As I sit on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, writing my last blog for Marymount, it is so hard to believe that my abroad experience is over. I have traveled a lot in my life but I have never been so fully immersed in a culture in the way that I was in New Zealand. I have met people from all over the world, tried new foods, made a few close friends and yes- even though New Zealand is an English speaking country- I have indeed learned heaps of new words.
Over the course of my study abroad in New Zealand, I also learned a lot about myself. I have pushed and tested my limits (Skydiving in South Island!) as I have spent a good amount of time exploring the country (and Australia) by myself. I’ve taken a lot of wrong turns and as a result have seriously sharpened my sense of direction. Today, driving to the grocery store for the first time I was very impressed that I made it back without my GPS. I’ve become a better problem solver as I don’t always have other people to rely on. I’ve learned how to enjoy the company of myself or complete strangers and a result have become more self-confident. I’ve realized there’s quite a lot that I am capable of doing by myself. I’ve also had to build up the self-confidence to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.
Study abroad has made me a more curious yet more accepting person. Being in a completely new place, I am always looking at the surroundings- constantly people watching and trying to get a feel for the culture. I may never fully understand why some Kiwis feel the need to take their shoes and socks off at school or go barefoot to the grocery store. And that’s okay. They may never understand why we put ice in our water. I have actually learned to love the things that I don’t understand- from customs to the people who talk with such think accents that I need to use context clues to figure things out.
I learned a lot about how education is more in tune and alert with the needs of minorities and low-income students than schools I have experienced in the States. New Zealand has a guiding document called the Ka Hikitia which promotes Maori and Pacifica achievement and helps to give them the best possible start in life. Maori and Pacifica student achievement and attendance is tracked and meetings are held regularly with parents in an informal meeting place (not the principal behind a desk facing the parents). The goal of Ka Hikitia is to make education more accessible for the parents who may have not attended formal education. New Zealand curriculum is more hands on, teaches the whole child and is generally more developmentally appropriate. While there are a lot of things that the United States Education system does well, we are certainly not the end all be all.
I’ve learned to value impermanence. I met so many people and made close friends that I very well may never see again. Everything in life is precious and you have to value every moment and every place because you never know if you will be there again.
While this all sounds so cliche and tacky, it is all so true. When I travel to a new country, I try not to set too much expectation because you never understand what something is like until you have been there yourself. Study abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life. It wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies- it was exhausting, transformative and hands on- exactly what education should be. I have expanded my world far deeper and richer than any vacation could have.