Sunday, 9 August 2015

Reverse Culture Shock

Now that I have been back in the States for a couple of months now, I can officially say I am back to Northern Hemisphere time. I have sort of heard about reverse culture shock, but never thought it would actually occur on such a short time span. Revers culture shock is just like normal culture shock that you might get from entering another culture different from the one you are familiar with, only you get the shock from your original culture after being away for some time. I will admit that I never really had too bad of culture shock when living in New Zealand because most of the customs are the same or very similar to my own back at home, but when I returned home I feel like I had a mild version of culture shock re-entering the world I grew up in. It was a strange experience to get caught up on everything that I had missed from the 4 months prior.  I had to relearn and be reminded of the norms of where I grew up for years. My family and friends had all grown and changed while I was gone, as did the vegetation and seasons.
One of the biggest difficulties I had and am just now getting over is the change in seasons. My body was shocked when I came back to the States. I had been preparing myself for winter and the cold days and nights that come with it. Although, the location in New Zealand I was residing in did not get very cold compared to the weather we are put through in Missouri every year, I could feel by body becoming more sluggish and stocking up on fat and foods. I didn't really realize the extent of it until I made it back to Missouri where I had to where half the clothing and was in a much much hotter environment. I could honestly tell that my body was adjusted to the winter and it had a very hard time adjusting to the summer body that I needed. I had to basically go on a mini diet to get my body kick started into summer mode, and started exercising more consistently. I am finally more comfortable with where I am. Usually I'd have months to adjust naturally and might not even notice, but this time it was within a couple of days change. Another factor that may have contributed to the struggle and confusion internally was the daylight hours, and weird-enough the position of the sun. As I'm sure you know, the days are far longer in the summer than in the winter, also the sun is positioned in the northern sky in the southern hemisphere, while the sun is positioned in the southern sky in the northern hemisphere. My extended trip to New Zealand taught me how to listen to my body and learn from it. These skills helped me pin-point the changes that occurred in my body with this huge movement.
It was also weird to come back to my family and friends with so much change that had happened. Of course, I didn't expect life for them to halt while I was gone, but 4 months is a lot to catch up on. It was hard to begin with and is still kind of a struggle in the aspect that nobody seems interested enough to sit and listen to everything you did and experienced for 4 months. I don't expect anyone to, but I feel like they aren't as interested in all of it as I am and it's hard to accept that. There will always be things that they down know I did or saw simply because there are not enough hour in the day to spill all the stories and there's no way to let them experience it like I did. I learned a whole lot while in New Zealand and I know it has helped me grow up and find who I am. Although I know who I am and who I want to continue to be, this experience has just complicated my life goals and my future. I am graduating college next May and am completely lost as to where to go from here. I know I can make it in another country or state and have proved it over and over, but do I really want to be so far away? This is a question that has been lingering in my mind for ages. Only time will tell I guess.
Its been quite the "Expedition", but its hardly over....

Friday, 29 May 2015

Crunch Time

In the past weeks I have only really been reporting on all the fun adventures we have taken, but have not really talked about life in New Zealand. So I am dedicating this post to getting real with you all...

I'll start out by saying my body is the most confused at the moment. It is May, days from June and I am freezing cold. Bundled up and snuggled up on frosty nights. The leaves are turning and falling, the air is brisk, and no more sweaty hiking days. This is fall (autumn as they correct me) in the Southern Hemisphere folks! I am seeing fewer and fewer kids walking barefoot to class. The shorts are still being worn but they are slowly turning to jeans and scarves. I am ready for summer, I feel like I didn't get a long enough one at the beginning of this semester. Looking forward to heading back to the Northern Hemisphere summer!

