More fun times in Austin & Beyond!

Days Abroad: 24

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It has been a long while since I updated! Which is terrible because so much happens every day that I want to write about! I already have two weeks of classes behind me, have been to yet another city, have been to a 21st dinner and a gun range, gone two-stepping, attended bible studies and had a job interview!

Let’s start with one thing at a time: school. Classes are 1.5 hours long team, and the first class at 9.30am was such a drag! 1.5 hours of going over a statistics (Yes Masty, I am taking stats again. Laugh all you want) syllabus and the driest dad jokes ever was painful! But I have come to love the long classes; it is a lot slower paced and there is more room for discussion and class activities. Here comes the shocker Scarfies: people actually participate in discussion, even raise their hand to ask a question or raise a point! Like, what!? I did just that today and blushed through my entire body (cheers to being slightly ginger and pale as hell…) because the whole class turned to look at the girl with the weird accent and the croaky voice. Yep, my immune system has taken another knock. Which totally goes against my constant proclamations that I never get sick, but it hasn’t stopped me from living my life so I still claim constant health.

Other than loving the new format of class, I love my papers and am so glad that I get to study something that I love rather than striving to study something that will get me money or status. Truth be told, I might one day make mere peanuts, but at least I will be doing something that I love. I’ll just have to marry rich *sigh*. Getting used to spelling things with a ‘z’ and dropping my u’s is difficult, because spell check cannot go with me into my tests and exams. Oh, another cool thing is I only have a final exam for one paper! That does mean that I have many more small assignments throughout the semester, but it is very normal here to not have an exam for your course (not paper Petro, we’ve discussed this before). I am all about this modern learning! I also have one class that is entirely online; it’s filmed like a t.v. show and is still interactive and I can even listen to the lecture and do my tests from the comfort of my own bed or bathroom. Really, academically I am living the life! Apart from actually having to do readings because pop quizzes are now more than just something people complain about on the internet. Two weeks in and I have done so many readings and have four assignments due in the next ten days. It is different for sure! But I am still enjoying it.

Exciting thing #2, my trip to San Antonio. Realistically, it was just a trip to the AT&T Center, but that for me is enough of San Antonio – I can die happy now. I went with the international department for a “Texas Excursion” to watch the AHL Ice Hockey; San Antonio Rampage v Manitoba Moose. Afterwards we got to skate on the ice rink, which was so surreal and gave me so much more respect for those athletes! It took me 30min to successfully go round the rink without touching the wall, because there is no way that my pride will allow me to take a gracious tumble. I am so glad I go the opportunity to go, even though I wish I understood ice hockey better so that I could have gotten into the game more. Side note: I went entirely by myself in a large group of people who had already formed groups and I had no energy to try to be peppy and a fake version of me to fit in, so I used it as an exercise in dating myself (blog to come about that later possibly).

A girl I met through the international department at orientation was so nice and invited me along to her 21st celebrations this past week; we went to a gun range (ironically the day after the inauguration) and then out to dinner a few days later. It was such an eye-opening experience seeing everyone at the gun range. There were regulars, couples, dudes with massive cases and professional set ups that made me wonder about my belief that assassins are only in movies, and the classic Southern Moms with their blow waved hair and 2.5 children. I am proud to say that after my shooting I got the response of, “Damn, Africa!” I feel like for a novice, I certainly did my crazy continent of birth proud. Going out for dinner was another great cultural experience as I was the only Pakeha (Maori for us whities for all my culturally deprived whanau) around the table and was able to be completely immersed in young African American culture. It was such a treat! And brisket enchiladas with Mexican rice, a chocolate-something sauce and refried beans – need I say more people!?

Oh, and I went to another basketball game – surprise, surprise. This one was super exciting though because it was against our (yeah, I’m counting myself as a Longhorn people) rival school, Oklahoma (sorry Cade & Mara, no love lost). It was so intense and since all the students are back I got to join in on all the student chants, yells and things during the game. Apparently only Alumni and families may sit during the game, if you are a poor student you stand. I do not know why, the game is just as intense for the others watching, be we only sit during breaks and timeouts. I paid for a seat but hardly ever used it. Much logic. But I didn’t mind, it was exciting and made me feel as though I had finally reached the culmination of the dream that started nine years ago.

The job interview was for a summer camp that I am hoping to work at (partly so that I am not homeless over summer), so I will leave that for a later entry if I get the job. I will not say much now because, hopefully, you will spend a few months reading all about it later this year. The bible study I have been going to is through Athletes in Action, the group that I went to the retreat in Dallas with. It has been amazing being around like-minded people and being able to spend time in the Word. It has also been eye-opening to see how sport has taken a backseat in my life to so many other important things and how I am now no longer defining myself solely as being an athlete. Part of me misses that, but another part of me is so glad because it leaves me to pursue my sport because I love it, without the pressure of having to be perfect at it.

