EKU Abroad Blog: Lisa Wier
Tea Time - 9 July 2018
My first day at Fire and Emergency New Zealand began like any first day. I met lots of people, struggled to remember everyone’s names, gained access to the system, and went over the projects I would be working on with my supervisor. I settled down at my desk, placing my Pikachu plush keychain and my Iron Man comic down next to my name tag. I was glad I could personalize my desk for the next four weeks.
After I finished setting up my monitors, my supervisor gleefully invited me for afternoon tea. It sounded like a British thing, which made sense since New Zealand was once a British colony. Yet, I was horribly confused. I had only been at work for less than two hours; didn’t she want me to get started on my project? I was more than eager to begin my work. I was ready to begin rolling non-stop like Hamilton.
Curiously, yet cautiously, I let my supervisor lead me to the floor kitchen. Several other firefighters and employees were already gathered at a large table, each with a drink of their choice. They were chatting, swiping through their phones to check their social media, sipping hot drinks and munching on a packet of biscuits (cookies) someone had brought.
Twice a day at 10 and 3, we gather as a community for tea time and play trivia,” my supervisor explained as she led me to the kitchen. She grabbed two mugs from the pantry. “It’s how we bond.”
Trivia? I wasn’t very good at trivia, mostly because my anxiety inhibited my ability to speak. However, I was fairly confident in my movie knowledge. As I pondered over the humorous idea of a bunch of commanders and firefighters dropping everything to play trivia twice a day, I let my supervisor help me make a cup of coffee before joining everyone else at the table. The others happily scooted over and someone pulled up some chairs from nearby a smaller table. My supervisor introduced me to my 15 new colleagues, and my anxiety calmed down when I saw a few familiar faces.
One of the firefighters hushed the chatty table with a cough. Everyone quieted down as he gestured to his phone. “Alrighty,” he began. “It is 3:10, so let’s begin.” The firefighter tapped his phone a few times while taking a sip of coffee. “What is the football team name of the Thai boys who were trapped in the caves? A) Wild Crows; B) Wild Cows; C) Wild Boars; or D) Wild Snakes?"
"C) Wild Boars,” replied one of my co-workers with ease.
"Correct.” The firefighter tapped on his phone as he took another sip.
Another firefighter turned to me with a friendly smile. “The problem with this quiz is that the answer is almost always C.”
"What place did England get in the World Cup — ”
The firefighter was interrupted by my co-workers, who were making “oohing” noises at another co-worker sitting at the end of the table. He looked annoyed and held his mug in front of his lips, but hesitated to drink.
"Yeah, Rob? What place did England get?” one of the firefighters sneered.
"They definitely didn’t bring it home, that’s for sure!” another teased, causing several others to laugh.
"Fourth,” my co-worker grumbled, the mug muffling his voice as he shot unamused glares at his comrades.
The others continued jesting as the firefighter with the phone nodded in confirmation and moved on to the next question. “What was the highest grossing movie in the 1980s? A) Ghostbusters; B) Raiders of the Lost Ark; C) Return of the Jedi; or D) E.T.?”
The firefighters looked confused amongst each other, the humorous atmosphere fading away as they pondered the new question. I paused, thinking back to the famous friendship between directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Who won that title again? Some of the firefighters around me shrugged while others muttered under their breath.
"Was it Ghostbusters?” One of them asked. Another shook his head, neither confirming or denying it.
"It’s gotta be Star Wars,” another firefighter argued. “I’d be surprised if it wasn’t.”
While the others debated, I found my voice. “E. T.,” I answered quietly. Surprisingly, my co-workers’ prattle ceased as they all gazed at me. “It’s E. T.,” I repeated, trying to project confidence.
Something must’ve convinced them to agree with me, because the firefighter with the phone met everyone’s gaze, and at their nods of confirmation, tapped his phone. “Correct, and it wasn’t C,” he revealed.
I was instantly met with cheers and congratulatory praise. “Nice job, mate!”
"I knew it was a good idea to get an intern from the States.”
"Good on ya, mate!”
Their words of praise eased my anxiety, and I found myself smiling. Suddenly, I felt like I was going to fit in.
Aoraki – The Cloud Piercer - 28 June 2018
I have seen mountains before, flying over them countless times in airplanes. But I have never walked between them, craning my neck just to catch a glimpse of their peaks. My sneakers crunched underneath the snow as I struggled to catch up with my professor, who was taking long, confident strides through the valley. The cold nipped my legs, which only had jeans to protect them from the 34 °F chill.
