Monday, October 10, 2011

A Beautiful City for Rejuvenation

There were a lot of reasons I chose to come to New Zealand to do my research on children’s lawyers. First, and most important for the research, is that New Zealand is currently the only country that routinely appoints lawyers to represent children in custody (not the word here) cases. Second, I knew some people here in the legal profession who could help me get acquainted with it. Third, it is beautiful. 

I got to see a lot of the NZ beauty back in January when I first arrived, and I took a wee trip up to Napier in June to grab some sun, but much of my time here has been spent in front of a computer. Sure, the scenery is gorgeous, but my back is also to the window. And don’t get me started about the wind . . . it’s killing me. So, with my rough draft sent to my advisor, and Yom Kippur approaching, I knew it was a perfect time to take a few days and get away to somewhere beautiful.

I chose Queenstown. Had I done more research, I might have chosen not to go, but luckily, I’m not very good at planning. Queenstown exists as a city for one reason – tourists. The population of 15,000 all work in some form of tourism. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, claiming fame as the city where bungy jumping was invented. But that is just the beginning of the possibilities. You can skydive, parasail, paraglide, jetboat, swing through canyons, etc. Of course, I knew about that, but I tend to not like incredibly touristy places, and had I known that Queenstown is New Zealand’s number 1 tourist destination, I may have stayed away. But I did not know that, so I went.

There are no words to describe the awesomeness that is Queenstown especially in the spring. The city sits on Queenstown Bay, a small inlet off the massive Wakatipu Lake. Overshadowing the lake is the Remarkables, a mountain range also known as the Southern Alps. It is an alpine land of epic proportions, and each step reveals new beauty. But the beauty is deeper than the eyes. The Earth itself is full of vibrant energy, and I have no doubt the Maori were right to call what is now Queenstown Hill, “Te Tapu-Nui,” which “signifies intense sacredness” according to the plaque on the hill. It was on that hill where I found my breath again, where I felt my shoulders drop away from my ears on their own accord, and the beauty of the world filled my soul again. And it was while taking the time to stop and notice that I saw how spring emerges.

Sometimes you just have to get away.

I also took a day away from news on Saturday, which was Yom Kippur. Fasting from food is difficult for me because I get sick, but I decided to fast from my internet addiction, and it was a great decision. Several times throughout the day, I found myself reaching for my phone to instinctively check my email only to remember that there were beautiful mountains, trees, and a lake beckoning me instead. I was happy to give them my undivided attention.

And Queenstown offered one more thing I have had trouble finding in New Zealand - healthy food in restaurants. Do not misunderstand, I love Indian food as much as anyone, but it is not the healthiest, and the one thing I miss more than anything from the United States are healthy salads/sandwiches. Ok, Trader Joe's is still up there, but the sentiment is the same. Healthy food is not easy to find here, especially outside of Wellington and Auckland. But Queenstown had two great restaurants . . . and a Mexican one, where I did not eat, but you have to see this sign.

Some things should not be allowed.

Going to Queenstown was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it also helped me face another fear – heights! I jumped off a mountain, but not with a rope attached to my ankle. Instead, I was attached to another person and a glider. I went paragliding. It was absolutely incredible. Not only was the view fantastic, but the feeling of being in the air and gliding back down to the Earth was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. If you have the opportunity, take it. I was scared to go, but I made sure to announce my plans on facebook. I did not want to face the public ridicule of backing out from fear. It was awesome.

The Remarkables at sunrise.

The next morning at sunrise (yes, I get up early)!

No words, simply incredible. :)

A view from the sacred mountain.

Emerging pinecones. I finally took the time to pay attention. Nature is amazing!

So the cheesy Lord of the Rings Tour, paragliding, hiking, and sitting and meditating on a beach helped me place the thesis behind for a few moments and remember there is more to New Zealand, and life, than sitting with my back to a window staring at a computer screen.

Thanks, Queenstown!

© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

When the Irish Come to Town

Dunedin, the city where I am living, has a reputation for two things to non New Zealanders: albatross and penguins. Ok, maybe its Scottish history as well. But this is not a post about those wonderful, and beautiful, parts of this city.

To New Zealanders, Dunedin has a reputation for two things as well: it’s bloody cold, and it has quite the student life. I sort of laughed at the latter; I was, after all, born in Michigan and went to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. But the Kiwis are right; Dunedin is cold. It is bone-chillingly cold, and the lack of insulation and central heating in the homes and public buildings just makes it worse. But this is not a post about the cold either. After all, it is spring here . . . and beautiful.

The Church on the Octagon on a beautiful spring morning in Dunedin. 

When I would tell Kiwis I would be studying at the University of Otago, they would always tell me about the cold, and then immediately about the student life. And no, I do not mean intramural sports. I mean alcohol. I mean couch burning. I mean students 18-year-olds from all over New Zealand (and on study abroad from all over the world) coming here just to party. It’s a great university, but the drinking culture is insane.

But this is not even a post about the students here, though it lays a nice foundation. As I mentioned in the last post, New Zealand is hosting the Rugby World Cup, and Dunedin had hosted four games: England vs. Argentina; England vs. Georgia (I went to that one); England vs. Romania; and Italy vs. Ireland. I though the Argentineans were boisterous. The Georgians and Romanians simply did not show up in vast enough numbers to comment on their presence.

Yesterday, however, Dunedin became a sea of green. I have never been to Ireland. I came close to going once, but decided I did not want to go up only for two days. If I am going to visit, I am going to spend at least a week. When living in France, I think the Irish were playing the French in soccer, and I saw the Irish fans under the Eiffel Tower. That was hours of amusement. But Paris is big, and they had plenty of places to go.

Dunedin, by contrast, is the size of Ann Arbor, about 100,000 (slightly more) people. I heard a rumour yesterday afternoon that when the Irish played the United States (and beat us 22-10, not a bad showing by the US) in New Plymouth, they drank the town dry. New Plymouth is smaller than Dunedin, and it is not a college town. I laughed and said, “Dunedin will be fine.”

Never underestimate the power of the Irish. Apparently, and this is still rumour, several bars in town ran out of beer, and ran out of it early. That is not totally surprising considering I saw them drinking on my way to yoga . . . at 9am. By 6pm, when I went back to town, it was packed! And I mean packed! Of course there were people at the Irish bar. But the Octagon, the centre of town, was fuller than I had ever seen it. The top photo shows you what kind of day it was, so it is not surprising that people wanted to be outside.

The Irish bar in town full of green!

Aww, new art and old. And green!

