By Vanessa Maloney (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
I have to admit that over the summer this blog got pushed to the back of my mind, but (finally) here are my last reports on my year abroad. I am now back in good old rainy Manchester so writing this last entry is an excellent excuse to look back at some sunny pictures and imagine myself on a South Pacific beach!
First things first… before I talk about the more recent events, I just wanted to upload some of my Canoe Club pictures as promised. These are pictures from weekend trips throughout my second semester. Some of the most fun that I had in NZ.
Part 1 : Leaving New Zealand
Exams finished at the end of June and I had two weeks before my flight to properly say goodbye to this country that I have come to love so much. Although the weather at this time of year is a bit dull, I set out on a little road trip to Taupo/ Turangi, on to a kayak trip organised by the Uni Canoe Club and then went on to another friend’s family bach on the Coramandel peninsula.
It was such a nice way to say goodbye and I couldn’t believe how hard it was to leave some of my friends behind. I must admit that the last few days in New Zealand were very difficult for me and there were some teary goodbyes. However, I found comfort in reminding myself that if I had never signed up for study abroad I would never even have met any of these people or had any of these experiences int the first place.
Part 2 : Island Paradise
Instead of going straight back home, I booked my flight to go via Rarotonga (Cook Islands) and then to LA. I was in the Cook Islands for five weeks doing a placement as a teaching assistant in a primary school. I flew an hour from the main island to a small island surrounded by a beautiful blue lagoon (population under 2000) called Aitutaki.
Aitutaki has got to have been one of the most incredible/fulfilling/surreal experiences of my life. It is impossible to explain this island to anyone who hasn’t been there. Just to try to paint a picture, here are a few bullet points…
- There are roosters wandering around the airport (roosters also served as my alarm clock every day at 6.30)
- Goats and pigs roam around the streets. Kids sometimes have fun by chasing a pig around the school field.
- I saw whales from the golf course.
- Literally everybody drives a motorbike (even 80 year old grannies!).
- Everybody says hello to you in the street, and when you meet people it feels like you are old friends.
- You will regularly be invited to a ‘feed’ – a massive feast where I have literally never seen so much food. I often saw people put cake and dessert on their plate first and then pile main course on top , so you literally eat through to your dessert.
- I got used to drilling a hole in a drinking coconut to refresh myself on a hot day.
- People gossip and news travels faster than what seems humanly possible. Talking is the main hobby in a place where there’s not a lot else by way of entertainment.
- Nobody will let you walk! You cannot go for a walk without somebody insisting that they give you a lift on their bike, even if its only 50 yards.
- Families are big! When getting a lift into town from my neighbour, it would be normal for him to wave to at least 5 of his cousins or nephews.
Some of the people that I met on Aitutaki are the friendliest, warmest, most open-hearted people that I have ever met, and I will never forget the kindness they showed me.
Part 3 : Homecoming
After a stopover in LA, I finally flew into Heathrow to greet my family. I loved seeing them again and had a permanent smile on my face whilst I was catching up with family and friends. It was quite surreal seeing everybody in 3D again as I was so used to seeing them inside a computer screen!
I must admit that it has sometimes been difficult settling back into English culture. I found it hard to get used to a less laid-back lifestyle, the lack of sun and the sheer amount of people. Going into central London was a stressful experience, especially after coming straight from Aitutaki where the population was so small.
However, I am starting to settle back in again and I’m doing my best to continue some of my hobbies (e.g. kayaking) and attitudes from NZ back here in the UK. Sometimes I think back to New Zealand and almost can’t believe how incredible it was. Sometimes it feels like a dream, until I talk to a Kiwi friend online or see an All-Blacks game on TV and remember that it was actually all real!
My year abroad was beyond all of my expectations. I expected to meet some cool people, but didn’t expect to make friends for life. I expected to travel to some beautiful places and experience a different culture, but didn’t expect this to become such a huge part of who I am. It’s so hard to reflect on my year abroad without sounding cheesy, because all of the cliches are just so true. If anybody is thinking of doing a year abroad, I just want to say that in my experience (although it was by no means always easy,) studying abroad was probably the best decision I have ever made. I cannot imagine my university experience and my life in general without having done it and am so grateful that I was given this amazing opportunity.