This is an excerpt from Sierra Flach’s blog series for Gordon College’s blog The Bell. She is currently studying abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Leaving hot upstate New York in July was not easy. In the slushy, gray days of the spring semester it is easy to dream of traveling far from New England to some majestic land. But when the time came during the height of the summer to leave my family, friends and coveted landscaping job, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it should’ve been.
With what I couldn’t believe was a heavy heart, I bid farewell to the enchanted hills known to Rip Van Winkle for a much colder climate. Not everyone (myself included) realizes that July in New Zealand is the dead of winter. So being dropped into the middle of an unfamiliar city, in the cold, while jet lagged didn’t feel ideal.
But I decided staying in my warm room would be a waste of an opportunity. Throwing discomfort to the wind, my fellow Gordon student, Anthony Farenwald ’18, and I pushed to explore our new stomping grounds at the University of Otago (called “Uni” by most Kiwis). We soon found out that venturing around on foot and by bus was a good way to familiarize ourselves with the city and surrounding areas—and to feel less isolated.
I mention the blues I felt not to dwell on them but to express that it does happen (and probably to most students). Yes, you are seeing beautiful things. Yes, you are living an opportunity that not many others get and you should be grateful (which I am). But moving anywhere new is not easy—and to the other side of the world is no small venture. Understanding that it was okay to feel pings of homesickness actually helped me get through it.
It took about a week before those (Jet)Blues disappeared and it hit me that I was in New Zealand! The land of Middle Earth! The Lord of the Rings! I am living in a beautiful, culturally rich city two hours from rain forests, glaciers and monumental snowy peaks! And so the adventures begin.
I live in a flat with four other girls: three international students (two from the States and one from China) and our Kiwi host, Heather. There is NO meal plan (gasp!)—meaning I have to make my own dirty chais and scones three times a day (I miss you, Bistro 255).
In between foraging for food, I have classes on New Zealand literature, communications and film festivals. During one recent Film Festivals class, we met and talked with the director of the film Poi E, who gave us some invaluable advice on filmmaking (and life). He told us to find our question for a story—find an interesting one, and then develop it.
My question, it seems, is: “What can I learn from the land of New Zealand in one semester?”
In between class readings, movie showings and outings on the town with other “scarfies” (Otago students), I’ve taken to watercolor painting, mountain biking the local trails (which, by the way, could probably rival the local Massachusetts trails with their giant, Jurassic-looking flora), volunteering as an editor with Uni’s fiction publication the Scribbler, taking advantage of discounted yoga classes, and taking the bus to the closer city sights.
On the weekends I go as far into the wild as I can.
I do these things because this type of trip gives you the possibility of opportunity. You have the opportunity to try new things, the opportunity to take a break from the norm, to take less classes and focus on hobbies you’ve neglected, the opportunity to try and fail and learn to try again. Most importantly to do things that are hard and not quit. To learn to work through them and grow. Because what you learn in class, on the trail or traveling to a new place is that you get as much out of life as you put into it.
So I’ve been taking these things and holding onto them. I have one goal in mind and that is to demand as much from this experience as possible because infrequently in life are we simply handed such beautiful things.
“What can I learn from New Zealand in one semester?”
By Sierra Flach, class of ’18