I still haven’t started school yet. In the Southern Hemisphere, the summer sun stays out until 8 p.m. and Kiwi students are just now flocking back to universities to start their first semester. Meanwhile, I’ve been on the longest winter (summer?) break of my entire life, and I have to admit that I’ve been feeling a little backward.
It all started in Fiji. I am lucky enough to participate in a program organized by a company that specializes in study abroad programs, and the company takes all of the students going to New Zealand on a four-day trip to Fiji before we start school. All 90 of us took a 3-hour ferry ride to the remote island of Fiji where we stayed in little bungalows by the ocean without Wi-Fi access. Basically, we were forced to bond over the lack of access to the outside world and the inescapable heat.
That’s when I realized that I’ve spent years going to school in L.A.’s perpetual summer, but I had no idea what it meant to be hot. I thought I was putting on enough sunscreen, but 10 minutes later, I would be burnt to a crisp. I thought I would jump in the ocean to cool off, but the ocean is as warm as a bathtub. My friends and I would leave our wet towels and sweaty clothes on the porch to dry, but because of the humidity and the violent storms that rolled in, nothing ever really dried. Still, we spent our first few days feeling like we were on vacation.
[This stretch of beach was literally right outside our bungalows on Naviti Island, Fiji.]
Then our group was hit with a nasty stomach bug and suddenly our days of beach volleyball and ocean kayaking turned into long hours of alternating between throwing up and lying in bed. As backward as it seems, the group was pretty miserable in Fiji. Let’s just say it was a major relief to touch down in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand and the one I’ll be studying in for the next four months.
The company organized plenty of excursions for our first few days in Auckland, so we didn’t have much time to recover. We went to a tapas dinner, a wine tasting and stayed the night at a traditional Maori community house. One day, the group went canyoning, which involves a little bit of rock climbing, cliff jumping and rappelling down waterfalls. That’s when I started to embrace the backwardness of it all: the idea of going down a steep cliff backward, the idea of summer in February, the idea of the metric system and driving on the left.
There is no backward or forward, right or wrong. There’s just different. A different lifestyle in Fiji. (Fiji time is real, by the way. The people there don’t operate on a strict schedule.) A different cycle of seasons in the South Pacific. A different school system in New Zealand.
In all honesty, I’m itching to start school again, and after everything I’ve been through and done over the past few weeks, that seems the least backward.