Well, this is it. I cannot believe that this is my last Arcadia blog post. Time really does fly. It passes by in the blink of an eye; all happening in the time it takes to look back.
Currently, I am back in my home State of Illinois and I am working at my summer internship. However, you may be wondering what I had been up to for the past two and a half months. Where to begin? Well, for starters, my second term was packed to the brim with assignments, projects, and tests. What I found to be true for my classes at uni was that my papers (or classes) during term one were relatively relaxed, but come term two, everybody shifted into high gear. High gear in New Zealand was still pretty easy-going compared to high gear in the States. Just to give you a picture of what I mean, an 80 percent equates to an A, and a 50 percent would give you a C! Even with the lenient grading scale, term two was still much more work than I was used to doing in New Zealand, so my focus was turned away from my blog and towards revisions like a good girl.
Besides for classwork, the months of May and June consisted of being on the Paleo diet, meeting a prince, learning how to cook, sweating at the gym, making new friends, weekly trips to the farmer’s market, more traveling, tough good-byes, hosting parties, and finding God again. I’ve read classic novels, seen classic films, binge-watched new TV series, tried new wines and liquors, perused through new cities, opened my heart to new people, and let some see into the not so composed and bubbly pieces of myself. I was thrown into some of my deepest fears and anxieties, and my strength alone gave out. Thankfully, God’s strength infinitely outweighs mine, and I was reintroduced to His love, compassion, and forgiveness through challenging circumstances.
Upon packing my life into a few bags, flying across the planet, and arriving to my home in the States, I was inundated with loving kindness and zealous reunions with family and friends (plus my dogs! Such a treat!). My best friend, Emily, and I made crafts on her back porch, I enjoyed the comfort of sleeping in my own bed again, and my family and I went to some of my favorite restaurants for dinner (God bless Chipotle!). Yes, it’s good to be home, but that’s not to say that I don’t still think of my time in New Zealand every day. My daydreams still consist of scaling gorgeous mountainsides, strolling through cities like Queenstown or Wellington, and bonding with my dear friends from all corners of the globe. Being back is wonderful, but I believe I left a piece of my heart in New Zealand, and that piece is there to stay.
As I reflect on my time abroad, I believe that I’ve grown up since leaving Illinois in February. I look back and find my past self a little naïve. This isn’t a bad thing, but I think in many ways I was naïve to some of the wonders and the evils in this world. There is something to actually living, shopping, studying, networking, and growing in a different location alongside different people with different thoughts and opinions than I have. Now that I’m back, I’m still Mer, but I’m not the same Mer that left. I’ll think of it as being Mer 2.0!
So, I’ll end this chapter of life with a few concluding thoughts, carefully wrapped like little gifts for whoever wants to receive them. I believe that some of what I’ve learned doesn’t just apply to those wishing to study abroad, but to people in all seasons of life!
- It’s the people that make the place. Time and time again, I have been reminded that fond memories can be made anywhere. Some of my favorite moments happened in campground kitchens, student flats, and at bus stations. Even remarkable sights are made better when they’re shared with your fellow travelers!
- There’s always more than meets the eye. Whether you’re exploring a new city, talking to locals, or making new friends, there are rich complexities to discover in everything. A shabby looking café may make the best latte you’ve ever tasted, average people at the grocery store may be unsung heroes in their community, and people who look like they have it all together may be just as confused as you are. So dig deeper!
- Live simply. When I had to condense the size of my wardrobe and personal belongings to fit into one checked bag and a carry-on, I realized that I had way too much stuff to begin with, and that I didn’t miss the items I gave away. Also, I learned that preparing simple, healthy meals was not scary or difficult, and that I felt so much better when I treated my body well.
- Sometimes it’s best to just let things go. Plans may change, the bus may be late, rain may interfere with your schedule, and people may say things they don’t mean. More times than not, I found that when I let the little things go, I enjoyed my days more, I was kinder to those around me, and I had more inner peace.
- Slow down, put down the iPhone, and savor the moment. Before I even had time to look back, I had already gone so far. I didn’t have constant data on my phone, and Wi-Fi was hard to come by in New Zealand, which was quite annoying at first. This turned out to be a huge blessing because the distractions that usually keep me from being still and enjoying the small things were muted.
- Go outside and explore! The world is amazing! In one island country, I climbed snow-capped mountains, trekked through rainforests, went spelunking through caves, surfed ocean waves, and drove through rolling meadows covered in sheep. I had always considered myself to be more of a city girl, but when I laced up my hiking boots and ventured into the wild, I found that I really love being in nature!
- Initiate conversation, extend an invitation, and be yourself. People don’t just admire those who are brave enough to put themselves out there in new situations; they appreciate it! Everyone thinks that they are awkward, and everyone is at least slightly uncomfortable in new situations. I made lots of great friends by just going up to people in class, at parties, or even on trips. It’s an easy way to make someone’s day too!
- Open up your home to others. Some of my greatest joy while abroad came from opening my front door and making a second home for my friends. I began by simply offering to host get-togethers at my flat, and soon I didn’t go a day without friends popping in and out of my home! They felt comfortable enough to let themselves in, grab what they wanted from the kitchen, and set up the TV to watch movies. Sometimes I’d come home to find friends chilling in the living room or napping on my couch! Not only did this bring me great joy, I was also able to give people a place to feel at home.
- Push yourself. I never would have imagined that I would bungee jump off of one of the highest platforms in the world, hike up mountains, or complete a whole month on the Paleo diet, but indeed I did! We are capable of much more than I think we give ourselves credit for sometimes.
- Be thankful, and express your gratitude. Everything can be used for good. Even the darkest of days can lead to sunshine eventually. So be thankful for the big things, the little things, for random acts of kindness, for all that your friends and family do, for the beauty in all kinds of nature, and even for moments that hurt. Then, go the extra step and express it! Write an uplifting note to a friend, go out of the way to do something kind for someone else, or even just smile at people!
Well, that’s it for this chapter of life! While I may not be going back to New Zealand as a student again any time soon, I have certainly taken a piece of Kiwi culture home with me in my heart. The exploring does not end with studying abroad; it’s just the beginning! Kia Ora