When Mom and I first arrived at the Philly airport on Wednesday morning, we were distressed (but not all too surprised) to find there was not an Air New Zealand kiosk eagerly awaiting to print my boarding passes. This, combined with the fact that neither of us had managed a wink of sleep the night before, made for a slightly more stressful morning than either of us had hoped. Thanks to the help of a US Airways employee and our own adrenaline, I finally found myself standing at the security checkpoint entrance around 5:30 am. A teary goodbye, and then I was off!
Neither of my excruciatingly long flights were actually as bad as previously expected. Due to my lack of sleep I was unconscious for the majority of the time and a Stieg Larsson novel got me through the rest. I had a grand eight-hour layover in San Francisco, during which I ran outside for 30 seconds so I could finally say I’ve been. I also spent some time visiting with a stranger on her way to Beijing. By the end of our conversation, she had offered me not only some advice for dealing with ‘weirdies,’ but also $100 in NZ dollars. Angel or crazy woman? Either way, I was grateful.
A thirteen-hour flight, two airline meals, and several crying babies later, and I was finally in New Zealand! I landed in Auckland around 6:00 am and made my way through customs. After a quick inspection of my hiking boots, I was through and ready for my second eight-hour layover. My first international shock came when I realized there was no free Wi-Fi in the airport and therefore had no way of letting my parents know I was still alive. I took a few deep breaths and found a public computer, listened to the American music blaring over the intercom, and ate some chicken ‘McBites’ to pass the anxious moments until my flight to Dunedin. (Of course my first meal in NZ was McDonalds and the first song I heard was by Lady Gaga.) And just when I thought I was going to scream if I had to spend another second sitting in an uncomfortable airport chair, we began to board the plane.
The flight from Auckland to Dunedin was outstandingly beautiful. It had been dark when we arrived, so this was my first aerial view of NZ. The blue Pacific coast, the rolling green mountains, and the large stretches of open fields reminded me of summertime PA slash the Rockies slash Never Neverland. So many elements were slightly familiar, but completely new at the same time. It was the same after we landed, too. If one didn’t look too closely, you could completely forget that you were now standing in a foreign country. But then you realize that you don’t recognize any of the tree or plant species around you, the hills are capped white not due to snow, but sheep, and that everyone’s driving on the wrong side of the road, and then it hits you - hard.
My taxi driver took me and some other international students I had met along the way to pick up our keys, and then he dropped us at our respective flats. It was hard leaving the other students that I had only known for a couple hours - they were the last remnant of my journey. After that, it all became unbearably real. My flat appeared to be empty, dirtier than I expected, and without any working internet. I dragged my suitcases inside and stared helplessly around the living room. I tried calling my parents on a NZ phone lent to me by a friend who was here last semester, and was able to talk for just a few moments before it ran out of pre-paid minutes and went dead. The panic was quickly growing.
Thank goodness I finally found a flatmate who had been quietly working in his room. He showed me how to hack the neighbors’ internet, and I was finally able to reach people who knew and loved me - and that’s when I lost it and started crying. I only sobbed harder when that internet disappeared, too, and I was all alone again. I had been warned that my first few moments in NZ might be hard - but it was impossible to understand just how hard until I had to live through it. I finally got myself under enough control to spend an evening talking with two of my flatmates and their friends, but my anxiety got the best of me and, despite my utter exhaustion, I was unable to sleep. I met my next flatmate at 5:00 am in our kitchen, a sweet girl who talked me down from near hysteria and promised to show me around the next day.
Saturday was a blur. Thanks to the help of my international flatmates, I visited the farmer’s market and a grocery store, (so I could finally eat), ‘topped-up’ my phone with minutes so I could contact my new friends, and found the way from my flat to campus. They also made sure someone came over to fix the internet so I could finally have a consistent conversation with family back home. They took me out again later to visit my first club and bar, and when I laid in bed by the end of the day (completely sober, I may add), I finally felt calm for the first time in three days.
Those first few moments at my flat were some of the worst I have ever experienced in my life. Nothing could have prepared me for that feeling of complete helplessness. Looking back at it two days later, I still shiver a little bit. Though I feel much, much better and I can’t wait to see/experience more of Dunedin and NZ every day, I’m far from settled. Today was spent catching up on rest and researching classes online and tomorrow will be a crazy mess of scheduling, registering and other administrative fun. And then I will have to deal with the next day, and the next, until I finally head home. But I no longer feel scared or helpless. Thanks to the kindness of others and some inner strength that I had no idea I possessed, I made it here and have survived my first few days in New Zealand. And now I know I will survive the rest, too.
[First view of South Island, take one]
[First view of South Island, take two]
[Arrival at the University]