Student Abroad: A week to remember (part 1)

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Sep 202012

Author: Anna Palmer

Almost three weeks ago, I hopped into a mini van with seven friends for a week-long journey of adventure and exploration around the south island of New Zealand.  Packing up the van with all of our packs and food was a struggle in itself but

The gang with "Big Al" at Fox Glacier

The gang with “Big Al” at Fox Glacier

we somehow managed to cram all eight of us into that green mini van, later dubbed “Big Al”.  A mere three hours later we set off on our journey, more ready than ever to take on whatever challenges were headed our way.  Our first stop: Te Anau.  We arrived at our campsite around 11 p.m. and what an unbelievably beautiful, warm night it was.  We managed to set up the tents (the 6 of us girls sharing the 4 person tent and the 2 boys sharing a cozy 2 person tent) without any problems and happily headed straight to bed.

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

The following morning we took a short walk to the picturesque Lake Te Anau near our campground. The view of the lake outlined by the snow-capped mountains was breathtaking.  It was at this moment that I started to realize what a beautiful journey lay ahead of us, and the open road that would take us into more adventure than I had ever imagined.

We packed up the van and hit the road for Milford Sound.  About an hour into the drive, we heard the sound of the ever-familiar pitter patter on the roof of the van.  Passing by a gorgeous field with towering mountains in the background, we were compelled to make a stop, mid-rain, and proceeded to frolic and play a game of touch football accompanied by plenty of laughter.  The rain continued to pick up steam and we were forced to retreat back into the van.  Looking ahead we saw a gloomy picture of fog and clouds covering the sky, forcing us to reassess our plans.  We unanimously decided that it would not be worth the drive all the way there to end up disappointed in the lack of scenery we would be able to see.  Without skipping a beat, we flipped around and headed in the direction we had just came.

So began the grueling 7-hour drive to the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.  We had to make a pit stop in Queenstown for a bite at the famous Fergberger, a very popular burger joint renowned for its tasty and mighty in size burgers, accompanied by chips (fries) and aioli sauce of course.  As if we weren’t full enough, we decided to top off the meal with some delicious gelato.

As the rain came pouring down, I felt my nerves bubbling up and realized it was my turn to drive.  Mustering my confidence, I hopped in the driver side and headed up the curviest, steepest road we had seen thus far.  I managed to safely maneuver my way around the curves and loosened up a bit once the road started to straighten out.  Looking back on this moment, I realize that this marked another milestone in overcoming one of my fears, the fear of driving an SUV (something I’m not used to) packed full of people, on the opposite side of the road, in the dark and rain.  Needless to say, by the end of the trip I was feeling pretty confident in my driving abilities and even found myself eagerly volunteering to take the wheel on many occasions the rest of the trip.

About three hours away from our campsite, we realized the gas tank was running low and it would probably be wise to fill up.  We stopped at a station only to find the gas pump was closed and we would have to pay $20 for them to turn it on.  Discovering that this was the last gas station until our destination, we were forced to pay the fee, only to find that a simple switch had to be flipped to turn on the pump.  A bit disgruntled, we continued on our journey in the pouring rain.  Thankfully, just as we arrived at our campsite, the rain stopped and we were able to set up camp.

Waking up the next morning, we set out to cook our first real meal: porridge.  We decided to spice things up a bit with canned peaches.  Being the determined person I am, I began to wrestle with the can using a can opener that no one knew how to use.  The inevitable happened: I managed to slice my finger, instigating the domino effect of injuries that ensued (more on this later).  After about thirty long minutes, the bleeding finally let up, and we finished up our generous meal, packed up the van and headed off to the glaciers.

Since we didn’t pay for a guided tour on the glaciers, we were limited as to how near the glaciers we could go, which ended up being a pretty disappointing distance away.  Thankfully, both glaciers were surrounded by absolutely stunning mountains that made the short hike totally worth it.  At Franz Josef, we saw beautiful waterfalls and a spectacular ice cave that we were able to venture near.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki

We then made our way to Greymouth, where we stayed with Sam’s cousin, a fellow American who had studied abroad ten or so years ago, fell in love with a Kiwi and the rest is history.  Not to mention, Sam had never met her prior to this trip.  We enjoyed a wonderful homemade dinner of lamb, potatoes, salad and ice-cream.  Sam’s cousin even let us stay in their camper van for the night, giving us a nice break from sleeping on the ground.  The next morning, we hit the road to head off to our next adventure destination: Punakaiki pancake rocks and blackwater rafting, which was essentially tubing down a river in a cave under looking a ceiling covered with glow worms.  I was a little worried about the inevitable darkness that comes with being in a cave, but instead I found myself in awe of the darkness that was illuminated by the glow of thousands of glowworms above me as I slowly floated down the river.