Friday, 1 May 2015

South Island Road Trip

We recently had a two week break in our semester that we took as a chance to see the entire South Island of New Zealand. I was accompanied by two other girls and we hiked and camped nearly every day by ourselves (just had to brag a little bit :)). We started our journey by flying down to Queenstown and heading south with only a rental car, our cheap tent, and a weeks worth of clothing and food. We made a stop at a hidden cave in Clifden. We had to use insider info to follow a gravel road to a tiny sign on the side of the road and a little hole in the wall. It was all self-serve so we got to see some cave formations and glow worms up close and personal! We continued south to Slope Point (the southern most point of the South Island), and stayed in Catlins Forest Park. It was a beautiful spot with clear skies and a lurking sea lion at our campsite on the beach. We then continued up to Dunedin and Moeraki Boulders, then headed inland to the west. We continued up to Mount Cook and hiked the Hooker Valley track on a very foggy day. We were hiking in belief that the mountain-tops ended where the low clouds began, but luckily found out that we were very wrong! We got a surprise visit from Mount Cook, which was one of the coolest events of the entire trip. After our short stay in Mount Cook National Park, we made our way up to Christchurch where we were urged to stay in a hostel due to the dropping temperatures. We hiked the Godley Head Taylor's Mistake track under blue skies and headed down to explore Christchurch, but were quickly drenched from the autumn storm that snuck up on us. We headed north after that rainy day to Kaikoura where we got to see a seal colony and strained our eyes to see whales in the bay. We continued north still and got to see Marlborough Sound before heading west to Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park where we got to see Split Apple Rock and a great lookout from a mystical forest hike. We headed south from there and started seeing our first glimpses of snow on the mountaintops. We were soon along the west coast at Westport and Greymouth. We stopped to see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes and then headed southward to Franz Josef  and Fox Glaciers which have receded dramatically over recent years. We continued along the west coast to Mount Aspiring National Park and Lake Wanaka before being reunited with Queenstown. Our last leg of the journey was spent in Fiordland National Park at Milford Sound and Marion Lake. After quite a few freezing nights, sandfly bites, sore feet, and too many peanut butter sandwiches we concluded our journey back in Queenstown before flying back to our New Zealand home. Here are just some of the things we did during the two weeks....
I will post more details at a later date. :)



Saturday, 4 April 2015

Rotorua and Christchurch GoPro

Rotorua Trip

S.Island Round 1 (Christchurch Trip)

Continued in Christchurch...

The same weekend we went to Akaroa Peninsula, we also toured around the city of Christchurch. Before we left for our South Island weekend getaway, our friends were all telling us that there was nothing to see in or around Christchurch. They were all wondering why we chose to visit that place, and to be honest we didn’t really know when we bought the air tickets. We were just blinded by the cheap prices for the flight, and hungry for adventure. So far the weekend had been a success and as beautiful as anything we had seen before. Headed on to the city of Christchurch.
Here’s a little history lesson for you all that are not aware of Christchurch’s situation. In recent events, Christchurch experienced a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in September of 2010, which was apparently the worst they had in 30 years. Somehow no lives were lost, but it left the city broken and weak. But wait, that’s not all. In February of 2011, only 5 months later, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch once again. This time there were many deaths and injuries, and the city was left in ruins.
We had no idea we would be going straight into ground zero of this natural disaster. Upon arrival, we quickly realized that the city was almost a ghost town. Many people left after the last earthquake to start their lives elsewhere while the remaining citizens helped to rebuild the city. It is 2015 and they are still cleaning up the mess! I couldn’t believe my eyes on how many buildings were literally just in a pile at ground level.

We had a whole day free to explore the city and had heard about an art exhibition being held down the street so we started out there. On our way we noticed several wall murals of beautiful street are and stopped to take a look. It wasn’t your everyday graffiti or tagging, it was artwork filled with emotion, creativity, and hard work. We reached the exhibition and follow the path through. It was about the street are in Christchurch, what a coincidence. Apparently, all of the street art we had seen was a sort of ray of hope though the destruction and a symbol of strength in Christchurch. We picked up a map that pointed out several works of art throughout the city created by the starring artists on exhibit. We followed the map and checked out every single picture on the map, plus many more along the way. 