Two-stepping and line dancing is such a blast folks! I have written so much already that you’re probably bored and it looks like I’ll be hitting the dance floor again this weekend with my Trashy T’s to prevent me from drinking so I will tell you about that next time. Fun story: there was an old man there that I kept ending up dancing with and he told me that I looked like Taylor Swift then proceeded to say that I must have a really thick little black book. In his day it was a massive compliment, in ours, not so much.. But cheers random old guy for a great story and a good laugh!

Last thing for tonight. I volunteered at the Study Abroad Fair on campus yesterday and spent two hours telling people why they should study in Australia and New Zealand. Naturally I highly promoted Otago, because we’re just the best, but I had so much fun! It was a weird feeling telling people how great Aussie was after growing up in Kiwi culture, but hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

Also, I am in the process of challenging myself with some pretty tough personal growth areas so am starting to feel a touch of vulnerability and homesickness coming on. Really it is just because I need a good cry because the challenges I have set for myself this year include some tough growing pains and a lot of leaving my comfort zone. Those of you that know me well, or even not so well, know that I cry on a fortnightly basis during a good season, so to go without tears for over three weeks is pretty good! I have been avoiding any sadness or tears because to me it signals the end of the honeymoon phase, as if the best is over. But I feel as though I am allowed to struggle and cry about things and still be over-the-moon excited to be here and be on this journey. So, I will continue honeymooning tomorrow after a good cry. Growing up is hard, especially if you have a made a point in challenging yourself to become a better, stronger you.

Not enough. Never enough. Maybe one day.

16144643_1395782353800536_776462449_n

I recently started hitting the gym again properly, for the first time since starting college. Highly hypocritical of me to be wanting to make top teams and rep teams when I was not putting the work in, I know. When I first moved down to Dunedin to study, I was on track to be super fit for trials and had excess motivation to start training seriously on arrival to the Dirty South. Until I set foot in my dorm and walked around campus. Fear, intimidation, doubt and self-criticism put me on a track of not training but being at my fittest ever by the end of my Sophomore year. Why? Because instead of piling on my Freshman Five, I dropped cms for the next two years. Even people who I hardly knew saw it. I lost all my muscle mass and the puppy fat that surrounded it. Yet it was only around September last year that it hit me that I was not a big person. Starting to sound like an eating disorder I know, but it’s not that, don’t stress.

I did not go workout, because I hated being in the gym and playing the comparison game and because I would be hitting the treadmill for all the wrong reasons. The workouts I planned were no longer to gain strength and agility, but rather to minimise all the flaws that I saw in myself. I used to love working out, but with the wrong motivation I hated it. So, I stopped. I used to enjoy managing what I ate to fuel my body and feel how that improved my stamina and metabolism, but found myself managing my meals to manage how I looked. So, I stopped caring what I ate and dropped weight without planning to. Athletes are by nature all or nothing people, and going all in with the wrong motivation was going to lead me down a dangerous path, so I quit. And I nearly quit the game too.

End of my Freshman year I wanted to throw in the towel and would have if it were not for a 10pm text from my coach telling me I had a week before trials that I had a good shot at. So, I started eating well, then got sick. I started hitting the ground for sprint training, then I injured my knee – to this day I still do not know what was wrong with it or how it happened, I just knew that I could not walk on my knee. I went to trials anyway, only to get there to find out that the time and venue for trials had changed. I was an hour late and on the other side of town with just my bike. I cried. A lot. As I was on the phone to my mum seeking some level-headed advice, I looked up and my aunty was driving past. Coincidence? If you say so. God? Definitely. I missed the fitness testing, so could smash the drills and games as I was fresh while everyone else was shattered, and I made the group.

Read: Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I had to learn to totally rely on God in an impossible situation and for the first time in my life laid my sport performance 100% in His hands. There is a difference in dedicating your performance to God and surrendering completely to Him. I was great at dedicating my performances to God, it meant that I was still in control and then would just give the credit to Him afterwards, or ask for His help or intervention when the chips were down. Now I had to learn that Philippians 4:13 did not mean that I can do most things in my own strength and the hard things in His strength, it meant that ALL things that I do were in His strength. Tough pill to swallow in the world of sports.

Which brings me full circle to the journey of body image that I discussed before. I used to be pretty comfortable in my skin, but something happened that I became pretty concerned with the flaws that I saw in myself. I am not sure whether it stemmed from putting friendships and relationships on such a great pedestal that I wanted so badly to be deemed attractive or fit in with the crowd. I did not realise how much I judged my own appearance while admiring everyone else until I took the photo above. I was wanting to record my gym progress and accidentally captured the photo looking at my reflection like this. So much disappointment and judgement in one look. So, while I have already challenged myself to step up the game in getting into the Word and fasting, I have challenged myself to be content in being single and start loving and dating myself (which is difficult because God blessed American genes, but it makes the success so much sweeter). By the end of 2017, when I take my last progress photo, I want to capture myself looking genuinely impressed and happy with how I look. Not smiling just to reach the goal, but I want to accept and love every part of me.

