Summer catch up: Nashville!

Days abroad: 175

We are almost at the end of our catch up posts for tonight!

After one night back in Austin, after Haiti and another brief upset stomach in Atlanta, I headed to Nashville to visit an old childhood best friend that I had not seen in 14 years! I was nervous that it was going to be an awkward visit and so I arrived in Nashville on a one-way ticket, but quickly decided that I’d found home and was going to stay for two weeks.

My first week in Nashville was largely spent serving at VBS in the mornings and napping in the afternoons – the kiddos really took it out of me! (Pro tip: if serving at two events/trips, plan off time in between…) It was so nice to come home to a family that understood me, knew how I do life and knew my story. It felt like home in a way Austin never has, because it contained my past and my family. Being given my own space and the freedom to spend hours napping or just chilling in my room was so necessary. At first it felt rude, but I realised that I had not spent any time with myself, taking care of myself or resting, in three weeks. I will forever be thankful to my Nashville family for providing me with a space to recover from the last month’s ups and downs. We visited the farmer’s market and Franklin Factory where they took me to a South African butcher for some biltong! Talk about really feeling at home!

I attended bible study with my friend three times while I was in Nashville and God moved so powerfully each time. One week I was sobbing before the Lord so badly that I had snot everywhere – TMI but unfortunately very real, it got ugly fast. It was great to be in a church environment similar to the one I have back home where the Holy Spirit is free to move and minister as He needs to, which made Nashville feel that much more like home. The people were so welcoming and immediately pulled me into their community; one that I already miss and would give anything to go visit again!

The second week in Nashville was spent touristing, resting and dog sitting in Franklin. It was so much fun! It was in this week that I really got to spend time with my friend, get to know her and really enjoy how similar we are despite growing up a world apart with minimal contact. Nashville is a beautiful, busy, classy city and Franklin definitely deserves it’s title as one of the best small towns in the USA – I would go back in a heartbeat for sure! The south really has stolen my heart, it’s not just Texas but the entire South. I honestly don’t know how I am ever going to go back to Dunedin and freeze my butt off for two more years…

Nashville you will see me again! Nashville family, if I don’t catch you again before you go back to Christchurch I am overjoyed to say that I will see you at home and thank you so much for having me!

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Summer catch up: Haiti!

Days abroad: 175

I have been procrastinating writing this post for about three weeks because I do not know how to condense my experience in Haiti into one post. Haiti was a trip that I never expected when I was planning my exchange, and one that when the opportunity came up I never thought I would be able to go on. I went with a group of 12 UT athletes and four support staff, representing women’s soccer, track & field, men’s swimming & diving, women’s rowing, and women’s volleyball, and we served on the beautiful island for a week.

The scenes and scenery were what you expect of a third world missions trip; buildings were unfinished, trash lay everywhere, the livestock were roaming next to the road, some kids were thin, half-clothed, and had bugs flying all around them, the smells were intense and the food very basic. Part of me was very conflicted about going on the trip because I didn’t want to go spend a week in Haiti, impact nothing and come back to my life of luxury and comfort unchanged. I felt guilty about approaching the kids because I knew that in a few hours I would leave them and they would return to the exact same circumstances that they were in when I arrived.

On the first morning of serving in Haiti though, my perspective started to shift. The lady whose house we painted in the morning was so specific on how she wanted it painted and checked up on our work as we went. At first I was taken aback that she was so specific for a free paint job, but then I realised that it was because she takes so much pride in her home. When I thought about it, my mother would have done exactly the same, which made me appreciate the similarities between the two mothers and how this woman was not controlled by a poverty mindset.

Learning more about Mission of Hope, the organisation we were serving through, also changed my mind about how effective we were being. MOH’s goal is to work themselves out of a job; to empower the local church to serve the community and let the organisation be entirely Haitian run. With their feeding program they want to buy crops from local farmers, work with them to improve their agricultural techniques and serve Haitians Haitian food. The whole mission of empowering Haiti to be a better Haiti and not a little America was really one that I could get behind – it was not driven by a colonial mindset and really valued the lifestyle and culture of the people. Any handouts we gave or service we performed was lead by a representative from the local church to ensure that the community relied on the church and not on visiting North Americans. It’s a sustainable vision that also will lead to a recovered Haiti.

