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The amazing true story of my year long Study Abroad to New Zealand during university.
I needed to get out.
Frustrated with the life I had, but terrified to make a change I made a leap.
From the moment of my arrival at the Auckland airport in New Zealand I could feel excitement and curiosity pulsing through my veins.
But what was I going to do with it?
Through equally hilarious and poignant stories in both the slightly dodgy university hostel, and breathtaking landscapes, I went in search of self-knowledge, friendship, and adventure -- but found more than I was looking for.
Chapter 1: Starting Out
Hitting the ‘Send’ button on the computer screen can be just as hard as jumping off of a cliff or marching into battle. In my application for the Study Abroad program to New Zealand, I couldn’t even look at the mouse, or the computer screen, and physically click the button to send the wretched thing away. I desperately tried to will my finger out of atrophy, secretly hoping that the computer would send it for me, but neither did. In the end I had to close my eyes, hold my breath, and with one finger held tentatively aloft, push the left mouse button down.
On April 23, 2003, I had my interview at the Study Abroad Office, which was nestled inside the grey carved stone Student Centre building. So there I was, marching through wind and snow, both horrendously nervous and excited. I was so completely anxious in the meeting that I over compensated by being excessively happy, so as not to let everyone know I was really about to pass out. They must have thought that I was a freak.
At least I was honest when they asked me why I wanted to go away. For some reason I didn’t respond with some bullshit answer like “Oh I have always been so fascinated by the Maori culture and ecology of New Zealand” or “Egyptology is so well associated with New Zealand that it would look fantastic on my resume to study at such an esteemed university”, instead I simply blurted out the truth. I told them that I was dying to move out but couldn’t because of my financial situation. I told them that I was desperate for an adventure, a chance to prove to myself that I could actually do things on my own; that this program was my big chance to actually DO something with my life. To no longer be under the constant watch and wing of my single mother, as well as the scrutiny of my so-called friends as I resentfully participated in my predefined role as a person. This program was my chance to try to be me. The real me (whoever that was).
I really thought I had blown my chances to go by this ridiculous discharge of honesty and über-dorkyness. But I couldn’t pretend anymore that I wasn’t standing in the middle of a crowded room screaming at the top of my lungs for someone to notice me, when my own hands were covering my mouth. And yet, out of all of the applicants, I was one of the four interviewed for New Zealand, and only two would be chosen to go. I never thought of myself as being the cream of the crop or in the “right” group. Either way, I was told that on Thursday I’d receive an email telling me yay or nay.
And so the waiting game began.
As the gods would have it I didn’t have class on Thursdays, which meant that instead of going to class and being productive, I could check my email 700 times. I was dangerously close to clinical insanity until it finally arrived at 6:20pm. When I read the subject line of the email: “Study Abroad Program” my stomach dropped and imploded. I was sure that I had been refused. They always save telling the losers until the end, and if I had gotten in, the subject line would at least say ‘Congratulations’ or ‘yay!”.
When I finally opened my letter of acceptance, you would have thought I had just won an Oscar, or that I was part of some cheesy-TV-life-drama-series. As the chorus of “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne began to blare on the radio (“Take me by the hand, take me somewhere new” – I kid you not), I read the line of my acceptance into the program. I was speechless and had to read it again because I didn’t believe that I had read it right. I must have hallucinated. But the letters and words and sentences really did mean that I was worth sending away on this chance. All I could do was put my hands to my mouth, and sob. I felt for the first time that my life was going to change. I had done something right. Everything was in slow motion but travelling too fast to understand.