Growing up in Ohio, I thought I was immune to the winter’s chill. I was quickly proven wrong. I have never been as cold as I was hiking through Hooker Valley Track. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and give up, but my stubbornness kept me pressing on, even after my professor volunteered to go back with me. After the first hour or so, my shaking legs grew numb. The cold wasn’t so bad when I couldn’t feel anything.
After an hour and a half of hiking, I took my gloves and hat off, the hike keeping me warm. I focused on keeping up with my classmates and studying the towering mountains that surrounded the valley. Snow-capped with specks of black rock against a perfectly clear twilight sky. Snow as far as the eye could see. We passed over three suspension bridges which swayed over rushing ice-blue rivers, clambered over the icy foot trails of the hills, and stared in awe of the power of the glaciers that had scraped the valley.
After two hours of hiking, our legs aching and becoming numb with cold, we reached our destination: Hooker Lake. The glacier-made body of water sat at the base of Aoraki (also known as Mt. Cook) — the tallest peak in New Zealand. Aoraki stood ahead of us in all its grandeur and majesty, seemingly welcoming us with its presence. We cheered and hugged each other in celebration — we must have looked like a group of clueless tourists. We took a group photo just as the sun was setting behind the mountains.
The temperature plummeted as we headed back, causing us to put on our gloves and hats. Not long after, the valley fell into darkness and we were greeted by the moon and the stars against a pitch-black sky. With our flashlights permanently pointed on the ground to avoid icy patches, we made the five-kilometer journey back to Mt. Cook Village.
We paused briefly to just take it all in — the utter darkness, the stars, and the glistening mountains. I was always fond of constellations back home, having spent numerous hours in my backyard with my telescope and star books. But at that moment I realized something — I didn’t recognize any of the stars. They were foreign to me, like trying to read another language. I felt a chill run down my spine. For the first time during the trip, I felt far away from home. I have travelled outside the U.S. many times, but the stars had always comforted me. Now, they stared back at me with emptiness.
A wave of determination suddenly washed over me. No…I can do something about this! I pulled out my phone, which had been tucked close to my chest to prevent it from dying, and tapped on the star app I had bought years ago. I held my phone against the starry sky, and I tapped on various stars and constellations. If I felt uneasy about the stars, I was going to take this opportunity to learn about them! Using my app, I pointed out several planets and stars to my classmates, including the famous Southern Cross that had guided sea travellers many years ago.
After our brief pause, we continued on our way back to the village. Just as we made it back to our hostel, a luminous shooting star streaked across the sky, landing somewhere behind the mountains. We whooped in excitement before rushing back into our hostel to warm up. It was my first shooting star, and it shone brilliantly in the night sky. After nearly five hours out in the chilly winter valley, our fingers and faces numb from the cold.
Meat Pies - 28 June 2018
At Lake Tekapo, I discovered the beauty that is meat pie (or just pies, as the Kiwis refer to them).
Lake Tekapo is one of the three large lakes that sit near the Southern Alps. We stopped for lunch at a nearby small town. Our professor led us into a nearby grocery store, pointed out various, cheap items to try. We were then left to our own devices, so I stayed in the grocery store eyeing the meat pies on display. Our professor had eaten one on our previous trip, and I wanted to at least try one, even if the thought of a warm meat-filled pie made me grimace a bit.
My professor noticed me standing by the pies and joined me. Noting that I had many food allergies, he pointed out a few that I could try — the mince, steak and pepper, and mince and cheese. We decided on steak and pepper seasoning pies, and I followed him outside to a bench overlooking the lake.
The paper-wrapped pie warmed my chilly hands, and I hesitantly pushed the pie up through the paper so I could eat it. It smelled appetizing, and after a glance at my teacher who was already half-way done with his, I took a small bite. Small pieces of steak, a punch of pepper seasoning, warm gravy, and a soft but firm crust greeted my mouth. I hummed in satisfaction at the explosion of flavour. I hadn’t tasted anything like it before; the warm and gooey gravy mixed with dices of steak warmed my stomach. I couldn’t help but announce it to the world.
“Erm…a pie?” he replied, caught off guard by my animated outburst.
“It’s delicious!” I blurted again before happily taking another bite. “Thank you for providing me with this experience!”
“…you’re welcome, I guess,” he responded, continuing to eat his own pie. “If you’re impressed by that, we’ll visit some better places that sell fantastic pies later.”
“Really? I can’t wait!” If I was blown away by a grocery store pie, then I could only imagine how homemade pies would taste. Pies were sure to become a dietary staple for me while in New Zealand. My teacher, as usual, said nothing but I could see hints of amusement in his eyes.
