Alumni Spotlight: Leigh Anne Stacklin

Leigh Anne Stacklin is from Prince George, Virginia, graduated high school in 2006, and has worked in the hospitality field since. She traveled to New Zealand from April 2013 to May 2014 with side trips to Australia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. She loves rock climbing, reading a good book on a beach, and exploring new areas hoping to find what makes them "home".

What led you to work abroad via IEP 's Work New Zealand program?

Sunrise at Turoa

Leigh Anne: A friend of mine told me about a friend of a friend who had gone to Australia to work for a year and it seemed like a fun idea.

I stuck with hospitality/bartending because it’s a job you can travel with so I figured it was worth looking into. My Aunts had led me to BUNAC from when they used to go abroad to England, and that’s where I found IEP Work New Zealand.

I had the choice between Australia and New Zealand, and not knowing much about NZ, I had been leaning towards Australia.

But with more research and learning what the small country had to offer, New Zealand and IEP won out. And I’m so glad it did.

What aspects of your experience were you expecting? Which ones were surprising?

Leigh Anne: I didn’t really know what to expect about this experience, so each turn was a bit surprising. Work IEP was extremely helpful in putting what to expect and how to get started in an orientation. I was surprised by how easy it was for me to let go and just figure out things as they came up.

Normally I’m one for a plan, needing to know where I’m going next and when, but a few weeks in New Zealand and I was finding myself changing plans on a whim and ending up somewhere better than originally planned.

Tell me about one person you met.

 Fox Glacier Hike on the West Coast

Leigh Anne: Melody. I had been in New Zealand all of a week in a half, had just gotten on a bus from Auckland to Napier and knew no one in town when I wandered into the small shop she worked at.

She was a girl about my age so we just started chatting. She asked where I was from, who I was traveling with, and so forth.

When she found out I was alone and going to be in town for a few weeks, her immediate response was ‘Three weeks is too long to be somewhere alone, here take my number.’

So we exchanged numbers and after the weekend she had texted me inviting me to her place for a dinner party. And when she learned I hadn’t tried Pavlova, or Hokey Pokey ice cream yet, she sent her boyfriend out to get some.

This local girl who knew nothing about me took me in and made me feel at home, never thinking twice about it.

She went as far as to invite me to her Mom’s house on Mother’s Day since I couldn’t be at home with my own mom. She was the sweetest girl, and she really embodied the kiwi generosity. I will always be grateful to her.

If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?

Rotorua Canapy Tours

Leigh Anne: I can’t think of anything major I would have done differently. My next trip I may go with a little bit less of a plan.

I could have had a great time sticking around in the first town I went to if I didn’t have a job interview to go to.

But at the same time, I had the best winter of my life working at that job at the ski field, and I’d go back and do it again just as quickly.

Take advantage of everyday, because you never know where the next adventure may lead you.

Any tips for someone considering working in New Zealand?

Leigh Anne: Don’t let anyone tell you that ‘you are doing your trip wrong’. There is no wrong. You’ll figure out how you want to travel and where you want to go.

If you want to spend 8 months of your trip in one town then spend 2 months traveling, go for it. You want to move towns every three weeks, great.

Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about how you want to travel. Take advice, listen to stories, gain ideas, but there is no wrong way to travel. There are ‘have to’s’ or ‘must sees’. It’s all about the experience and the knowledge you gain. That’s the most important thing you can take home with you.