On the other days we planted trees, handed out solar lights and water filters to families, shared the gospel between homes as we visited villages and learnt about their health and water access, and played with children wherever we went. “Go on a missions trip, pick up a child, take a photo” was a mindset that I didn’t understand. I didn’t like the photos people posted with brown babies online because I didn’t appreciate the heart of mission trips yet. Being there though and getting off the bus to have a child climb you like a tree to be held in 0.025 seconds changed that for me. The children craved love and individual attention, they did not want to share you with any other child and wanted your full attention. One little girl that I held while some of the team played soccer against the village kids almost fell asleep in my arms. It scared me that she could feel that safe and comfortable in a stranger’s arms, but I felt so honoured that it was the case.

One of the most memorable moments for me was meeting Benchina and Stevenson at the orphanage we visited. The team had been dropping like flies with a horrendous stomach bug and the night before our orphanage trip it was my turn. I stayed back at camp the morning when everyone went into the villages again (Note: in this trip to the village one of our groups was able to lead a man that was working on one of the homes to the Lord!) to try and recover, but when we arrived at the orphanage I was completely drained of energy. I was leaning up against a doorframe at the end of our tour around the facility wondering how I was going to love on these children when I didn’t have the energy to hold myself upright. Next thing I knew a little boy came and wrapped his arms around me and leaned into me. He just wanted to be held so I sat down on the step and held him while he played with his toy car. My heart ached because, like the village children he craved individual love and attention, but unlike them he wasn’t returning to a home where he could get that in the evening. I felt so bad knowing that the love I could give would not be enough, and there was nothing I could do to make it better. One of our leaders, who was on the board for the orphanage came to tell me that his name was Stevenson, he’d been adopted and was moving to Tennessee soon! I was beyond relieved to hear this because I knew that he would soon have a mom and dad to love and care for him like he needed.

Benchina I met in the toddlers room at the same orphanage after Stevenson went off to play with his friends. She had just woken up from a nap and reached out to me smiling so I took her and sat down on a rocking chair with her. Luckily for me, she too just wanted a cuddle despite both of us dripping with sweat in the heat. I sat with her for a long time before I realised that she was missing a few fingers on one of her hands and only had one foot. While the other children played she just sat on my knee and when it came time to feed them lunch she sat on a chair while the rest clambered all over the other members of my team. Having a psychologist mother with many connections that would be able to help Benchina get a prosthetic and learn how to walk she was on my mind for a good while after having to say goodbye to her. I thought about her day and night, what I could do to help her and if there was any way I could get her out of that situation. One day after our return to the USA I could not keep asking myself these questions so I reached out to the same leader to find out her story. He said she had likely been born with those disabilities, but that she had also been adopted and will be moving to her forever home soon! I was so happy I hugged the friend I was with so tight! Jehovah-Jireh, Jesus really does provide!

One of the biggest blessings for me to take away from Haiti was our team. I have now found 12 new friends and new community on campus, found new mentors and psedo-parents.God put our team together so perfectly not only to serve Haiti effectively but also to tend to each other’s wounds and encourage each other to grow. I learnt so much from our team and had many timely conversations that took care of my heart in ways that I didn’t know it needed care. It was amazing to witness God’s love portrayed slightly differently through each of my teammates and to see their love for Him pour out so effortlessly and joyfully onto the people of Haiti!

So, to Jesus, to MOH, to the Longhorns for Haiti, to Stevenson and Benchina, to the people of Haiti, to our translaters and guides, and especially to those that supported me financially and in prayer – thank you so much for the opportunity of a lifetime! Mwen renmen pou toutan. I love you forever.

 

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Summer catch up: Sister visits and couch surfing!

Days abroad: 175

I finally have a spare moment to gather my thoughts and get all my ducks in a row before my next adventure so I will quickly catch y’all up on the last month and a bit of my life!

After semester ended, my sister came to visit me for about a week and I was able to show her my Austin home. We explored campus and downtown, visited the Capitol and Bob Bullock Museum, went two-stepping, swam at Barton Springs, ate all the good food, painted the town at Graffiti Park and shopped till we dropped! Her visit was so much fun, just way too short. Being away from home has been fine but I definitely started feeling that it was time to check in with the family, play with our puppies and be in my own room. So, having my sister here could not have come at a better time!

