For the second half of my mid-trimester break, six of us drove to the northern coast of New Zealand where we spent the week playing cards, tossing frisbees, and lying in the cold sand, trying to pretend it was summertime. By that time, our little group had fallen into place with natural ease. Many of us live in the same house, and we’ve grown close through our shared lives: swapping food in the kitchen, creating family drama in the living room, occupying the same space.
This familiarity came so easily that my American flatmates and I often feel like we’re living two separate lives. In Wellington, we’re allowed to check out of the problems that haunt us at home. We can forget about our family tensions, our student loans, and the looming uncertainty of the future. Instead, we’ve stepped into the daily orbits of our kiwi friends, who know us because they work for the university as kiwi mates. It’s strange and sometimes uncomfortable to have friends who are paid to live in international student housing. Their role, on paper, resembles that of a hall counselor, tasked with making us feel comfortable and participating in campus life. Really, they’re just kids in search of a little extra pay and some new friends. For them, this semester is like a TV show where they are the series regulars and we’re merely guest actors. A new group of us arrives every few months with suitcases full of fresh clothes, determined to write a semester of stories worth showing off back home.
So, when we piled into our friend Alex’s car for the long drive north, I was painfully aware that this trip had all happened before and that it would happen again after I left. The kiwi mates would say the same thing each time: that every semester was different and they couldn’t possibly pick a favorite. I went into the Coromandel trip hoping for something to stick -- some irreplaceable moment to remind us why we’d come.
That moment happened when, in the center of Auckland’s most packed street, smoke began to leak out from the hood of our car. We pulled onto the curb, juggling calls from towing companies and scrambling for our scattered belongings in case the car decided to catch fire. A strange pile of belongings that could only belong to a group of uni students began to accumulate on the sidewalk -- a bag of lemons, several deflated soccer balls -- and we sat on top of it like dragons guarding a treasure.
It started to rain, and at this point, the situation had changed from potentially life-threatening to bizarrely funny. The lemons had fallen out of a hole in the bag and were rolling down the street. A few of us headed for the pub.
We never made it to the beach that night, but we did make it to Alex’s house just outside of Auckland, where we found ourselves by the fireplace with his parents. Alex wore the embarrassed and apologetic look of someone who wasn’t intending for his friends to meet his family. These separate parts of his life had started to merge as we became privy to funny childhood stories, tales of past adventures, and carefully crafted memories.
That night, I could have been anywhere in the world. New Zealand felt less like a dream world of sprawling landscapes and clear water and more like a real place where parents met at summer camps and kids grew up next to green hills dotted with sheep.
After I leave, my kiwi friends will continue to hang out with eager-eyed international students. They’ll frequent the same bars, inhabit the same spaces, go on the same beach trip, but this doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve found permanence in the moments that have fallen out of place. It was never important for this experience to be special compared to everyone else’s, only for it to be special to me and those I’ve met along the way.