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.


  1. Hey tourist / resident, what a lovely post. I can't wait to see you and your new city in a few short days. Love, Phil

  2. Wow - I really want to visit now and of course it will be when you're already home. Maybe you'll go back with us one day. Love reading your posts. Have fun with Phil and Ruth

  3. Becca, the post was from me - Rita not my mom. Picked the wrong Google account.