Comic Books - 8 July 2018
Our first full week in Wellington had ended. The weekend was upon us, and I only had two thoughts on my mind: Ant-Man and the Wasp and comic books. We have the weekends free to do whatever we want, and I was set on seeing the latest Marvel film. I didn’t care that I was in a different country; I didn’t want to wait until I got back to the States four weeks later to see it. Besides, if Wellington was going to be my home for the next few weeks, I should make it my home by doing my normal activities.
After two and a half hours of pure superhero entertainment, I walked over to Cuba Street, a pedestrian road lined with numerous stores and cafes. It was commonplace for people to gather and enjoy outdoor shopping. Following my GPS, I weaved through the crowds and quickly located the comic book store. The small store had graphic novels lined on the left wall and single issues on the right wall. In between were boxes of older single issues organized by franchise and a few pieces of merchandise. A handful of other people were browsing in the store. I instantly felt at home smelling the familiar scent of paper comic books.
“Kira ora!” the store clerk welcomed me from the counter, waving her hand. She was sorting through a box of new graphic novels, separating them by franchise on the counter as I approached. “Can I assist you with anything?”
I shook my head. “No thanks. I’m just looking around.”
She nodded, a smile still on her face. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Cheers,” I replied, the kiwi term for ‘thanks’. I made my way towards the graphic novels section. I smiled as I scoured the collections, running my pointer finger along the smooth bindings. The familiar franchises bounced in front of me as I skimmed my way through the alphabet. Avengers…Captain Marvel…Champions…Deadpool…Doctor Strange…Iron Man…gazing over the familiar titles was a breath of fresh air. The city may be unfamiliar, but comic shops were not. Even just looking at the novels filled me with happiness as I recalled some of my greatest memories reading them. It was almost akin to seeing a friend in a strange place; the ease that floods over you when you find something familiar in utter chaos.
I made my way to the single issues section, browsing through the latest issues which were marked with bright red “I’m New!” tags. I snagged the last copy of Avengers #4, whispering a yoink! underneath my breath at my luck. As I examined the comic in my hands, beside me a mother and her young son.
“You can only have three,” she reminded the boy.
Her son looked flustered as he gazed over the comics, but he said nothing in reply. After looking for a few more seconds, he picked up Captain America #1, examined it in his hands, and showed it to his mother. “Is this one okay?” he asked.
His mother examined the flimsy comic book in his tiny hands before shrugging. “You know I don’t know anything about superheroes, Ian.”
Ian floundered a bit before bowing his head a bit. “I know,” he mumbled before returning to gaze at the comic books.
Knowing how it hurt when no one, even family, supported your passions, I spoke up. “Cap issues are always a safe bet,” I spoke, trying to sound friendly. I picked up a copy of the issue and thumbed through it. I wasn’t an avid reader of Captain America, but his Secret Empire story arc was one of my personal favourites.
The boy looked up at me with wide eyes, seemingly pleased and surprised that someone else was a fan. “Do you like Captain America?” he asked hopefully, clutching the issue between his tiny hands.
“Uh, yeah,” I replied with a thick accent. Ian let out a tiny giggle. “Cap’s, like, the bestest Avenger ever. I’m American, so I should know that.”
“Wow! Does everyone like Captain America in America?” the kid asked, his eyes bright and a huge smile on his face.
Thinking back to the fans’ divided reactions after Captain America: Civil War was released, I lied, “Of course!” Why not spoil the kid?
I thought the kid’s smile couldn’t get any bigger, but I was quickly proven wrong. He gestured animatedly to the single issues in front of us. “What others are good comics?” he asked politely.
I looked at the mother for permission, who smiled gratefully, before I scoured the comics. There weren’t a lot of options left, perks of living in a large city, so I pulled out Doctor Strange #3 and gave it to him. “If you like magic and mumbo-jumbo, then Doc Strange is the warlock for you and…” I skipped over the Deadpool ones, and after a few seconds, settled on the latest rendition of Iron Man. “… and Iron Man is one of my personal favourites,” I remarked as I grabbed one of the extra copies of Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 – Self-Made Man. “If you like a super smart guy flying around in a crazy suit of armour fighting Fin Fang Foom, then Tony Stark is your guy.”
Ian clutched all three issues close to his chest. “Thank you so much!” he gleefully exclaimed before shoving the comics to his mother. “Look what I got, Mum!”
His mother flashed me a thankful look before grabbing her son’s hand. “Let’s go check these out, Ian,” she ushered before walking away with her son.
