Saturday, March 19, 2011

A day in the life . . .

I have been wondering what to say next – the initial trips and orientation are over, the craziness of disaster is getting hard to discuss, and I am “settling” into life here in Wellington, at least until my dad and stepmom arrive on Wednesday!! But there are little things I want to share, and I think that my day yesterday, with a bit of additional thoughts, might be the perfect way to tie it all together.

My last post before the earthquake was about the little quirks here in NZ, about what it means to have culture shock in a place that is so much like home. I promised more . . . so here goes. My housing situation here in Wellington is with a professor and her 8-year-old daughter. On Fridays, the girl has a spelling test, and her mom tests her in the morning. Yesterday the child asked me if I would like to help. I have helped with piano and even some yoga postures, so spelling should have been a piece of cake, but the theme was “ou,” and as I looked at the list of honour, labour, etc., I felt my confidence dwindle. Needless to say, I declined to help, informing her that we spell things differently in the States. On that note, one of the weirdest emails I have written since arriving was asking my thesis advisor how to spell – not a question you expect to be asking in year 20 of education.

Leaving the house, I walked to school. My walk takes me right through the botanic gardens. I have tried different routes to get home nearly every day. I find it a good way to learn my way around. The best part, though, is that if I get “lost” I can always find my way home by finding the Botanic Garden. I keep saying, “how bad can life be when getting lost means you end up wandering through the beautiful gardens that surround this city?” My walk to school in the mornings takes me to one of the most glorious lookouts over the city. And I have learned that by adding about 1 minute (maybe less) to my “commute,” I can walk through the edge of the gardens instead of along the road that runs next to them. Today (Saturday), I discovered that by adding about 10 minutes, I can walk through the heart of the gardens.

Am I a tourist, or do I live here?

As I leave the gardens on my way to school, I arrive at the corner of a busy street, and like everyone else, find the easiest and quickest way to ignore traffic signs and jaywalk  to the Old Government Buildings (and if you knew me in Tucson, you know this is not a good idea for me). The law school is housed within the Old Government Buildings, which is the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere (also one of the safest in an earthquake!). I even took a tour of the building today, then promptly went upstairs after it, past the signs that say, “No Public Access” and used my swipe card to enter my office. From that office, I look out over “The Beehive,” aka Parliament.  

The flag is at half mast for Christchurch.

Tourist? Resident?

Wellington is a small city, and I probably know 10 people here, maybe 20. One of the people I met in Christchurch who was part of the Future Partners Forum with me just informed me that she is starting her job at the law school on Monday – her office is next door to mine. Wellington is a small city. New Zealand is a small country.

And when I leave my office at the end of the day, I walk amongst the backpack runners. I think this is a Wellington phenomenon, but there are hundreds of people who run to/from work with backpacks. I can only assume that inside the backpack are their work clothes. New Zealand is a laid-back country.

And where do we walk? We walk UP. I grew up near San Francisco, so I know about hills. The two times I lived in France, I lived up hills. But nothing, and I mean nothing, has prepared me for New Zealand. While much of Wellington is below sea level, and many of the buildings and the airport are built on reclaimed land or land that magically appeared after a major earthquake in the mid 1850s, you walk up a lot. Panting and wheezing, I get back to the house, back to a place I’m not sure whether to call home.

So, from spelling to gardens to the heritage buildings of the city, my day gets confused between tourist and resident. On my way to school today (working on a Saturday because my parents are coming, and I will be not working as much this week), I took some time to read the tourist signposts along the way, trying to appreciate the fact that I am in an amazing place, with wonderful history and heritage. 

I took a short walk this evening to see the full moon. I walked to the top of the gardens, to that lookout point I pass each morning and saw it with fresh eyes, in the night sky, lit up by the glorious moon. As I looked up, I saw the Southern Cross constellation – probably the best reminder that I am in a new landscape. After all, it is not visible from the northern hemisphere. But then just behind it was Orion, probably the only other constellation I can recognize. I felt one emotion – calm. After all the tumult, all the craziness of these months and certainly these last few weeks, that moon (that so many have predicted will bring more disaster) brought me to a sense of peace and calm as never before.

My cousin just posted a beautiful quote on facebook, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscape but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust. As I continue to live in this new world, I’m trying to see it through new eyes each and every day, to see its beauty, its quirks, and its similarities to home. I am still not sure whether I am a tourist or a resident, but hopefully I can keep my eyes open to the beauty of where I am.