The week following Sister’s visit I really realised how much of a community I had here in Austin. I have no lease over summer since I’ll be at summer camp for six weeks and so faced a five week stint of homelessness. I found myself though with an abundance of homes, spending a few days each with a handful of my sorority sisters and small group friends. That really has been the hallmark difference in my exchange from a stereotypical exchange, and what has made it so great so far – the fact that I have a fully American community and am able to really “live” here. One of my sisters said it so rightly the other day, it feels as though I’ve always been in this community and as though I shouldn’t be leaving soon. I have integrated and nested in Austin, and never have I been so thankful for that as when I needed a home and had too many options to choose from!

I’ll keep this post short as I have about three more to right tonight… Instead of words I will share a few photos of my first two weeks of summer! Also pictured: an albino squirrel we found on campus (said to bring good luck if you see them on a test/exam day) and an interview I did for tv!

What 8,000 miles really feels like

Days abroad: 125

Friends, we are officially over a third of the way through this crazy journey! That blows my mind. This week for the first time I felt the 8,000 miles. I felt what it meant that Daddy can’t be here in a few hours and I can’t lay my head on Mother Bear’s lap and let her play with my curls. My 20 year old body suddenly felt 4; I was once again a little red haired girl standing by a beach in Kaitaia covered in sand completely lost. But that’s a story for another day.

Many of you would have heard about the terrible thing that happened on my campus on Monday; we lost a Longhorn in broad daylight, by the library, due to the infliction of a blade. The whole day was weird. It started off like any other Monday, I had a class project and then came home to have a nap because my meeting was cancelled. I woke up to find texts flooding my phone to stay safe, stay home and not wear any of my Greek letters. I praise God that I was not on campus or having to evacuate anywhere. The rumours were horrendous, reports of more stabbings came left, right, and centre – at one stage there was a man coming door to door in my building after a stabbing in our parking garage.

I stay calm in the face of adversity, it normally takes me a few hours or days to process fear or danger. This time it hit me through a video of a sweet, sweet boy singing. He was a Freshman, who loved his Momma, his beautiful girlfriend, his brother and everyone he knew, and adored his Dad. I looked into his face, listened to the song and my heart broke. I suddenly felt very vulnerable, the events of the day became real and my safety net was on the other side of the world. As anyone who knows me well can attest to, I am a crier. I am more a sobber than a crier, but I cry all the time and for no reason. Movies are a nightmare for me – waterproof mascara is a must. Makeup to Sunday night church never happens because I end up with trails down my cheeks. With my heart in a million pieces on the floor I needed to scream into my mattress, wrap my arms around my massive Teddy and eat my sister’s fondue.

The weight of the 8,000 miles was suddenly very real and very heavy. The extent of the coming seven months seemed too long. I did not feel safe, I still do not feel safe. I suddenly cannot comfortably walk to football at 5:30am, something I previously would have (naively) done without a care in the world. I am constantly scanning crowds when I walk for more than just cute boys and outfit ideas. I panic when someone walks fast or breaths hard behind me. I still have not had a good cry. Austin is home and will always be a home to me, but my heart has not found a safe landing pad. I don’t have a Daddy whose shoulder I can sob into or an Ouma who can bring me tea while I sit and contemplate life.

I still love my life here and am beyond happy to be here, the thought of leaving still terrifies me. But I want my family. I want to stop having to introduce myself to people wherever I go and having to always be polite. I want, just for one day, to be able to look disgusting, eat nothing all day and be rude to someone. Adult life where you have to always be on point is exhausting. I miss being able to be safely unpolished. Unpolished me is ugly, messy and very, very vulnerable. Although I am all for vulnerability and do wear my heart on my sleeve, I do not let many people into the very depth of my heart. The part that needs the most care and a special kind of unconditional love. The people that know and understand that part of me, without me having to explain it to them or voice my problems are so far away and I only now feel it.

Yes, you could summarise this as Petro is just homesick after 5 months abroad, but this is more than just missing New Zealand, or my family and friends. This is missing that safe, familiar place. That walk to Lifegroup, where you know which angle to cut across the rugby field to avoid the worst of the post-scrum mud patches, and where the tea is kept once you get there. It’s knowing that a Rob Roy trip and a serious chat in the park is just a text away. It’s having the beach a block away, to take an early evening walk and clear your head. It’s that feeling of walking downstairs and having a little ball of white fluff jump against your legs because she missed you the five minutes you were out of the room. I miss my family, but most of all my heart misses feeling safe.

