Road Trip Day 17 – One Last Stop and some reflection

My first flight on my journey home should leave in exactly 34 hours. 34 hours. . .  – it is so hard to believe that this life changing, perspective changing, educational philosophy shifting experience is really at a close. I know that I have grown in ways that I never imagined through this experience – and I am so grateful to the Fulbright Program, IIE and Fulbright New Zealand for making this opportunity possible.

I am also beyond thankful for my people – those of you that encouraged me, nudged me, prayed for me, loved me and supported me when I wasn’t sure I could make this happen (and kicked me in the tail when I needed it). You helped me work through the “muck” of being gone for 6 months, the random little things that popped up along the way, and the financial quirks of being on an unpaid extended leave of absence from work and managing obligations back home and abroad. There were times when I questioned if it was really worth it – and you all were there – to give me an encouraging word, a kick in the side, or just to listen to me vent when I was frustrated that things had changed again – or there were things that were just plain annoying – or problems that I thought were resolved that changed again. I know I don’t say it enough – but even from almost 9,000 (or more) miles away – my village rocks!

After being in New Zealand (and a week in Australia) for 170 amazing days – this experience is over – and with that comes lots of changes – I know that I have grown and changed in the time I have been gone – and so have my people. I have missed funerals, events, weddings, birthdays, celebrations, loss and disappointments and all of those things that make up everyday life – for 6 whole months. At our orientation, one of the topics we talked about was the culture shock that you will experience – both going and coming – and many of the Fulbrighters remarked that going home was often harder than setting out – be it the thrill of a new adventure, or the adjustment to finding how people and systems have changed in your absence – reverse culture shock is a real thing. But, while there are things I will miss, there are lots of things to be excited to come home to, and if the past 5 or so years have taught me anything it is that change can be icky, hard and can really stretch you as a person – but it can also be wonderful, liberating and exciting – sometimes all at the same time – and honestly – not to sound too cliche –  everything does really work out in the end – somehow – so sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, embrace the change and hold on for the ride.

When I think back to the fact that prior to this experience I had never lived outside of a small bubble in the corners of 3 neighboring counties in Northwest Georgia (and that my current house is actually less than 9 miles from the trailer that I was brought home from the hospital to when I was a baby), it is kind of amazing. Those of you who know my story understand even more why this is really such a big thing for me – and the fact is that I could go on about that – but I think it is enough to say that I know the odds, and I  know how incredibly blessed I am.

But enough about that. 🙂

This morning I began my adventure with breakfast and a lovely chat with Kay, my AirBnB host – I truly have  met the most amazing blend of people during this journey. The benefit of travel on the cheap is the amazing people and experiences you can have if you just let yourself enjoy the ride. I mean really – in the past 6 months I have shared meals, coffee, tea, dorm rooms, game nights and movies with people of all ages – all professions (from nuns to adult entertainers) –  folks at all stages of their lives – (gap years to retirement and everything in between) – and all nationalities imaginable – Kiwis, and Americans, Europeans, Canadians, Argentinians, Aussies, Indians, Asians, Islanders, and people from countries I had to look up on a map. A global network of travelers sharing experiences, sharing their life journey – and bonding over small similarities in culture, custom, beliefs and place. It is a beautiful thing – one I would have missed out on if I had traveled in a different way. I have stayed in converted jails, garages, barns and guest rooms, hotels, dorms, rvs and even a Marae. All experiences that have built this journey into the beautiful adventure it is.

After breakfast with Kay I set out – I had a short drive – only about 2 hours – but I wanted to get settled in before the rain came – so I had one planned stop early – then it was off.

My stop was at the Bason Botanic Gardens outside of Whanganui – in a rural area called Westmere. What a GORGEOUS place. I counted at least 5 gazebos – and could have been lost for the entire day in the paths, greenhouses and other spaces. (and like most botanic gardens I have visited in NZ – it was totally free!)

I spent a few hours just wandering around – and saw some amazing flowers I am going to need Mike Green and Google to help me identify! 🙂

It was a tranquil way to spend the morning!

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After that, I headed to Levin, where I got settled in while the rain began to fall.

I was able to get set up, and watch Game of Thrones (we won’t talk about how) (which was important – because people were spoiling it in Facebook from the word go!).

After that, I got to know my hosts for the evening, they shared a lovely meal with me and now I am just getting ready to head back to Welly early in the morning, return my Rental Car – adjust my suitcases, close out my bank account and savor my last evening in this beautiful country before flying back to the USA.

On the docket for tomorrow? A flat white (or 2), a stroll along the Waterfront – probably a stop at House of Dumplings, tasting the offerings on Tap at Garage Project and really just saying goodbye to the Coolest Little Capital in the World. After all – new adventures await, right?

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My Last Few Weeks in Wellington

So, my last few weeks in Wellington were quite exciting, but I was also super busy wrapping up my official Fulbright work. I spent so much time writing I just couldn’t bring myself to blog – so I am behind – but I have lots of fun stuff to share with you all – so this post will be pretty long. (and has lots of “different” stuff in it!)

Matariki Celebrations: 

I know I mentioned Matariki in my last post, as I was making the stars as a part of that celebration, and the festivities continued.

I went to a lovely event hosted by Te Papa focused on Matariki. It was the first time they had done this event, but they were laying down the tradition for years to come. You can see more here: https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/matariki-maori-new-year/matariki-ritual

I really encourage you to watch the video – such a cool celebration of a new year and renewal.

Another really interesting cultural event I attended was Te Oro o ngā Whetū: The Echo of the Stars – a performance sponsored by the Chamber Orchestra of New Zealand, and featuring New Zealand String Quartet, ngātaonga puoro artist Alistair Fraser, Te Reo Māori performer and composer Ariana Tikao, and students from Virtuoso Strings Orchestra.

The music was hauntingly beautiful, and thanks to the use of taonga puoro (Traditional Maori Musical practices) was just a fascinating experience.

Here is a small snippet of what I was able to experience:

They also had some really neat Maori culture as TePapa played host to the Kaumātua Kapa Haka – an event featuring over 500 Maori Elders. It was beautiful – and if you want to really be moved, check it out – the diversity of the performers and the passion they have for this beautiful art is a experience to be had!

https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/matariki-maori-new-year/matariki-festival-2017/matariki-festival-2017-highlights/watch

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Fulbright Work and Celebrations

As I mentioned, I have done lots of writing the past few weeks, and my Fulbright work is complete, with just a few logistics before I can share it on a broader scale, which is super exciting.

I did my final presentation on June 16th at Victoria University, and we had a Fulbright NZ Awards ceremony at Parliament on June 19th. It was a great celebration!

You can see more pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/fulbrightnz/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10155657128310982 

General Wellington Fun

I did lots of exploring Wellington as well – nice breaks to clear my head and walk around were much needed! Some of these are quite random pictures, but they all tell the story of my Wellington experience, so check out the captions for more info!

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Gallipoli Exhibit

I have made several trips to TePapa, and love the museum, but had not been in the right place to do the Gallipoli exhibit justice on previous visits, so on a rainy afternoon I went across the street to experience this powerful exhibition, which was done by the team at Weta, and is called the “Scale of our War”. The exhibit features larger than life images of the war – made with stunning accuracy and detail. My pictures do not do the exhibit justice, fortunately they do have great images on their website. You can also learn more about the creation of the exhibit and the stories behind those rendered.

Images are below, but please be warned they are a bit graphic.

I also visited the “Quake Breaker” exhibit – which was fascinating to see how they stabilize a huge building like TePapa in an earthquake prone area.

There will be another blog post dedicated to Matui/Somes Island – I just couldn’t bring myself to crowd this one anymore.