I couldn’t help but smile as they walked away. No one ever encouraged my interests in superheroes when I was the kid’s age; some actually discouraged it. So I knew how much it meant to the boy that I shared his interest in comics … even if I lied to him about Captain America.
Christmas - 19 July 2018
The ninth floor of Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) decided to have a Christmas in winter celebration since December is the dead of summer here. It was not very chilly, maybe around 55 °F, and not a speck of snow on the ground. Wellington doesn’t typically get snow, but my floor still wanted to celebrate Christmas.
The ninth floor of Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) decided to have a Christmas in winter celebration, since December is the dead of summer here. It was not very chilly, maybe around 55 °F, and not a speck of snow on the ground. Wellington doesn’t typically get snow, but my floor still wanted to celebrate Christmas.
I was, jokingly, told to bring some American food to the party. I stopped at the dairy (convenience store) the day before and scoured the narrow aisles, looking for familiar treats. They only had a few familiar brands, and I promptly grabbed a small link of Oreos and a bag of nacho cheese Doritos. After a few more rounds around the store, I also grabbed a bag of BBQ chips, a container of chocolate icing donuts, and a lamb pie for myself for dinner.
The following day, the floor kitchen was decked out with Christmas lights, snowman figurines, an inflatable Christmas tree, a light-up reindeer, and an assortment of other Christmas decorations. I neatly arranged my “American food” on a plate and settled it with the others. I instantly grew nervous, as one with anxiety does over anything. The table was decked out with plates of ham, chicken, cold salads, desserts, homemade bread, and fruit. My plate seemed…out of place. I worried no one would eat it in favour of everything else. I internally ridiculed myself…why did I think bringing Doritos to a nice Christmas party would be a good idea? I tried to tell myself if no one else ate it, my five classmates back at the hostel would graciously accept a taste of home.
My worries soon dissipated. After one person took a single Dorito chip, the rest of the bag seemed to disappear. One of my co-workers remarked they hadn’t had Doritos in a long time, so they were eaten quickly. Besides, you can’t just have one Dorito. You need to have at least ten for one sitting. The donuts soon followed, accompanied by guilty looks every time someone grabbed one. The Oreos were quickly eaten as well, and I lost track of where the BBQ chips ended up.
During our Christmas lunch, everyone wanted to know about my experiences of a white Christmas. Growing up in Ohio, we often have plenty of snow during Christmas, and I shared the both the fond and the not-so-fond memories of living where it snowed from November to March. The beauty of the snow glistening in the morning sunrise, the comfort of snuggling under blankets and watching movies all day, drinking a warm cup of hot chocolate and letting its warmth soothe your cold fingers, the satisfying crunch of the first snowfall, and the smells of Christmas. However, there’s also the constant cold, shovelling the driveway every morning, the black ice and constant slipping, the traffic accidents, and the snow that just won’t go away. Granted, my co-workers thought that sounded lovely, but I suppose that is a difference of perspective.
They explained to me their Christmases; children having to wait until it got dark (around 9 p.m.) to see the neighbours’ Christmas lights, the weird feeling of watching Christmas movies that have snow, and feeling like they did not belong because of that. Granted, that sounded lovely to me; any time I don’t have to shovel the driveway or risk slipping on ice is a great day for me. But it was nice to share our Christmas experiences…in the middle of July.
Te Ngaere - 20 July 2018
We stopped at Te Ngaere Recreation Reserve, a beautiful beachy area, on our way to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. It was our first time stopping at an actual, warm beach. Well, warm as in it was 53°F and overcast. Granted, a few days ago we were in Mt. Cook National Park where the temperature was below freezing, but anything remotely higher than that was considered warm for us.
The beach was a dull sandy-pink colour, and the waves gently crashed on the shore speckled with shells. Off to the far sides of the beach were black rocky jutting against the shorelines. After touching the warm water briefly just to prove to my mother, “See I touched the Pacific Ocean, now stop nagging me about it”, I did not hesitate to climb the rocks. The rocks were dark, slick with salt water and occasionally sharp, so I carefully used my hands to navigate the wet parts. Fortunately, the tide was low and the wind only blew a tiny bit. As I climbed, I felt my professor’s watchful gaze from the shore. I was the vulnerable one of the group — the one with anxiety, asthma, and a tendency to be a bit reckless and clumsy. So no matter what kind of rocks I climbed, my professor was not far observing.
After my classmates had their fill of wading in the warm water, they joined me. My professor remained on the shore. We carefully navigated the sharp outcrops as we climbed further, parallel to the shore, and soon our teacher was out of sight. It was our first real adventure by ourselves, just the six of us. Time to get into mischief!
