Going from suburban Southern California to suburban South Island, New Zealand was a relatively easy transition. I wouldn’t say I experienced “culture shock,” but there were some things that were strange. For example, shops in New Zealand are rarely open after 6:00 p.m., some foods have different names, and everyone walks and drives on the left.
Now that my semester is over and I’m back in the United States, I’m getting used to the way things used to be. It helps that I went through this once before when I returned from Afghanistan in 2012. My readjustment has been milder this time. Still, there are some things I miss about New Zealand, and some things I am happy to be reunited with here in the United States.
I miss my flatmates, who were considerate cohabitants and faithful friends. My positive experience with them is partly what motivated me to take a chance with roommates at Pomona College next year. Instead of living in a single room, as I’ve done each of the three previous years, I’ll share an apartment with three other students.
I got home one week ago. My flatmates are the only thing about New Zealand that I already miss, but I suspect others will follow with time.
I liked how safe I felt in New Zealand. Violent crime is so much lower there, I could walk through any city at night without a care in the world. I didn’t see a single gun the whole time I was in New Zealand. Not even the police carry them.
Now that I’m back to running instead of cycling, it’s only a matter of time before pounding pavement starts to get boring. Once it does, I will miss the bicycle I had in New Zealand, especially the rush I felt when whizzing down hills at 50 mph. Before selling my bike last month, I rode through the last unexplored grids on my city map, and logged my 1000th mile.
The activity I thought I missed most about home was driving. Thanks to my years of racing with the Sports Car Club of America, it’s what I do better than anything. Dancing with my car on canyon roads still fun, but it’s not the nirvana-like experience I remember it being. The breakup I went through in New Zealand reordered my priorities and broadened my interests more than I realized.
What’s been better than expected is reconnecting with family and old friends. I’m grateful for the new friendships I made in New Zealand, but they all had similar histories. Now that I’m home, I have easier access to the friends who have known me over many periods of my life, not just the last six months. This week I’ve been lucky to visit six of the people who have influenced me most: my parents, my best friend from elementary school, my best friend from middle school and high school, my best friend at Pomona College, and my ex-girlfriend, who is still a close friend. The perspective they offer is invaluable. It’s impossible to imagine the future without considering the past.
I don’t know what the future will bring, except that I will continue to be cautiously optimistic and put my best foot forward. My semester in New Zealand was long and hard, but it had its share of highlights, and it taught me a lot about myself that I would not have learned otherwise. It’s an adventure I don’t regret.