by Nicole Arocho
The truth is, I do not know where to start. And I mean, where to start writing this piece. I even made a list of potential experiences from where I could begin my tale of studying abroad a semester in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve always love to travel, but I vowed to myself as a kid that I was going to go to the most unexpected countries as much as I could. As in, not in Europe or North America. Thus, when the opportunity came to study abroad, I investigated heavily online, and came up with Cape, Town, South Africa and Auckland, New Zealand as my top two choices. I do not know how I did it, but I decided to spend my fall semester of my sophomore year in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles away from home, with only English as common ground between the foreign land and I. I was extremely excited.
When I returned home mid-November, I couldn’t believe my semester was over. From July to November, I learned so much out of the classroom, I grew as a student and as a person tremendously, but it wasn’t until I had left The Land of the Long White Cloud that this struck me. I went a person, and a renovated version of myself came back to the Northern Hemisphere. Everyone made me the same question when I came back: what was your best experience over there? I never came with a straight answer. I had to mention many facts and adventures in order to feel satisfied with my description of New Zealand.
After much thought, I can say now that the best experience I had in New Zealand was my interactions with the locals. The self-proclaimed Kiwis are the happiest, nicest people on this planet, if you ask me. No wonder their country is one of the most peaceful in the world. Their easy-going attitude made my experience as a whole much better than what I was expecting.
Coming from Puerto Rico, I have grown in a culture where emotions and affectation are expressed constantly and very directly. As a student in Ithaca, New York, I have come to know the less expressive culture of the United States. In New Zealand, I found middle ground. Kiwis are, in general, very sociable, pleasant people who take interest in many topics. They are huggers and smilers.
Their disposition to help others is remarkable. I had never encountered people so willing to aid the people around them. My first impression of Kiwis came from the hand of a guy (I am terrible with names; bear with me) who, seeing me struggle on the sidewalk with two big suitcases, a small one and a backpack up a hill in order to get to the university dorm, stopped his car right beside me and offered me a ride. I took a chance (I was that desperate) and got in his car. But my fears disappeared as he stopped to ask: “Mate, d’you know the whereabouts of the dorm for international students?” I would tell him the name, and say it again to the person in the sidewalk: “The International House, eh?” He was always smiling, never letting my growing distress affect him whatsoever. He was sure we where going to find the place, and he wasn’t going to let me get out of the car until we found it. And we drove in circles again and again until, after confusing it with the administrator’s house, we finally got there. He dropped me off, and wished me a great semester and a good life. Later on I saw him as I walked out of a classroom, and I acknowledged him with a smile he returned.
There was not one Kiwi that didn’t offered me help or good advice when I was stressed out with an essay, or couldn’t get the grades I wanted, or lost my passport and cellphone three days before coming home. Their attitude is selfless and they have a very positive outlook in life.
This perspective is what has led to the thriving peacefulness that exists in New Zealand. As a resident of a very violent country, I was thoroughly impressed with the almost nonexistent violence in Aotearoa. I felt equally safe in a bar at 5 in the morning and in the university campus at noon. Even during the Rugby World Cup, when I thought I might be disappointed with Kiwi behavior, not once it happened.
The Kiwis are what I miss the most from New Zealand. It is them who made my experience as an exchange student a wonderful time. They accepted me right away, and made me feel like I was a Kiwi as well.
 Written in Maori; it means “the people”.
 Name given to New Zealand by the local indigenous people, the Maori, in their language, also named Maori. It means Land of the Long White Cloud.
You can contact Nicole Arocho at firstname.lastname@example.org.