I am going to bring this to a happy closing, because I would hate for you to think that I am having the worst time in Austin. On Tuesday, following the death of our Longhorn a bunch of Christians gathered by the Tower to worship and pray for everyone affected by the tragedy and for peace on our campus. I cried (surprise, surprise) as we sang that God is a good, good Father, my heart really questioning that truth; when we prayed for Mrs Brown who will never see her baby again; for our campus to not be divided by hope; but mostly when we prayed for the body with the knife. He is our brother too, also has burnt orange blood in his veins, and Jesus loves him just the same.

Afterwards, I was sitting on the stairs collecting myself before a study group when a group walked past and asked among themselves what the gathering was. The explanation offered was, “Oh, some frat thing.” I chuckled at their mistake, before turning back and being gobsmacked, realising that the majority of the crowd leftover were guys. It was so beautiful to see so many men gathered under Jesus’ name to pray for their campus and our Longhorn family. At the official campus memorial the next day, a similar feeling overwhelmed my heart when in the middle of a song there were suddenly a sea of horns in the air – as if to stand together in love and stand against fear. It was two of the most beautiful moments I have seen in my entire life.

There will be good that comes from this grief; answers from this doubt; laughter from this pain; and pain from this fear. I truly believe that with all my heart.

Sweet as

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.

Finding home 7,600 miles from home: To Christchurch, with love.

Days Abroad: 47

There are few things that I detest so much as the feeling of helplessness. It is a heart-wrenching feeling sitting 12,230km from home and watching videos of the hills where you’ve run and spilled your guts many times go up in flames.

I have never really grasped the concept of home; never really knew where that was for me. Last year, with my family spread over three cities, my definition of home being wherever my family is fell through. Home was not South Africa, home was not Auckland, home was not Rangiora, home was not Christchurch. I decided that home was wherever I was, wherever I laid my head down and whichever streets I was walking along; that is where home is.

I found myself sitting in bed this morning, however, watching a video of the Port Hills fire, tears thick in my eyes thinking, “that’s my home.” There are too many deposits of my heart all over that Garden City for it not to be home. So, I now find myself sitting here having to redefine home. Home is wherever I leave a deposit of my heart (which is easy because I carry it around very loosely on my sleeve). Home is South Africa. Home is Auckland. Home is Rangiora. Home is Christchurch. Home is Austin. Home is scattered all over Europe and the Pacific. Home is wherever my eyes have stretched in wonder, softened with tears, crinkled with laughter and burned with fury. Home is not, and does not have to be, one place. It took me leaving every concept of home that I have ever known to realise that. Such is the life of an immigrant baby with a serious case of wanderlust.

To my beloved Christchurch,

You took me in when both of us were broken and in need of repair. Both of us with the desire for a little extra love and a sense of community. Heavens knows, we both found it in each other.

We have had a beautiful love affair, you and I. The early mornings running in the hills and on the fields, hunched over exhausted. The late nights dancing in the streets with my girls as the rain danced down from the stars. The long days of sleeping in English, dancing in Drama, and fighting for my passions. The months of having to start over again. Learning to drive, embracing the feeling of being lost, exploring your festivals and flowers, and pushing myself far beyond my comfort zone.

When I think of you, I think of healing and growth; restoration and renewal. And that is just in the journey that I have had on your plains. Those thoughts echo the journey that you have been on since that fatal day in 2010. It breaks my heart that people here do not know of your struggle and triumph, and that the world is so big that we did not all stop when your hills were ablaze.

You are so beautiful, in your gardens, architecture, and history; you are strongest and most beautiful in your people. To the people that call you home, I am proud to call you my neighbours. I am proud to have spent time learning from your strength, resilience and determination; to have grown under your sense of togetherness and your refusal to go down easy. No matter how many curveballs our rickety fault-line, frozen,  wet winters and dry summers want to throw you, you always get back up with fire in your eyes. You always cultivate your gardens and go for a run at Hagley park. You always, always turn up.

Perhaps that is why the world is largely oblivious to your struggles, because you are that person with a big smile on your face that turns up to help others when your world is crumbling. You carry your struggles and defeats with dignity. You are a great city Christchurch, beautiful in name, in sight and in your people.

Kia Kaha Christchurch. I am proud to call you home.

