Final Thoughts from HomeChristchurch, Spring 2012
Going abroad is like getting a new pair of glasses: some people notice your new glasses, some don’t realize that they are different from the old ones, and others never even knew that you wore glasses to begin with. But regardless of all of this, you still see everything differently than before, despite how everyone else sees you.
Its funny how five months of your life so quickly gets reduced to a book of photographs and a two sentence summary along the lines of “It was beautiful; I got to hike a lot but its nice to be back again.” I am extremely lucky to have a reentry buffer in the form of a job and home filled with hiking, like-minded people, and simple living (when it comes time to readjust to the American college culture, that will be a different story). Visiting home to catch up with family and friends after being away for so long was great, as is hiking familiar trails and falling asleep in an open-air tent instead of a concrete-walled room that could start shaking under you at any moment. Being busy and shifting from one beautiful life to another has made moving back to America as painless as it could be, even though a few things took getting used to.
Besides having to think about which side of the road to drive on, the main challenge of readjusting to American culture has been the attitude. There seems to be a constant and unnecessary sense of urgency in every action and interaction, and the lack of that was something I evidently had started to take for granted in New Zealand. The first couple of days I spent back in the Adirondacks, I found this really bothering me. But people respond positively to a positive attitude, and that is the main thing that I’ve been trying to keep with me from my time abroad.
The other thing that I had taken for granted in New Zealand was wide-open space. Even in more populated areas, towns were usually heavily occupied by outdoor stores and other places that are meant to help people experience the world around them. Back in the states, with the exception of some parts of the Adirondacks, everything felt extremely overcrowded and fake to me. In Maori culture (the native people of New Zealand), every person has what is called a Mihimihi. This is used to tell people who you are, and the lines consist of phrases like my mountain is __, my river is __, my parents are __, my tribe is __, etc. It is not until the very last line that you share your name, because that is the least significant thing. And is that not how it should be? Generally speaking, our culture is so unbelievably egotistical and consumer based that we value ourselves based on what we have and how much we are able to accumulate rather that who we are based on the people and places we come from. I hate that.
I have to say, there is one exception to the general rush in American culture: In the tourist town of Lake Placid, especially in the summer months, the streets are continually occupied by anxious tourists who drive around in shiny cars and race each other for the best parking spot (God forbid you have to walk an extra five minutes in this beautiful weather). But take those same people and put them in the woods, and everything changes. I’m continually amazed by how when hiking, every single person that you pass asks how you are, makes room on the trail for you to walk by, strikes up a conversation, or smiles at you, at the very least. Do you every see this happen at a shopping mall? I honestly believe that whether you’re religious or not, spending time away from everything superficial in our world brings out the realist qualities in people and reminds us that there really is something greater than ourselves.
Anyways, looking back on my experience in New Zealand, there are three things I would say about the study abroad experience:
- Do it. I can’t even explain how important it is to experience something different.
- Make friends with people from the country you go to. I didn’t truly dedicate time to this until the end and it is my only real regret.
- Be present. It is so easy to occupy your mind with people from home. I used to wake up and immediately turn on my computer to check on everyone else, and it felt like I had to wake up twice when I remembered I was half a world away. Communication is important, don’t get me wrong, but you should be living in the moment or you’re going to miss it.
Here are my final thoughts: when you spend your days hiking, something that occupies your mind by default is foot-placement. One aspect that is unique to the Adirondacks is the extensive, open rock-face slides, and the boulder fields that make up a lot of the trails. Consequently, it is important to take a brief moment to navigate the best route. But following that moment, steps need to be taken with confidence. Hesitation has negative results, and especially on steep slippery sections, it is important to adopt a “don’t think, just do” attitude, because lingering in fear can mean falling past where you started. It may be intimidating in the moment, but when you get up and look at how far you’ve come, it is amazing.
The point is that this concept can be applied to a lot more than hiking. New Zealand was something that I didn’t think about in a lot of ways, because if I had spent too much time thinking, there would have been too many reasons not to go. I am not condoning the execution of every idea without any thought (there are far too many people who fail to realize that their actions have consequences), but once in a while it is more important to step with confidence without analyzing all the possible outcomes. Just something to think about as college starts to come to an end and new opportunities begin to present themselves… There is a level of risk associated with everything, but the biggest risk is doing nothing at all.
But, for now, it is absolutely amazing to be home. I’ve said it many times, but to all of you who have been reading this blog along the way, I cannot thank you enough. I hope you enjoyed reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing, and I look forward to doing something like this again in the future on whatever the next adventure may be. Enjoy your summers, get outside! Cheers.
Above: View from an Adirondack High Peak. Below: Heart Lake, my summer home.
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