The day stayed gorgeous (unusual in the town that can easily have four seasons in a day three times over) as the masses headed to the game

Around 7pm, people started walking to the stadium, but they ran into a bit of trouble. New Zealand has another little quirk: EFTPOS. Kiwis carry almost no cash. There is no need. Everyone pays with EFTPOS (the “O” is pronounced like possum, not post; I get corrected frequently on that one). What is this craziness? I had to learn from Lonely Planet, and thank goodness I did. It means, “Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale.” In the United States, we simply say debit. But I’m not judging.

Unfortunately, the Rugby stadium only takes cash. And for some reason, New Zealand is not good on taking credit cards for which you have to sign (aka any credit card that is not also a debit/EFTPOS), so it meant these traveling Irish, drinking the town dry, were also taking all the cash. It is a sad sight to see long lines at the ATM only to get there and see this sign.

And yes, the ANZ bank was out of money too.

It is even sadder to see them all the way down the street.

Well, I ran into a friend and headed up to a “quiet” bar, and when I emerged at 8:30 to meet another friend, the game had begun, and the Octagon was empty. Completely empty. I then met my friend at the Irish bar, which was crowded, but not nearly as bad as before, and we went upstairs and managed to find a seat. I met some new people, got hassled by a very, very drunk Kiwi, and actually watched some of the game.

Ireland won. 36-6. I was in a taxi just after it finished (actually left the bar about 10 minutes before the end of the game to beat the crowd). But fear not, I saw some revelers . . . at 6:45am! Yes, the only restaurant open 24 hours in Dunedin is McDonald’s. Yes, they did some great business.

McDonald's -- the morning after.

And yes, the ducks are glad the Irish came to town as well.

The ducks -- the morning after

Overall, I can say, the Irish know how to have a good time. They were wonderfully polite and did their best to help the sad state of the Dunedin economy. I wish them all the best.

I’m also a bit sad it was the last game in Dunedin. Dunedin is rarely full of people, and it has been wonderful to see so many people around, music in the streets (including a friend playing bass in a band), and streets closed to the crazy drivers, so pedestrians can roam about. Rugby may be a brutal sport, but it draws people out and into celebration mode. Good times!

© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved

Friday, September 9, 2011

Still an Outsider

A few months ago, I posted about being an outsider in New Zealand as President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden was dead. I ended the post with the hope that with the release of ten years of pent up tension, perhaps we could come to a point in time where understanding of each other trumps the notion of outsider. I still have that sentiment, but this week that label, whatever it means, is front and center (or should I say, centre?).

Before coming to New Zealand, I was aware of a few things about the country other than their legal system. I knew that Dunedin (where my university is located and I live) has penguins and a farmer’s market. I knew that Wellington is one of the windiest cities in the world and reminds people of San Francisco (for the record, it is San Francisco!). I also knew that New Zealand would be hosting the Rugby World Cup starting in September. I knew a few other things, but those were the important ones for me at the time.

I know next-to-nothing about rubgy. When I tell rugby fans this, they always tell me about the one rule I do know – you can only throw the ball backwards. I have come to realize that the rules are just as confusing to people who watch the game regularly as they are to me as an American who has attended only one rugby match and who first had the rules explained in French. But I was (and am) excited about the World Cup. 

I love the atmosphere that international sporting events bring, even when people drink far too much, and we can add that to the list of things I knew about Kiwis – they like to drink . . . a lot! But this did not stop me from heading to the centre of Dunedin last night to watch the opening match at a bar in town. The game between Tonga and the All Blacks (New Zealand) began with both teams doing a haka, and ended with the All Blacks clobbering Tonga. I left a little after halftime; it was well past my bedtime by then.

The All Blacks preparing for their haka before the game. 

I have tickets for one game – between England and Georgia. I am excited to be here for the largest party New Zealand has ever, and perhaps will ever, throw. But I am also a wee bit confused and overwhelmed. I know the USA Eagles are not going to win, and other than not wanting to be in New Zealand if the All Blacks lose, I do not care at all about the outcome. But it is amazing to watch how communities can come together, cheer their teams, and support an atmosphere of sport. It is amazing to see how we can all create one large community.

It stands in stark contrast to the other event this week – the 10-year anniversary of September 11. Tomorrow is September 11th, sort of. It is September 11th in New Zealand, but not yet in the USA. Ironically, the Eagles are playing their first Rugby World Cup match tomorrow, wearing black armbands and taking a moment of silence before the game.

But once again I am not sure how to act as an American. I am not usually very interested in “special” days. I firmly believe that everyday is special, and that anniversaries, birthdays, etc. are odd salutes to events we should honor all the time. But they are also moments of reflection, moments that almost force us, in our hurried lives, to stop and think. While I would like to believe that we can do that without these odd sentimentalizations (is it ok if I make up words?), I know that most of us, me included, do not do so.

But something I have not shared on this blog is the amount of anti-American sentiment I have felt since arriving in New Zealand. Strangely, I have felt more here than I ever did living in France, even while living there when we invaded Iraq and again when we reelected President Bush. Perhaps I notice it here because I am more aware. Perhaps I notice it because I did not expect it. Perhaps I notice it because there really is a lot. I do not know the reason, but I have noticed it. And it makes me wonder how I am going to feel being a day ahead, and a world removed, from the memorials of 9/11.

I have been teaching a weekly yoga class here on Mondays. For those keeping score, that is 9/12 here, but 9/11 back in the States. I am going to dedicate the class to those affected by that horrific day ten years ago, not just those who died that day, but all the pain, death, and horror that have filled the last ten years. But I know there are people in who will be there who think US Foreign Policy is the bane of humanity. How do I convey the fear and confusion we all felt ten years ago? How do I honor that fear and honor the horror that the US has entailed since? How do I honor the confusion this has created? 

So, the weekend began with a coming-together of the world, and that celebration will continue, and I will remain just as confused as everyone about rugby. But in the midst of it all, there is a moment to reflect and feel oddly “American” in a world that is quickly, and obviously, shrinking. I guess this is part of Senator Fulbright’s vision. We learn about each other, but we also have to learn how to share our cultures and ideas in ways that make sense to others. That is a lesson I am learning more and more each day.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Good old-fashioned “Kiwi” hospitality

I started this post a long time ago, and I am only now getting around to finishing it, but I was so inspired by the talk I attended that I really wanted to share, so even though it was a few weeks ago now, I think it is really pertinent. Plus, it helps me reflect on something positive in a week in which I have felt less than productive, and a bit disheartened with respect to my thesis and work here.