At the end of the day, if I can surrender my performance and strength to God and not take any credit away from my sport, surely, I can accept that the God who made the world around me so beautiful and blessed humanity with such an amazing gift of creativity would not spare any of His love and creativity and stuff up what I look like. Body image is tough, so much tougher in worlds where your performance and acceptance are so reliant on your body, but I am going to crack this. I am no less of an athlete if my calves are non-existent and my abs and biceps are merely an afterthought. I am no less of an athlete if I do not wear activewear or own the best brands. I am no less an academic if I choose to wear activewear and go to the gym. The crowning glory: I am not unfeminine because I am an athlete. I am no longer defined by my sport (thank goodness, because no one here has heard of it), so why have I substituted that to be defined by how I look? It’s an ongoing journey, this is just the day after I realised how much I despised my body and that I need to change that.

Special shout out to all my sisters, every time your heart sinks when you look in the mirror at that new zit that popped up, another bad hair day or the fact that you still don’t look magazine worthy – you are not alone in that. I am there next to you with my own sigh of disappointment. Especially if you are in the world of performing or sports, sister I see you, I feel that stress and pain. Let’s crank up the music and have a dance party in front of the mirror, filled with so much joy that you sprain an ankle (it’s a true story, I did that one time and am looking forward to doing it again). Let’s learn to love ourselves together. If for no other reasons, so that I can have better honest selfies to put on the gram…

Expecting Change – Or Changing Expectations

Original Post: 20/05/2012

When life becomes unpredictable; do you expect change or change your expectations?
The last four months of my life have been challenging; everything has changed, and then changed again. All the expectations that I had for the move, all the hopes that I had for the future changed. Maybe I had my head in the clouds, dreamed to extreme and never gave myself a reality check. Even though I expected change, life forced me to change my expectations.
Changing schools for the first time, having to make new friends and having to start building a new name for myself on the netball court, took a bigger toll on me than I expected change would. At heart I’m a shy person so having to make new friends chilled me to the bone. It still does. I came across very unapproachable, probably stuck up, but honestly, I was dying inside. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to be able to trust anyone, I didn’t want to open up to anyone. I didn’t want to be happy here. Why? Because after a few days; I was forced to change my expectations.
I moved with the expectation that everything that my family had built up over the past 12 years in New Zealand we would just find comfortably on the other side. I expected that I would be welcomed into my new school like we used to welcome new kids at my old school and that I would succeed further on my past victories. Basically, I thought that I would just be able to continue with my old life once I moved. Yes, I expected that there would be change but not on too large a scale. But, like I mentioned before, it only took a few days for reality to kick in. I realised that my expectation of just continuing with my over-easy life would have to change. I wasn’t in the same community, not even the same island, so I couldn’t expect to live the same life. Expecting the change in my life was easy, because it was a cliché expectation. But having to change my expectation on what to expect was tough.
I said earlier that I didn’t want to be happy here and sadly that is true. I was frozen with shock when I realised what the word change means – nothing, or barely anything, stays the same – and I was nervous that what I would find would not suit me. I was comfortable where I was and I wasn’t in the mood for discomfort, having to fit into a new mould so I sub-consciously made up my mind to not be happy. I didn’t realise it until recently, that I was choosing not to be happy. I knew that I was miserable, that I wasn’t settled and that change was getting the better of me and that I desperately didn’t want to be miserable but I never realised that I was doing it to myself. I missed my old life, my friends and my future that I had built for myself at netball and was intimidated by my new environment, scared by the very different type of person that I was encountering and disheartened by having to start all over again but I let that steal my happiness from me.
I wouldn’t say that I am totally settled yet, I am still getting to know how this community works, how the people live life and everyday I am having to pioneer my future all over again but I have to admit, with changed expectations and a new outlook on how I am going to do things, life has gotten much better. I am now relating to those around me with more ease, I hope that I am seen as more approachable and am seeing all my previous struggles as challenges – but the type of challenge that is looked at positively. I am willing to take on the tasks set ahead of me, willing to take the risk or discomfort and pain for the sake of my happiness and my future.
I am faced with a lot of pain in the world, I can see it in people’s eyes and hear it between the lines of their conversations but I am determined, that as I changed my expectations in life and brightened my life, that others might start doing the same.That the sweetness that now lives in my heart, will rest on those that I encounter. I heard a really nice analogy once; that sweet people are like a rose garden. After spending time in their presence, you leave with their aroma on you. I hope that with my new transformation of mind and heart, that I will become a rose garden to my community, that I will be able to give back some of the sweetness that I have found in myself since moving here.
This whole journey so far has taught me that life is truly just what you make it out to be; how you look at life and take on each day determines what you will get out of it. I have taken up the challenge and dare you to do the same; take a look into how you are seeing life, examine what your most frequent emotion is and change your expectations to give you more happiness. Don’t expect too much of yourself and those around you, be realistic.

 

May I Have This Dance?

