As my semester in New Zealand is coming to a close I have been spending some time reflecting on the experiences and feelings I have had along the way. Through the feelings and experiences faced, I have felt myself grow as an individual in ways that I cannot quite articulate into words yet, at least not in all aspects. In all honesty, I hadn’t even realized that this growth was fully taking place until a couple of weeks ago, and I have a feeling that I have not even began to fathom the full extent of my growth that I will truly see and feel in the upcoming months with the nature of the self to ever-evolve.
During my time here, I have had moments of uncomfortable newness, moments of sadness, and moments of pure exhaustion (don’t fret, the good moments have outweighed the bad). These moments have not been fun, or glamorous, or even semi-enjoyable at times; they have been raw and real, and to be honest, sometimes a bit much to deal with. During my low moments here, I often have felt selfish and ungrateful, thinking to myself, “how can I feel stressed and sad when I am in the situation I am in? In a beautiful country with so many opportunities at my hands?”. And while these moments have been the hardest, they have been what has aided in my growth the most.
Often in society, the growth of an individual is glamorized into this beautiful process of shedding layers as if you’re a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. There is this focus on the end result, of a newer and more improved person. And while growth typically leads to a stronger and more knowing individual, the steps a butterfly takes to achieve its final form are not exactly as beautiful as the end result (granted, this depends on whom you ask).
My path of growth, which is quite everlasting, has not always been pretty here, but it has led to where I am in this moment, and will continue to lead to wherever I continue to go. I have dove deep into myself and my head, tested myself both physically and mentally, and I have come to realize that studying abroad is a test of the individual in so many ways. It tests your strength, your balance, your interests, your relationships, your independence, and it tests your comfort. Depending on the individual in question as well as the location of your overseas study, there are many different tests to be had. Living in New Zealand for semester is going to test a person in ways that living in South America, Africa, or Asia wouldn’t; just as living in those places would lead to an entirely different experience that would naturally lead to a different type of growth.
For a couple of days, I was a little angry at myself because I felt like I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity to digest a new culture that I could have digested by choosing to study in a location such as South America or even someplace as Europe. I felt like choosing to study in New Zealand might have stifled a form of growth that I could have achieved by living in a place so culturally different than my own. And while this is probably true, I came to realize that one: I chose where I am for a reason, and I should be (and I am) grateful for this whole experience, not think of the “what ifs”. Two: I have my WHOLE life to travel and experience other cultures, my whole life to immerse myself in the different forms and types of humanity. And three: the mere thought of this possible regret insinuated growth. I as an individual grew, because four months ago before I came to New Zealand, I was not even thinking about how I might miss out on an extremely different cultural understanding, I was just thinking about how excited I was to travel somewhere so geographically different than the flat land of Indiana that I had grown up in.
And while I haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in an entirely different culture than the one I grew up being a part of, I have been able to realize how important it will be to do so in the future, and I have New Zealand and this whole experience to thank for that. I have New Zealand to thank for so much. From the more painful than painless moments of growth that I’ve been talking about, to the moments of complete and utter bliss that I have gotten to experience weekly and sometimes even daily, I have New Zealand to thank.
Since being here, I have gotten the opportunity to experience the most beautiful sights I have ever laid eyes on in my life. From the vast mountains my legs have allowed me to summit, mirrored images of nature’s wonders reflected from lakes, cliffs kissed by the raging ocean, to a night sky with an uncountable number of stars and the milky way gazing back at me. I have experienced pure and utter appreciation and love in these moments. And while these moments haven’t led to a deep cultural growth, they have allowed my gratitude and appreciation for natural life as well as my own life to blossom.
Through all the moments I have experienced here, both inherently good and bad, I believe that I have taken leaps in my personal journey. I have felt both the beauty and pain of growing as an individual, and while I do not think I will end up leaving New Zealand as a changed person, I sure as heck know I’m going to leave as an evolved person, and that holds just as much importance to me.