A few weeks ago, New Zealand celebrated Maori language week, during which Kiwis all across the country celebrate Te Reo Maori (Maori language). Unfortunately, I missed most of the events, but I managed to make it to two events at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery one Saturday. The first was a tour of the gallery completely in Maori, and the second was a talk, in English, on the topic of the week – Manaakitanga, a word generally translated into English as hospitality, but as I learned, means so much more.

Taking a tour in a foreign language is interesting. I could see the pieces of art to which the tour guide was referring as well as the tour guide’s gestures and expressions. I could see how those who understood reacted, and I could read the signs next to many of the pieces. But I understood about one word in the entire 45-minute tour. And I am not alone in not understanding. According to the statistics at the talk I attended, in 1910, 92% of Maori spoke te reo Maori, but by 1978 that number was down to 20%. In 2006, only 4% of New Zealanders were conversational in te reo Maori. 4%! It is a national language!

I am not going to use this post as a place to discuss the arguments for and against saving a language. To me, it is a no-brainer; language is culture, and it binds people together and keeps our cultures alive. The talk on Manaakitanga I attended is a perfect example.

Like so many words central to a culture, there is not one translation of Manaakitanga. The presenter offered the following: hospitality, hosting, tolerance, caring, respect, and *discipline. It reminded me of the YMCA Four Core Values, which are Respect, Caring, Honesty, and Responsibility. She explained what these words mean and how they permeate Maori, and now Kiwi, culture.

Hospitality and hosting mean you never turn anyone away. They also mean never showing up empty-handed. Respect, caring, and tolerance have the same meaning as everywhere, but the speaker mentioned a few particular to Maori culture, including taking your shoes off when you enter the home, never sitting on a table, and of particular concern to her – learning to say peoples’ names correctly.

I have talked before about the incredible hospitality of the Kiwis. I have never before felt so accepted in a place by people, even if there are some disagreements about world events. What I have not mentioned, and that the speaker noted, is that one way to effect Manaakitanga in the workplace is to welcome visitors and offer refreshments. I have not gone to any office here where they did not offer me a tea or coffee, or as they say, a “hot drink.” The other day I went to Volunteer Otago’s office, and when I declined the hot drink, the person said, “are you sure? Do you mind if I have mine?” What do you say in response? Of course I do not mind!

I also really liked the explanation of Manaakitanga being about *discipline. After further explanation, it became clear that this translation is broader than the word discipline and is really more about the “negative” (in the sense of not us being the person being respectful) side of respect, where we ensure that boundaries are respected and either we, or others, are also being treated well. The examples the speaker gave included Correcting undesirable/unacceptable behaviour in visitors to our home and “Having the courage to tell others (in a diplomatic way) if their behaviour is inappropriate,” in the context of the workplace.

Thus, Manaakitanga is about how you personally act, but also how you engage with the community as a whole. More importantly, even if the word is not well known to the average New Zealander, the concepts are. I still believe that language preservation is important, and there are some movements trying to encourage that in New Zealand, including Maori language week. But it is encouraging to see the influences and preservation of culture even when language might not be up to par.

The talk was a slightly closer look at one way that Maori culture has influenced the Pakeha, those of European descents who live in New Zealand.  I finally feel ready to write about other ways in which I have seen a Maori influence on modern New Zealand culture, but that is a post for another day. Until then, I am grateful for having attended the tour and the presentation as a way to more fully understand how language is a part of that.  

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Living up to a dream

Halfway through? Seriously? This week was our Mid-Year meeting for Fulbright, which means I have been here about ½ the total time I am going to be here. We had to provide reports about what we have been doing since arrival, both work related and not. Mine was a bit rambling. Why? Because my life has been a bit rambling. The good news is that I have sent in one chapter, I am getting responses to my survey, and I have begun another chapter. I think everything might just be coming together . . . finally. So, that meant another vacation, this time to Napier on the East Coast of the North Island. But more about that later.

There were several highlights of the Fulbright event. First, as always, was seeing my fellow American Fulbrighters and the staff at Fulbright New Zealand. I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel for everyone in that office. They are all wonderful and supportive. And my fellow Fulbrighters are a ton of fun and some of the most interesting people I have ever met. I feel amazingly honoured to among their company.

This trip was also an opportunity to meet the Kiwi Fulbrighters, most of whom head to the States in August and September. It was so great to hear about their future projects and share some tidbits about the United States (the important things, such as Trader Joe’s and craigslist). And I am super excited that one of them will be in Tucson and three are going to be in Los Angeles. I am looking forward to being able to share Tucson and the west with some Kiwi mates!

Before we share the States with them, however, a few of us went to check out Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King, the Extended Version at Peter Jackson’s theatre, a very American in New Zealand sort of experience. I prepared by watching the first two films during the last week, and I have to say, there is a vast difference between the big screen and a Macbook screen. Other than the movie being four hours long, and going 2 hours beyond my bedtime, it was quite amazing. All three movies premiered in that theatre, and what was extra special was seeing places I recognize now. This country is truly magnificent.

And I cannot forget the Fulbright Awards Ceremony / Alumni Banquet. We received lovely certificates, and we were able to see the people who have won the amazing diversity of awards administered by Fulbright New Zealand. I think there is something for everyone, so if you want to come down under, check out the website. I bet you find something for which you are eligible. 

While these events were all incredible highlights, I think the biggest surprise highlight for me was learning more about Senator Fulbright. I knew a wee bit about him prior to coming (thanks, Wikipedia), but I knew very little about him other than his influence in setting up the Fulbright program. In short, he was a man from Arkansas who went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship that changed his life. Upon returning to the United States, someone told him he should run for office, and he served from 1943 until 1974 (some in the House and then in the Senate). He saw the end of WWII and the bomb and realized that the best way to avoid WWIII was to send people to be citizen diplomats and ambassadors.

I have mentioned this before, but learning more about him has me thinking about his ideals again. He was a Southern Democrat who was forever distraught by his failure to take on his party with respect to civil rights but who stuck to his principles against his friend President Johnson and helped bring about the truth of the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton spoke of him as a mentor.

The film on Senator Fulbright led me to evaluate whether I am fulfilling his mission. Is it a problem that I have not learned to live comfortably with someone else? Is it a problem that I chose to travel to Napier alone instead of with my fellow Fulbrighters for the weekend? Is going to a Hare Krishna yoga studio something he expected? Is teaching yoga something more akin to his vision? Is sitting in a New Zealand hostel for an hour talking to a German woman and a Swiss woman about international affairs what he wanted us to do in his name? What about another hostel talking to a woman who worked in the family court system as a counsellor and is now retired?

