Now that I am back on Texas soil, I want to take a moment to reflect on my last month abroad. I celebrated July 4th this year with students from twenty different countries. I was at an International Student Ministries NZ conference and learned about the lives and cultures of these amazing students. This experience granted me a deep appreciation for the human condition and the unique challenges faced by individuals all over the world. I realize that no society or individual is perfect and we all share common struggles.


After this conference, I travelled on the north island of NZ before heading to Australia. On the first day of my trip I visited Huka falls which were absolutely stunning. Although they aren’t very tall, they are incredibly powerful and move more than 220,000 litres of water per second. That evening I checked into a hostel and then went to visit the hot springs in a nearby park. The water felt just like a hot tub and was quite relaxing. The next day I went on to Rotorua which is full of geothermal activity. The entire city smells faintly of sulphur, although it isn’t bothersome. There are dozens of steaming geothermal pools throughout the city and the skyline is scattered with columns of steam. There were mere wooden fences around most of the pools with warning signs about the lethal temperature of the water. Kiwis definitely tend to downplay things! We also passed a playground called “Volcanic playground.” They certainly seem to embrace the fact that they live on a volcanic island!

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I finally got to go Zorbing! Rotorua boasts the original zorbing spot and this sport involves rolling downhill in a giant inflatable ball. It was much more fun than I expected! Rotorua is also home to Hobbiton (or the Shire) from Lord of the Rings. I had the chance to tour Hobbiton and was continually struck by the incredible detail and beauty of this place. Despite a forecast of rain, the weather was perfect and the bright green hillsides shimmered in the sun. I enjoyed being transported into another world and learning about the magic behind Peter Jackson’s films. I was shocked to learn that the tree on top of Bag End is completely fake! The ancient-looking tree is a fabrication of the Weta workshop! Weta even repainted the millions of leaves on the tree by hand when Peter Jackson did not like the original color. Interestingly, Weta also hired a women three weeks before they began filming at Hobbiton to put clothes on the clotheslines and take them off at the end of the day so the lines to look worn in and used. Their attention to detail is incredible.

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I flew to Sydney the next day and enjoyed the four days I spent there. I had the chance to see The Rocks again and the harbour. The Rocks are a neat historical part of Sydney with some original buildings built by the convicts who were dumped there. I went on a night tour and was amazed by the dramatic stories surrounding the area. I also visited the Blue Mountains outside Sydney which were absolutely breath-taking! The day trip also included a visit to an aboriginal center, wildlife sanctuary, and ferry boat ride back to Sydney by way of the harbour near the opera house. I hiked a bit near the Blue Mountains and the vastness of the outback is stunning. There were flocks of cockatoo birds flying around which merely looked like dots in the trees below. The wildlife sanctuary was also fun and I got to pet koalas, baby kangaroos and various species of birds. I also saw dingoes, wombats and Tasmanian devils for the first time!

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After leaving Sydney, I went to Cairns (pronounced “Kens”). Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef but ironically there are no beaches in the town itself! I did go diving and the fish and coral were incredibly beautiful up close. I even got to film a sea turtle from only a few feet away! After Cairns I went to Melbourne which is probably my favourite city in Australia. I stayed with friends who live there and it was nice seeing the city through the eyes of a local. Melbourne claims to have the best coffee in the world and it was indeed the best I’ve had! I visited the Eureka Sky tower which has gold plated windows at the top. The tower also offers a magnificent view of the city which stretches on for miles. The city was full of neat architecture and the buildings around the university were quite memorable. One of them appeared to be covered in green slime! I was also fortunate to see Les Miserables on stage in Melbourne. The lead characters were stunning and the newly re-staged version was brilliant. The backdrops for the show were subtly moving images from Victor Hugo’s sketchbook and paintings so the audience saw the play as the author originally envisioned it.

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After leaving Australia, I returned to Wellington for a couple of days. I stayed with an awesome family from my church and on my last night in Wellington I had to bid farewell to my friends. It was heart wrenching saying goodbye to friends from Japan, China and Brazil. We made Okonomiyaki, a traditional dish from Osaka, and watched movies as we reminisced about our semester.

Overall, I have been blessed immeasurably by my time in New Zealand. Here are more things I will miss:

41. Hobbiton and the incredible ingenuity of the Weta workshop

42. Hot springs and the way kiwis downplay the danger of boiling sulfur pits

43. Zorbing and the amazing capacity of kiwis to devise methods of creating adrenaline rushes

44. The remoteness of this country and its capacity to think globally

45. The temperate climate and year-around coolness

46. The relaxed and less pressure driven culture

47. Night markets and live kiwi music

48. Glow worms

49. Open roads and mountains which capture the imagination

50. The ability of this country to capture more than a piece of my heart

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Categories: 2014, New Zealand, Reciprocal Exchange

It is strange nearing the end of my time in New Zealand. It has been a full semester and I’ve learned more than I thought possible. I also cannot think of a single negative experience during my entire time here.

This blog post is delayed because I have experienced more computer problems recently (surprise surprise!). My internet adapter, Microsoft Office and computer mouse all quit working within days of each other. I got it sorted but immediately after finishing my last final exam, I left Wellington for two conferences and only now have Wi-Fi again. The day I left Wellington was rather interesting. My final went well, but I also had to be packed and moved out of my house that afternoon. An awesome family from my church came to pick up my luggage which they are holding for me until I leave for the states at the end of the month. I am traveling now around the north island and then for a bit in Australia.