I couldn’t believe how many walls were covered with artwork. It turned into a sort of competitive scavenger hunt for the three of us. We would try and call out first new murals as soon as we spotted them peaking around a corner. Everywhere you looked had some sort of artwork on it, between storefronts, abandoned restaraunts, apartment buildings, and even parking garages. We would walk completely around a single building standing out in the surround rubble and have four different works of art represented on one building. Some murals were all about thanking the construction and cleanup crews working day and night in Christchurch, while others portrayed strength and hope for the new city calling it “Christchurch 2.0.”

Honestly, it was really sad seeing all of the buildings completely destroyed, but at the same time, empowering and inspiring that everyone had come together to rebuild their city. There were even little pockets between still standing buildings that had small playgrounds made of completely recycled materials from the destruction, and there was even a whole mall made from shipping cargo containers. I loved seeing all of the innovation and motivation.

So to prove all of those that doubted us wrong, we had a very successful and cheap weekend in Christchurch! I learned a lot and saw a lot of really sweet things. Travel is not all about going to mainstream place and doing advertised things. It’s about learning new things about the place and experiencing it completely. That was honestly one of the coolest trips we have taken since I have been in New Zealand, simply because we didn’t have a full plan.
Stay tuned for more about my two week South Island road trip in the coming weeks…


Friday, 3 April 2015

Day in Akaroa

My latest adventure took place on the South Island of New Zealand in and around the quaint little French influence town of Akaroa. To start the weekend off, we woke early in the morning and headed for the peninsula that Akaroa is situated on. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we were stopped by the breathtaking sight of early morning fog. Now this wasn't your ordinary fog that covers the ground and makes everything dark and incredibly humid, this was heavenly mountain fog. You've got to remember that we were on a peninsula made up of mountains so it made for some interesting weather. As we popped over that hill, we all just became completely speechless. It was what I can only assume was a valley filled to the brim with fog. It was actually moving as we pulled over to observe. The fog was acting just like liquid water would if you poured it into a bowl. It was being blown over a nearby mountain-top and into the valley below. The semi-condensed water was swirling and rolling around in the valley as if it were being sloshed around. On top of seeing this amazing sight, I would like to add that it was early in the morning so the sun was perched perfectly over the horizon and gave everything a golden glow. I was simply blown away. I literally cannot describe exactly what I saw into words so enjoy this visual aid. J

That just goes to show what you can experience if you get out of bed and do something with your life. Sleeping in is overrated! I'm on vacation for life!
After we finished drooling over the beautiful morning sight, we made our way down a curvy mountain road that was supposed to lead us to the small town of Akaroa. As we approach the waterfall of fog it became clear to us that we were going to have to drive right through it. The only way I can explain it is that it was like seeing a waterfall and walking under it or behind it. The fog was moving and rolling over the mountainside. So strange.
We finally pulled into Akaroa and pulled over for a quick pit stop. It was super foggy and grim looking. The town is situated right on the harbor which made it a little creepy. It reminded us of The Series of Unfortunate Events series when the Baudelaire orphans had to stay with an aunt on Lake Lachrymose. We unanimously decided that this would be a fantastic place to grab breakfast before making a solid plan for the day. Along the water front, I spotted a little café with seating outside. As we entered the shop it was clear that we had stepped into the closest thing to being in France in the Southern Hemisphere. I was overly excited to see that there was a Nutella Crepe being offered on the menu and quickly ordered one for myself. Let me just tell you, it was the best crepe I have ever had!! It did help that it was swimming in Nutella.
After finishing off our French breakfast we made a short walk down the street to the water’s edge. By this time the fog had all but been blown off to the Pacific Ocean. The landscape looked so fake, like a backdrop for a cheesy movie. My photos look so fake, I'm afraid people back home aren’t going to believe it was an actual place.