And then my work. Does it match? Does it matter that I have met lawyers and judges in Wellington? Have I failed him by not reaching out in Dunedin? What happens if the New Zealand Minister of Justice says that lawyers for children should not exist in custody cases anymore because they are too expensive? What if I go back to the States and no one cares about this work? Senator Fulbright was a lawyer, but I do not get the impression that he practiced very long, or at all. My work may never make a difference to anyone.  Should I be working harder on my thesis? Should I be working harder on my new blog for family law professionals?

At its simplest, a Fulbright scholarship is some money to help someone fulfill a degree (at least the kind I received). At its most complex, however, it means fulfilling Senator Fulbright’s vision. It means living up to an ideal of saving the world through diplomacy instead of war. The first time I lived in France, the United States invaded Iraq. The second time, we reelected President Bush. Since I have been here, we have assassinated Osama Bin Laden. War still happens. Can going to see movies at Peter Jackson’s theatre and going to free yoga classes that focus on community building change that?

I want to say yes. I want to believe, as Senator Fulbright did, that we can make this difference, that as more people leave their safety nets, the world becomes a safer place, even if it means we find that we have some limits that we just cannot overcome . . . at least not yet. I want to believe that it matters to his vision as much that I am in New Zealand as that my friend is in Kenya on her award. I want to believe that by learning to represent children, I can help ensure that they live in a world full of opportunities and without the fear of bombs.

In short, I want to be a Fulbright scholar in all senses of the world. I have five more months here. Only time will tell what happens. In the meantime, Napier is beautiful! 

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Wee Lay-up

I have lived abroad before, in France actually. I should, therefore, know what to expect about cultural differences, right? What I am finding instead is more often than not I am caught off guard by something someone says, or I say something that is completely inappropriate for the circumstances. But why?

English is my native language. French is not. Simple enough, I realize, but it makes all the difference and not in the way you might think. It is easier to be caught off guard in an English-speaking country than a French-speaking one.

While in France, I have to think about the correct word or phrase in every situation. The only way to continue to grow my French language skills is to be constantly “on,” constantly learning, and the only people from whom I learned were those with whom I would come into contact. I remember a particular day in France when I was talking to a friend, and I said, “รงa peur.” It has no direct translation, but idiomatically it means, “that’s scary.” I was proud of myself. My friend laughed. To her, I was supposed to talk like a book, not a French person. Together we realized that I was integrating. It was a big step.

I do not have that problem in English. I do not have to be “on.” I just talk, right? I reckon, though, it is just a matter of time before I am keen to hang out and go for a wee drink, eh? Oh wait . . .

I feel as though I am living in the twilight zone. I am not sure what my patterns are and what I consider normal anymore until I am confronted by something that seems strange. For example, many flights in New Zealand are on 60-seat planes. After flying a lot, the first time I had to get on a 737 (you know, what Southwest flies), I was struck by how big it is. I was just on one again yesterday, after not flying for awhile, and it felt “normal.” I guess time away from the extraordinary makes old friends ordinary.

But this week has struck me on two fronts, woken me up to the fact that I really am in a foreign country that speaks a different language, sometimes a non-verbal one. (I have to share that, in college, I lived with 3-4 linguists, and these sorts of conversations dominate(d) our conversations.)

One of my friends here is from Australia, and she received two basketball tickets. She did what any normal, non-basketball going person would do – she called an American. Yes, my friends, I went to a basketball game in a small town in New Zealand. I would say it might be able to contend with Division B in college. Might is the operative word in that sentence.


Basketball, to me, is America. I played growing up, and as an almost 30-year-old woman, that is unusual in the rest of the world. Girls here play netball (I have no idea what it is, either), and in France, when I asked what girls do in school, my host sister said, “dance.” So, I am proud of the fact that basketball is a major sport in the United States, for boys and girls, and it is the only truly American sport, created in the 1880s at a YMCA. The point is that basketball makes me think about home.

The announcer was about the most honest announcer I have ever heard. He told us how the team had been on and off all season, and this being the last game of the season, they had to really pull it together. If the other team scored an undefended point, we were sure to hear that a defender should have been there. It sounded like the commentary from Harry Potter Quidditch, not a basketball game.

But the proof that I was not in America were the references to the wee layups and the wee free throws. Basketball Kiwified! And that was not all. In America, we root for our favorite teams, right? Well, rooting has quite a different connotation, and it is not something you discuss in public at family friendly events. Here, you support a team. I was careful . . . until I was not. Luckily, my friend understood, and no one else could hear me. It is hard to be on when at a place that feels so comfortable.

So, the wee plays and careful word choice on my part made the evening interesting. I also had to explain the game to my friend; she had never before attended a basketball game. Luckily, it being New Zealand, the announcer also added in a bit of rule explanation. Apparently, this is not a popular sport here. Overall, I had a great time living in language/culture purgatory. An American movie helped me realize that I cannot escape it.

I am back up in Wellington for a few days; we have a Fulbright event to attend. I planned to stay with a friend Monday night, but thanks to the ash cloud, she is stuck away from Aotearoa, the land of the Long White Cloud (the Maori name for NZ), and instead of bugging someone last minute, I decided to stay in a hostel. Facebook was alive with great references to Bridesmaids, so I went to see what all the fuss was about. For the record, we must look insane to the rest of the world.

First American movie in months, what is my first thought? They were driving on the wrong side of the road. Oy! I guess all my “look right” reminding worked. While watching movies in France, I knew they were seeing a translation, which is really an adaptation (another thesis of mine in my old life). The funniest experience I ever had was seeing Matrix 2 in France during the scene where the “bad guy” repeats about every French swear word there is in a matter of about 10 seconds. The place erupted in laughter. But here in NZ, they do not translate the films. There are no subtitles running in Kiwi. They get to see the American version even if it makes no sense. And I get to see where I fit into the mix.

Before the movie, the woman sitting next to me was explaining living in Christchurch to a friend. I guess she moved up here or is visiting from the earthquake-weary city. I heard her explain the 22 February earthquake. I suppressed the urge to tell her I had also been there, to find a bond, but I sat there realizing I was in the Twilight Zone of my mind – somewhere between the United States and Aotearoa.

I may not struggle to find my words on a daily basis here, and I may technically understand everything that goes on around me, but each day, I am struck by the fact that I am not in the United States anymore. It is fun to see where I have transformed and what my new “normal” is. If nothing else, it keeps me on my toes, eh?

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Taking a Break

I have been in New Zealand for over four months now. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that I arrived, but so much has happened since I have been here that it sometimes feels like I have been here forever. The initial high of travel, orientation, the Future Partner Forum, and a return to Dunedin, has worn off. Now I am back to life as life is – sitting at a desk all day “working.”