The conferences were absolutely amazing! The first one was with the student ministry Student Life and the second was with International Student Ministries NZ. I met students from throughout New Zealand and others at the second conference from over twenty nations! I had a blast learning about their cultures and lives and studying God’s word alongside them.

In addition to final essays and assignments, much of my time lately has been consumed with medical school applications. I’m nearly finished! Also, my last concert with the New Zealand School of Music Orchestra a few weeks ago went well. I thoroughly enjoyed performing with this group and will miss them. A few weekends ago, I visited Auckland and got to see the All Blacks Rugby team defeat England! My flatmates and I took an overnight bus to get there—a ten hour drive—and it was an experience indeed. The game itself was a blast! The score was nearly tied the whole time and the first ‘try’ of the game didn’t happen until the last play. Rugby is unlike any other sporting game I’ve been to and the All Blacks are incredibly tough! The British fans were fantastic—there were eight people in front of us all dressed as the Queen of England. You can’t make this stuff up.

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That weekend I also went canyoning which is definitely one of my top three favorite things I’ve done here. It is a strange feeling jumping off cliffs and repelling through waterfalls. My flatmates and I also visited a hot water beach near Auckland. I was completely skeptical and told my flatmates there was no way they were getting me out in the winter rain during low tide (10 pm) to go dig a hole in the sand and expect it to fill with hot water. Well how was I proven wrong! Simply walking on the sand felt warm despite the cold temperature outside and the water which came out of the ground once we dug a shallow hole was hot enough to turn my back red!

After returning from Auckland, I finalized class assignments and also planned another trip to the south island with a few international friends who had not been there before. We made a great team—Lauren from Texas, Gabrella from China, Carlos from Brazil, and Ryoichi from Japan. We had an amazing trip to Christchurch and Queenstown and I got to see some neat places I missed last time I was down there. I also got to go skiing at Mt. Hutt near Christchurch! The snow wasn’t the best because it is still very early in the season but I had fun nonetheless. And Carlos had fun as well—it was the first time he’d ever seen snow! One of the things I will miss most about New Zealand is how welcoming and kind everyone is. The women who ran the hostel near Mt. Hutt was awesome. She called me frequently before we arrived to give me road condition updates and mountain weather reports. She also made us soup one night which was so kind and generous—truly like a mother to us!

Christchurch itself was an interesting city. The earthquake in 2011 has left the city still in disrepair. However, out of this, great creativity has flourished. The historical Christchurch cathedral still has a gaping hole in its side, but the Cardboard Cathedral (designed by a Japanese architect) has been built nearby. It was absolutely stunning: peaceful and full of light. It looked as if the entire building could be lifted and moved.

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We also visited the container mall which is a collection of stores housed in boxcar containers. They are painted bright colors and are stacked in interesting ways—they can be transported easily and were an innovative solution following the destruction from the quake.

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On our way to Queenstown, we stopped through Tekapo and visited the lake, chapel and nearby conservatory. It is difficult to describe in words or pictures how truly breath-taking the scenery was. Miles and miles of colors and mountains and nature. It was impossible to take it all in. I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the Creator who imagined such beauty.

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We arrived in Queenstown just as the fireworks were going off. Of course we picked the craziest weekend to visit Queenstown. It was Winter Festival and the quaint little ski town was buzzing with people. We didn’t spend much time in the town itself, however, and on Saturday drove to Glenorchy which takes you through some of the most incredible parts of Middle Earth. Again, words and pictures cannot describe this place. It hardly seems real. And we found Paradise. Really, that was the name of the nearby town (Appropriately named!).


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When I got back to Wellington for my last week, I had assignments to finish in addition to other important things such as visiting the zoo and the Weta workshop (in the same day!). I finally got to see kiwi birds!! The Weta workshop was incredible. It is the design studio which created the props, costumes and sets for the Lord of the Rings and dozens of other films including Narnia, District 9, and King Kong. I am truly in awe of the creativity of the Weta geniuses. Their resourcefulness and thoroughness never ceases to amaze me.

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I now have fifteen days left before I leave for the United States. Leaving this country will probably be one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. The beauty of this country found in its people, landscapes and creativity has captured more than a piece of my heart here. I know I will be back, it is just a matter of when.

So to continue my list of why I love this place:

31. Less hierarchy than in the states—professors, students, bosses, and employees all use first names when addressing each other.

32. Seeing the real Middle Earth and realizing Rivendell is a mash up of two very distinct places (Wellington on the north island and Fiordland on the south)

33. 6 meals a day: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper (aka chocolate).

34. Fergburger (a famous burger place in Queenstown)

35. Cookietime cookies

36. Being challenged and stretched by new ways of thinking about the world

37. Final exams which are more interesting than stressful and I get to apply what I have learned

38. Outdoor guides who genuinely love what they do

39. Beautiful sunsets over the city, forests, and harbor

40. Hills—I really will miss climbing the hills. They are endearing in a way.

Categories: 2014, New Zealand, Reciprocal Exchange