Mementos from a beautiful chapter in the Pacific Islands

Guatemala Guayab cold brew bottle rings top my armrest. I love the way this couch design enables my morning coffee needs. The elixir leaves a rich aftertaste that comforts me as much as the wafting smell of cinnamon and simmering tangelos from the stovetop. Soon I will set up a buffet on the kitchen island: spicy potatoes, simple salads, kiwis and oranges galore. This is all that is left in our Auckland apartment, other than the Weetbix and Vegemite. Those can stay put.

My toes are chilly, as per usual with these cold, slick wooden floors. I do not have good posture sitting here writing on my final morning, so my spine yells at me in anticipation of a long journey in cramped quarters. This city can be pleasantly tropical at times, but today, I welcome the relentless rain and wind. I have no reason to feel guilty for spending these last few hours at the computer, wrapping my head around my imminent departure from Aotearoa.

What will I want to remember from this chapter of my life, I wonder... and what's it to you, dear reader of Nomadderwhere? How can I be both a good documentarian of my own story and a contributor to your better understanding of New Zealand, of TGS, of nomadic life?

I'm too fresh with this experience to identify any wise takeaways. Maybe a little airplane meditation is called for. Until then, I will try to whip up something true, mementos from this term that I will take with me for as long as I can.

Share your good fortune as much as possible.

Auckland, New Zealand at dawn from apartment

Auckland, New Zealand at dawn from apartment

Sometimes my roommate Bree and I score big in the TGS housing lottery, and Auckland was one of those times. Our apartment overlooked the harbor where passing sailboats and clouds kept the landscape serene and beautiful. We invited friends and family to visit us as much as possible, whether for Bacon and Beer parties, the use of our Sky TV sports stations, or extended stays right in the heart of the CBD (Central Business District). Nights out in Britomart typically started in our home to the tunes on Russ' iPhone. In addition, we hosted a few student dinners and gatherings to share the majesty of our view at sunset.

Every day in this apartment was a day I felt intensely grateful for the life I am living. While this isn't typically how and where true Aucklanders live, we still felt connected to the rhythm of the city from our Beach Road perch. My first connection with New Zealand's biggest city developed through my appreciation for the intersection of nature and industry, which I quickly tried to encapsulate in this iPhone-only video.

Green and blue come from Aotearoa.

Green and blue beautiful landscape of New Zealand and Coromandel

Green and blue beautiful landscape of New Zealand and Coromandel

Italy may have the world's best golden hour, but there's something about New Zealand's light and air quality that produces the most intense greens and blues I've ever seen in a landscape. Driving around the Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel, it was a highlight to simply peer out the window and enjoy the incredible views of nature those trips afforded.

They may not have much of an ozone layer, but the rolling hills of the North Island inspire frolicking of the most uninhibited variety. I completely understand why Kiwis are so connected to the land and nature. Auckland virtually clears out on weekends for this reason exactly.

Merging worlds can and should happen.

Mom and Dad in Queenstown, New Zealand

Mom and Dad in Queenstown, New Zealand

My parents visited TGS during the Boston term, but I dare to declare that it doesn't count as a true TGS visit if you don’t change countries. I was quite delighted, and frankly a little shocked, to see that they actually confirmed their travels to New Zealand within the first weeks of me being on site. We took advantage of my newly-acquired vacation time on site and flew to the South Island for a five-day exploration of Queenstown.

My work world is so vastly different from my “home” world that its jarring to switch between them. Especially because I’m an external processor, it’s tough when I need to share stories with people about others they’ve never met. The first time my parents visited TGS, I forced them to sit in on every one of my classes. They looked bored out of their minds in the back, but when we had dinner later that night, we started talking about the kids and how impressive they are.

Adding the international context this time around meant they entered into discovery mode. In this mode, one finds almost everything intriguing and looks for the explanations as to why things are rather than being aloof to what is different. They witnessed the gems of the lifestyle (as well as the challenges) and put personalities to names of colleagues new and old.

Central Otago wines are my jam.

The climate of this wine region is conducive to producing really balanced grapes with low numbers of residual sugars. Yes, we went on a few wine tours. I would gladly drink anything with this birthplace on the label.

Kiwis are rare birds. I’m talking about the people.

Andrew McLean planting his lemon tree with gin, Whangamata, New Zealand

Andrew McLean planting his lemon tree with gin, Whangamata, New Zealand

I love a Kiwi. They have an accent I can’t help but smile at, and their humor is quick and constant. It’s always a highlight of any host city to befriend the residents, but I think Kiwiland was so enjoyable because the lack of a language barrier allowed us to truly sense the similarities and differences between us. I was perplexed by a couple Kiwis–their comments, looks, and behavior not matching what I anticipated from my own cultural imprint–and was able to identify some unique quirks I haven’t encountered in the States.

Maori culture was a really rewarding focus of study. Our first weekend with the students in country was spent at a Marae, or Maori meeting grounds, hanging with a family that keeps their traditions alive in the current generation. We watched movies that highlighted current issues in Maori communities as a result of being in today's international context. Having a visit from Witi Ihimaera, the author of Whale Rider, helped us better understand a use for myths today and the intense heartbeat of a relatively unknown culture around the world. I get why traveling Kiwis make it a point to share knowledge of the Maoris with those they encounter.

One of my favorite weekends involved a road trip to the Coromandel to celebrate Nick’s birthday at the newly-purchased home of Andrew McLean. We had a complete blast making music with melodeons and djembes, rebuilding bonfires on the beach, and eating crazy amounts of barbecued meats and veggies. I have never witnessed such a unified affinity for nature by a country. Through the channel of our local contact, it felt like we got a taste of this focus on the outdoors and the joys of sharing it with friends. I endeavor to adopt a little of this and take it with me wherever I go next.

Always opt for closure.

I had an interesting parting with Fiji five years ago that left me with a lot of loose ends, whipping like live wires. I saw a possible window in my work schedule and seized the opportunity to revisit those emotions and memories. In the end, the trip was nothing short of therapeutic. It felt like I released a pressure valve. Always opt for closure, even if there's the potential for scabs to be reopened. This is how Lindsay got her altruism back.

Balance at TGS is possible.

Hangliding and paragliding outside of Queenstown, New Zealand

Hangliding and paragliding outside of Queenstown, New Zealand

Work governs the majority of my life, and because we are all passionately applying our whole selves to the betterment of the school, that often leaves little time to be independent little humans. I discovered during this term that it is very much possible to "live this job" and still meet people outside of our bubble, accomplish personal goals, and deliver upon realistic expectations without compromising the essential things. This is possible only through discipline and self-awareness of work day structure needs, really good communication between colleagues, and trust built between those colleagues.

Friends new and old often ask what my favorite term has been so far at TGS. My answer now includes Auckland alongside Buenos Aires in a two-way tie, even though it still feels a little bit like comparing children, all for which you have a special place in your heart. I might not get back to the end of the Earth for a while, but these mementos will keep me connected to the happiness I experienced there; hopefully they are alluring enough to send you eagerly on your own journey to Aotearoa and the other lovely Pacific Islands. I can vouch for the impact this region makes on one's life.

Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand

Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand

It used to take Europeans a year on a boat to venture that far south, and often they went into the unknown feeling this was the end of the road for them, where they would probably spend the rest of their lives and eventually meet their maker. Those travelers needed to be a little bit crazy, or at least be full embracers of adventure. Today, this trip is comparatively nothing to still engage with adventurers of all types. The benefits of making the jaunt far outweigh a few more hours of discomfort on a plane. Most things worth experiencing take an extra effort, anyway...am I right?