I joined a sorority and celebrated a milestone!

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Days Abroad: 40

I have not written in ages! Largely because school got really busy, but mostly because my time management has been terrible. Then again, I am a college student so what else is new. If you follow me on social media, most of this blog will not be news to you but more of just filling in the blanks.

I wrote last that I was going to go two-stepping again so refrained from writing about it in my previous post. It did not happen however, so I shall make you wait until I go again before I tell you all about it – sorry… That day was the first time I really felt homesick; everything that I had tried to cheer myself up and have fun went askew and I just wanted to go flop on my sister’s bed and have her know exactly what is wrong with me just by looking at me. I went and bought myself Starbucks and sat in the common room instead.

On the topic of lows, do y’all know how exhausting it is to have the exact same shallow conversation multiple times a day every day for over a month? And on top of that be identified by something that you have never really identified with while losing your other identifiers? I’ll tell you, it’s draining! I was meeting all these new people but conversation never reached beyond the surface – and if you know me well, you know that I do not function well on shallow friendships, we’re going deep or we’ll struggle to keep going.

I did not want this blog to only record my positive travel experiences, because that would be unrealistic and, well my heart is permanently out on my sleeve for all the world to see. One does not simply spend time with Petro and not experience the mess that my heart is. So, welcome on in friend. Realistically, it has not been all sunshine and rainbows, but I have never once wished to be anywhere else. When I miss home, I miss my people and the mountains. I miss walking down the street and being guaranteed to bump into a few friends or at least see familiar faces. I miss being known, cherished and loved. I miss the green beauty that New Zealand has to offer. But I am so at home and so content here. I love the people I am meeting and the opportunities that are running my way. I love realizing my dream of being here and every day walk through campus with a massive smile on my heart.

Enough with the sad things, even though I want to write about it you guys didn’t sign up for that, that’s what the other blog is for.

The hot topic of my social media spam this weekend; I joined a sorority! I know, classic American thing to do… But it’s not the classic Greek life where I had a long rush process, went through intense hazing (it’s illegal…), live in a fancy white house, where slouchy clothing but keep my makeup on point and party it up. No, we hang out with hammocks, hang out with Jesus, still have cool t-shirts and love each other closer to Christ. I joined Sigma Phi Lambda and am so happy I did! I have met the most amazing girls, have the sweetest big (basically someone who takes me in as their person for the semester), and have opened the door to even more amazing opportunities and hangouts.

To summarize the last 16 days: getting in routine with studies, assignments and first test, basketball, more basketball, Indian a Capella and after party, study groups, pretending that it’s winter, getting back on the gym grind, death by treadmill (always convert miles into kms before you run 8.5km in 50min at 5am), Starbucks, fatty foods, Ellen at UT, s’mores, rolled ice-cream, first softball game, Phi Lamb induction, brunch with my PG (prayer group), seeing Bevo (UT’s mascot), Sunrise Sunday (spent quiet time at Zilker Park as the world grew lighter), Skype with my better halves, lots of hanging with Jesus and a very, very happy heart.

Watching sport has changed as I know a few of the athletes, so instead of just supporting a team I get to watch my friends – I finally feel like a local. I started recognizing faces at church this morning and had a 3+ hour conversation about God, the stupidity of boys, family, life and everything in between with a friend and am able to walk somewhere with multiple different routes (a massive achievement if you know me and my sense of direction). Let me tell you, it feels great! Austin really has begun to feel like home. Yes, it is still obvious that I am a foreigner, cheers Kiwi accent, but I have embraced the beauty of being different and feeling uncomfortable. Best of all, every time I turn to Jesus and say “this is hurting” or “I wish this could happen”, He blesses me with that exact wish without me having to put in any effort.

Vulnerability was the challenge I set for myself last year, to be 110% me wherever I am, never to hide behind something I am not, to have my heart wide open and say yes to things that will both scare me and challenge me. Studying abroad is a beautiful experience, you are really forced to dig down and find out who you are at your core – because you need to present that to the people that you meet, as they have no stereotypes or boxes to put you in. You have to learn to be comfortable in new environments and put yourself out of your comfort zone. Most of all, you need to learn the freedom of doing things alone. Not because you are lonely, but because if you wait for someone to come with you, you’ll miss the opportunities that will really grow you.

More fun times in Austin & Beyond!

Days Abroad: 24

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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.

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.