© 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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Being a Citizen Ambassador

Quick update on life before the main post: I have left Dunedin, and I am now in Wellington for the next 6-8 weeks. I am here to study with a different professor before he heads overseas and also to meet with judges and lawyers here in the capital. I arrived just in time for one of Wellington’s well-known earthquakes, and it freaked me out a bit, but they happen all the time here (in fact, there was another one the other night), so it should become normal to me again soon. I must also say that I am so, so, so grateful to all of you for your love and support during and after the earthquake in ChCh. I am still struggling with my reaction to it, but it gets easier and easier every day. This post is not officially about that, but of course its message is exactly on par.

One of the “requirements” of getting a Fulbright Scholarship is to be a citizen ambassador. Senator Fulbright believed (I think rightly so) that the two best ways to create a smaller world and more understanding is through education and interaction. Thus, the Fulbright scholarship funds educational opportunities. It also, however, asks us to be citizen ambassadors. Basically, we are asked to represent the United States in whatever country we find ourselves.

I actually take this very seriously. I have lived and traveled abroad at some very precarious times, including when we started the war in Iraq and when we reelected President Bush in 2004. Of course, with the earthquake in Christchurch, perhaps I should stop traveling, but actually that has created an amazing opportunity of togetherness and connection, which is at the heart of the Fulbright. While a disaster, it has led to some deep connections (click here for my post about that on Is Yoga Legal).

Anyway, the Fulbright application is actually fairly basic – you need a research proposal, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. It helps if you have an affiliation in your host university as well. Specifically, in the personal statement, “Grantees are encouraged to get involved in cultural and/or community activities.” In my personal statement, I mentioned that when I lived in France, I joined a Brazilian percussion group and I hoped to do something similar to that or engage with the yoga community here in New Zealand during my time abroad.

Well, as you all can probably tell, these past few months have been sort of hectic. I got here, traveled, enrolled, traveled, got in an earthquake, and moved to Wellington – all in about 6 weeks time. I have attended one, yes one, yoga class since arriving. For someone who used to attend 3-5 per week, that is like losing a limb. But I was bound and determined to find a yoga community while in Wellington. It turns out that I found the Hare Krishna yoga community.

Sunday night is apparently a special night in the Hare Krishna community. In Tucson, I would often go to Govinda’s for their $3 dinners (thanks Anna and Jamie for starting that tradition!), and it was preceded by a service. I actually never attended the service, though to be honest, I am not sure why. Tonight, however, I attended a Krishna Fest – my first one. Of course, this involved a lot of singing and some dancing, and a talk, and a beautiful feast.

As I was chanting and swaying to the music, I wondered what Senator Fulbright would think of this. I had to smile. I actually think he would love it.

Being a citizen ambassador can mean a lot of things. It can mean attending Partnership Forums where political and business leaders get together to discuss the future of the partnership between two countries (the reason we were all in Christchurch), or it can mean teaching about your home community at a school or community event. It can also mean joining a community and being yourself. It means branching out in new ways, finding a new group of friends, and engaging with people in ways you may not if you were in your safe world back home.

Tonight I went to this event alone. That is a big step for me. But I chatted with people (few of whom were actually kiwis), and I had a lovely time. I may not become a Hare Krishna tomorrow, but I am going back to their yoga class tomorrow night. To me, the most important part of being a citizen ambassador is getting outside my comfort zone and seeing what life is like anywhere and everywhere. Of course, I have tended to find it is pretty similar everywhere. Sometimes, we just need to be jolted, literally, as the earthquake did, or metaphorically as moving to a foreign country does.

As it says on the Fulbright NZ website, “In Senator Fulbright's words, ‘the programme aims ... to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.’” He may not have been thinking of his future recipients chanting and dancing, but I think the compassion, peace, and friendship aspect of the Hare Krishna evening is exactly what Senator Fulbright would have wanted.

As I said, this idea of being a citizen ambassador means a lot to me; in fact, I think it is far more important than what I will learn while writing my thesis (though of course that is also very, very important). I hope to be able to live up to Senator Fulbright’s vision of community and friendship one chant and yoga class at a time.

Namaste and Blessings!

© 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.