Monday, January 24, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - Prologue

Prologue: I'm taking a page out of my good friend Aly's playbook and chronicling my study-abroad experience from 2008 with a weekly (or more frequent) edition of "The Kiwi Chronicles" (Her blog can be found here, she's much better than I am). 5 months living abroad provides you with a lifetime's worth of stories...but do not worry, I don't plan on writing Atlas Shrugged here. Enjoy!

In the fall of 2007, I was a pretty pissed-off sophomore in college, pursuing a degree in Electronic Media and Film and doing Theatre on the side. I was just getting off a lack-luster freshman year that consisted of Mountain Dew towers and sporadic midnight trips to the dorm laundry room.

Seriously, what was I thinking?
After changing my major from Computer Science to Film, I was seriously questioning what I wanted out of my life. I had given up financial security for a life of art and adventure...but I hadn't really had an adventure yet. This was all before the Orange Sweater and my philosophy to live every week as if it's shark week, and I was remarkably boring. One night, I was lying in my apartment (I shared a 3 bedroom with 5 guys and 2 girlfriends, it was absurd) staring at the ceiling, thinking about how I wanted to see myself in 5 years. Did I want stories of drunken shenanigans from a cramped Flagstaff apartment? I mean, the keg on the porch from Halloween was cool, but it didn't feel right. 

One day in November, I come home to my roommates with a packet in my hand. Earlier that day, I walked into the Center for International Studies office because I had gotten lost looking for a friend's dorm room. In the lobby they had a map full of little pins for all the places that people went to. There must have been a good thousand of them, and they were all over the globe. God bless my curious nature, because I marched up to the receptionist and questioned her to no end about studying abroad. I had heard about it, but I was too busy trying to find my own footing here at home to really care about 'seeing the world' or whatever. She said applications were due tomorrow. I sat down for an hour and filled one out for New Zealand (it was the farthest country away that I could go to), not really caring about programs or universities or anything. Flash-forward to me standing in my apartment living room, packet in hand. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey guys, so....I'm moving out next month.
Roommates: Why?
Me: I'm going to New Zealand.
Roommates: What for?
Me: Study abroad.
Roommates: How long?
Me: 5 months. I'll be back next Fall.
Roommates: What about us? You going to pay rent?
Me: No....
Roommates: *judging glares*

Yeah, I could really give a crap. I was sharing the smallest room with another guy, yet everyone paid the same for rent. It made no sense, and I think their rent went up to $250 from $200. Crybabies...

The next two months were really rough. I had to get a passport and student visa, along with a book's worth of paperwork to fill out. All the while I was packing my room, avoiding the topic of rent with my roommates, getting validations from my professors, and telling people that I would see them in 8 months or so. 

Also, packing your life into a suitcase for the first time is equally comical. You think of all the stuff you use at home in 5 months, then you think about how tiny that suitcase is, and how the hell you're going to fit your Xbox into it (I was a rookie...give me a break). You're doing research on 240v vs 120v and checking all your plugs to see if they are compatible. I bought this terrible voltage converter for my laptop....the thing weighed 10 lbs and was the size of a small speaker. I didn't use it once, and I'm sure it's rotting in some hostel somewhere. 

It all becomes real when your visa comes back in the mail. To get a student visa, you need a booked flight, enough money to survive, an acceptance letter and schedule from your host university, and all your shots taken care of. It's your stamp of approval, and all you need to do is wait to leave. This all came back with one month to go.

That same month, my grandmother died. It was the first death in the family in my recent memory, and I definitely took it pretty hard. I was still in Flagstaff, packing the last of my stuff to put into storage back home. A huge snowstorm was rolling in, and I got the call that my grandmother was getting airlifted to Phoenix. I was naive enough to think that she would be ok, but I made the trip down anyways because I heard there was a Goo Goo Dolls concert that night and I needed to un-wind from packing. Needless to say, I wasn't going to a concert that night....

That drive back up to Flagstaff was unbearably long. I went from hysterical laughing to crying to screaming the whole way up. The snow was piling up, and I just dodged a truck jack-knifing on the highway. I knew then that I had a guardian angel looking out for me, and I would definitely need her for the following years to come.

Up in Flagstaff, it's tradition to go sledding on the first snow of the season....especially at night. The lights of the city light up the sky a bright orange, letting you hit the on-campus slopes at the absurd hours of the early morning. My friends were heckling me to come out, so I did. I sure as hell wasn't going to bed anytime soon. After wiping the tears away, I snow-suited up and hit the slopes.
Gotta pose with that goofy smile of mine...
Although my friends didn't know what I just got back from, the universe sure as hell did, and gave me one of the best nights of my life. Sledding under the night lights with friends let me know that, no matter what adventures or adversity life throws your way, you'll always find a way to get out alright. That mantra got me out of some tough spots, and gave me the confidence to take some leaps that I would have never done on my own.

A couple days later, I was back home killing time till my flight left. I attended a funeral, drove up the coast of California with my sister, and helped tear down my old movie theater with some old friends.
Yeah, that's me chucking a tool box off a movie theater
The days went by fast knowing I wasn't going back to NAU till August. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the airport watching the 16-0 Patriots lose to the Giants, waiting for my flight with Emma (her and I were going to the same university in New Zealand, so we decided to fly together). I was not prepared for this all.

Bust out your nearest map or globe (Google Earth is perfectly acceptable), because we're going to discuss geography here. The longest non-stop flight that this planet has to offer us is from Newark to Singapore, ringing in at 18hrs and 50mins. The flight from Los Angeles to Auckland weighs in at 14 hours. I know, I know, it's nearly 5 hours shorter than the Singapore flight. But when your first international flight is more than half a day, you naturally start to freak yourself out. That lead to a pre-semester vacation in Fiji, which was on the way to Auckland and only 10 hours from LA. Best part is the stop-over doesn't cost next time you're flying to Australia or New Zealand from the good ol' USA, make a stop in the South Pacific.

Our boarding call was broadcast over the intercom, and me and Emma grabbed our backpacks. It was dark outside, with our plane illuminated by the runway lights. If I had known that I was embarking on one of the defining adventures of my life, I'm not sure I would have gotten on that plane. I was leaving everything safe and familiar behind for the first time in my life. Up to that point, I didn't take risks. I was methodical in doing what was expected and required of me. I didn't stand out in a crowd, and I liked it that way. Lucky for me, I was just ignorant enough to have no idea what I was getting myself into. I would wake up 10 hours (and a whole day because of the International Date Line) later in Fiji, and, with some new friends by my side, I would finally know what it's like to truly live adventurously.

Next: Chapter 1 - Fiji

1 comment:

  1. You're too nice to me - truth.

    Also, I'm so jealous you got to spend time in New Zealand. And Fiji. Maaaaaaan