Next stop for the day was our hostel for the night. We had booked a few beds at a farm hostel in the mountains close to Akaroa. We followed the directions up a one lane road along the edge of the mountain. When we finally made it up the steep inclines and around the treacherous bend to the end of the road we spotted a sign for Onaku Farm Hostel that let us know we had arrived. We check in and got a quick tour. The hostess warned us of their gumpy old guard goose and of the local furry visitors we may have from the farm. This place was one of the cutest places I have ever seen in my life. I instantly fell in love. We were staying in a cabin meant for 7, but we were the only 3 that night. There were two kitchens, one with a wood stove and lounge area and the other with only one wall. The showers were basically just like what you would get at the beach or the pool, and the toilets were in little metal tube port-a-potties. Two of them were flush and the third was pit. They even had a sink for the “bathroom”. It was just an old sink and vanity from a house, perched on the side of the hill connected to a garden hose. There was even a mirror included, just like your bathroom at home, but without walls. The cabin and kitchen, along with the extra comforts of home made it feel like we were 8 again in our own little club house. I felt like a Lost Boy on Peter Pan. It was a magical place to say the least.
After we dumped our stuff in our personal clubhouse, we were directed by the hostess towards one of their very own hikes located out back. It was a steep climb up the side of a mountain and around another until we got to the top lookout spot where there was a rock with the word “END” painted on it. We were literally walking through their farm. We said hello to the cows laying in the sun, and how-do-you-do to the sheep frolicking on the hillsides. Our only indication that we were on  the right path was the occasional painted arrow on rocks, fence posts, trees, or sticks. As we neared the end of the path and the “END” rock became visible, the view became more and more breathtaking. From our lookout spot you could see the Pacific Ocean on one side, the small town of Akaroa on the other, and tiny little kayakers in the inlet between.

We completed that supposedly 40 minute hike in a couple of hours, then retired to our clubhouse village for a well-needed shower. We made a trek back down the treacherous road to Akaroa and got some amazing fish and chips on the water-front for supper and headed back to get a good nights sleep.
To be continued...

Friday, 13 March 2015

NZ Tourist

Sometimes you just have to be a tourist. If you are only in a place for a short time, it is best to try and hit all the famous things early on in the trip so that you can get deeper into the culture and fully immerse yourself in it. This weekend we managed to book some big tours with some very iconic New Zealand settings.
First we went black water rafting in the Waitomo glow worm caves, and came out sopping wet and smelly. We had to wear a nasty combo of wetsuit pants and jacket with added socks. We were also issued a pair of gum boots, a helmet with a headlamp on it, and a small intertube. We had no idea what we were really getting into. Our guides were really sassy and tricked us every time they got a chance. We were taught how to properly jump off waterfalls and onto our tubes, yet not how to keep from falling face first into the stale cave water that was rushing under our feet. It was an amazing experience for sure! It was something I will never forget. Climbing, jumping, floating, and drifting through the underground slot canyon underneath the light of the glow worm. It was like the starry sky on a clear night, for lack of a better description.

That night, we stayed in a hostel in Rotorua. It was a really cool place. Now, I have never stayed in a hostel before so I was a little nervous and had no idea what to expect from the place. Turns out it was really clean and had a cool vibe. We stayed in a 10 bunk room, so basically our group took up half of it. It was kind of like a really packed dorm. We got a shower and bathroom, full kitchen, living room, and a bar to share with the rest of the people staying those nights. Hostels get a bad rep in the States, but I really think that it is the way to travel around here. You just have to know how to be safe with all the strangers you are having a slumber party with.
The next day we got up at a decent time and headed over to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Yes, this is the most tourist-y thing we could possibly do while in New Zealand, and we did it! It was really sweet to see and stand and touch where those huge movies took place. I honestly thought less about the movies and more about how awesome it would be to live in one of the hobbit holes! Maybe I would make my hobbit hole a tad bigger. :)
I'll let the photos do the talking for me...

After we had finished meandering through the shire, we made our way to the next tourist stop on our list: the Tamaki Maori Village. There, we were exposed to the cultural dance, games, crafts, and food of the native Maori people. Of course it was all staged, but it felt pretty real. It was a really neat experience and we all learned a ton about the native culture we are living with for the next few months.


