Its isolation from the rest of the world drew me to New Zealand. Two adjacent islands floating in the south Pacific, near enough to Australia that many domestic phone plans support calls to the larger country, but still at a distance that does not cater well to international weekend excursions. While my classmates based in Europe have the ease of trains and cheap flights to cross country borders, I have devoted my entire semester to this one nation I am settled in. With hopes of meeting new people, mostly to split the burden of criminally high gas prices, I spent many of the past few weeks plotting the best New Zealand destinations I would conquer over my semester. Somehow, things have turned out less than according to plan.
Just as this island country operates largely on its own, I have found myself renting cars, watching beach sunsets, and reading in corner cafes alone. Sure, I have met other international students as well as friendly Kiwis who have made me laugh and opened me up to such a wide array of lifestyles. It feels almost instinctual to search for a group of familiar faces and insulate myself with a tight circle of reliable friends. Such a behavior has served me well at Georgetown, where I am constantly entertained and busy with relationships branching in all sorts of directions. However, a pack does not always travel well. Whether I am cooking in a hostel or dancing in the back row of a concert, the times in which I meet the most people are when I am alone. I will address that traveling in a foreign country as a young woman is not always possible without a partner; this reality is frustrating and requires entire societies to change so that people like me do not have to walk in fear. That being said, New Zealand is a remarkably safe country, and my side trips have been confined to small farming towns where everyone is a neighbor. Can you remember the last time you sat in a restaurant or bar unaccompanied, without reading your phone or even a book? It’s uncomfortable. That behavior, though, has drawn people to me as I physically open my attention to my surroundings. What better way to discover an unfamiliar area than to ask the people who have raised their families there for decades (sorry, Trip Advisor)?
This post is dedicated to the two french girls in my hostel who shared their Tim Tam cookies, the saxophonist who talked to me for half an hour while his band took a beer break, the guy in the Auckland surf club who drove me to a new beach and lent me a board for the day. Sure, I could have encountered these people with a friend already by my side. But the beauty of this semester thus far has been hidden in each of their hands, these stories and worlds I could have never known if I hadn’t looked up with a smile.