When I Realized Studying Abroad Actually Changed My Life

Emily Renne
July 7, 2015

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I enjoy providing warnings/disclaimers.  So of course I felt obliged to end my last post with one as well.  It’s important.  Read it. 

My Warning/Disclaimer: This is a reflection of the personal thoughts I collected during my time abroad.  My past posts have been relevant towards places I’ve been, sweet things about the program, etc., but I decided this could also be worth including.  Maybe I got smarter or something, I don’t know. Also… it ‘s a bit long.

First, for those of you who are planning on starting your own personal blog while abroad, its not exactly easy.  

My personal blog, “Amateur Adult, Aspiring Adventurer”, was my earnest and failed attempt at journaling. To an extent, the blog did succeed in my eyes.  But I did not have the patience or time to write as frequently as I previously hoped.

Travel writing/blogging is harder than it seems.  See now, I had an image of these trendy, hipster-ish people who can just go off into the world of wanderlust, become Instagram famous, and write about it…. then maybe make like $2 and get a free meal at the restaurant they mentioned in their blog. 

When I did the Milford Track, my friends and I came across a man who we referenced as “The Ideal Tramper.”  His stylish apparel made him appear as if he just walked off the set of an Indiana Jones movie.  His backpack was literally and in the true correct definition of the word, “literally” larger than me.  He had a sexy French girl accompanying him on the trail, with whom he shared hiking delicacies (aka salami) on fallen over tree trunks as we awkwardly walked by their romantic tramping scene.  Our last morning in the hut, we encountered him in a lovely reindeer sweater that hinted just enough holiday spirit to make you become somewhat tolerable of the soon-to-be-encountered cold weather on the trail that day.  And then in the eyes of four immature and remarkably less-stylish trampers, he became known as the Ideal Tramper. 

It's people like him I picture writing in their vintage-looking journals with the parchment-style paper next to the wood burning stove during nights in the huts.  And then these people become the infamous yet very Instagram famous travel bloggers of the modern age. 

Is that really how it works?

In my idealist, naiive mind where Cinderella’s fairy grandmother is reassuring me that Dreams do come true yes that’s how it works. 

I’d like to say that despite my lack of resemblance to the sheik, hip bloggers, I have some intelligent, original thoughts. So rather than attempting to illustrate my visual experiences with a series of words I had to look up in the Thesaurus, I’ve authored a quick story in replacement.

There was once this mortal that invaded the country of New Zealand with a frizzy rat’s nest and long fingers (If I didn’t have such polite friends this might be how they would verbatim describe my physical appearance).  This mortal, who unintentionally bestowed the name of Felicia upon herself welcomed herself to this land she’d call home for the next 5 months. 

Sidenote: About the Felicia thing…. I’m mildly obsessed with that name.  So I came to this country and then my friends decided to start calling me Felicia.

She would (accidentally) kick the country’s beloved Kea parrots (but actually it tackled my feet and proceeded to steal my food after), steal rocks from various places she’d climb around (I really didn’t know this was looked down upon until like two days ago, but now you know so don’t do it), insult their Tomato sauce at every given chance and praise American Heinz Ketchup instead, and inevitably, fall in love with every mountain saddle and aggressive river she’d cross.  

I’m not sure of the impression Felicia left on New Zealand given her rock robberies and (accidental) assault of the native birds, but at least the relationship between land and mortal benefited one party (pre-apology to my environmentalist friends who I may have offended with that statement, but I take short showers I promise). 

Here’s some things Felicia noted along the way…. 

1. There’s this thing called physical stamina and there’s this thing called mental stamina.

I didn’t really think I had either (If you haven’t already figured out that Felicia is myself and that I’m now switching back to 1st person this is your cue).  I was quite out of shape when I came here.  Actually, I’m still quite out of shape as I’m leaving here, so I sort of questioned my ability to make it through steep hikes, those long several day hikes, and everything in between.  But I did it.  And I earnestly believe everyone can do it if they put themselves in the right frame of mind. 

While I don’t really believe in (extensive) bragging rights, I believe in recognition rights.  I mean, you have every right to be proud of yourself and to own it.  I can recall on some instances that make me look sort of awesome/tough/mad cool, but understanding that no one really wants to hear me brag, I’m just going to say New Zealand imparted me with some mental stamina and you’re going to have to take my word for it.

2. Also, there’s this thing called curiosity and there’s this thing called stupidity. 

I’ve struggled to draw the line between these two.  I’m equally adventurous as I am curious, which has been equally detrimental to my safety/well-being and my mother’s mental health/hair color.  Be adventurous and fun (let’s be real no one really likes a dud) but when you start to be stupid you can impact yourself and the people around you in a not-so-fun way.  Don’t be that person.  It’s kind of a matter of respect. 