Yup, my life has taken on a similar routine to being in the States, the only difference being the lack of Trader Joe’s. One person in the States said to me, “I thought you were just traveling around.” Nope, I am no longer a tourist, at least not now. And just like at home, the routine sets in. Things have been difficult to say the least. Writing a thesis is hard, the weather has been cold, there is no insulation, and yes, I miss Trader Joe’s.

So, just like I do at home in the States, I spend all day sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen, though if we are friends on facebook, you may have noticed that I have recently learned about legal resources in paper, but that is a story for another day. I should also mention that my desk is within a room with about 40-50 other postgraduate thesis students, and although there is a window, my desk faces away from it. Do I need to mention the florescent lights, or is that already part of your mental picture of the place?  

As someone who teaches Stress Management workshops, I knew I had to get away. I had to get away from the routine, away from the energy of the room, and away from my cold house. So I decided to head to Victorian New Zealand, also known as Oamaru (or Oamuru as Google Maps calls it) for the weekend. Oamaru is only about 1.5 hours from Dunedin, and like nearly every other city in NZ, it is right on the coast. What makes Oamaru unique is two-fold. First, and less well known, it was one of the first cities to boom in New Zealand, and at one point was the same size as Los Angeles. The city boasts the first shipment of frozen meat. But then it crashed, and it crashed hard. Some thought it would never recover, and the buildings sat in disrepair for years.

That is where the second point comes in – the one for which Oamaru is best known. All the buildings here are built in Oamaru stone or Whitestone. Better known as limestone to those of us not from New Zealand, Oamaru stone is everywhere in the city. Interestingly, the history video (did I mention I love museums?) said that one of the reasons Oamaru grew so fast was because there were no trees here, so farming was easy, but that also made building from timber difficult – thus the stone! Well, with a booming economy, unlimited (or so they thought) limestone, and an architect who loves all things classic and beautiful, you get historic Oamaru.

The main street in Oamaru with all the limestone buildings.

A beautiful sunset over the sea!

And you cannot be on the Otago coast without another friend – PENGUINS!! I was so excited when I learned I would be living in Dunedin that they have penguins. But Oamaru has more, many, many more. One kind are called Yellow-eyed Penguins in English, but their Maori name – hoihui – literally means noise-maker. I tried to video the noise, but alas, when I ran the video the penguin stopped. Oh well.

A sign for the penguins. These signs are all over the city. 

Yellow-eyed penguin drying itself. 

Then I went to see the colony of little blue penguins. There are over 500 penguins who live in the colony, and in the winter (which is now – we are upside down, remember?) there are usually about 30-60 who come home on any given night. We saw 126! It was absolutely incredible! What is most incredible is how they come ashore. The waves are intense (especially the night I was there), and these little penguins ride those waves into the rocky shore, get thrashed against the rocks, then come out standing and running, yes running, up the rocks to their grassy haven with a wee stop to dry and oil themselves. Who knew that penguins could climb so well? They truly are beautiful and amazing, and apparently slightly mean, little birds. Half the size of the Yellow-eyed Penguins, they are the smallest penguins in the world, and they are social, and oh so cute. Unfortunately, the staff at the colony do not allow photos, and they are nocturnal, so when I went the next night just to the beach to see some, and I did, the only picture I got is, well black. Yes, I was the person on the beach informing other people not to use their flash. I’m that person. If you are interested, there is a link below my black photo to some online photos.

They are serious. They want to protect the penguins.

Sad. This is all I could get from the blue penguins. But click here to see them.  

So, this trip was just what I needed. It only rained on Sunday morning, but cleared up in the afternoon. I walked from one end of the city to the other, visited museums, saw Victorian garb, saw the Steampunk festival participants (folks who dress up in punkified Victorian garb – I don’t get it either, but the photo below is a woman in Victorian dress with Medieval additions because normally when she dresses in costume, it is Medieval costume). And I visited the Whitestone cheese gallery (everything here has whitestone in its name). I love Whitestone cheese. It is sold throughout the country, and apparently is distributed in the States as well, so I visited their factory. So cool and super yummy!

A view of the street with some dressed-up people.

And on my walk back to town yesterday evening, I was talking to myself. Don’t judge, I find this is when I have my best ideas. Crazy? Perhaps, but who writes a thesis that is not a bit crazy? And I had a great insight into my thesis while talking to myself. That insight will be shared in November when I turn it in. Ironically it was right in front of the whiskey tasting room where I had tasted some of the only whiskey ever made in New Zealand earlier in the day. But it made me feel like I could go back to Dunedin on track. I guess I just needed to get away! So, I cannot say that Oamaru is a typical tourist destination in New Zealand, except to see penguins, but it truly is a great place for a weekend, and a great place to rejuvenate.

My point of inspiration. It had nothing to do with the whiskey, I promise.

Oh, and happy Queen’s Birthday! Today is a holiday in New Zealand celebrating the Queen’s Birthday, which is not today, but at least it is a day off.


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Words, Words, Words

While culturally I have found few major differences between the United States and New Zealand, linguistically I may as well be speaking a foreign language here. When I was teaching English in France, I co-taught with a woman from England (a dear friend now), and once one of the students asked us if we spoke the same language. We just laughed. Here, not a day goes by that I do not learn a new word.

The woman who so graciously allowed me to stay with her upon my arrival (only for 3 weeks longer than she had originally planned), and who will soon be gracing the United States (specifically Iowa) with her presence, let me borrow a book called A Kiwi-American dictionary. It was slightly, okay very, outdated, but it was hilarious. I reckon the time has come for me to share some of what I have learned – the top 10 kiwi words and phrases!

