People often ask me about my connection to New Zealand, and my answer always varies. It’s difficult for me to express my thoughts towards New Zealand. It is a small country I hold very dear: it was where I both found and lost myself many times over. As I prepare to return for the first time in two and a half years, I thought I would attempt to summarize my thoughts into (semi) coherent sentences.

I starkly recall my first few days in Auckland, where I would be studying for the next six months. I had arrived wide eyed via North Dakota, which didn’t differ too extremely from my small hometown in Saskatchewan. As I unpacked my things in my sunny flat, I broke out in tears. My flatmates wanted nothing to do with me and I had yet to make a single friend. Everyone could smell my awkwardness, my fear, I was certain of it. It wasn’t until about day three, which felt like a lifetime, that I finally ventured to one of the nightly residence parties. We all lived in a quaint student village (it seemed idyllic in contrast to my all-female dorm in Minot) and two glasses of wine in (what can I say? New Zealand wine is simply the best!) I was connecting with both domestic and international students. My shyness and inadequacy faded away. (Alcohol will do that to ya!)

Confidence is a funny thing. You have to decide you have it. You can’t wait around for the urge to strike rather you must seize the moment. My first few days in Auckland were miserable because I allowed my insecurities to control me. We were all in the same boat, focused on our own issues rather than observing the beauty that was unfolding around us. By the end of the week, I had made friends from all over the world. Yet I really connected with the New Zealanders next door. One of them being my now boyfriend.

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Dating while you’re studying abroad is probably the silliest thing you can do. But logic and youth don’t always go hand-in-hand. As I started to fall for this boy, I knew my world would forever be altered. We began spending more and more time together, but luckily I still made time for my studies (okay, not really), friends and adventure. I extensively explored the South Island and ventured to Australia twice, first with three close friends and secondly with my mom and sister. Let’s just say those first few days crying in my room were a distant memory.

Leaving New Zealand was the hardest decision I ever made, and I soon returned to complete my studies. Long distance love is heartbreaking and arduous, and I missed the ocean terribly. Both leaving and coming back were devastating for different reasons, but I vowed to cherish every moment in Aotearoa. My decisions were anything but practical. I changed university programs, deciding that life’s too short to study subjects that don’t make your heart sing. I began reading and writing again, and lived near the beach. I swam and ran as much as possible, and the endorphins kept me sane whenever I missed my family.

I made friends that I still talk to every day, I lost friends, I lived in a flat with six other people, and learnt more about myself than I had in the previous twenty years combined. Nick allowed me to flourish on my own, but offered unconditional love and support whenever I needed it. I sat next to a different person in every lecture I attended during my first week at uni despite how nerve-wrecking it was. I refused to let anything hold me back. I learnt that I don’t ever want to feel too secure, and immense change begets great discovery.

Thanks for reading!

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