After a good night's sleep, we woke up to what we thought was going to be free pancakes, by the hands of the hostel hosts, but what we got was some premixed thinned out batter and a cast iron skillet. We finally managed to get a decent pancake out after using what seemed like half the bottle of oil to coat the skillet and keep the batter from becoming part of the pan. We ate them anyway, being traveling students on a budget. Let me just say that those little grease cakes did not set well with any of us on our next trek. We drove to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and took a walk through the park. I swear we must have stepped into Jurassic Park! I was half expecting to see a dinosaur stick its prehistoric head out of the treetops at any moment. I really enjoyed the walk past several steaming pools of chemical ridden water forming in the crater of volcanoes. It was a bit unnerving to know you were so close to an active volcanoes mouth, but then again, it was pretty darn sweet!


After tackling Jurassic Park, we started heading back home (or what we are calling home for the next few months aka school). We had driven a few hours and were about an hour and a half away from home when the traffic came to a complete stop on the highway. There was a long line of stopped cars on the highway in the middle of nowhere, with no cars going in or coming out. After sitting in the car for about half an hour, we finally managed to get word of a really bad wreck that was blocking the road. It was predicted to be another 3 hours until they could get traffic moving again. With daylight hours running out on us on one of the only highways through the area, we made a quick decision to take a big detour our and around the traffic jam on another highway. This route was going to take us another 2 hours out of the way, but it was our only hope. I met a guy one time that said "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong," and you know, I think he is right. We would never have got to see that landscape if we hadn't had to go around the really unfortunate event. Some people get uptight about a change in plans, but how I see it is that you should just make the best of any situation and go with the flow. Some of the best things come out of unexpected trips.
This weekend was all about being a tourist, but hopefully in the upcoming weeks I can start seeing New Zealand as a local.

By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

GoPro Weeks 1&2

Video #1: Our first weekend trip to Himatangi Beach and Foxton Beach.
Video #2: Weekend number two, trip to Lake Taupo. Also see my other blog post "Weekend Warriors".
Video #3: A short video of Bulli Point cliff jumping along Lake Taupo.

Weekend Warriors

This past weekend me and three other friends that I met from the U.S. rented a car and headed north. We stayed at a janky little campground in Turangi. It looked like it used to be a cute little summer camp. The cabins were literally a garden shed with two twin bets in it, that's all we really needed, no complaints here. On our arrival, we went on a short walk up a river and across a cool suspension bridge. 
Along the way I spotted a whole bunch of raspberry bushes. I got really excited because we pick them at home in the summer and make pies and jams. I started picking a couple of the ripe, purple berries, but before I could pop them in my mouth the other girls hollered at me because they were worried they were poisonous and that I was going to die. I am pretty sure they all though I was crazy and going to get them all into trouble this semester, but after a few minutes I finally convinced them that I was 100% positive that they were not only edible, but down right delicious! I popped one right into my mouth and the instant feeling of home and summer rushed over me. The three of them quickly started picking the berries and gobbling them down after they were sure I wasn't going to keel over on the spot. It was a great late afternoon snack for some hungry student travelers.
That night, while we were snuggled into two twin beds with only two sleeping bags to share, an obnoxiously loud siren went off early in the morning hours. Of course, we all jumped up and each assumed the worst scenario according to the region of the U.S. we come from. I immediately thought tornado, but quickly realized tornadoes don't happen in this part of the world as often. Then the vision of the volcanic landscape flashed into my head. I couldn't help but worry we should be evacuating at that very moment. Come to find out, after a short, groggy conversation with a lady outside, the sirens were just from the fire station located down the block.

