Days abroad: 110
I have neglected this poor blog for two months! My bad…
At this stage it feels weird writing this as a travel blog, because I do not feel like a traveler anymore. As I said in my last post, Austin has become home for me. I tackled my exchange with the aim of feeling as though I live here, rather than feeling like a foreign exchange student. I wanted to be friends with Americans, do everything possible that local students do, and say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way. This approach does sometimes put me in situations where I feel very out of place, but I would not have it any other way. My aim is to seem as local as possible until I open my mouth.
I have never really considered myself a Kiwi, because I am such an odd mix of my two cultures. Now I am very quick to say I’m from New Zealand before someone mistakes me for an Aussie. The ol’ accent has tripped me up a few times; I’m still learning to properly speak American English. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
- When saying “netball” apparently it sounds like “nipple” which has lead to a few awkward situations of people being really confused as to what I do…
- A Kiwi here is strictly a fruit, so I have to explain the flightless bird that you never see so aren’t really sure if it exists. We are birds, not fruit. (Side note: they call manderines Cuties or Halos and it drives me insane).
- I have the hardest time trying to tell people what my name is, so I generally rely on having an American friend introduce me – just so that I end up being called something remotely close to my name.
- My Kiwisms trip people up often but they’re too polite to ask me what I mean, example: “everything turned to custard” I’ve had to stop saying because it confused too many people
- And the crowning glory, something I didn’t realise how often I used it until this year: “sweet as”. Again, people were too polite to ask but I eventually find out that it really confuses people. A few friends have now started to heckle me, asking “Sweet as what?!” every time I say it. No replacement saying has been found yet.
- Best reaction to the Kiwi accent so far came after I apologised for sounding Australian: “Nah, I could die in a bathtub of your accent.”
As far as what I have been doing the last month aside from hectically trying to finish assignments and stay on track with readings; I travelled for Spring Break and went “home” for Easter. I spent Spring Break with a friend of mine who came to Otago for exchange last year first semester, who goes to school in Alabama. We hit up Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa before I finished the week off with a day of netball in Houston. There was a freak winter storm over the country that week so I did not get the classic Spring Break experience; instead we were all layered up and briskly walking between warm buildings. Reminded us of our shared semester in Otago, which at that stage was not a very welcome throwback. I could go on forever about how amazing this roadtrip was, but as with any roadtrip you needed to have been there in order to understand how dear to my heart it was.
Easter weekend was amazing! My beautiful family let me have the best of both worlds by sending me plenty of photos and videos so that I did not feel like I was missing out. A friend of mine took me home to her place for the weekend, where we pretty much watched movies for the entire weekend before church and a big extended family lunch on Sunday. Pro tip for anyone living overseas alone: find a family home. It honestly makes a world of difference to get a hug and a “welcome home” from a Dad, help Momma carry in the groceries and be surrounded by sibling banter for a few days. And sometimes all you need is a hug from Gran to make everything in the world seem okay again.
I also ran a 10k the other weekend. That was something that I learnt from my friend from Alabama – have something to work towards and a physical goal that you want to achieve during your semester abroad. It keeps you going to the gym, and on the off days allows you to feel accomplished and in control of something. I also found a few friends at the race, which was one of those “Wow, I really have found my new home” moments. When you start recognising faces in a crowd and find friends wherever you go, you know you’ve made yourself at home in a city.
Oh, I also celebrated my 20th birthday the other day! The timezone meant that I had a solid two day birthday celebrating my Kiwi, African and American birthdays. It was one of the best birthdays yet, I felt so loved and cherished throughout the whole day. It taught me not to expect people to meet your needs, but to constantly reach out until someone meets you where you’re at. Tell people that your birthday is coming up and that you want to do something fun. If something is important to you, make it happen! We also went two-stepping again which was a tonne of fun!
I miss all my people back home; my family, my friends, my puppy. I miss knowing all the best coffee shops to visit and not having to use Google Maps every day. I miss knowing all the people in my classes and saying hello to someone every time I’m on campus. I miss my church family. I cannot wait to see the green and the mountains, be by the sea and spend hours exploring the streets knowing that I am completely safe. I miss Whitakers chocolate and small portions. I miss netball and watching the rugby. I miss running till my lungs burnt because the air was so cold. I miss not having to tell people about myself because they already know me. But I have never been one to stay in a place of comfort for too long. At the end of the day I am an immigrant child and have never lived in the same suburb for more than 5 years. I love my island home and the slower pace of life, but the longer I am out here the more I realise that New Zealand will not be home forever. Even if it just for a season, I know I have another home waiting for me on this planet. If it’s in Texas I will not complain – they just need to give me a way to still stick on my “C” bib.
So how is life on exchange? It is sweet as. Sweet as what? Sweet as Southern sweet tea and welcome home smiles.