We continued deeper on the rocks, looking out for one another by pointing out slippery spots. It felt like we were a pack or some sort; I have been with these other five people for almost a week now, and because of our small class size, it didn’t take us long to bond. On small adventures like this, we became an unstoppable team!
It wasn’t long until we earned our “sea legs”: scaling the rocks with ease, expertly hopping from one rock to the other, using our hands to balance us when needed. That is, until we were blocked by a tall, steep rock wall. It seemed like our impromptu expedition was abruptly ending, but one of my classmates shouted in surprise. He found a cave that led through the rock wall! After timing our jump around a rocky bend to avoid the waves, we scaled down the narrow rocky tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel revealed piles of rock that jutted two and a half meters into the sky.
I could tell we were all thinking the same thing as we all grinned like the Cheshire Cat. Of course, we climbed them; our professor wasn’t around to tell us no. We took turns spotting each other and taking pictures. Urged on by curiosity, I was one of the first people to climb it. I took a deep breath and grappled on the rock, my classmates spotting me from below. The rock was bumpy enough to create footholds for me to safely climb.
At the very top, I was greeted by the ocean view of the Pacific, several small islands out in the stance, the whole sky blanketed by dull clouds. I thought it was beautiful and took a few moments to just gaze out there. After one of my classmates snapped a picture of me, I climbed down so the next person could experience the wonders of the view.
After everyone had their chance of climbing the rocks, we decided to turn back, our professor undoubtedly waiting for us so we can continue our journey. We greeted our professor with joyous exclamations as we told him of our adventure. He smiled, knowing that our bond would help keep each other safe.
That One Time EKU Honors Helped Me Win Trivia - 21 July 2018
It was another morning tea and trivia time with the firefighters at Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ). I was sipping on my freshly brewed coffee that Rob had graciously shared, and munching on some lollies (candies) that someone had brought back from a business trip in Switzerland. Almost two weeks into my internship, my social anxiety had wound down. I was at ease answering the questions during trivia. In fact, my co-workers credited me with answering some of the tough questions (a.k.a. the American and movie ones that no one knew).
“A Wrinkle in Time (2018), final answer,” I answered confidently, smiling as I took a sip of my coffee. Rob, the trivia master for morning tea, blinked in surprise at my cockiness, but readily tapped on his phone, realizing that I was almost always right about movie questions.
“Correct,” he announced, a warm smile on his face.
“Good thing we have a young person here,” one of the others remarked smugly.
“I had no idea what that movie was,” said another one, shaking his head in disbelief.
“It came out in February,” I replied, letting my movie knowledge flow. “You didn’t miss much. It flopped at the box office. That’s what happens when Disney tries to compete against itself with Black Panther.”
“Now that as a good movie.”
Rob continued with the questions. “At what age did author Jane Austen die? A) 41; B) 51; C) 61; or D) 71?”
Once again the table was flooded with discussion while I silently pondered. I knew EKU had an Honors course all about Jane Austen. A good friend of mine had taken it last semester, and I was trying to remember what she told me about it. She would come into the honors office every morning when I worked and tell me about her class.
“Normally for those types of questions, it’s the on the higher end,” one of the firefighters remarked.
“She lived during the 18th century, right?” one of my co-workers, known for his encyclopaedia of a mind, asked. “71’s a long time.”
“Got any better ideas?”
“Nope.” Another one shrugged and grabbed another piece of chocolate to munch.
“I think it’s 41,” I said, remembering the details my friend told me about Jane Austen. I was met with challenging gazes, but I knew they didn’t mean it … much. “One of my close friends…she took a Jane Austen class this past semester with our Honors program. The classroom was right across the hall from where I worked, and she would always visit me before her class started. Anyway, I think I faintly remember her saying something like that…that Jane Austen died young and a lot of her works were unfinished.”
“And you’re sure?” one of them asked, not sounding very confident.
“Yeah, and you got that Shakespeare one wrong a while back,” Des (pronounced DEZ) insisted, though I knew he didn’t mean it in a negative way.
“For the record, you got that one wrong, too, Des,” I shot back, comfortable enough with everyone that I wasn’t afraid to engage in their snarky behaviour. “I forgot about Antony and Cleopatra.”
“Well, let’s see if the intern’s right,” Rob replied, wisely stopping the snark-fest before it could begin. He tapped a few times on his phone. “…And the intern is correct!”
As my co-workers smiled and nodded at me in congratulations, I smiled and raised my arms in celebration. “Shout out to my friend and EKU Honors!”