That next day, after sleeping a couple of more hours, we drove up along Lake Taupo to the little lake front town of Taupo. It reminded me of Osage Beach in South Missouri a little, but a bit cleaner. We checked out the local farmer's market before heading to Huka Falls. The water was so incredibly blue! I still can't believe my own eyes. The aqua blue water was cascading over some rock and on down the river. It wasn't so much of a falls as we would think of it, but more of a stretch of rapids. 
After getting our fill of the scenery we continued to the free honey tasting shop. Let me just say, they have some tasty honey! I even got to try some raw honey which was YUM! After that quick stop, we headed back to the Huka Falls parking lot, only this time we hiked up river for about half an hour until we found the natural hot spring pools that ran into the river.The water that was coming out of the hot springs was super hot. It flowed right into the river. You could feel and even see where the hot and cold waters were mixing. Super neat experience for sure. After basking in the sun and warm water, we decided it was about time to head back to the comforts of our little shack. The previous week, we had heard of a local cliff diving spot along the lake and thought we would give it a try. You would have never spotted the jumping spot if there had not been a couple people standing on the ledge. It was on the corner of a windy mountain road that skirts around the lake. There were a half dozen cars just pulled off on whatever shoulder of the road they could. We immediately pulled off the road and hopped out only the people we had seen were through a thick patch of trees. As we ventured off the road into the trees in only our shoes and bikinis, we ran across a young boy who showed us the way to where him and his two brothers were spending the afternoon jumping off a small ledge and trying to make the bigger splash. After watching the local family for a while, we finally got our chance to do some damage. The water was so amazingly clear! The bottom looked so close, but I never even got close to touching the sand or the big boulders that scattered the lake bottom. Amazing! After we were done frolicking in the water, on the ledge, and on the rope hanging from a tree, we ventured deeper to find the bigger cliff that we had spotted from the highway earlier. We found it alright! It had to of been at least twice the size of the one we were enjoying earlier. With all of us being too chicken, we managed to get one random local dude to wear our GoPro and jump off the ledge for us. Let me just say, super sweet footage! I can honestly say that was one of the coolest things I've done in a really long time.
We spent another night in the cabin and made our meals in the open community kitchen. The next day (last day of the weekend) we drove down to Tongariro National Park which is home to a number of volcanoes. We ended up taking a short day hike from Whakapapa Village. We got to see lots of forest, shrubbery, waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains, and more.  

The hike lead to a large waterfall that you could walk behind and of course the water was very clear. All perched right at the base of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom). They were all very volcano shaped volcanoes. I was just geography-geeking out the entire time. Really super neat to get to see all those low-key things. I hope to continue our adventuring in upcoming weeks!

Let's Get Started!

I am currently a Junior at a university in Missouri, where I study Geography and Global Sustainability. I have chosen to study abroad in New Zealand during the upcoming semester because it is the one place in the world that I have always dreamed of visiting. New Zealand is very diverse, offering a variety of activities, landscapes, wildlife, and cultures for me to see and experience. This was very appealing because I will get to experience a very unique combination of physical and cultural characteristics that especially relate to Geography. I never thought I would get an opportunity like this to live and study in the country I have always dreamed of going to. It will give me a completely different perspective on school and learning. I expect to have gained much more knowledge from this trip than I would have ever imagined. A trip like this opens many doors in my future professional life and also in my personal life.

I will be continuing my course of study in Geography and Global Sustainability at Massey University in Palmerston North, and expand on what I have already learned. This program was very appealing to me because it includes a variety of science and Geography programs and classes. When choosing a program, I looked for places where I could continue coursework for my major. I want to study abroad for a whole semester because it will give me a chance to really become engulfed in the culture and environment. I would like to be able to explore places that only the locals know about, and find hidden treasures that I would never have found on a vacation to the same exact place.
Studying Geography in New Zealand will help me better understand global concepts such as culture, Earth science, and globalization. It will give me a fresh perspective on several issues and concepts in Geography. Traveling and learning is a great way to expand on my Geography coursework. In the future, employers will see that I have been abroad and know that I have some really-life experience with Geography. Companies that employ Geographers look for people that have put in the extra effort and time to further their education and seek out extra experiences. It will also show a high level of dedication to a task because of all the time and effort taken to plan a trip of this length.

Currently, my family is putting three members through college and will be sending a fourth member next year. As you can imagine, this has put some financial strain on my whole family and restricted some of the opportunities that we have. I have been working and saving up money as well as applied for many scholarships and grants in order to finance my trip abroad. It is important to me to study abroad in New Zealand because of all the great opportunities, so I am going to do everything I can to make it happen no matter the challenge or obstacle.