February marks 6 years since I ventured off into the world, alone, afraid, unsure, yet never been more ready. It marks six years since I began a new chapter in my life – one that would never allow me to look back on how I thought life was. It’s been six years since I was shaken to the core, challenged beyond belief and forced to be a stronger, more independent woman. It marks six years since I left my comfortable Minneapolis life and decided to study abroad for a semester in New Zealand.
I had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting myself into. I was not prepared – in any way, shape or form. I “winged” it as I find myself doing with a lot of things but it was the best decision I have ever made in my entire life.
If I could offer one-piece of advice to any college student it would be this: you must study abroad. You absolutely must. It is an experience unlike any other and one, I promise, you will never regret. You will never regret the bonds you make, the friends that become family and the time of a your life that you will undoubtedly have.
From the moment I departed MSP, sneaking one more look at my Mom and Grandma who dropped me off at the airport – I was an anxious mess. My head was full of doubt. What had I just done? What had I just left? I was feeling regret before I even lifted off, out of Minneapolis. I knew one other person who would be along for the next few months but other than that I left everyone behind. I spent the next few hours at LAX waiting for my flight to Auckland, on the phone. I made zero effort to engage with other students who were waiting for my same flight and instead, cried, worried, and called my roommates over and over.
The first week, was rough to say the least. I was homesick and shy, two words that aren’t normally used to describe me. Luckily, I quickly met other students – two other girls and three boys and six of us became a ‘family.’ We began to do everything together – beach days, gym days, homework, hanging out, and adventures. They were my rocks. They got me through some lonely, dark days and cheered with me on top of the mountains. We sang from the top of our lungs climbing the mountain tops, hitch hiked our way home, drank on the roof tops, and skipped class to be at the beach. We whispered secrets to the sun as she set on our side of the world and woke our loved ones up back home. We lived out of a run down truck, camped by the water during tsunami warnings, watched the darkness light up with glowworms and tried foods I never dreamed of having. And that was only the beginning.
We were young and free. The world was at our fingertips and we were truly living our dreams. Never again, will there come a time in our lives where our only responsibility is to learn from the world and pass a test. We had no jobs, we weren’t allowed, and we had no one to report to. We lived on our own with our best friends.
I often think back to those months and I instantly miss it. My heart craves that freedom, those memories and the experiences. Sometimes, when my mind wanders I have to carefully lead it back to reality, for if we run away for too long, it’s too sad to come back.
I have zero regrets about my time abroad. It was the most magical time of my life and something every college student should experience. I promise, you will never regret the semester where you learn more about life and the world than you do for the rest of your college career. Remember, often times the best learning happens from life experience not from textbooks.
My Favorite Highlights:
- Watching the sunrise over Mt. Cook as we woke from a sleep in Mueller Hut. The Mt. Cook climb was equally as impressive but nothing beats those first colorful views of the sun saying good morning world.
- Learning the legendary Haka in Rotorua.
- Kayaking under a double rainbow in Milford Sound.
- Being blocked on the freeway by a special roadblock – sheep. Hundreds of sheep blocking the road as we ever so carefully navigated our way through them, ensuring none were hurt in the process.
- Hokitika Wild Foods Festival because who doesn’t love day drinking, costume parties and trying things you’ve never imagined like bulls balls, turtles bee alcohol and scorpion. Yum…
- Singing on top of the roof tops during Hyde Street. Another costume party gone crazy- thousands of college students crammed on one of the smallest streets I’ve ever seen.
- Being surrounded by three giant Sperm Whales and hundreds of dolphins. The dolphins loved to play with our boat as we cruised through Kaikoura.
- The way the cliff at Tunnel Beach looked like it was straight from The Nightmare Before Christmas or even The Lion King – it had me at hello.
- Learning there were no snakes on the island so then feeling completely comfortable cave diving at Waitomo Caves. Climbing down ropes, swimming through water and diving in the waves under New Zealand.
- My first adrenaline rush in New Zealand- white water rafting.
- More wine please? New Zealand is famous for it’s delicious wines and we wasted no time indulging in the sweet juices and doing tastings.
- Falling 134 meters to nothing during the Nevis Bungee Jump. No second thoughts- just diving head first to the infinite abyss then enjoying a peaceful slow rope ride back up to the top. Can we go again?
- Finally – skydiving over Fox Glacier. A complete free feeling, zero doubts. Oh, it didn’t hurt that the sun was setting over the Tasman Sea before me and the stunning Mt. Cook to my right, as we gently floated our way back down to earth.Sweet as!