“Yeah, I’ll remember that when your American education costs us another perfect score,” Ian said with a roll of his eyes.
“That was one time!”
Red Rocks Reserve - 21 July 2018
Today we walked to the Red Rocks. Yep…we walked the 5-mile journey from central Wellington. It took us about an hour and a half to walk, and actually wasn’t that bad. The hills outside Wellington distantly reminded me of the Appalachian mountains, and for a second, with my headphones blasting “Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men, I let myself think I was home.
We arrived at the Red Rocks Reserve before making the two-mile hike to see the red rocks, for which the place was named, and to see the fur seals that lived at the farthest point of the shore. It was overcast when we began, the wind whipping our faces. We walked over gravel, sand, and rocks the size of our palms. At times, it felt like I was sinking into the ground. We also had to avoid cars that were driving on the narrow road, especially around corners.
Finally, we reached the red rocks and they were, in fact, red. I shared a knowing look with one of my classmates: time to climb! Climbing was our group’s bread and butter. It’s how we bonded since there was only six of us. Plus, there was a huge log bridging the gap to the larger rocks. How could we decline its invitation?
Three of us climbed the red rocks, seeing how far we could safely go. The volcanic rock was porous and looked soft to touch, but the rock felt like sandpaper on our soft palms. Our hands ended up red from the rocks, and the pain gently ebbed as we continued. We took a picture on the other end of pile, which wasn’t very far, before we decided to turn around. The Red Rocks were only the first part of our journey - we still had to see the seals!
As we continued on our path to the seals, we kept our eyes on each other. We lent a hand when crossing streams, shouted for approaching cars, and bundled together when the wind threatened to blow us away (mostly me). A few times, the wind kicked up streams of sand and small rocks that streaked against our soft cheeks and necks.
Soon, we reached the Seal Colony. Hundreds of fur seals laid upon the rocky shores, their slick brown bodies camouflaged against the similarly coloured rocks. It took us a few moments to distinguish their sleeping bodies against the rocks. We admired them from a safe distance. One Massey student got a little too close to one sleeping seal, which barked and growled at him. We laughed at his misfortune, as friends do, and he scurried back to the group.
We continued over the hill and around the bend of the shore to see more seals, then headed back. On our way, we stopped at another rock outcropping near the water. We shared that look again; time for a climbing break! As one of my classmates led the way up the steep rock, I felt the sharp rock with my hands and tested myself against it. While I enjoyed free-climbing rocks like my classmates, I knew my limit. I leapt down and let my classmates proceed, telling them I wasn’t comfortable with it. They understood, and resumed climbing the high rock.
I watched my friends climb until they disappeared over the ridge. Scouring the rocks around me, I noticed a makeshift path of rocks to the left, about 4 meters, that led to the ocean. Grinning to myself, I hopped over there, easily leaping from rock to rock. The rocks here were low lying, which allowed me to do this effortlessly. I stopped when I was parallel to my classmates upon the rock. I shouted at them, pointing at them with my phone. They smiled and got into position as I snapped a few pictures of them.
I looked ahead to the rest of the rock path; it went on a for about another meter and a half. I don’t know what compelled me to continue, but I did. As I went out further, I noted the rocks were beginning to look wet. I pushed that thought away as I found a safe distance to hop from to the next rock. Finally, I got as far as I could safely and snapped a few pictures of the ocean.
I was looking out at the Cook Strait ahead of me, somewhere out there was the South Island where our journey began, when I noticed it — a wave, much larger than the others caused by strong wind — was approaching. I froze in horror as it approached, sweeping over the rocks ahead of me. It was like that scene in hundreds of movies when the main character freezes as the monster makes a beeline for them, and all they can do is watch in horror. That’s what happened to me. I instinctively braced myself, hugging my arms close to my chest. I held my breath as the wave arrived…and fortunately swept past me on the lower rocks. I was high enough to avoid the wave altogether, but not by much. Maybe only an inch or two. I waited for the wave to slink back into the ocean before releasing my breath.
“Nope, nope, nu-huh. Not today Satan, not today,” I chanted to myself as I felt the adrenaline kicking down my door and embracing me. I forced myself to calm down, knowing that panic will increase my chances of slipping on the wet rocks. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Then, I scurried out of there, chanting, “not today, not today, not gonna die today no thank you.” I ridiculed myself for being so stupid; how could I have missed the blatant signs that the tide was coming in? I felt a sense of dread as I imagine what would’ve happened if I wasn’t high enough to avoid the wave. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind as I scurried out of there.
