Spending a semester abroad in New Zealand was certainly a formative experience, and one I will always be grateful for. Exploring unique landscapes and bridging cultural boundaries improved my sense of personal identity, international perspectives of Americans (and Californians), and the global collective consciousness.
Going to Aotearoa, I anticipated making Kiwi friends, especially given our shared English language. Luckily, my rapport wasn’t limited to Southern Pacific Islanders and I was able to meet and travel alongside multi-national companions. Parisians, Chinese, Dutch, South Africans, Filipinos, Canadians and some exceptionally cool Americans shared time in my van and tent. I had to spend a week sleeping on a friend’s floor, but my decision to postpone searching for housing until arriving in New Zealand meant that I was able to flat with Kiwis and achieve some cultural immersion, rather than getting corralled into a community of outsiders. And yet, travelling in a band of misfits, urgent to see it all, was all I needed to meld with the locals.
No example of “Southern Hospitality” is better than my experience in Invercargill, Southland. After a brutal 3-day, 65-km tramp, my four American companions and I found ourselves with a broken van key on a sleepy Sunday evening. Just before resigning to a hotel room for the night, two Kiwis, stoked to visit with the new blood in town, came to save the day… err, night.
Phil, a local student, DJ, and café barista, told Tony where to find some interesting folks to talk to (us). Eccentric artist by day and general handyman by night, Tony helped us free the packs trapped inside our van and even invited us to visit his home and share some tea and biscuits. Reminiscent of a redlight district, murals covered the walls and ceilings of his humble house while unfinished projects sat strewn about any countertop space. After several hours spent philosophizing over cookies, Phil set us up in his home until we could copy our key in the morning and make the eight-hour drive to Christchurch.
Ultimately, its moments like these that make studying abroad so magical; cross-cultural serendipities that promote an ethos of global hospitality. No such moments would have been possible without financial assistance from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Founded with the idea that international studies promote international relations, this scholarship is available to students who receive Federal Pell Grants or financial aid. Without such aid, many would not be able to afford university study (domestic or abroad). As one such student, I am incredibly aware of how scholarships open people up to opportunity, just like a single smile can open the heart of a complete stranger and materialize a slumber party. When I look back with a wistful eye at my time in Aotearoa, I feel incredibly lucky to have met so many people and made so many meaningful connections. Such experience should be available to all who strive for it, and to those who have been told that international study is too expensive, I suggest applying for the Gilman Scholarship because it is certainly what made it possible for me.