My journey started on an extremely bitter January morning in none other than the windy city of Chicago, where I boarded a connecting flight to the sunny Los Angeles. After bearing one of the coldest Wisconsin winters I could remember, the heat was a blessing. I distinctly remember being petrified that I had forgotten something important like my passport or plane ticket as I walked through the airport. The reality of the trip I was about to take was unimportant to me, believe it or not. I knew I was going to perfectly fine.
In all honesty, I was excited to be somewhere where the people didn't have a set idea of who you are based on what they have observed from you over a course of ten years in a small town public school. By the time I landed in Auckland and took a connecting flight to Tauranga, I had missed my original school orientation by a couple of hours, so I had the weekend to settle in before I started at Te Puke High School. Unfortunately, my first day was a bit of an awkward, rocky start. The bus that picked my up drove right past my host home, which was a kiwi fruit orchard with a very long driveway. It had a second route, so our bus was one of the first to get dropped off at school. I was a solid 45 minutes early every single day. For that entire time the first day, I did absolutely nothing but blankly stare at a wooden post in the courtyard. Later on, during morning break, me an a few of the other foreigners were sitting on the rugby pitch and I decided to take my lunch out of my backpack. Mind you, this was the same backpack I had used as my carry on and it had had a spare set of clothes. I hadn't realized that I had left a pair of frilly panties in my backpack, and in the process of taking out my lunch, I had knocked it onto the field. I didn't realize this had happened until we started to get up and leave. Many a junior boy had been staring as I tried to casually shove the lace atrocities back into my bag. What a great way to start out the semester, am I right?
The underwear incident didn't bother me all that much. New Zealand had this profound ability to make the world seem easy going and relaxed. I was much more confident and care-free in New Zealand than I have ever felt in the United States. Maybe it was due to the beautiful scenery and my close proximity or the pacific ocean... or maybe it was the fact that they were pretty easygoing with the foreigners, so it was to no surprise that I managed to conquer over 100 levels of candy crush while in various classes. sMy favorite class was Drama. We were a small, close knit group, and, like most Kiwis, they had little to no reservations when it came to being ridiculous. Pillow fights, hanging from the ceiling, and indoor rugby, were not uncommon. That is until Mr. Smith would bark at them to settle down. That was also the class where I discovered that for the first two months I had regularly been showing a gang sign with my hands, but everyone thought it was hilarious that a little blonde white girl was accidentally representing a notorious gang. Taniana and Victor tried to explain it to me, but I had made it a habit of simply nodding at them since their Maori accents and slang could be so thick sometimes that even asking them to repeat it 12 times wouldn't help.
Maori slang was also a struggle for me when I joined the girls rugby team. It was basically a team of Maori girls who had been playing since they were toddlers, and a skinny american girl who couldn't even throw the damn ball. I was basically the water girl that they let play sometimes, but I really appreciated their patience with me. With all my incompetence, they were always willing to walk me through whatever it was we were doing. It didn't help much. All I ever did was ran around in circles on the field and get in the way, but they cheered me on anyways.
Moonball, however, I was much better at. It's basically rugby, but with less rules and a large exercise ball. That's actually how most of the school got to know me. I was the crazy girl who played Moon ball during lunch break. About 50 plus students would play each time it was available during break, but when it came to girls, it was usually the rugby girls (this was before the rugby season started). So to see some random foreign girl no one knew start bolting at guys twice her size, it was a little hard to forget. Especially since they saw me get carried down the field on top of the ball once. Basically, I had tried to knock the ball out of a Senior guy's arms, but he took no notice and continued to run while carrying me along with the ball the entire way down the field. Each time I played, people I had never talked to before would always come and tell me how cool it was that I went so hard out during the games. It made me feel a lot more welcomed, even though all I had done was attack some guy with an exercise ball.
Then there was the time that my friend Coral, an exchange student from Hawaii, tried to teach me how to surf. The waves that day were huge, and after many many many attempts, I finally managed to catch one. Unfortunately, I also panicked. I couldn't remember how to stand un on the board properly, so I just rode it on my hands and knees while I screamed like a baby. I also had no idea how to stop (if there's even a way to), and the tides along the shoreline would pull out so quick that by the time the next wave came in it was about 15 feet of water and then just sand. I crashed down into the sand and started to sit up in the water, but, again, because the water pulled back out so quick it was hard for me to try to stand up and get out of the way. By the time I managed to get up, the water had pulled my board back at me, and it smashed me in the shins, knocking me over again. Not even a second later, another huge wave engulfed me and sent me tumbling back face first into the sand. This process happened about three more times before I could finally get back to the shore. Coral then came up to me crying not because she had been worried about me, but because she had been laughing so hard watching me struggle with the ocean. She ended up having to run into the water to pee, she was laughing so hard.
These stories are just a couple of short snapshots of my time in New Zealand. My various other adventures included my shenanigans in the Musical, jumping off of cliffs, being chased by swans while white water kayaking, chasing sheep around on Mt. Maunganui until they chased me back, and walking around school every day with a cheap ukulele. Each day was a new experience that I wouldn't trade for the world, and I am thankful that you took the time let me share a few of them with you.