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Journals from Waikato-New Zealand Fall 09

2009-07-29 My First Encounter

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Waitomo Caves

Monday, 20 July 2009. It's been two weeks since I arrived in the early hours of the morning in Hamilton, New Zealand. A lot has happened since I have been here. When I got on the Air New Zealand plane from Los Angeles it didnt feel real. I couldnt believe I was about to leave the country for four months without any family or friends. I wasnt really scared though, which surprised me. I just didnt know what to expect. Was I going to make friends easily? Would the kiwis like me? Would there be a lot of Americans? What would they think of me as an American in New Zealand? What if it was just horrible? There were so many things that ran thought my head, but as soon as I got through customs I knew instantly it wouldnt be a bad experience, no matter how sad I got, or how lost I seemed, everything was going to be okay. This was thanks to one man. My contact at the uni (thats what they call universities here) had told me a man would have my name on a board outside of customs at the airport to pick me up and bring me to Hamilton to the University of Waikato. I pictured it like the movies. You know, a man in a tux and little drivers hat is standing there waiting for you smiling the biggest smile you have ever seen. Well, that is not exactly how it was. I walked through the big gliding doors after customs, and this man was nowhere to be seen. I found the white board with my name on it however. As I stood there looking around, completely lost and confused, another driver came up and asked me where I was going. He asked me if I knew what service I was using and instantly began trying to help me find my way. He began asking other drivers where Bob was. In all honesty, I dont know if the guys name was actually Bob, I just added it in for the sake of telling the story. Apparently Bob was not even in the building at the time I had walked out of customs. They had me stand off to the side and wait until they could locate him. Now, I have not traveled out of the country very much in my short life, but I have never felt so instantly welcome in any place. In fact, LAX was more frightening and intimidating than the humongous airplane or the airport in Auckland or even finding my ride. I had a smile from ear to ear the whole hour and a half drive to Hamilton. This was not only because I was finally in New Zealand, but also partly because of Bob. He was a little man, not very tall, about my height actually, and he instantly apologized for not being there. He asked me about customs and my flight and showed me to the van where two other students were waiting. He began conversation with us and told us about the drive. Looking back, I can honestly say I knew everything was going to be great, no matter how bad it may seem, but oddly enough, within twenty minutes of arriving on campus I was in tears. It was fairly early on a Sunday morning and unfortunately for me, the whole campus was still on holiday. I was shown to my room and left alone because my resident advisor (R.A.) wasnt around, and everyone else was still sleeping. I made my bed, and instantly felt so overwhelmed and alone. Its funny to me now to think about that time because I know what happens next, but in that moment all I wanted to do was curl up in my own bed back home in my house. I talked to my family and friends but it only made things worse. Culture shock, right? I felt so lame because I hadnt even experienced the culture yet. I went to lunch and ate alone, but lucky for me a girl named Jill followed me out and introduced herself. Since that moment, I havent been too sad about anything really. New Zealand is absolutely beautiful. I made a bunch of American friends in the first week here because all the kiwi kids were still on holiday, and school didnt actually start till the 13th of July. The first week flew by and since all the exchange students were the only ones here we got down to business and started planning trips. The first trip was to Waitomo. In this little area, there are a bunch of caves in the mountains where glowworms are found. It is also a very big tourist attraction, and only about forty-five minutes from Waikato. We went black water rafting through these caves. It was so sweetas (the word for cool in Kiwi). They took us and got us all fitted into wet suits, which by the way were still wet, and told us to go get dressed. They were slimy and freezing cold, which may have been partly because it is winter here, but we didnt care. There were socks and wet suit suspenders and jackets and shorts and helmets and gumboots. We all looked ridiculous and could hardly walk. It was more like a waddle than a walk. We climbed through this little crack in the side of the mountain and plunged into the water. It was cold, so cold in fact that I dont remember how long it took for my fingers and toes to go numb. Inside the caves we crawled along the river under and around rocks, floating in our inner tubes here and then, jumping off water falls backwards. The waterfalls were the best. You stuck your butt into the tube and held on tight and the guides basically pushed you off and you jumped out as far back as you could. The frigid water would come splashing up behind you and cover you almost completely. And even though we were freezing, everyone was smiling. It was awesome! Unfortunately, now classes are now fully in session, and the work has begun. The first week of school, like anywhere else, is a joke. The professors just go through the syllabi and everyone sits bored out of their minds. But here, there is also a big party going all week. They call is O-week. And basically, the student union here on campus plans a whole weeks worth of events for the students to welcome them back to school. There is free food and music and lots of fun events down town at the clubs. It was crazy! One of my friends even won an ipod!

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