Original Post: 10/03/2013

I love dancing, from a young age I was always dancing through the house making up my own dances. I took ballet for eight years and absolutely loved it! Since then I have had to give up ballet in favour of netball but still love dancing; I hear random beats or music in my head and I’ll just be dancing in the middle of nowhere while talking to someone. No judging, I’m a unique child. Often when I am feeling really romantic I put on slow romantic music, such as Taylor Swift’s ‘Tim McGraw’, and slow dance with myself in my room. Again, no judging, I’m single so I have no one to slow dance with if my Dad’s not around – and I am not sure he would want to slow dance to Taylor Swift after watching ‘A Walk To Remember.’ Anyway, I love slow dancing but have no partner; that is the important bit.

I want to focus on two pictures that have meant so much to me this year; one is the idea of ‘Dancing Backwards into the Future’ which I got from my sister’s best friend, and the idea of dancing with Jesus, which I got from a young mum at church.

‘Dancing Backwards into the Future’ is the idea of being lead by God into the future. When you partner dance, the girl dances backwards as the boy leads. The girl cannot see where she is going, she can only focus on the handsome (hopefully) boy in front of her who is guiding her so that she does not crash into anyone. He leads her step for step. This is what life with Jesus is like; He leads us into our future, He can see where we are headed when we cannot, He leads us step for step and will never step on our toes. All that we have to do is keep our eyes on him and enjoy the dance.

The idea of dancing with Jesus is a literal, physical thing. When I am feeling lonely, when I feel as though no one loves me, or when I wish I had a boyfriend, I dance with Jesus. Because, let’s face it, we all have those days when, no matter how secure we are in ourselves or how content we are being single, we wish we had a dance partner. Well, I have learnt from a young mum at church in those times, to dance with Jesus instead of looking for someone else to dance with. That is when I put on my music and I begin to waltz, pretending I have someone guiding me while I talk to Jesus. I literally dance with Jesus. I can honestly tell you that it works, you feel loved and cherished.

So, in a literal sense, and in a spiritual sense, I try to dance with Jesus as often as I can. I try to spiritually dance with Jesus non-stop, that he is guiding me through my daily life and I physically dance with Jesus whenever I feel lonely or romantic. The great thing about dancing with Jesus is that whole thing of ‘I wish this song would never end and I could dance with you forever…’ is true, it is actually possible. The Song of Salvation never ends, once you accept Jesus’ invitation to dance He dances with you forever. He is the best dance partner, He is gracious, He is gentle, and He is loving and protective of you. I have never seen Him but I can imagine that He is the most handsome possible dance partner ever. Plus, having Him as your dance partner sets your standards high, so you will not settle for just any dance partner, you will only say yes to your Prince.

That is my short-ish blog for now, I have another idea that I will write up soon. I am thinking of writing one about True Friendship (Don’t fret, I will think of a more creative name) and one on Prince Charming (Once again, the name will be less cliché). So for now, good bye and thank you for leaving a comment on my previous post anonymous, you made my day. J So with that, good day, I love you all! xxx

Roadtrips, roomies and more basketball.

Days Abroad: 15

So much has happened in the last week! I took a road trip to Dallas for an Athletes in Action Winter Retreat, went to (another) basketball game, registered for and started classes, met my roomies and made many new friends. Aaaaand, the snuffles are gone. I am still very much in the honeymoon stage, and I am loving it! I hit the gym for the first time and started my journey to next netball season, went bowling with the international department and hung out with more Spaniards. Someone sign me up for Spanish 101 please!

The bus to Dallas was pretty chill, but I for sure missed the Naked Bus. I was at the terminal and the lady in front of me had an ankle tracker on, and then this other lady walked in looking quite ragged. Ankle tracker lady was so excited to see tired looking lady and asked where she’d come from, only to receive “Oh, I just got out of prison.” Yep, you read that right. I was on the phone to Mother Bear at the time and we were both totally dumbstruck. It was an adventure for sure. The trip itself was pretty much a non-event, but I was so excited to be in Dallas. Going to Dallas was probably the most spontaneous thing that I have done in my life. I met with one of the staff from Athletes in Action from UT on Tuesday and that Friday I arrived in Dallas, exactly 11 days after arriving in the country.

The retreat was amazing! Spending a weekend with a group of athletes who are seeking after God’s heart and to make disciples, learning and encouraging each other was such a great way to start my time in Texas. Everyone was so welcoming and interested to hear where I came from and I very quickly got my explanation of what netball was down to a tee. I sat there on the first night of conference, in a room full of strangers and realised that my journey to Dallas started nine years ago with two college dudes who probably sat at a very similar conference and answered God’s call to come to little ol’ New Zealand. I had come full circle and not even asked for it. Y’all can’t tell me that my God isn’t a good good Father who cares about the little details to make a girls heart happy! The group of girls that I got to know at the conference were all so amazing; open to be vulnerable and very real about life. It was so refreshing and beautiful to see how strangers were so willing to open their hearts to allow everyone to learn and grow together. They were girls that I would definitely travel across the country to see again.

We went to a mall for a scavenger hunt and to eat multiple times and I have NEVER been to such a big mall in my life! There is a freakin’ ice rink permanently in the mall and honestly I am convinced that the mall never ends. It was massive! We played leap frog over a road crossing, posed as mannequins in a shop window and generally had a great time. It is such a privilege to be young to have the social license to do stupid things.

