A week before I boarded a trans-Pacific plane eleven months ago, I wrote about the anticipation of beginning my New Zealand journey. A couple months ago, I entered the bittersweet limbo season and began to detect the light barely glimmering at the end of the tunnel. Welp, two months came and went (flash!). Today, the impending assignments are all done and dusted. I’ve completed a Master’s degree, slotted in and smashed out about as many adventures as I could manage, and in one short week, the #JCompinNZ journey will come to a close. What a significant, memorable year it has been.
This final stretch has contained all the roller coaster emotions I expected – the excitement of an approaching return date, the satisfaction of one more assignment submitted, the sadness of friends leaving for the summer holidays. And my beloved mountains… With each tramp completed, each item on the bucket list marked off, I’ve felt a sense of satisfaction at making the most of the opportunities here, and a simultaneous unwelcome pang twisting in my gut realising* it’s one less future romp through the most beautiful country on earth. The grandeur and easy accessibility of the Southern Alps will soon not be a part of my normal life, and that is genuinely grief-worthy.
Back in January, I remember internally commanding myself to soak it all up and not lose a sense of wonder for the stunningly breathtaking landscapes all around me. Don’t take it for granted, Jessica. I tried not to, but, you know, by the middle of the year, it’s just life. You’ve driven down that road a few times before, you’ve passed that view. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing special. With the end approaching, the appreciation has returned.
Just as the excitement for home builds, so, too, does the gloom of leaving. All the old sayings apply — “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” “There are two sides to every coin,” “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
But I want both sides! Why can’t I just create a World Jessica morphing together the landscape of New Zealand, the lifestyle of the lowcountry, the food and historical culture of Italy, the hardworking mentality of DC, and the people I’ve befriended across the globe? I know that’s egocentric, but if you’re reading this, you’d probably like living there too 🙂 This is the problem with travel and living abroad. Parts of your heart get scattered everywhere.
I’ve also learned that it really does take a year to settle in, and I’m a little resentful that I once again will be uprooting myself after I finally feel like I’ve found my place and my people. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve hung out with folks and thought to myself, “WHY DIDN’T WE MEET IN JANUARY?! Arrrgghh.” When the earthquake hit a few weeks ago, the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) quickly organised itself to take in displaced refugees in the dorms and distribute food boxes. I haven’t done as much service this year as I like, but I headed down to the dorms and made beds and vacuumed for a few hours. I love that club; if I were still an undergrad uni student, I would so have been on exec – solid group of capable visionaries and action implementers.
And in so many ways, I am a Kiwi now. I say “heaps” and “tramp” and “keen” without a second thought. This is such a Type B culture, and I ascribe way more to a “She’ll be right,” chill mentality than I ever thought possible. I hate that I’m going to go home and face reverse culture shock. Where are the mountains? And friends that want to adventure with me? Aren’t there more races than white and black? I forgot what the Bible Belt is like. Why isn’t composting as common as recycling? Why aren’t there switches on the electrical outlets? Let’s not forget that I’m jumping straight back into winter. Y’all know I’m soooo excited about that.
But here’s the kicker… I could have made New Zealand home for a while longer. It wasn’t a matter of God having a set plan for me to stay or go (though He is sovereign.) It was just a decision in wisdom. Where do you want to make your life? How deep do you want your roots to grow? As much as I love New Zealand, South Carolina wins. Just look at how much longer my American list is.
Economically speaking, the opportunity cost of staying is way too high. The Compton Clan alone is worth all the reasons to stay in New Zealand combined. “Y’all” needs to be a normal word again. I don’t want to miss any more weddings. FaceTime is not the same as a real coffee date with my mom. And even silly consumerist desires are starting to fester – oh to have REI, Chipotle’s guacamole, chicken minis, cheap unlimited cell phone data and free two-day shipping! (I acknowledge the pettiness of these desires. But the only reason Kiwis aren’t complaining about not having Amazon Prime is because they don’t know what they’re missing out on.)
Some of my friends have shared wise insights lately too. I was talking about some of the reasons I’m looking forward to going home with Jovita and her mum, and she said, “I think you’re just ready to settle down, you know? You’ve been lots of places, you’ve had your adventure abroad. You want some stability and relationships you can cultivate.” She’s right, and I’m not ashamed or afraid of those two words. The wanderings will continue, but I’m pretty excited to call a place long-term home (Charleston, Greenville, or an unknown elsewhere, I still have not determined). I actually want to grow up and have a legit adult job (…in another half a year [that will also determine location]), and not live halfway in and out of a suitcase.
My best friend Anderson is right too.
Stoked as I am to “settle down,” I would do this whole year again. The last eleven months have moulded and shaped me in profound, identity-forming ways, and I needed those experiences. While I’ll always be “Jessica,” it would be impossible to return the same person I left as.
I am the adventurer I always envisioned myself being.
Weekend tramps are so normal now I can’t imagine a time where I wasn’t investing most of my leisure time in the trail. Prior to this year, though, I had the passion, but not really the opportunities or experience, for mountain adventure. It sounds preposterous to think that two years ago I was being taught how to use a backpacking stove and suffering from blisters as I broke in my first pair of ankle support boots. On to longer, less-trod treks!
I am a teacher.
Yeah I am! How easy it will be to get certified back home is another question entirely. But I love being in the classroom and trying different strategies to engage learners in the exciting world of English, and I’ve learned the importance of reflection, inquiry, and cultural responsiveness.
My heart has (finally) mended.
Post-break up, I was annoyed that I wasn’t all good to go and “starting fresh” in January. I was straight up pissed by May. But somewhere in the latter half of this year, the pain finally let up, and I started to feel more whole again. Nothing like a first love to wreck you for an entire year. I also used to think I didn’t have an ounce of flirtatiousness in me; I definitely do.
I’ll “give it a go.”
Another Kiwi turn of phrase I’ve picked up. I have gone white water kayaking, mountaineering, and skiing this year. I’ve learned new types of dancing and attended vegetarian club lunches and tried to say yes to most invitations. The verdict is still out on kayaking (probably a lost cause), but the last time I went skiing, I had gained enough confidence to actually start enjoying the sport. Unless there’s a legitimate reason to say no, I think saying yes stretches and expands you in healthy ways.
I can keep trusting God.
I already knew this one, but experiences have continued to prove the Lord’s faithfulness to be true. Between moving from flat to flat (and not knowing where I would go next), and meeting the right friends (and not knowing where they would come from), and getting through the winter (and feeling like it would NEVER end), God answered prayers and walked alongside me.
I am independent, and I can live anywhere.
A year isn’t super long, but it’s long enough to call it your life and not be a small semester jaunt abroad. Right now (and maybe forever), I want to call South Carolina home. But I don’t know what the future holds. I am the Lord’s, and if I am to go elsewhere, I will do so confidently, because I have before.
For now, I’m going to soak up this last week – of freedom, of summertime, of goodbye celebrations, and the end of one amazing year in New Zealand.
*One of many ways I’ve adjusted to being Kiwi. I’ve given up on trying to differentiate American and British spelling for various audiences. For now, I’m a Kiwi. So I will keep referring to hikes as “tramps” and writing with “ou”s and “s”s instead of “z”s (zeds). I’ll convert back over in a week.