1.     Reckon – there is nothing inherently funny about the word reckon, but notice it in the sentence above. To an American, saying “I reckon” sounds a wee bit more proper than we would like. It sounds like Jon Stewart making fun of Queen Elizabeth. In kiwiland, I heard an 8-year-old say it . . . with a straight face!!
2.     Wee – wee simply means small here, as in “a wee bit.” Here, it seems everyone says it all the time. And they say it without the use of “bit” after it. Thus, a wee nap is a proper use of the word.
3.     Kiwi / kiwi / kiwifruit – now this just gets confusing. To an American, a kiwi is something you eat. Here, that would get you put in prison, either for killing an endangered bird or for cannibalism. A Kiwi is a person who lives here, a nickname of sorts for the folks who live in New Zealand. At first I was embarrassed to use it, but people here actually do use the word. Cool, eh? A kiwi is a small flightless bird. New Zealand used to be full of flightless birds because there were no predator mammals (the only native mammal in New Zealand is one species of bat). The kiwi is now incredibly endangered, and most people can only see them in wildlife reserves – my parents saw some when they were here. The kiwifruit? Well, that’s the fruit. They are gorgeous here (and by gorgeous I mean the taste, not the sight – that’s a kiwism as well). See my problem? It just gets so confusing!!
4.     Zed – Ok, ok, it’s not really a word, but it is the last letter of the alphabet. The friendly friends to the north of the United States understand this one, but to those of us from that middle country of North America, this is an odd way to end the alphabet, especially when banks are called ANZ (pronounced A-N-Zed) and when you say X-Y-Z (pronounced X-Y-Zed). We knew we had been spending too much time in the Future Partners Forum when I was talking and said X-Y-Zed and shortly thereafter one of our kiwi friends said X-Y-Zee. None of us knew where we were, which I guess was sort of the point of the partnership – finding new ways to get along. Let’s start with the last letter of the alphabet and move forward from there.
5.     False friends – rooting and rubber. These may not be good in a Top 10 list, but they must be mentioned. Luckily I had been forewarned. In New Zealand, rooting means something very different than in the States. It means sex. Thus, you do not root for a team, and you certainly do not root around in your trunk for something you lost, especially because here, the trunk of a car is called the boot. And a rubber? Well, that is just an eraser, but something we must all warn the kiwis not to request in general public in the United States.  
6.     Sweet as! – used as an exclamation, as in “Sweet as!” There are simply no words to explain this. It just is . . . sweet as!
7.     Sorted – “Have you got your flatting situation sorted?” Does this make any sense to an American? Try that being one of the first things you hear upon entering a country. I thought I did not understand French when I got there, but then I came to a country where they do not speak American. Sorted is just “to sort out,” but they use it here far more frequently. You get parking tickets sorted and plans sorted, etc. Luckily, I have met amazing people here, so my flatting situation is sorted until the end of my time here.
8.     Cheers – often used in conjunction with “mate,” as in “cheers, mate.” Of course, mate it often saved for one’s actual mates. Thus, cheers can simply mean thanks. What a wonderful word that never ceases to make me smile.
9.     Keen – This is a verb, as in “I’m keen to go on a hike out to the Peninsula.” In fact, my actual response was, “I’m hella keen.” I figure it’s time to meld some phrasing while I’m here. And yes, everyone says it here, just like reckon. They do not, however, say hella – but I can hope, right?
10. Good on you! – this is, by far, my favorite kiwi phrase. Oh, does it appear everywhere meaning “good for you,” sort of. It just seems to work for all situations where you want to tell someone that they are doing a good thing for the world.

So, do we speak the same language? I have begun to understand kiwi English, and what is scarier, I have begun to speak like them. I reckon that will help me fit in better here, but it will be difficult to get my life sorted when I get back to the States if I forget how to talk like a Yankee. There are far more words I can share, but for now, that will do. 

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Monday, May 2, 2011

Feeling like an outsider

This is a bit strange. I was planning to write about the word “kiwi” for my next post, but that will have to wait. World events have interrupted my plans again.

I was in the United States on September 11, 2001. Like everyone, I remember it like it was yesterday (with all caveats of what I know about the “truth” of memory). But I have been living abroad for two significant events of its aftermath . . . well, now three. I was living in France as a foreign exchange student when we first invaded Iraq, and I was living in France again, but as an English teaching assistant, when President Bush was reelected. I think it goes without saying that I had a lot of explaining to do as an American in France at those times. For the record, I was treated well and respectfully by the French, but that story is for another day. Those events were nothing compared to my reaction to yesterday.

I have been in New Zealand for just over 4 months (hard to believe really), yet my time here has not been uneventful. First, I was not only witness to, but a direct participant in, New Zealand’s major tragedy this year – the Christchurch earthquake. Although I was treated like royalty because of the group of people with whom I was in Christchurch, I did not feel like an outsider. If anything, it made me feel more like a kiwi (yes, I will explain why they use that word later, I promise).

But yesterday, that all changed. Yesterday, I wore the mark of American loud and clear, if only in my own head. Sitting alone at the Union Grill was a little surreal (after asking them to change the channel on the tv). Wolf Blitzer was blabbing nonsense to fill time, and my fellow kiwi students were walking around as though nothing were happening. I felt an obligation to inform them of the news but then realized that this topic did not hang over them like a dark shadow each and every day. So I sat there alone. Eventually, another American from the postgraduate suite joined me (we had never met before yesterday), and then two of my American friends. We had our little party. The rest of the world just kept on moving along as though nothing was happening.

And then the announcement. Osama Bin Laden is dead. His death was ordered by the President. Watching President Obama, I thought he seemed “off.” With no emotion or guidance of how to respond, President Obama ended our 10-year national obsession with one person who we had been trained to vilify. Then he walked away, leaving the rest of us to figure out what to do about it.

And that is when people cheered. They stormed the streets to chants of USA! USA!, to renditions of the Star Spangled Banner, and to songs of victory. My heart wrenched watching this. How could people celebrate? A man was dead. We killed to stop killing. It makes no sense. So what did I do? I went to yoga, of course. And yes, I felt calmer after the class, but my 40-minute walk home brought all those emotions back. What am I “supposed” to feel?

My flatmate is a 55-year-old woman getting her certificate in Peace and Conflict studies. I was dreading coming home to anyone. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think. I wanted to understand. Instead, I asked her, “did you hear the news?”

“Yes, what a tragedy,” was her response.

I sat shell-shocked. Wait, what? A tragedy? That was not the reaction in the States. It was not even my reaction. Was it supposed to be? Was this the “rational” response? I agonized more and more. She is right, but I found myself defending American policies with which I generally disagree – secret CIA operations that have as their stated purpose to capture, but everyone knows they will end in a bloodbath. I had to tell her that it is policy to try to capture, but he fought back. She said, “how do we know for sure he committed the attacks of 9/11?” I just sat there.

But then I began to understand. I thought about the dancing in the streets. I took a broader view of it – what is it really? For ten years, we have been building tension. I saw a sign today that said something like, “It has been 9 years, 232 days since September 11, 2001. Where is Osama bin Laden?” Over bin was a cardboard piece that read, “dead.” We have been holding onto this. He was a symbol. I make no judgments as to whether he should have been, certainly not on this post, but regardless of what you think, he symbolized that tension. He symbolized that fear. The dancing and joy and excitement were less about a man dying than they were about relief.