My roomies are the sweetest bunch of girls, they dragged me out to watch them eat Plucker’s wings at 10.30pm at night as soon as we met and went shopping the next day, so I’d say our friendship is destined for greatness. Okay, they didn’t drag me out, I willing dragged myself out into the rain. It is so refreshing to be around such positive, fun people who laugh all the time and are so invested in each others lives. I am so enjoying being around them and seeing how much they care for each other and how willing they are to include me and get to know me. 10/10 would recommend my roomies at this stage. Who knows, I might drive them to insanity later. The portion sizing even at the dorm cafeteria is crazy big, I have ended up hitting the salad bar before the dinner starts hitting me. I forgot to mention, the weather is pretty shocking at the moment. It has made me feel right at home, as if I never left Scarfie Town. I feel as though I have started to slot into friendships on this side which is so encouraging for me, as that was the thing that I was most nervous for moving here – whether or not I would be able to make friends quickly (My track record is not the best).

Registering for classes was interesting, it works so differently to Otago in the sense that you can pick which of the many streams and professors of the paper you want. I have managed to manipulate my schedule as such that I have only one class on Mondays and Fridays off. Hello almost four day weekend! Yeah, I know the idealistic freedom is not going to last long, just let a girl dream a bit. Classes are 1.5 hours long though, which is a killer at 9.30am during syllabus week when the professor is making dad jokes and explaining all the generic things about the class and college life that you already knew. My one professor is a total badass though! She is 64 and was a record breaking, pioneering powerlifter back in her day with an amazing legacy – I was totally awed! She might even take the cake from Jim Cotter for all my Phedder loves out there. One of my psych classes is an online class, which is like streaming them, but 100x better. It is recorded in a tv studio on campus and is interactive with quizzes and a chat with the TAs where you can ask questions. It was bliss after walking back in the rain to sit on my bed with a blanket and a bowl of kettle corn to watch this beautifully recorded lecture.

I went to my first women’s basketball game and was saddened by the lack of crowd. Those girls were talented, put on a great show and are more successful than our men’s team, yet maybe only a quarter of the stadium was full. Like women’s rugby, it needs more attention. Title IX happened for a reason people! Get behind your local women’s teams and support them too! If we’re all about gender equality and all that shizz, why are we not supporting our women athletes as athletes and only using them to grace our front covers? And that only when their hair and makeup is done and their wearing a dress or are at least in uniform and airbrushed. Rant over. It was a great game, despite the shuttle never coming, walking 30min in the near-thunder-storm rain, missing the first quarter and still being wet 5 hours after tip off. And we beat OU! Finished off with a Decaf Smoked Butterscotch Latte, Grande and a Morning Cinnamin Bun from the beautiful  little Starbucks on the corner of my street. Life is bliss in this honeymoon period!

Side note for all my Kiwi sisters, American boys are all they are said to be. Mother Bear was impressed and yours truly remains optimistic that hope is out there somewhere. That is all.

1 week anniversary

Days Abroad: 8

Today marks one week of being in Austin!

I woke up this morning with a good case of the snuffles, so the glitz and glam of being overseas has somewhat lessened. My roommate is yet to move in so I am stuck in a rut of feeling very sorry for my sick self, but in all honesty I still love being here!

Having Mother Bear here was such a treat, I did not realise the extent of how close our family was until I realised that I was the only international student (both exchange and degree seeking) that had a parent with me in Austin. I was tempted to see it as being too dependent on my family, but then I realised that I it is actually such a privilege that Mother Bear was not only able to afford coming with me, but that she wanted to. So thank you Mamma, for making the transition so much easier for me and for exploring the world with me!

Since I last wrote I have been getting lost daily, learning how to use the bus system, registering for classes and attending Exchange and International Student events. The camaraderie between all the exchange students is so amazing! Even if we have a language barrier, we are all experiencing the same things and wanting to see and try absolutely everything which gives us an immediate bond. One thing that I have learnt is that I am definitely going to have to brush up on my Spanish; I keep finding myself around Spanish speakers and in true me-fashion end up being the only Kiwi/South African wherever I go. I find it so beautiful to watch other people speak in their native tongue, because their whole body language changes and I know the comfortable feeling that you get in your heart when you are able to converse in your native tongue. To my surprise I have not met another Kiwi yet, for a small nation that normally sprouts up everywhere I thought I would have found one by now!

We got a chance to explore the wider Austin a bit and I absolutely fizzed at how stereotypical some of the neighbourhoods were – it was so beautiful! I definitely already miss the vivid greens and blossoms of the Garden City, but have likened Austin’s bleak winter to that of the Transvaal so I feel a little more at home. I still have not come to terms with how much bigger everything is here. Even my attempts to prepare myself for a world in a far larger scale did not quite prepare me for the size of everything in Texas! Have I already written about that? I dunno, if I have it should tell you how much of a surprise it was.

