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.