But what is this sense of relief? A release of tension. In yoga parlance, this jubilation was really just a really powerful exhale. It was a moment to let go of 10 years of tension. Rationally we know it will not make much difference. If anything, it could escalate anti-American sentiments. But we had the moment to let go, and we needed it. Our collective consciousness needed it. Was it “right?” I cannot judge that. I know that going forward this is a solemn event, one that should make us think very carefully about our definition of “terror” and what it means to the world, what it means to kill people without trial.

But the exhale was needed first. Perhaps with that release, our pent-up tensions can give way to our frontal lobes and our rational thoughts. Perhaps the collective release, the American release, can open our eyes to what really happened – a man was killed. Perhaps we can release into a state of understanding that we are all connected, Kiwis and Americans, and Pakistanis, and Afghans. Perhaps with that release the notion of “outsider” will cease to exist. 

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Conclusion . . . Finally

These last few weeks have been nothing short of crazy and hectic. But now I am back in Dunedin, I have a desk in the postgraduate suites, and I am back to procrastinating. A blog post seemed perfect!

You may remember that in February, I was in Christchurch as part of the US-NZ Partnership Forum. The Future Partners, as we were called, were scheduled to present our vision of the partnership/world in 20 years at 3:30 on February 22. Instead, we left Christchurch on a C-130 Hercules.

The people in charge of the partnership forum still wanted us to present our ideas. Thus, they brought almost all of us future partners back together in Wellington two weeks ago, and over two days, we hammered out our ideas and vision for the future. We then presented those ideas to a small group of people in Wellington, and it was recorded. Last week, four of us presented the same presentation again in Auckland. We were physically at the NZ-US Council, and we were on a video link to the US-NZ Council in Washington, D.C. That was the official close of the Partnership Forum, just shy of two months later than planned.

The United States Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, posted about our work on his blog, and he also has the video, if you are interested. I am very proud of what we accomplished. Essentially, we said two things: 1) we do not want to be seen as future partners because inter-generational problems require inter-generational leadership, and we are ready to be full partners today; and 2) In order to have a sustainable future, we must redefine success.

Together, a group of 20 Kiwis and Americans defined success first as not only economic. Instead, we define success to be a world where there are more voices at the table, where our bottom lines include society and the environment, and where we think long-term instead of on the election-cycle mentality. I am really proud of what we accomplished, and I am excited for the path forward.

But something has been bothering me since Christchurch, and it happened again in Wellington. While we talked a lot about listening, many of us, including (or especially) me, cut off people who were talking. We pushed away ideas, especially those that we deemed too rooted in the status quo. I found myself one of the more conservative voices in the room.

It was moment after moment of realizing that I was doing something I did not like but not having the courage or the aptitude to stop. All the yoga and talk about mindfulness did not seem to help. Was it a fear of not being heard? Was it a belief that my ideas were better than others? Was it a need to have a voice? I am not sure.

I consider people in this group some of my best friends here in New Zealand. Perhaps that is because they are some of my only friends. We went through something traumatic, and we came out the other side closer and with a great vision for the future. But it may not have been a complete vision. After all, not everyone was able to speak sufficiently.

So why do I share this? It actually exemplifies something that is happening in my thesis research as well. I came here believing that lawyers for children could save the system. Ok, perhaps that is a bit strong, but I believed that they were a big piece of the puzzle. During my six weeks in Wellington, I discovered that 6 years into the new setup here in New Zealand, a lot of the lawyers for children are jaded, and they think their role is ill-defined and not always useful.

In other words, it is a work in progress. I knew that coming here, but I did not know how it would play out.  As  “Future Partners,” we were asked to envision that work in progress, to tell a group of politicians and business people (CEOs of major corporations) what we think we need to do differently. While our visions and ideals were impressive, and I believe admirable, living up to them was a bit more difficult at times.

In other words, it is a work in progress. ;) We joked that the Forum had asked us to solve the world’s problems in a couple of days and present it in 15 minutes (they gave us an extra 5 – the original presentation was planned for only 10). Of course we did not do that. What we did, however, was try our hands at a new ideal. In a lot of ways, we did a great, great job. In a lot of ways, we did not live up to our ideal vision.

As I mentioned, during orientation, we were asked to “embrace the differences” when we got here, to see how New Zealand and the United States are different. After this encounter I am more convinced than ever that we are all much, much more similar than we are different. But that is not the end. Our similarities do not mean we necessarily play well together all the time. I think our bigger task, and one that would make Senator Fulbright proud, is to continually challenge ourselves to embrace our fears and move forward together, even if it is a bumpy and sometimes messy road.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Friday, April 8, 2011

In case you thought life here was perfect

So many of my posts (well, the earthquake posts excluded) have been about how awesome and amazing New Zealand is. And it is! But I do not want anyone to get the wrong impression of this place. There is a monster lurking underneath it all, and it is that monster I wish to share with you today (followed by more awesomeness).

The kiwis are a wonderful bunch of people, in case I have not made that abundantly clear. But being awesome all the time must get tiresome, and like those little squish toys, the tension must come out somewhere. Have no fear – it does! Where you ask?

The driving!

I have personally driven in some of the craziest cities in the states – Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix full of snowbirds. I have driven into Paris and found where to return a rental car (I still consider that one of my shining moments in life). I have been a pedestrian in places as frightening as Rome where I do not believe there actually are rules on the road. I knew that New Zealand has a pretty massive drink driving problem, and I read a lot about the numerous car crashes, but I thought I would be safe as a pedestrian.

Oh how wrong I was. Yes, I have learned to “look right” before crossing the street. I have learned to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. In short, this is not a “wrong side of the street” issue.  No, it is simply scary to be a pedestrian here. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Now, I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan for four years, and the rule there is, “if there is any possible way for a car to stop for a pedestrian, even with ice on the ground and the pedestrian jaywalking, that car will stop.”

Here, however, cars do not stop. They honk at you as they come within centimeters of your little toes that you would really like to keep attached. They help with balance. And I do not mean just for jaywalking. I can handle that. No, crossing at a T-intersection where the sidewalk (“footpath”) ends, and you just need to cross a street to keep going straight – that’s where they get you. They come out of nowhere, from behind, and honk at you as they go whizzing by, barely slowing down. When you get scared and make a funny face (other people do that, right?) taxi drivers yell and say, “do you have a problem?”

Yes, I’m scared here to walk. But I will persevere. I will learn their ways, and I will make do. The funny thing is that if there is a crosswalk, and someone is waiting to cross, they will slam on their brakes risking the lives of all their passengers, or at least a good case of whiplash, to ensure that the person who has not yet entered the road may safely cross. To each his own, I guess. Remember, we are supposed to embrace the quirks.