I have met so many amazing people already this week that I am ecstatic at the thought of spending the year here! I have already found a few organisations around campus that I would be interested in joining and found a potential church home for the year. I have not however, found a replacement for my beloved netball yet, so I still have one box that needs ticking! Oh, I also need to learn how to speak American English: papers are courses, fullstops are periods, university is college, netball is non-existent, Kiwi is a fruit not a people group and my name will be pronounced in a myriad of ways while I have to clarify with everyone over email that I am in-fact a girl.

I already feel as though this year is going to open my eyes to more of who I am, who I would like to be and how to be the best representation of that as a global citizen. Here I am not the smart one, the umpire, the netball player, the one who works at the gym, the one who was in my dance/gym class, the one from high school. There is no reference point here, I am simply just the girl from New Zealand who you eventually find out is not even really from New Zealand. There is so much freedom in that! Moving cities within a country, there were still reference points that people could draw from your past, but here there is nothing. It is also daunting though, being given the freedom to determine precisely who you are going to be judged as being in this new season.

Well, hello Austin. This is me. Happy one week anniversary. Let’s have some more fun.

Hitting the ground running in Austin

Days Abroad: 3

Whew, what a whirlwind of three days! Day 1 was mostly spent on the airplane and transiting from Houston to Austin. I have done a fair few longhaul flights and this one was for sure the easiest one so far – flying Air New Zealand was an absolute breeze. Both Mother Bear and I arrived feeling rested and fresh; which was just as well because we only arrived in Austin 8 hours after landing. The whole atmosphere that we have experienced in the South is so laid-back; the airport was not a stressful place, everyone and anyone are up for a chat and are so friendly and helpful!

Clearing immigration was pretty straightforward, it just took a long time due to the sheer mass amount of people that needed processing and Mother Bear and I having to go through to separate lines due to travelling on different visas. I was quite apprehensive about immigration and customs due to Border Patrol and all the bad reports about flying into the States, but from our experience at IAH it was all so easy! All the systems work (in contrast to O.R.Tambo) and all you need to do is ensure that you have the correct paperwork on you. Mother Bear just needed her ESTA form and passport and I needed my passport and DS-2019 form (the infamous letter that I spent about 3 months stressing about).

We (somewhat foolishly) decided to drive from Houston to Austin in an attempt to see some of the country and to avoid doing three back-to-back flights. Unfortunately, with processing and getting our rental car taking four hours, most of sunlight hours that we had bargained to be on the road were gone and we drove in the dark most of the way. But the drive was pleasant, even in peak traffic, and allowed us time to process the massive size and scale of things here – everything genuinely is bigger in Texas!

Wednesday was spent navigating our way around Austin, shopping at Target, setting me up on a phone network and attending the UT v OSU men’s basketball game! I was in absolute heaven, getting to watch a game live after following NCAA basketball on t.v. for the last eight-odd years was amazing! For two directionally challenged individuals, Mother Bear and I are doing really well with finding our way around. It really helps that the locals are so patient on the road and very helpful and friendly elsewhere.

Today we moved me into my room at my hostel, explored campus a bit and went to hand in my paperwork at the Allergy & Immunisation Center. Judging from all the international students around me, it really pays to have all the immunisations and the TB Screening done before you go; it meant that it took me all of five minutes to have my medical bar lifted from my profile and saved me more paperwork, hassle and waiting around on this side.

Overall, Austin has a great feeling to it and I am so looking forward to the year, although I definitely miss the vibrant colours of Aotearoa already! I had a late night coffee last night and forgot to order decaf… As a result I am highly sleep deprived on top of the jetlag. So, I will include more details in my next post, for now enjoy some photos!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

We’re off on an adventure: A year abroad

Days Abroad: -1 or 2

I cannot believe this day has finally come! I have been dreaming about going to the USA since I was eight years old, and about going on exchange since I was twelve, so to say that tomorrow is a big deal will be the world’s greatest understatement! Thanks to the international date line, tomorrow this time I will be both in the air and spending my first night in Austin.

The process to get here began around this time last year when I spent a good portion of my summer researching which universities I wanted to attend and applied in haste for the exchange program at  my school – the University of Otago. Since then it has been a whirlwind of paperwork, deadlines, phonecalls, rushing around campus to get various things signed off, paying all sorts of fees and a trip up to Auckland to get my visa sorted. It was stressful, but sitting here now, not even having left yet, I can say it has all been worth it.

There is not a part of the process that is excessively difficult, it is all pretty straight forward, it just takes time. If you are considering going on an exchange, my advice to you is to get started as soon as possible on the admin and communicate frequently with the exchange advisers at both universities to make sure that you tick all the right boxes. The only thing that I would say to be patient with is booking your flights to the US Consulate to get your visa.Oh, also, just pay for the express shipping immediately for your DS-2019 form. Please. It will save you a lot of stress! It will only arrive late November, early December and despite ALL the places where it says to get your visa sorted three months before you travel, you will get it done in plenty of time.

