“I’ve come to the opinion that home is where the heart is.”Auckland, Spring 2012
There are a lot of ways to learn about New Zealand culture. There’s the book method, where reading geography and culture and history books cover to cover will teach you the ins and outs of the other island down under; there’s the pop culture method, where hopefully by tuning into enough travel channel documentaries and episodes of Flight of the Conchords you’ll glean enough info; and there’s the method that I’ve been learning from the most, which is living with a homestay.
While I know that my homestay in a lot of ways is very different than other families in Auckland, I’ve loved learning about New Zealand from them. Not only is it way more interesting than reading six thousand dusty books from the early 1900′s, it’s also a lot more personal. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the differences between the U.S. and New Zealand, both silly and serious. Courtney, my homestay sister, is incredibly patient with my questions, and always tries to answer them without laughing (which I appreciate. guys, I really didn’t know how to use the washing machine! there are a lot of extra buttons…). A couple of nights ago we had a discussion about citizenship in the U.S. versus in New Zealand. Both Courtney and her younger brother Connor were really surprised to find out that U.S. citizenship requirements were so rigorous and complicated (fees, a test, an interview) while in New Zealand they would give you citizenship if you lived in the country for a certain number of years. We end up talking about politics a lot: mostly because they’re always on the nightly news, even in New Zealand, but also because the processes and ideologies behind political parties are pretty different (also on the nightly news? a lot of animal stories). It’s sometimes tough discussing politics abroad. Although I’m an international studies major, I don’t know nearly enough about the overarching views of Congress and the Senate to accurately debate someone about politics in the U.S. (and plenty of people want to), but other students and people look to me as the supreme source of knowledge in the area of U.S. politics. One thing’s for sure: I’m clearly not watching enough CSPAN.
There are a lot of things that we do at my homestay that remind me of home, and a lot of things that I’ve learned over the course of my two-and-a-half month stay. I now know how to load the dishwasher (and the washing machine, if you guys were wondering. the buttons are no longer a delightfully vague combination of numbers and pictures), and that every Sunday we all eat ice-cream while watching whatever movie is on 3 (there are four channels in New Zealand, and they just have numbers. makes life a lot easier). While I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about New Zealand or even Auckland, I know so much more about the intimacies of family life through staying with a homestay. While I know I would have enjoyed living on campus, I’ve loved even more having a family to come home to at the end of the day. Without them, I never would have known what marmite tastes like, or known the hilarity of the boy with tape on his face, or experienced the off-key singing of various popular songs on the radio loudly echoing across the house. Now that it’s been a couple of months there’s a warmth and caring to our interactions, and I really do feel like a part of the family. A very distant part of the family, where the children grow to normal sizes and don’t become beautiful blonde Norwegian giants, but a part of the family nonetheless. It’s made the transition to living in Auckland so much easier, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world (even if they’ve never tasted an Orange Julius).
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