This has been a difficult blog to write, as our last it brings a sense of finality to the adventure. I have dreamed of and plotted and planned for a trip like this for more than 20 years and the end of it is bittersweet. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more. What more beautiful of a country could one hope to visit? What a more fantastic group of people? When I first saw the familiar constellation of Orion upside down, I think I realized how far from home I was, but to look up and see stars I had never seen before was incredible and standing outside of the Marae, I think I realized what I had ahead of me. I enjoyed the constant movement, though I have to say it was hard keeping to an itinerary. It was great fun to wake up in a new town with new sights to see every day, but it would have been wonderful to have spent more time in certain locations and some places it was hard to leave.
I had high aspirations for what I hope to accomplish during the course of this trip and I have been able to live up to many of these. I feel I truly got to understand the feel for the country just being out there and talking to many different people. The locals are so laid back and have an overwhelming pride in their culture and history and are willing to share with anyone who will ask. The ladies at the Marae were indescribably outgoing. They offered me coffee, put me to work in the kitchen and told me all about their land, their family and their plans for the future of the Marae. One of my favorite people in the country was a cashier at the Uni-Mart, who insisted I check out the Raggamuffin festival in Rotarua (sadly I didn't) and I'll never forget a conversation with a busdriver in Tauranga; he and I compared and contrasted schnitzel and a cheesesteak! And how could I forget Stu? I loved listening to his stories as we traveled on the coach; he truly gave me an appreciation of Kiwi humor and their zeal for living life.
I had hoped to apply myself to our studies at hand but I found, and not regrettable so, that there was so much to take in; the sights, the sounds and even smells, that oftentime I was more distracted than focused on schoolwork. It was part of what was so enchanting about the trip, I suppose. We would go to study a beach and you could be sidetracked by something as small as a shell stuck in a rock, or the fragrance of teatree in the air, or the sound of a tui that you just can't seem to locate…I found my interests to be more general than I had supposed them to be. Of course the geology was remarkable, but I found I was just as interested in the native flowers as the volcanoes and when we observed a beach, I spent more time watching critters than wave periods.
I feel like I had the most troubles with social issues. Maybe I put too much emphasis on my age when the age itself is not the problem; rather the problem lies more with my unfamiliarity with college culture. I felt like I fell into a generation gap (more like chasm) and suddenly I felt surprising old and out of place. Not a feeling I'm familiar with. I truly felt like I was just starting college as a freshman. I was very uncomfortable living in close quarters with strangers, not knowing the popular music, movies, slang, celebrities or just happenings on campus…even where everyone else were strangers to start, they all seemed to have some common ground to fall back on and I was clueless to it! The open-door policy and dining hall meals at the University even took a lot of getting used to. These were obstacles I knew I had ahead, but I had hoped to be able to cope better with them.
All in all it was one of the best five weeks of my life. I got to meet 27 of the most interesting students on UD's campus. I didn't have a chance to get to know everyone very well, but I tried to get to know a little about everyone and each and every person on our trip was a fascinating, dynamic, extraordinary individual with such unique hopes and dreams and plans for the future. I was privileged to be instructed by three of the most enthusiastic and engaging instructors who all went far beyond the call of duty to make our trip not just instructive but entertaining and memorable. As I continue to unpack I find that I have to remind myself of where I was last week. It seems almost surreal now, that I was so far away. Then I go to my computer and pore over a ridiculously large file of pictures. Pictures of blue seas, and black beaches and dolphins jumping strait out to the horizon and I close my eyes, smile and think, "Yeah, I was there and it was a beautiful thing!"