3. You can be child-like without being childish. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be. 

Nostalgia is inevitable.  It’s a part of life highly overlooked.   Reflecting on what I loved about myself “back in the day”, I managed to rekindle the childhood Emily in New Zealand. I’m kind of disappointed in myself for even allowing the adult world to put out that flame in me for a period of time.  Who’s to say adulthood requires diminishing all of your childhood?

But I also wish to bring light to the difference between acting child-like (like playing in the mud that’s definitely okay) and acting childish (like Dwight in The Office…while we all love his character we hate the real-life Dwights invading our lives).  I’ve seen plenty of adults act childish and it’s usually a disheartening/is-this-a-joke experience. 

4. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

For some reason, I came to New Zealand thinking it wouldn’t have the same political and social issues as the US.  I was dead wrong.  I still encountered a decent amount of sexism, racism, and as far as LGBTQ awareness, NZ was actually less diverse than America. 

And you know how America stripped the Native Americans of their land and treated them as lesser beings upon arrival? Well, New Zealand was guilty as well in its treatment of the native Maori.  There was a time in the early 1900s where New Zealand initiated a “Physical Health Movement”, and took a vested interest in the health and physical well being of its children.  Historians were later able to conclude that this was New Zealand’s attempt to more or less make social capital out its citizens in preparation for future wars.  And you may or may know that New Zealand assisted the US in combat during the Vietnam War (although NZ did make a public apology for this in 2008).    

I love New Zealand, but it has scars on its history just like any other country, and I’m realizing that it’s just the way of the world.  We have to accept the good with the bad. 

5. You don’t have to be at the top.

Here’s a journal entry I had from March after my first meeting with Eunice:

"I’ve been here a mere 3 weeks now, but one meeting with her has helped me make sense of things I’ve been trying to understand during my time so far.  She commented on how she isn’t a “career woman”, and I was able to understand what she meant by this quite easily.  She noted how loves her job, loves staying active and making the most of her time, but she feels no need to be at the top.  Afterwards I asked myself: Why the ambition? Ambition is great, and has fueled multiple scientific discoveries, artistic masterpieces, etc. over time.  But there’s a large majority of humans of the less ambitious type who would prefer to just live contently.  Now I can’t say that I’m not ambitious.  I do strive for that 4.0 studying late at night, making a living for myself working 3 jobs, making it into Honors societies; essentially being at the top.  But often I ask myself “why?” The feeling of achievement is eye-opening when you feel you’ve truly earned it.  But I’m starting to realize I could focus my ambition in other ways that would personally satisfy me more.

I’m afraid I’m making it sound like my time here has made me a less motivated being, when in actuality this couldn’t be more false.  I’ve found the drive to live the way I truly want, as opposed to the way I thought I wanted.  America has this constant sense of progression in society.  Stepping outside of this and looking in, its sort of silly to me.  In no way do I think it’s a bad thing, but evaluating my personal style and desires, for me it’s silly.  Nationwide, there’s an omnipresent yearning to be at the top, and thinking quite realistically and economically, there’s no way everyone can be at the top. Having previously only lived in one country my whole life, my motivations were adapted to fit my society’s very progressive motivations. It’s funny- I’ve pondered over this topic multiple times in multiple papers, but have finally found a way to make it applicable to myself while journaling abroad.   

With a sigh of relief, I can admit that being at the top is not what I want.  It feels great to achieve, but it feels greater to achieve what I want.  And that’s just what I’ll do.

So cheers to New Zealand, the country that made me realize my American Dream."

Also as an added bonus, I’ve included:

A List of Things You Don’t Do to Your Mom While on the Other Side of the Planet

  1. Send her a serious, somewhat dramatic message telling her how you think you dislocated your knee (for the record I didn’t).  
  2. Try to lie about how much money you’ve spent.
  3. Let her see tagged pictures of you standing at the edge of a cliff.
  4. Leave for a multi-day hike where you won’t have Internet access without telling her you’re leaving for a multi-day hike where you won’t have Internet access.
  5. Complain about how hard your life is when you’ve been travelling each weekend while she’s been doing real people work and shoveling your horse’s poop. 

So moral of the story is that the mortal named Felicia had an eye-opening time while venturing around New Zealand.  There are some humans who have attributed largely to this (whom I’m sure are aware of who they are) and whom Felicia owes everything and a box of Tim Tams to.  Her soon departure may hopefully lead her to a land that involves a monetary income, Heinz Ketchup, and recognition of her given name again. 

Which for the record, is not Felicia.  

Keep Happy,


Emily Renne

<p>A native of Syracuse, NY, (US) Emily is currently pursuing her B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications with Minors in Art and Honors. A curious explorer and outdoors lover, Emily&#39;s spontaneity and passions will one day lead her to all ends of the Earth. &nbsp;Witty author, candid photo snapper, and avid dreamer, Emily plans to pursue a career &nbsp;in the fields of advertising and/or design. &nbsp;</p>

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