My classmates were still descending the rock when I bolted past them, and barrelled to the shore. After they safely climbed down, they approached me and asked about the pictures I took. Apparently, they hadn’t witnessed my escapade because they were climbing down the rock.
The adrenaline was still rushing through me when I showed them my phone. “Oh, yeah, and the tide’s coming in. Learned that the hard way,” I panted.
They gave me odd looks as they scrolled to the last picture on my reel. From that picture, it was clear that the tide was coming in. I told them what happened, and they couldn’t help but giggle at my word choice. “Famous last words,” one of them remarked.
“Because I’m an idiot,” I replied hastily.
“And you lived to tell the tale,” another insisted. “Thanks for getting the pictures of us! They’re amazing.”
“You’re welcome,” I grumbled.
We continued back to the entrance of the park. After, we stopped at a café everyone kept recommending , and got hot drinks and chips (fries) to share. As we ate, we discussed how we were going to get back to Wellington; we had already walked 10 miles and most us wanted to take a bus back.
After ganging up on the one person who wanted to walk, we decided to take the bus. We followed a GPS to get us to the bus stop 13 minutes away. With 5 minutes until the next bus was scheduled to leave, we accidentally made a wrong turn. After realizing our mistake, we had two options: we could either walked leisurely and catch the next bus coming in 18 minutes or jog and hope we catch it.
We glanced at each other uneasily, unsure of what to do.
“If we’re running, we need to decide, like, right now,” one of my classmates urged, beginning to walk away a bit faster. After a few more seconds of indecisive expression, she rolled her eyes and began sprinting. “I guess we’re running, then!” she called out.
I sighed heavily before clenching my jacket and running after my classmates. Our sneakers thundered over the sidewalk as we raced back the direction where we came from.
“This isn’t jogging!” my classmate behind me shouted. “This is running for our lives!”
“Just imagine we are and you’ll run faster!” I joked back. My lungs were flaring with protest. It wouldn’t be long until my asthma would kick in and ruin everything. In an attempt to keep myself motivated, I tried to imagine I was running from the Indoraptor from the newest Jurassic World movie. That thought only lasted a few seconds, because I realized I would easily get eaten by that dinosaur. Scratch that thought; that didn’t help at all.
We skidded to a halt at the road, skimming the sides for any signs of approaching vehicles. After a few seconds to make our decision, we sprint across the road. “Go, go, go!” one of us shouting, urging the others on. We raced across the road and turned a sharp left. After jumping over a fallen construction barrier, and making a sharp right, our eyes fell heavenly upon the bus that was parked several meters ahead of us.
“There it is! Keep going!”
“We’re almost there! We can do it!”
Encouraged by my classmates’ cries, I bowed my head and pushed on. My legs wanted nothing more than to collapse on the ground, having already carried me 10 miles. My lungs screamed at me; why was I making them work so much? I kept back my coughs as I felt my lungs slowly unable to accept the air I was providing them. Don’t give up now! You’re so close!
The bus opened its doors as we wearily arrived with 3 minutes to spare, all of us out of breath and sweating. What a group we must’ve looked like as we entered the bus, paid, and collapsed on the closest seats. Fortunately, the bus was empty and we had all the time in the world to lay there and catch our breaths.
As we slowly came back to our senses, and after I took my inhaler, one of us began to laugh wearily. Soon, the rest of us joined in. Crazy Americans. It was probably the most fun I had so far. Little adventures like this, just goofing around and exploring my new home with my classmates, meant the world to me.
Earthquake - 22 July 2018
Since New Zealand is located on the plate boundary between the Pacific and Australian plates, the country is susceptible to earthquakes. Several daily, though most are small and unnoticeable by the average person. I was well aware of the dangers of earthquakes, but never expected I would experience one.
I decided to see a movie at Reading Cinemas (pronounced “red-ding”) on Sunday, July 22nd. Sunday was a free day, and I was in the mood for a movie. Plus, tickets were super cheap. General admission for a standard film, not including concessions, was $10 NZD, which translated to around $7 USD. $7 for a movie ticket is amazing compared to home.
I decided to re-watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom at 1:20 p.m., because I was in the mood for some dumb dinosaur action. I made my way to the theatre half an hour early. When I got there, the ticket line was packed. I suspected, due to the large number of teenage girls and moms, that it was because it was opening weekend of Mama Mia! Here We Go Again. I rolled my eyes at the chattering, squealing girls in front of me; as long as they weren’t in my theatre, I could care less.
I purchased my ticket and made my way to my theatre room, noting which theatres were the Mama Mia! ones. There were lots of them.
