Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - The Legendary Stories: Cottage 27

This is part of an ongoing series of the semester I spent abroad in New Zealand entitled "The Kiwi Chronicles". You can start the series here. Enjoy!

My study abroad experience in New Zealand was marred by very few negative experiences. I was often able to look on the bright side of every situation and turn the most horrible of nights into a story worth telling. I still admire my own optimism...that being said, there is one place that took me 6 months to learn how to put up with the sheer depression that permeated through it's walls: Dey Street Hostel.

Dey Street was my 'home' for the semester I spent abroad, and for pictures of the prison-cell style accommodations I had the pleasure of staying in, check out my post entitled 'Landfall'. Lucky for you, I'm not in the mood to cover Dey Street, so instead I'll talk about my adopted home for my semester abroad: Orchard Park.

Orchard Park's story starts in the States when I was looking at dorms and places to live in New Zealand. I had applied to the dorms with plenty of time to spare, and by all standards I was guaranteed on-campus housing. Every book I read on studying abroad told me how beneficial it was to stay on campus. The people you meet, the support system: it was everything you needed to survive in another country for an extended period of time. I wanted to play it safe.

Needless to say, I didn't get into the dorms, and had to settle for one of the off-campus sites that was recommended by the university. This is where I give Dey Street some credit: they have some killer promotional people working for them. I honestly believed that I was going to be living in luxury...oh silly me. forward to the moment when Emily and Nick invite me to sleep on their couch after the international orientation kick back. I cannot stress to you how this one moment ended up shaping my New Zealand experience. I didn't know these people. I had met them that day, and was completely settled on riding my bike back to Dey Street and settling into my depressing hostel. But that's all in the past, all you need to know is that the night I decided to spend on some strangers couch began an era...a legendary period where I was known as the nomadic Orchard Park resident.

For the six-month duration I spent in New Zealand, I would end up sleeping on that couch 3-4 nights a week. The cottages were set up with 4 bedrooms, with each person having their own room. In between the bedrooms was the living room, which was big enough to house a couple couches and a dinner table. Emily and Nick had two more roommates: Manu and Campbell. Campbell was a native-Kiwi, and Manu was from Germany. Both of them were just as welcoming as Emily and Nick, and it wasn't long before people thought of me as the 5th roommate of Cottage 27.

I really couldn't blame people for thinking that I lived there. I spent most of my free time hanging out in Orchard Park, whether it was between classes or getting prepped for a night on the bars. If my parents are reading this, yes, I did go to class. I was very studious actually, spending most of my day on campus studying or in class. I took a 'light load,' but most of the time I didn't want to bike all the way back to Dey Street. I would stop by Orchard Park to  steal a friend for lunch, or just to kick back on the porch and enjoy the sunshine. It was home to me.

It wasn't long, however, before Cottage 27 started getting a reputation as the 'party' cottage in Orchard Park. It wasn't that we were super crazy or rambunctious as much as the majority of the social events centered around our Bring Your Own Couch night.

Campbell kicking it before the festivities
BYOC was a regular happening at Cottage 27. The concept was simple: on a Thursday or Friday, after a long week of studying, we would have a BBQ in front of the cottage. Campbell was a mean cook, and the infusion of multiple cultures and groups of people really stepped up the cuisine a level.

It wasn't a Cottage 27 event, though. It was an Orchard Park event. I still don't know who came up with this idea, but to gain entry to this little kickback you would need to bring either beer, food, or some kind of contributing item like ketchup and mustard. On top of that, for seating arrangements, you had to provide your own couch. Each cottage had a couch, so there wasn't a shortage of couches or anything. I can only imagine what the Residential Director thought as he saw all his residents taking the couches out of their living rooms, but it was harmless fun. I think he had a parent mentality: as long as the shenanigans occurred in Orchard Park, he could keep an eye on us.

BYOC became very popular, and as night fell and the beers began to flow, the good times were sure to follow.

We would circle the couches around the table and have a proper kickback, letting the worries and stress of the week disappear as the moon began to rise. Nights were mild and long, and beer was cheap. The mix of cultures gave us an unlimited amount of stories to talk about. Some nights it would only be Cottage 27 and myself, and other days we would have half of Orchard Park crammed in front of the cottage drinking and having a good time.

At the end of the night, we would all take the couches back to the cottages, and I would fall asleep on that blue couch in the living room.

Over time, people knew that I was around because I would often park my bike in front of Cottage 27, as I knew at one point I would end up there. It was the centerpiece of our experience there, a home base that people rallied to before we would go on more adventures. That's not to say that Cottage 27 didn't have it's share of adventures Possum night.
Yes, that's me and Campbell drinking in a tree. And I'm wearing a Cowboy Hat
I learned this absurd game called Possum, where you would take beer into a tree and you couldn't come down until you finished your beer. I think people were concerned with us drinking during the day, but it didn't set in until they would come back from a night class and still see us in the tree drinking.
We were all a little crazy, climbing on the roof during BYOC nights. That's what happens when you put a bunch of college kids together in a foreign country: we find mischief to get into. And places to climb. More importantly, mischief... like the Kirill sign night.

One night, I ride up on my bike to see what 27 was up to today, and I see Campbell and Nick working intently on a project in the living room. Somehow they had secured a giant refrigerator box and white paint, and decided they were going to make Kirill (one of our friends who spent alot of time at Cottage 27 too) a sign. Beers were strewn about, and Nick was in charge of the project. Emily and Manu just looked on, often busting up in laughter at the absurdity of this project.

Upon completion of the project (with spelling mistakes and all), we had to mount the sign on the front window. Now understand, we partied and set things on fire and climbed in trees when we were in Orchard Park and never recieved as much as a complaint. Apparently, this sign was so offensive that we were immediately instructed to take it down. We spent an hour devising plans to mount it elsewhere, like on top of the library or in front of campus. Ultimately, it ended up at an elementary school, where kids coming to school on Monday asked their teachers what a 'milkshake' was in this context. Poor teachers...

The best event I had at Orchard Park, however, was at the end of the year dinner that the whole place was invited to. I rode up on my bike, wondering why everyone was dressed up so fancy. Apparently this was a really fancy dinner, and it was a way of saying goodbye to everyone in Orchard Park, as most of the kids were international and heading back to their countries at the end of semester.

I knew just about everyone in Orchard Park, but at the same time I was not a resident. I lived off campus, and although I was part of this community, I didn't feel that it was appropriate for me to be at this dinner. I wasn't invited...and it would be rude of me to stick around.

As I was gathering up my bike and things, I was sulking a bit. It wasn't an insult or anything. I just was reliving the feelings of not belonging to any one group, and that I was ultimately an outsider.

On my way out, the director stopped me and asked where I was going. I told him I was going back to my hostel. He asked if I could stay, as even though he knew I didn't live there, I was considered a resident of Orchard Park. I'm not going to lie...I let a tear out. As it turned out, this was more than just a group of friends I hung out with on a regular basis. This was my family. This was home. It wasn't in my head either, as the guy running the place even felt that I was part of the family.

I met alot of people in New Zealand, but the bond I had with the people in Orchard Park and Cottage 27 was something entirely different. They were there for all the good times. They drove me to the hospital when we thought I had meningitis, and made me sleep on their couch so they could make sure I was alright. 6 months is a short amount of time to spend with a group of people, and to develop such a wonderful relationship with all of them in that time is something amazing. Some days, I miss Cottage 27, and the couch parties and mischief we would get into. Luckily for me, most of those moments are vivid in my mind, and I can cherish them for the years to come.
The Entire Gang

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