While my friends in the States are gearing up for finals, I’ve just returned from my mid-semester break. I keep calling it spring break, but it’s autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and most students don’t really travel to any beachy or boozy destinations during their two weeks off. My friends and I, however, used this lengthy holiday to “hop across the ditch” and visit Australia.
Australia and New Zealand are huge rivals, on the rugby field and beyond. (For the record, the New Zealand national rugby team has defeated the Australian national team in their annual tournament for the past 13 years and counting). New Zealanders actually hate that Australians sometimes try to claim famous Kiwis come from the Land Down Under. Yeah, I had no clue that Russell Crowe was actually born in New Zealand either.
It all comes down to size, though. Australia has 28 times the amount of land as New Zealand and about five times the population. That means there are five times as many people who can frequent the businesses. That means there are enough cars to warrant having more than two-lane roads. That means the cities and the economy and their world influence is bigger.
Because of that, Australia felt like America again. Auckland may be the big city in New Zealand, but it doesn’t have the noise, the crowds and the all-day, all-night, all-week bustle that larger cities in Australia and the U.S. have. I spent two weeks visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and they were familiar in that they reminded me so much of American cities. I enjoyed exploring the massive Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, which had stalls overflowing with fresh bread, produce, meats, touristy souvenirs and UGG boot knock-offs. I liked Sydney’s sheer variety in cuisines and retail, knowing that whatever I wanted I could probably find within the city limits.
At the same time, those Australian cities were unfamiliar, too. After two months of living in Auckland, it was kind of weird to be back in a big city again. I love that wherever you are in Auckland, you’re never very far from a park or from the water. I like running into people I know whenever I’m out in town. I love that it only takes 20 minutes to get outside the city, venture 45 minutes and you’ll be in a charming beach town with no grocery store.
Some of my friends think they would have liked studying abroad in Australia more. But for me, New Zealand is exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t want some Southern Hemisphere version of the U.S. When I chose to study abroad, I wanted to go somewhere different, someplace I might never have the chance to live ever again. I wanted to see green after three years of the dusty, dry brown of Los Angeles.
Well, I got the green alright. And I got breathtaking beaches and mountains. I got to know the friendly New Zealanders and learned about the Maori culture. I hiked, camped, surfed, jumped, canyoned, swam, ran and tanned. I’m still trying to work up the courage to bungee jump.
There are six weeks left in my semester to do it. I don’t even want to think about leaving, watching Auckland’s famous Sky Tower grow smaller and smaller as the plane whisks me back to reality. It’s going to be strange when I return to the U.S. My Australian mid-semester break was an indication that when I return, I’ll probably feel a little foreign in my own country. But that means I’ve done my job as a study abroad student right.