It was during the final act of the film, when Chris Pratt was about to leave his side chick to stop the Indoraptor from eating the creepy clone girl, I felt my seat begin to rumble. It wasn’t intense, but noticeable, and only for a few seconds. I first thought that it was the kid behind me kicking my seat, so I thought nothing of it. The people in my row whispered for a few seconds, but they’d been commentating for the entire movie, too.
When I got back to the hostel, I decided to check GeoNet, New Zealand’s natural hazard database. As I suspected, there was a 5.2 earthquake near the top of South Island (for the record: Wellington is at the very south of North Island).
“Guys, guys!” I called out to my classmates, though I had no reason to shout since we were all in the girls’ room chatting. There was only six of us with four girls, so the girls’ room was a common place for everyone to socialize and watch movies. “There was an earthquake like an hour ago.”
“Whoa, really?” one of the girls asked. “We three were at the zoo and didn’t notice anything.”
“I was wondering why the displays at the Wellington Museum were shaking,” one of the two guys on our trip remarked. “I was seriously like, ‘Man this place really needs to improve their infrastructure because everything’s falling apart!’”
“Bruh, I was at the cinema and I thought it was the kid behind me kicking my seat,” I explained with a laugh. “Man, our first earthquake in New Zealand and we barely noticed it.”
We excitedly texted our professor, who slyly replied, “Welcome to the shaky isles.”
Epilogue - 29 July 2018
Mt. Victoria nestled itself on the eastern side of Wellington, cradling New Zealand’s capital. Uphill, it provided a breath-taking view of the city and the surrounding harbour. It was my final weekend in New Zealand, and I wanted to conclude my week with a stunning view of Wellington. After hiking up the 193-meter mountain, I arrived at Mt. Victoria Lookout. The famous Wellington wind greeted me, blowing through my hair as I held my hand out to block the harsh sunlight, the triumphant chorus of “Nandemonaiya” from Your Name through my headphones thrilling me with excitement as I laid eyes upon my reward.
Facing north ahead of me was the harbour and the rest of the North Island. To the east sat the towns on the other side of Mt. Victoria; I could spot Kilbirnie and Wellington International Airport. A smile etched itself on my face as I saw a plane take-off and scale into the sky. The plane grew larger as it flew closer to us, and I couldn’t help but reach out my hand. I let the wind breeze through my extended fingers, almost as if I was reaching out to the city one final time.
I spun around a bit and saw the very end of the North Island. Ahead of me laid the Cook Strait, and somewhere beyond the horizon was the South Island, where my New Zealand journey began. Pushing back my emotions, I soberly turned to face west, where I knew Wellington was. I let myself gaze over the familiar skyline, rising and lowering seemingly randomly, and the curved roads that traced the harbour. I let my eyes travel through the city, going from west to north, the view fading into white from the sun’s intense rays until I could see no more.
The memories of the past six weeks caught up to me like a powerful wave: my face pressed up against the plane window as I caught my first glimpses of New Zealand in the pale dawn light, eager to experience everything; the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps with Aoraki/Mount Cook welcoming us in the frozen distance, the moon and stars guiding us home like they did for the voyagers long ago; basking in the sun at the Bay of Islands, letting the sand warm our bare feet and the warm waves tickling our toes; and the sharp winds of Wellington that first welcomed us as we first explored our new home.
I also thought about my classmates and the people I’ve met: the long road-trips enhanced with spontaneous sing-alongs, reflections, homework, and Spotify Premium; movie nights in the girls’ room, commentating during Wind River, The Secret Life of Bees, and Your Name; nailing the correct answer during trivia at tea-time at Fire and Emergency New Zealand, my confidence and my co-workers’ fond smiles growing with each passing day; the conglomeration of jokes and unfiltered wisdom the firefighters passed onto me, advice ranging from the importance of teamwork to the proper way to consume a biscuit (cookie).
I stared bittersweetly at the city, my home for the past several weeks. I had the time of my life studying disaster risk and reduction at Massey University. At times, I felt alone and vulnerable being halfway around the world from my family, stranded on tiny islands in the South Pacific. However, I was greeted with such open hospitality from everyone I encountered. I have never experienced anything like it in all my travels. I’m grateful I was given this opportunity. I’ve learned so much about emergency management outside the U.S. and New Zealand culture. If I am given the opportunity to go back, I will most certainly will.
With that firmly planted in my mind, I studied the view for one more second before heading down the mountain, quietly murmuring and nodding along to the opening lines of “See You Again”
“It’s been a long day without my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”