Kia Ora! My name is Christine and I’m a CLAS 2008 grad. I also worked at UVA from 2010-2014 in the International Studies Office as an education abroad advisor. Kia Ora is a Maori greeting, which pretty much means hello, thank you, well wishes, etc. Think of it as the “Aloha” of New Zealand’s indigenous population. I took an exciting step last year—I quit my safe, secure job and moved to New Zealand to live out of a backpack, travel, and work while looking into doctoral programs and exploring my passion for the wine industry.
Why NZ? Well, New Zealand and Australia are the only two countries U.S. citizens can go to for a year on a Holiday Working Visa without support from an organization to assist in sponsoring/obtaining the visa. In fact, I think the visa process was the easiest I could have ever imagined—15 minutes to apply, 2 days to get my acceptance, and $0 cost. Say WHAT?! A free visa?? As an education abroad advisor, I was accustomed to helping students figure out complicated, time consuming visa applications that drove me nuts, and I wasn’t even the one applying for them! But there I had it, in January 2014, my visa that would allow me to live and work in New Zealand for a year.
Before I left UVA for New Zealand, a student told me I was brave. All I could think was—I hope she knows that she’s the one who’s brave. She’s where I was over ten years ago: anxious, excited, and nervous to be planning a big adventure. I felt so lucky in that moment with this student to be working with others like her to follow their own dreams and find the courage to go abroad. It was a tremendous step for her to even come in to my office and talk to me about going abroad for an entire semester. She had never been out of the country. I assured her she was brave too, and I can only hope she took it to heart.
So, you might be wondering about the actual travel piece and just how long did it take to get to the South Pacific. I was able to buy my ticket with airline points: by signing up for an airline’s credit card, I was able to acquire 40k in bonus miles, combined with the ones I already had, plus a year of racking up points by flying frequently, as well as purchasing miles during a buy-one-get-one deal (whew!), got me up to the 80k I needed for a ticket to South Pacific. It was a lot of planning, but well worth it to save over $1500! The travel time ended up being a 24+ hour journey, but by the time I arrived in Sydney, Australia (where my points got me), I felt like no time had passed at all. I found that I liked having all that time to myself to people watch, and think about my upcoming adventures. Plus, actually sleeping on the plane helped!
I decided to stay in Australia for 12 nights since I was already there. I visited Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne using Airbnb accommodations and stayed with a work contact in Adelaide. I absolutely loved Australia with its beautiful cityscapes, friendly people, and vibrant lifestyle. Long story short, I explored Sydney’s vast array of neighborhoods, completed the stunning Sydney coastal walk, visited the Barossa Valley (wine lover here) outside of Adelaide, went to Cleland Wildlife Park to see some Wallabies, Koalas, and Kangaroos (after driving on the left side of the road for the first time!!), and discovered some of Melbourne’s quirky hidden alley coffee shops and the funky neighborhood of Fitzroy.
I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on September 2nd. After spending a night with a work contact in a suburb of Auckland, I headed to the trendy neighborhood of Ponsonby and the Ponsonby Backpackers (backpackers Kiwi speak for hostels). It was a quaint Victorian style home converted to a backpackers, so the max amount of guests was a little over twenty people, giving it a cozy home-like feel. Maybe I lucked out, maybe that was always how it was at Ponsonbys, but it still is one of the best backpackers I stayed at throughout my whole experience in New Zealand. The people were friendly, the common spaces always clean, and best of all—there were no snorers in my room! It is always hit or miss with hostels. In fact, after my last trip to Europe in 2009, I thought I was done with the hostel experience and sharing rooms with strangers, but when you find yourself on a traveler’s budget, you do what you need to do to save money!
Those first two weeks, about two thirds of the people I met were Germans. The others were mostly from France or other European countries. I loved the cultural exchange and getting to know others’ reasons for leaving their lives behind, but there were some tough moments too. One thing I’ve learned as a traveler from the U.S., is that you have to deal with a lot of jokes and insults about the U.S. (as I’m sure other people from other countries do too—I’m only speaking from my perspective). People will typecast you and stereotype you because they’ve watched American television and think all U.S. Americans are the same: we’re fat, love to eat hamburgers and don’t speak other languages. Granted, these stereotypes ring true for a portion of the U.S. population, but not for many and not for me. I love surprising people with how much I’ve travelled and that I do indeed speak another language. If you decide to embark on a solo adventure, be prepared to have some difficult conversations, get defensive from time to time, but also to learn from these interactions and educate others about what it means to be from the U.S. (beyond what is on TV!). You’ll learn as much about yourself and your own culture as you will about the one you’re visiting.
In my next post, the adventure continues to Martinborough, a small wine village outside of Wellington in the south of the North Island where I participated in my first WWOOFing experience! Willing Workers on Organic Farms is a great opportunity to save money and meet locals as you are volunteering for your room and board. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to share more about this time!
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