But seriously, aside from learning that the road is a dangerous place in New Zealand, I have found one more thing I love – the birds. I have never had an affinity for birds, which is a bit odd considering my affinity for trees; in fact, I tend not to like birds. But I have noticed their voices singing recently. When I walk down the busiest street in the capital city and hear the birds call out, a little bit of joy enters my heart. New Zealand is famous for its birds, especially the flightless ones, but I have yet to see a kiwi (the bird), but there are birds everywhere, and they sing their songs in the morning, through the garden, and even on the busiest streets. They are a constant reminder that we are connected to nature, that it exists with us, and that we can remember to sing in the mornings and throughout the day along with the birds. It might just bring some joy into our lives.

Of course, paying too much attention to the birds here could also make you lose your toes, so be sure to sing carefully!

In other news, I have started another blog, this one dedicated to new ways of thinking in family law. If you work in the field of family law, in any capacity, or if you know someone who does, please share the following link with them: "Family Law - Shifting the Paradigm," at Thanks! 

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sharing the Country

I just spent a lovely week with my dad and step-mom here in New Zealand. Though they are down under for 5 weeks, we were only able to squeeze in one week together. I am, after all, supposed to be working (more on that failure later). Overall, we had a lovely, lovely time!

First, I want to say that my parents must be the weather gods. The weather was basically perfect while they were here. When they arrived in Wellington, it was cold and windy, but we had a nice lunch, wandered along the main part of the city, and then ambled back to their hotel and had dinner nearby. Then the clouds cleared, the sun shone, and the wind even almost disappeared. That is unheard of in Windy Welly. So what did we do?

We explored! First, we went to the top of Mt. Victoria, which overlooks the entire city. It was not even cold up there!

The weather gods and the beautiful view of Wellington from Mt. Vic!

Then we took the cable car up to the top of the Botanic Gardens. If you have been following this blog, you know that I walk through the Botanic Gardens on my way to school each day, so for me, the cable car has been used for commuting sometimes. In other words, am I a tourist or a resident? But the gardens did not disappoint, and we slowly made our way back to the city center and to the famous Backbencher Pub with caricatures of political figures on the wall. 

Then it was back to their hotel to get ready for my dad’s evening presentation on the psychological effects of relocation cases. Laugh if you like, but it was a great presentation, and I met some wonderful people, including a judge with whom I spent about 6 hours on Friday. She let me sit next to her on the bench – that was weird, but awesome, and I learned a ton, just by watching.

Ok, back to vacation! The next morning, I had a breakfast meeting with the Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society. He was in Wellington from Auckland for a meeting, and he made time to see me. Have I mentioned that people here are absolutely amazing? When he pulled out a notepad and pen to take notes on what I was saying, my entire perspective changed on what I can do here in New Zealand. Apparently, I have something to offer them in addition to all the amazing things I can learn from them. It was a pretty exciting moment.

Then I literally ran to the hotel to meet Ruth, my step-mom, so we could head out to the Kapiti coast to meet up with her friends from back when she lived in Baltimore. My dad was doing another presentation, this one all-day, so Ruth and I were on our own, and we headed to the beach. The Kapiti Coast is known for three things – chocolate, ice cream, and cheese. Let me tell you, it is with good reason. All three were amazing (only one bite of ice cream – I was STUFFED). The friends live in an awesome ecological pre-fab house ten minutes from the beach, and one of them took us down to the beach, where we did some yoga, and then we had an amazing lunch full of veggies from the garden.

Yay tree pose with two people!!

The next day, the weather turned overcast, but no worries – we were headed for museums and Parliament. We started the morning with the Parliament tour, which was strangely different than the one I took during orientation, and then we went and saw two more museums. Okay, they saw two, but I had already exhausted one, so I managed to get some work done for a few minutes before meeting them in Te Papa, the National Museum. I finally took the time to wander around, and it was great. The rain set in just as we walked into the restaurant for dinner, but have no fear, it stopped just before we finished eating, so we were able to walk back to the hotel, and I went home.

The next day, we headed to Dunedin and had a lovely dinner with the amazing woman who has been hosting me down there. I will not write too much about her for privacy reasons, but the link is to her webpage, and suffice it to say, I have never felt so welcome by anyone in my entire life. I feel supremely blessed. The next day I actually attended a class in the morning called “Managing your Thesis” and learned all sorts of things about what it means to write a thesis. Yikes. My parents came into town and we met my future flatmate for lunch before heading to the law school where we ran into my professor.

Then we went on a wildlife tour. Since arriving in New Zealand, I have wanted to go on one of these tours. Dunedin is famous for the royal albatross, fur seals, sea lions, and penguins. It is home to one of the rarest penguins in the world – the yellow-eyed penguin. While we often think of penguins as ice birds, most species actually live in forests, though they spend their days out at sea. We got to see penguins up close, coming in from the water and a little blue penguin in his hole. We also saw a huge colony of fur seals and a bunch of sea lions on the beach. It was amazing.

The cutest fur seal was looking up at us. It was so adorable.

So cute!!

The next day, they wanted to relax at their beach resort, so I went to school, but we met up in time for a little museum action in the afternoon, and then Fulbright had its Welcome Reception for those of us in Dunedin. They planned it for that date knowing I would be in town. Have I mentioned how blessed I am by people in New Zealand? It was great to see some new friends and meet some new people.

The next day we did the other thing I have wanted to do since arriving in Dunedin – the Taieri Gorge Railway. It is a 4-hour rail trip into a gorge, and the weather was perfect, so I spent much of the outbound trip on the back of the train. On the way back our view was a bit blocked, but it was still a great way to spend the morning. Then I went to school while they went to the hotel, and we met up for one last amazing dinner in town.

Sadly, the next morning I walked to their hotel with my bag (they would have picked me up, but I wanted a walk, and the bag was light, and who knew I had been living that close to the beach where there hotel was?), and we drove to the airport. That is where our great adventure ends. I got on a plane, and they headed to Queenstown (where apparently my dad went hang gliding, but I will believe it when I see photos!).

Overall, it was an amazing week, and as blessed as I have been with people here in New Zealand, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that I spent a week with my parents and loved it and was sad to have to say goodbye. I guess now I have to get back to work, but that has been hard to do. I know it will come soon.

I am now back in Wellington for about another 1.5 weeks before I head back to Dunedin for the rest of my stay here in New Zealand (except the short trips elsewhere in the country).  But I just have to say – it was a great week and great to share the sites with my parents! They even put up with my being a tour guide. ;)

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.