I have only been home from university for five weeks and would kill for more time with my precious family, but alas, it is time to put on the big girl panties and start my big adventure! All my bags are packed (Air NZ had a $1 special for extra bags so I have the luxury of having packed three!), all my hand luggage liquids in a zip-lock bag, paperwork is easily accessible and all bags are well underweight. Tomorrow starts with a few last-minute, important phone calls before a last breakfast out with the family, hopefully a family photo in Hagely Park and then off to the airport! I leave Christchurch at 4pm, arrive in Auckland 5.20pm and then leave for Houston at 7.20pm to arrive there 1.45pm on January 3rd and drive through to Austin.

I am super lucky in that Mother Bear is able to come with me, so my nerves are not as shot as they would have been and I have someone to help me settle in and make sure that I am not a) lost or walking in the wrong direction, or b) forgetting to buy important things like laundry baskets. That said, both Mother Bear and I have the worst sense of direction so we are due to get lost many, many times a day…

Anyway, I am nervously rambling now so I will sign off and check back in either when I am bored on the plane or once we have arrived safely in America! Oh, you can keep up with photo snippets of my travels through my friend Stripes on this Facebook page (also found at the bottom of the page).

Let’s go on an adventure!

Dear little sister

Original Post: 31/10/2016

I wrestled with this one for around a month, and then it all came to me while eating a pizza thanks to a certain little miss.

img_20161031_232421

Dear little sister,

Your body is uncomfortable, your hair unruly and your personality awkward. Embrace it, we’ve all been there. The pre-teen blues have hit us all and the roots of your struggles still haunt all of us today. That girl behind you in class who was flirting with the boys and told you that your hair looked stupid, she’s just as uncomfortable as you are, also trying to find out where she fits. Ignore her torments, don’t let them scare your beautiful heart. I always wondered why I got stuck being the middle child, but tonight little one you helped me see why. God placed me between two sisters to have someone to try catch up with, but also someone who I could cushion if she fell and to have someone who I can encourage to run a little faster, while showing her where all the pot holes and hills were coming up.

Loving you is a great adventure! Sometimes it looks like singing and dancing in front of your whole year group to try embarrass you (we all know you were secretly stoked because I’m way cool). Sometimes it looks like an “I’m sorry” in the form of face masks, hair masks, candles, and bathbombs while we sit and sip our drinks for two hours. Sometimes it looks like allowing you to crash my hangout with my friends. Sometimes it looks like waking up early to do your hair for school. Sometimes it looks like holding you when you cry. Tonight, it looked like me overcoming my own hangups and insecurities to allow you to see that I mean it when I say that “anything looks good if you wear it with confidence.” It looked like me wearing a ponytail so messy that I would never wear it outside the house and rocking the same hairstyle as you at my old stomping ground, to show you that being different is stunning and so much fun!

Eldest said to you this afternoon that when people feel uncomfortable and threatened that they will try to drag you down. That is true, beyond just situations where you clumsily say something that you should have kept on your side of the filter. The world tries to drag you down even when they are meaning to compliment and edify your identity. The labels we hang on each other to identify one another, end up restricting our characters. People will be slow to compliment your looks because the girl sitting next to you has already been labelled “The beautiful one.” They will be slow to tell you how amazing you are at netball, because the other girl in your team has been labelled “The sporty one.” They will be slow to recognise your creativity because the boys at the back of the class has been labelled as “The musical one,” “The artistic one” and “The performer.” They will not esteem your grades because someone else has been titled “The smart one” and your jokes are ignored because someone else wears the sticker saying “The funny one.” You will question your identity because your sticker remains blank for so long. Then one day you realise that over time you have gathered not only one, but a few stickers; people have recognised something in you and plastered it on your jacket. The problem is, that you do not feel that there are enough stickers. That is understandable, I am still fighting to have some of mine slapped onto me.

We as humans like things to be as simplistic as possible, but in our very nature we are beautifully complex. You can carry both strength and gentleness in your soul, you can be an extrovert who craves alone time or an introvert that has a booked out social calendar, you can be both an athlete and love all things girly and you can be both an old soul and a child at heart. You fortunately are growing up in a generation that is very aware how damaging some of the labels that have been plastered on women are and have been, but you will still grow up effected by them. Please try to embrace only the positive labels tossed your way, and please dear sister, do not be acutely aware of the ones that are withheld. I doubted myself so much because the labels of “feminine,” “gentle,” “caring,” “domestic,” “beautiful” and “patient” were always given to Eldest, while she doubted herself because I was given “dedicated,” “strong,” “disciplined,” “leader,” and “successful.” I dreamed of receiving a gentle gaze while she dreamed of walking away with a trophy. It’s messed up baby girl. A woman is so much more than a beautiful face and bikini body, but also more than a strong spirit and intelligent mind. You are a beautifully complex individual who cannot be summed up with all the words in the world.

