I thought my dream trip to New Zealand would be filled with lounging on the beach, horseback riding, and hiking to magnificent waterfalls at sunset. Instead, I ended up squeezed in the back of a small car after a 22-hour flight. Little did I know I was about to experience one of the most shocking, yet educational, experiences of my life. Traveling is one of my passions; I love learning about different ways of life. Because of this trip, I am more understanding, open to other people’s ideas, and able to adapt to other cultures.
First, my family and I traveled to Te Awamutu, a town on the North Island. We stayed with a family whose house sits on top of a mountain. They had a panoramic view of a gorgeous river and their home was completely secluded. Because of this, the family spent quality time with each other, of which I was jealous.
This family made their living through farming, which opened my eyes to a whole new type of life. I always knew that some people were farmers, but watching them work hard and depend on the land for income overwhelmed me. They owned hundreds of sheep and cattle which were scattered across the bright green hills. I watched the shepherd call the sheep in to feed them and, remarkably, every sheep recognized his voice and came running. Then, I watched how he gently sheared them in order to send the wool to be made into sweaters and blankets.
My mom described New Zealand as being like America in the fifties because people there are so relaxed. It is mind-boggling how slow-paced their lives are. I realized how materialistic Americans are by seeing that New Zealanders are not concerned with the size of their homes, fashion, or the number of cars they own. They do not worry about everything. They just live the way they want to. Time is simply numbers on a clock. They do not rush like Americans to make their schedules as busy as possible for the sake of appearance. I wish Americans would imitate this family-oriented society.
Next, we traveled to the South Island and the small town of Nelson where we stayed with a successful and educated family. I asked them what they thought of Americans, and their response shocked me. They said Americans were rich, spoiled, arrogant and disrespectful Yankees who have everything handed to them on a platter. I never realized that people felt this way. I did not take offense because I knew not everyone likes America, or our decisions. I also learned how to stand up for what I believe, even though I felt alone and hated because of my nationality. I never
realized how our government’s decisions directly affect their country and economy.
We talked about the war in Iraq, and they explained that New Zealand would have to get involved and send troops in the months to come. I know now why so many countries were against the war. I had simply seen it as a situation between the United States and the terrorists, not a worldwide war. I learned not to take my freedom and opportunities for granted, and realize how different my life is from others. I enjoyed seeing how different we are, yet how similar. They influenced my life by opening me to new ideas and cultures.
I learned so much from my two weeks there, and it made me grateful to learn firsthand about other customs. I envy the laid-back lifestyle of the Kiwis, and how they focus on what is important to them. Since I returned, I have tried to be worry-free about my future and to take life as it comes. I benefitted greatly from being thrown into a difficult situation with those I had never met and being forced to adapt.
This experience was humbling. I feel I have matured greatly from this trip because I am now open to new ideas and more secure in my beliefs, faith and values. Even though the trip did not turn out as I expected, I would not change it because it showed me how comfortable and confident I am in new situations.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.