We were five: three Italians, one Dutchman and a Frenchman (me). We spent ten days road-tripping from Kaikoura to Bluff on the southern island of New Zealand. During this trip, these four people taught me a lot about myself and gave my third year abroad a real sense of purpose.
For my mid-semester break some friends convinced me to join them in discovering the land where there are more sheep than there are people. The plan was simple: fly out to Christchurch, rent a car, drive around for ten days and fly back to Sydney. There was, however, one condition : no planning, follow our instincts, and never say no. Those who know me will understand why I was hesitant in agreeing to this plan. I like things to be organized and under control (preferably under mine). This need for planning ahead defines who I am. My friends in Reims never forget to remind me how annoying that can be and how worthwhile it can be to “just chill and see how things go”.
Nonetheless, after thinking about it for a while I agreed and found myself on a plane heading towards a country I did not know, without a single clue as to what the next ten days would be like. I could not have been more outside of my comfort zone. Upon arriving at the Christchurch International Airport, we headed (I rushed) towards the airport’s “Isite,” which is equivalent to an office of tourism. It was the first of many visits to these Isites, which you can find all over the country. At the beginning I would walk in and feel reassured because I firmly believed that the person at the other side of the counter knew where to go, who to call and what to see. That feeling changed as the days passed by and I stopped relying so much on guides and maps. After struggling the first few days with the fact that we did not know where we would sleep at night, I slowly started forgetting this anxiety and started to focus on the beauty of the landscapes we were so lucky to see. Every place we stopped at was different and beautiful in a different way. New Zealand possesses the most diverse landscapes—standing in certain places you can see the snowy tops of a mountain, as well as the sandy beaches at the bottom of the highest cliffs.
Diversity was everywhere. It was in the landscapes we saw, in the people we met, and within our car as well. I’ve always believed that traveling is a very intimate experience. Sharing such an experience with four people I had met only a few weeks before was extremely enriching. Everyone had different ways of approaching certain situations. Everyone had a different experience with traveling. Everyone had seen different parts of the world. As I shared many “adventures” with my friends, I was able to let go of the need to know what would happen next and just enjoy the moment. Getting lost at night in a forest; sleeping in a hostel in the middle of a deer farm; waiting a whole evening to see penguins crossing a beach. These are some of the moments that made my trip to New Zealand memorable. It was through these moments that I was able to change and to discover what it meant to not worry about organization and planning. Everyone’s experience during their third year is different. A lot of us are in places we did not know before. I experienced firsthand what it meant to arrive in a place where you don’t have the same reference points as you did in the past. This new environment should be the opportunity for us to try and set new boundaries. I deeply believe that such experiences allow us to discover more about ourselves and to tackle the coming years with a clearer head. At a time when knowing what you want is extremely important, this third year abroad is truly a gift. A gift I know my fellow pioneers are enjoying and that I hope the next generations of Beavers will as well.
Par Paul Priam