So little sister, accept the compliments that the world will dish you, cherish the ones that come repeatedly, but never let them become so dear to you that they define you. Do not get so caught up in trying to look pretty and on trend. Do not worry about presenting a consistent image, confuse them by wearing phat pants and messy hair one day and makeup up and heels the next. Keep them guessing baby, be every part of yourself as fully as you can be! Never hold back, if you can be more you, be. The world will try to understand you, try to define you and then try to compliment or instruct you to me you a little bit better. Do not listen, no one can be you as well as you or tell you how to do you better. No one can define you because there is not a label that captures the fullness of you. Keep your head up, rock your big curly hair, and look life right in the eye and laugh that infectious laugh of yours. Be you, and be you bravely, one day you will change the world.

I’m here.

Original Post: 25/09/2016

From a year to six days, we are making progress people! Thank you for all the wonderful feedback, means the absolute world! Without further ado, I’m here:

After dipping a toe into Pandora’s Box last week I got scared about what to write about next because any further in would have to be a head-first, full submersion into the deep end. A friend of mine raised the point however, that in order for you to be authentic with someone and be honest about what was really going on inside, trust and openness is required on their behalf as well. Half of the fear of opening up comes from how you will be perceived. Now please do not misunderstand last week’s post, I am not advocating for a life where you throw your bleeding heart out on every table. No, that is just asking for more pain and heartbreak. Matthew 7:6 sums up the caution required with who you share with quite well and is a verse that has been rippling through my head all week: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” In order to share we need to know who to share with, so as I prepare to dive into my own Pandora’s Box I thought I would first write about being “here.”

I feel as though our knee-jerk reaction to a bleeding heart is to feel uncomfortable and then shove it aside with a promise of support at a future time – “I’m here if you need to talk.” Though we really mean, “Just not right now because I am not ready to deal with this.” It is too awkward to face the music when it is playing, so we hit pause. We are disturbed by the sudden imperfection of someone’s mask, and the fact that they are willing to take theirs off scares us as being there for them comes at a cost. It requires us to take off our mask; we must meet a human mess with a human heart.

I have found in the last two months, as my life took a rough tumble, that so many people say that they are there for you, but few follow through. I do not have the best track record as far as maintaining friendships is concerned so trusting someone enough to open up was scary. My heart was yearning for someone to come pick up the pearls that had fallen from my neck, and as I had heard many times before “I’m here if you need someone to talk to” was on repeat throughout conversations. I brushed aside all the “I’m here” statements as I was sick of hearing them. I was sick of never having a hand extended out when I was in a crisis, beyond wanting to know out of a gossip-centred curiosity. I was sick of people not being open to the messiness of my heart because they expected me to be put together all the time.

But the extraordinary happened. The first friend followed up. She pursued me with persistence until I met her for a sugar-loaded hot chocolate and brownie date and wanted to know how my heart was, not the details of what happened. Then the next friend followed up with a block of my favourite chocolate and a thoughtful note. Then a care package arrived from another. Friends brought me tissues and held me when I cried and I was overwhelmed. I did not know this kind of genuine friendship and I saw that through their authentic care and my vulnerability doors were opened to get to know my friends in new ways. I showed them my insecurities and bleeding heart and instead of being put off or just trying to cover them with bandages, they put theirs on the table and we just let the pain sit together. I found comfort in silent cries, unspoken confessions of a terrible day and tales of life-long battles. My pain did not seem as enormous and the mountain before me was no longer unconquerable because there were people beside me with similar burdens on their back and blisters on their feet.

It convicted me of all the past “I’m here’s” that I have muttered and how little of those that I have followed up with. I was also surprised at the number of memes that I came across depicting our avoidance of emotion and honesty out of fear of awkwardness and discomfort. We need to learn to accept that friendship is uncomfortable and awkward at times, and that is okay. It is okay to not know how to handle tears and it is okay to not have the answers for your friend’s problems. What is not okay is letting that put you off not being there. Embrace the uncomfortable and just be there, just listen and ask them the next time you see them how they have been – do not just be there for a once off conversation. A friend said to me the other day that is when you are going through a crisis that you find out who your real friends are and I could not agree more! The friends that offer to call you when you send out an S.O.S. text message, that ask you the next day how you are coping, that check in on your crisis management plan months after disaster struck – those are your true friends.

Showing your support does not need to be in the form of a tangible gift or a catch-up that costs money; the times where I was allowed to just sit and cry on the floor at church next to a friend was enough. All it needs to cost is time and vulnerability on your side to receive their bleeding heart and hold it gently. As Bob Goff said, “Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.” I challenge you this week to reach out to a friend that has shared something of their heart with you before and follow up, ask how they are doing and put actions to your “I’m here” statements. It may come up empty, that they are not hurting anymore, but you would have opened a door to an authentic friendship. You would be stepping out of the pig pen to pick up their pearls as a friend. It requires that two take off their masks and open their hearts for there to be honesty, comfort and restoration. It takes two to successfully navigate Pandora’s Box.

Also a MASSIVE thank you and big shout out to those friends that have challenged me in the last year to be authentically me and those that have held my bleeding heart with graceful awkwardness and confident discomfort. You are the real MVP.