Why did you pick this program?
When I was looking to go abroad, I knew I wanted to go to New Zealand and Australia. I thought they'd be great places to go for my first big adventure "alone". This program really caught my eye because it incorporated adventure with conservation and cultural experiences. I knew that I needed to find a program that would push me out of my comfort zone while helping to fuel my passions.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Go with your heart. You need to find a place or a program that really speaks to you. Whether you're looking for a program in business, conservation, animal welfare, or education. Always follow what makes you feel excited about life!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Remember this: try and appreciate every moment. There might be times when you're exhausted as feeling defeated, that you're climbing an insurmountable mountain. But here's a tip: the view from the top is always worth it.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
We were on a multi-day hiking or "tramping" trip through Kahurangi National Park. I get pretty claustrophobic and I'm afraid of heights so I wasn't looking forward to the next part of our journey. After climbing straight up the mountainside we arrived at my worst nightmare.
First our guide (the Kiwi version of Bear Grylls) rigged a rope ladder to a tree that jutted out over the cliffside at a 90 degree angle. According to him, this tree was at the entrance to a cave, and this cave was a sweet little shortcut to our campsite.
Naturally, I was the first of our group to ascend the ladder. I remember my whole body was shaking and panic was quickly obliterating my senses. By some miracle I was able to hoist my quivering body and mind, up and into the tree. Unfortunately, I was still several feet from the safety of the cave floor.
Kiwi Bear Grylls and I had a quick argument over whether or not I would be joining him. I then prayed. I'm kind of a spiritual person but it's rare that I feel the need to actually pray in my daily life. Fortunately, my praying gave me the willpower to pull myself the rest of the way across the narrow tree trunk.
A few minutes later we were joined by one of the other girls on the trip, Sophia. She and I both share a dislike of small spaces so we were permitted to go ahead of the group, led of course by Kiwi Bear.
This cave was like nothing I've ever experienced in my life. Fortunately, its ceiling was quite high so the feeling of claustrophobia was miraculously lessened. As we ventured deeper into the cave, it quickly became darker and much, much colder. The cave was very Middle Earth-esque. Gollum was lurking around there somewhere, I'm sure of it.
I remember there was one portion of the cave where the walls became quite close, so close that it was a challenge to squeeze ourselves and our bags through. The floor had turned a goopy sort of mud that pulled on your boots and threatened to cement you to the cave floor forever. Forty minutes later, our little family finally made its way to the cave exit.
The daylight was easily the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Kiwi Bear Grylls nimbly tossed his bag and his body up to the exit. Which was eight feet above our heads. Sophia and I each took turns throwing our own bags up to him and we each used limb, rock, and sheer willpower to pull our bodies out of the cave.
This was one of those moments in life where you realize just how capable you are. I always had the strength, but this experience forced me to rise and conquer the fears I always allowed to hold me back.
What's one must-have item to pack?
A journal and/or a camera! Our brains have a nasty habit of forgetting stuff. It's always great to be able to read or look at photos of those moments.