flat as the Kiwis do, and have finally figured out how to order a cup of coffee! (Kiwis think that the US common filtered coffee is insulting and as a result it is almost never served). Every day I am able to immerse myself in the culture in different but important ways.This is this kind of authentic cultural emersion that drove me to study abroad in the first place. However, the moment that truly change my perspective and started making New Zealand feel less foreign and more like home was during one of my many walks around the city.
Last week we were given the ultimate task of immersion, walking through town. At the end of January, many of the students who were already abroad recently posted this blog. I read through a few and many highlighted their newfound appreciation for walking through town alone. At the time it was a difficult concept for me to really grasp. However, during my time here in Dunedin I have found myself in a very similar situation. Walking alone may appear to be a solitary experience, but it is actually one of the best ways to complete an authentic cultural emersion. Simply observing the way the locals interact with each other on the street offers tremendous insight to the basic happenings of a society at its core.
I began my walk at the heart of Dunedin- The Octagon. The Octagon is home to shops, cafes, restaurants, and live entertainment. I began by walking up and down the surrounding streets. Everyone clearly had a destination they were trying to get to since it was a weekday and many had work. However, unlike many large American cities such as Boston or New York, there was no sense of haste in their body language or stride. Everyone seemed to really take in his or her walk to work, despite walking the same path every day. Even a driver’s commute is relaxed and lacks the constant honking often heard on American city streets. This atmosphere gives the city a greater sense of safety and small town feel. No one is rushing, people stop and smile at you, and when talking to Kiwis they are as interested in you and you are in them. As a result petty crimes such as pickpocketing and shoplifting are not nearly as common.
After walking around for a bit and talking with a few shop owners about their business, I found a bench on a street corner for a bit of a rest. This was one of the most important moments during my orientation exercise. Slimbach describes my state of mind in that moment perfectly on pg 161when he says, “…we need to step back and think about the actual conditions triggering our mental and emotional disorientation, and our physical response to it.” By stopping for a break I was able to appreciate all the transitions I have successful completed over the past month. I noted feeling a sense of liberation from the world I had left a month ago. I am no longer my old self, and as a result of my international experience physical and emotional changes have already occurred. In this moment my emotions caught up with my physical separation. The feeling can be best described through the course concept of the reflective process. During the workshop we talked about how the reflective process “acts as a catalyst for change [where we] consider why this process is especially important [during a rite of passage].” Taking a walk through town alone required me to consider the differences between the US and New Zealand and this made me realize just how many changes I had made unconsciously. By reflecting on these differences I was able to not only recognize them but also appreciate and put value to them.
Having a scheduled time to reflect on my experience has truly brought a sense of purpose to my experience. Jeff Johnson captured this idea perfectly when he said, “the best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.” It is in these moments of reflection answers are found and more questions ask, and I can’t wait to keep discovering more.
An additional moment of reflection occurred when reading my travelogue, “The Long White Cloud” by Kristen Faber. The pages reflect on Fibers experience moving her family of five to New Zealand for a year. While reading the beginning chapters it was astonishing how similar our transitions to New Zealand were. Faber describes her initial reaction to the beauty and people of New Zealand, and I could not have put if better myself. She says, “ Mixed with the people is a sense of peacefulness. It’s hard to live in such a serene place and not be affected…I felt it in the people around me. The whole country gave me a home-towny safe feeling that wiped away the little bit of tension that I never knew I had” (Faber, 15). Although the rest of the book describes the challenges and triumphs the family encountered, I was able to connect to these words best because they seamlessly describe my feelings at this point in my transition. Laughing along with Fibers and her family was an enjoyable way to get to know New Zealand in a unconventional but effective way. The concluding pages of the book describe the rite of separation the family encountered when leaving at the conclusion of their yearlong stay. Although it was challenging to relate to their experience now, I am egger to re read this section upon my own reincorporation back to the US and once again compare the similarities and differences of our experience.
To me, this week was all about reflection and further transition. The picture I have chosen to describe this is from my kayaking trip down Doubtful Sound this past weekend. The peacefulness of the sound was perfect for individual reflection. However, moving through the sound also included many transitions that metaphorically represent the changes I have gone through during my time here. From brutal winds, to calm waters; from blinding sun, to chilly shade; and from quiet forests, to roaring waterfalls; from old status to liminod to feeling more and more at home. Each transition was unique yet significant and I think this picture represents the feeling of change, reflection, and transition well.