Although the title may lead you to believe that what is to follow will be a beautiful, poetic representation of my feelings toward the ordinary, I regret to inform you that this is not a poem in a formal sense. As the dictionary defines it, an ode is a poem that expresses strong feelings of love and respect for someone or something. While my poetic skills are a tad rusty, I liked the idea of expressing my appreciation of the ordinary. The ordinary is often forgotten, because it is exactly what it claims to be; ordinary. However, I think there is a lot of beauty to be found in the ordinary, especially when studying abroad. Hence why I think taking time to give a nod to normality, or an ode to the ordinary, is so important.
Studying abroad is a time filled with marvelous adventures and trips that change lives. It’s a time full of new faces, new emotions, and internal growth that can only come from living in a new country. What is often glazed over, however, are the days that are not filled with crazy endeavors. They are the average, not special enough to write home about days that are often left out when one tells of their miraculous season abroad. When I was deciding between studying abroad for three weeks or a whole semester, it was the promise of ordinary days that pulled me towards leaving the US for a semester. Having five months in my pocket allows for time in my flat, in my pjs, watching yet another episode of House of Cards with my new close friends. Five months means that sometimes I can sleep in late and leisurely drink tea on my balcony as I read my favorite book for the third time. I can actually allow for this country to feel like a new home without the pressures that a full calendar can bring. New Zealand is like a marvelous novel, filled with amazing epics and splendor to enjoy. Being here for a semester allows me to read slowly, enjoying each limerick as I become engulfed in the story instead of simply skimming the book for the best parts. Don’t get me wrong, if skimming is all there is time for, then please, skim! This country is far too beautiful to ignore all together; but there is something about really being here, present and unrushed, that lets one find their place in this marvelous tale.
There are lots of things I have done here that are worth remembering forever. I’ve climbed mountains, surfed ocean waves, bungy jumped, you name it. What I hope I don’t forget, though, are smaller, quieter times. Times like when my friends and I made an Austrian-American dinner and my dear Austrian friends taught me how to make schnitzel. Times also when I tried my hand at baking new desserts, filled my flat with friends, and had impromptu movie nights. I spend a lot of my time here keeping the flat clean, walking to and from Bush Inn gathering groceries, riding the Metro to the city center or the beach, and like I previously mentioned, watching a lot of House of Cards with my friends.
Now don’t worry, class takes up quite a bit of time too! I am currently enrolled in Leading Change and Innovation, Organizational Behavior, International Business, and Christchurch 101. Class is structured differently than it is at Bethel, as Bethel is a much smaller school and the student to professor ratio is also much smaller. All of my business classes are in giant lecture halls with more students in one class than there were in my whole freshman year dorm. This makes for less student-professor interaction, but I’ve been enjoying these classes none the less! The professors here are very friendly and come from different locations all around the world. My Organizational Behavior professor actually teaches at a school that is in the same conference as Bethel! Already I have begun to see business with a more global perspective. It’s been fascinating analyzing my home country from the outside looking in.
What has also been so deeply enriching is my Christchurch 101 class. The Christchurch area was devastated by two massive earthquakes in 2011, so part of the beauty of this city has arisen from the pain of this tragedy. Christchurch 101 is taught by one of the coolest professors I have ever met, and the whole class is structured around getting in the city, seeing the destruction first hand, and having the chance to do something about it. Already we’ve met with a local musician to hear his testimony and we learned about a local relief project called Gap Filler that puts modern art in broken areas of the city while construction is taking place. In future weeks, we will design and implement our own service project ideas. It’s these kind of ordinary lecture days, or days in the city, that have lead me to grow in ways that would have never been possible had I only skimmed the country for the highlights.
Through the ordinary, beautiful things have grown. Being unrushed has allowed me to develop friendships that I know will last once this experience is over. Time allows for people to let their guards down slowly, moment by moment, trip by trip, story by story, until the thought of having to say goodbye actually aches. That small aching feeling reminds me that what I have here is beautiful and precious, that if it hurts to say goodbye, then it must be worth treasuring. So that is my goal; to continue treasuring the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. I want to look back in my travel journal and smile at both the spectacular and the regular stories, because one day I’ll look back and realize that even the ordinary days were actually extraordinary.