Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - Chapter 2, Part 2: Hierarchy of Needs

This is an ongoing series covering my semester abroad in New Zealand. If you would like to start from the beginning, click here. Enjoy!

Ok....where did we leave 2008 Ryan again? Oh, that's right...he was crying in his prison cell of a room, wishing for a plane ticket back home. Time to man up, cause it doesn't get any easier from here.

If you aren't familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, here's a crash course. This theory in psychology concerns the needs we have as humans. It's often depicted as a pyramid, with the most fundamental of needs at the bottom level and the needs of self-actualization at the top. The basic four layers (esteem, love/belonging, safety, and physiological) are the deficiency needs. According to his theory, if you're missing one of those layers, you might not physically feel anything but might feel anxious and tense. Once one layer is satisfied, you can focus on the next one. 

Now, this is just a theory...but my first week in New Zealand was dedicated to fulfilling these needs, and it was a struggle. I look back now and laugh because, frankly, I was pretty lame. Not "aww, I feel bad for you" lame, but more like "Dude, seriously?" lame. Let's break it down and share a laugh together, shall we?

Physiological Needs
I woke up on my second day tired, thirsty, and super hungry. I didn't have any dishes or food...heck, I hadn't even unpacked yet. After taking a shower, I walked outside to forage some supplies.

Remember the Hindu man that helped me out? Well, he failed to mention the fact that the closest grocery store was miles away. I didn't have a bike at this point, and had no idea how the bus system worked yet, so what did I do? I started to wander aimlessly in one direction in search for food. 

I walked for a good 45 minutes before hitting my first store. It was the 'Warehouse', which was the equivalent of the American Wal-Mart. As I walked in, I checked my pockets to see what my budget was. It took me a good 30 seconds for everything to set in: I left my wallet at the hostel. I wouldn't have been pissed if I had lost my wallet, because at least I could have blamed a person walking by or I could have lost it in a freak accident. But no...I was stupid and left it on my bed as I was getting ready to leave. 

I did have money left over from the bus ride to Hamilton: a whopping $6 in miscellaneous change and bills. It was enough for me to buy a plate, a cup, and 1 fork, so it wasn't a total loss.

When I got back to the hostel with my fancy new chinaware set, I snatched my wallet and walked to the nearest gas station, stocked up on cheese, bread, and Coca Cola, and went back home to take a depression nap. I had food though, so that's all that mattered.

Safety Needs
My second day in New Zealand was a complete failure, so that third day was about redemption. Now that I had some food to work with, I had two things to accomplish today: get a bicycle and a phone card to call home. I was able to email my mom, but the internet was so ridiculous that I couldn't use Skype. 

I spent most of the morning haggling the Dey Street locals for a cheap bicycle. I learned that day that I was the only English-speaking resident in the entire hostel, as all the other residents were Hindus attending the technical college in Hamilton. Thank God numbers are universally recognized...I was able to convince one of them to give me his bike for $30. I finally had freedom and access to resources.

My first bike ride was right back to that Warehouse to buy a helmet and a phone card. I picked up some water and some ramen noodles, and with all my basics finally satisfied I biked home to settle in once and for all.

Most of that week played out the same way: I would bike around looking for stuff, then come home in the afternoons to either read or pass out. I wasn't feeling too optimistic about this whole studying abroad thing, as I had been in the country for 6 days before making one friend. I've gotten alot better now, but back then I was shy and timid and it really prevented me from making the most of a bad situation. I was also going through the classic stages of culture shock, and it paralyzed me with fear.

Love/Belonging Needs
On the 7th day was the international orientation and registration, and even though my self-esteem and hope was destroyed, I managed to muster just enough excitement to get out of bed and ride to the University. 

I sat on the steps of the auditorium, iPod on and keeping to myself. Everyone had these little clicks of friends that they met at the dorms. I lived off campus because I couldn't get into the dorms in time, and I felt like I missed out on the prime opportunity to make some friends. I talked to my mother years later and she told me how worried she was, because the phone calls home weren't pretty. I'm glad she talked me into staying.

Anyways, we were about to go inside and I decided to hang back for just a moment. I wanted to sit in the back and be non-intrusive...stick to myself. Yes, I was this lame. But it was that decision that ultimately changed the course of everything that came after, and led me to be the adventurous soul I am today. 

At the bottom of the hill I saw Emma and some of her new friends coming towards the auditorium. She saw me and called out. She came up and introduced me to this American guy, Nick, and this Canadian girl, Emily. I ended up sitting with them for the orientation and making plans with them to have a kickback in Orchard Park (the dorm-like cabins that they all lived at) after the day's events. 

Esteem Needs
I had to go fetch my bike from the other side of campus before joining them at their dorm. The entire walk down there I contemplated riding back to my hostel, playing some GameBoy, and going to bed. I wasn't a partier...this wasn't Fiji anymore. What was I doing?

I had a rule that I adopted for this trip: I would make a pact to stay at a party for 45 minutes before bailing. It was the perfect amount of time to see if this is where you wanted to spend your evening or not, and it forced you to socialize with people you normally wouldn't talk to. So, abiding to the rule, I went to hang out in Orchard Park.
I impressed them with my card-house building skills.

As it turned out, most of the kids in Orchard Park were awesome! Nick and Emily lived in one of the flats with this Kiwi guy, Campbell, and a German girl, Manu. There were these two Dutch guys, Pim and Sam, who were like Emma and I: travelled from the same university in Holland. Orchard Park was a haven for the international community. There were kids from the US, Canada, Mexico, Holland, Germany, China, Japan, Korea, UK, and more. That night consisted of us sitting on one of the porches and drinking wine out of the bottle (I didn't learn my lesson), making acquaintances and just hanging out...as if we've always been friends.

The night started to wind down, and I gathered my blue bike to make the trek back home. Nick and Emily were heading back to their flat, and rather than bike all the way home they offered me their blue couch. I had just met these people a couple hours prior, but I was too tired to bike the 2 miles home...so I said yes. That was the start of an era, a genesis of sorts. I ended up sleeping on that couch so much that the Director of Orchard Park thought I lived there, and I was known as the adopted resident of Orchard Park. But, that's another story for another time.

That first week was pretty ugly for me. I had spent most of the week locked up in a hostel with a pack of pepperjack cheese and a bottle of cola. I was resistant to making friends and let culture shock take over. I was very close to ruining my entire semester abroad.

I look back and think "What if Emma didn't see me? What if I went home that night? What if I didn't sleep on Emily and Nick's couch that night?". It seriously came down to a moment in time that altered everything. I don't think I would be as adventurous and spontaneous as I am now if I hadn't met those people. I would have closed myself off and made the entire experience rotten and unfulfilling. Yet again, fate had my back and gave me a moment to work with. That's the thing: it really does take one moment...one meeting to change the course of everything. Living adventurously comes down to moments of spontaneity, and you have to seize them for yourself. Throw yourself out there...I promise you, the risk is worth it.

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