This morning, I had to help M kill a rattlesnake that was hanging out under our deck, at our house on 26 acres in Montana, with chickens, three dogs and sheep on the way. The snake was right under the back door, scaring away the stray cat that has adopted us and worrying me that the dogs would try to tango with the snake.
My how 10 years flies.
When I left for New Zealand, it was summer and the second day of July. When I landed, it was winter and July 4. Being with a group of American students in a foreign country on the day we celebrate our independence was a bit odd, especially since New Zealand is still associated with the British crown (kinda).
The group of students I was with were all headed for the University of Canterbury in Christchurch and we were from all over the U.S. Most of us didn't know each other and the program had us spend a few days in Rotorua learning the basics of life in New Zealand and getting to know each other.
In Christchurch, we lived in the international student flats. My flat, 22, which I thought was perfect since that year was my 22nd birthday on August 22 and I lived in flat 22. My flatmates were from Samoa (not the American side), Malaysia, Singapore and Hawaii. Most of them were engineering students, actually, I think they all were, and I was the writer.
We were all so different, but I wouldn't trade those months living with those great people for anything. Lex, the Samoan, and I were probably the closest. He made an effort to get to know me and was actually upset with me once because he was so worried for my safety when I walked across campus alone at night. He made me promise not to do it again or made sure he walked me where I needed to go. Lex helped me cook and when he figured out I didn't like fish, he called me "fish fan" for ever after. We haven't talked in awhile and he's now married with kids, I think, but I'll always remember him as the guy who was like a big brother to me despite us living on opposite sides of the globe.
After a 2012 trip to Italy, I started hosting international dinner nights at my place outside D.C. and cannot wait to start hosting those nights again.
That semester abroad was my first time out of the country (if you don't count short trips into Canada and possibly over the border at Rio Grande) and I did it on my own. I admit to losing my cool one time when I saw a stranger in Australia who looked like my dad and feeling a heavy dose of homesickness. But, that semester was the trip that opened my eyes to travel and led to many more solo international trips.
Classes were filled with Kiwi students, but there were other international students too. Gotta say, sitting through a political theory class with a Canadian professor and you're one of two American students is eye-opening for sure. Stepping outside what is normal to me, what is the American perspective and status quo is one of the smartest and most challenging things you can do.
While hiking a glacier, the guide started ranting about U.S. foreign policy and the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. I never denied being an American, but in moments like that, I just listened and considered a perspective far different than mine with a world view that was shaped by a different reality.
And, I was busy trying not to fall off a glacier.
If you're reading this and are still in college, I highly recommend a semester abroad. You'll meet people who will change your life, you'll never forget those experiences and grow in ways you haven't even imagined yet.
Ten years later, I still believe that semester abroad was one of the smartest things I ever did.
I'll probably have to write more about this, now that I'm thinking about those fantastic six months, but until then, photos!