The gang inside the cave looking excited for blackwater rafting

The gang inside the cave looking excited for blackwater rafting

After getting out of the caves we drove to a seal colony nearby, arriving just in time for sunset.  We then made our way to our campsite for the night.  The next morning we woke up to find that Sam was in quite a lot of pain from a mysterious tailbone injury (more on this later) and we began to reassess our plans which had been to go to Abel Tasman National Park and tramp (hike) for 3 days.  Not wanting to hold us behind, Sam decided to wait until we got there and see how she felt then.

As we edged closer to Abel Tasman, I began to realize I had my own set of problems.  I had noticed some red painful bumps that I initially thought were sandfly bites, but I soon realized that they were not.  We swung by the nearest medical center and soon enough the doctor had diagnosed me with shingles, the adult form of chicken pox.  How in the world did this happen? I still have no idea.  But from what I was told they can appear simply from a run-down immune system and having not gotten much sleep and the fact that I had been sick a couple weeks prior to the trip, it seemed somewhat logical.  Still, shingles, something I never imagined I would have unless I was nearing my 60s.  Even having the prescribed medication did not ease my worries, but I was determined to not let this bring me down.

Look for the continuation and completion of this story next Thursday

Student Abroad: Leap of Faith

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Aug 292012

Author: Anna Palmer


Bungee Jumping Appareil
Bungee Jumping Appareil (Photo credit: mtsofan)

As my feet edged closer to the ledge, I took one deep breath, threw my arms over my
head, and hurled myself 43 meters off of the bridge. What exactly was I thinking at that
very moment? I cannot tell you. All I knew was that there was no turning back. And the
funny thing was, I had no desire to. I had come this far, worked up the courage to take
this plunge, and for the amount of fear I had anticipated, I felt surprisingly calm. The
excitement coursing through my veins was enough to get me over that ledge, and as I
dove toward the brilliantly blue water of the river coursing beneath me, I realized that I
had done it. I had overcome my fear.

Never in all my life had I imagined myself willingly taking such a huge leap of faith. It
was as if I was a bystander, an observer of the whole scenario, simply watching this
assured girl hurl herself off of the bridge. It was as if I had floated out of my body,
momentarily, gaping at the spectacle before me. The best way to describe this experience
is to compare it to that of a dream, a far off reality, but a dream so tangible and reachable
all at the same time.

Since coming to New Zealand, this dreamlike feeling has enveloped me, leaving me
with a sense of wonder and disbelief at where this dream has taken me thus far. Before
coming here and as much as I hate to admit, I did not view myself as the adventurous, go
get em’, live in the moment type. Sure, I have imprinted myself with a tattoo as a subtle

reminder of this motto I am ever-striving to live my life by, but this simple inscription
on my shoulder has never felt real until now. Living for today, in all its simplicity,
has come to take on a whole new meaning for me. I have already begun to notice a
change in myself, a change I can say I have welcomed with open and excited arms. I’ve
noticed myself taking more chances, being more adventurous, and really living out this
life mantra. A simple mantra…yet one that takes conscience choosing and constant
reminder. To live in the moment means to trust yourself fully and completely. It means
to trust the choices and chances you take each and every moment. This trust extends into
all aspects of life: trusting others, trusting God, trusting the universe, trusting the unseen,
and finally and often times most difficult, trusting when the outcome, the result is not yet

Yet, this ever-pervasive fear in our society and within ourselves has prevented us from
fully embracing all that life has to offer. We hold so tightly to this fear, whatever that
fear may be, and we try to control each and every aspect of our lives. This control gives
us a sense of security but what is lost in the process is the natural flow of life. We are
meant to flow with life, trusting in every which way it sends us, but more often than not
we are unable to loosen the tight grip. We hold tightly to every routine, to everything
that makes us feel safe, secure, stable. But each day this stability is compromised even
by the slightest hiccup in our path. So what do we do? We hold on even tighter. But
what would happen if we were to just let go? To let go of this apprehension, this fear of
not being in control? I can say from experience that the feeling of not being in control
is a scary feeling, so scary that I find myself fighting to regain my grip on anything I can
get ahold of.

But what if I was to push through this initial fear? Would I find myself trusting in the
process as time went on? In all honesty, I do not have the answers to most of these
questions. I think all that I can do is continue to acknowledge the moments when this
fear arises and consciously choose to sit with that fear. Then, in doing so, I can either
choose to turn back or keep on going. As past experience has shown me, to keep on
going, heading into the unknown, taking that leap of faith, has led to experiences far
beyond my imagination. Coming to New Zealand was a huge leap of faith in and of
itself. Not only that, but the experiences thus far have been far beyond the bubble of
my comfort zone. Each leap of faith I’ve taken has led to such a feeling of euphoria,
accomplishment, and confidence that I can only trust that those to come will do that and
more. So in this moment, I choose to trust the path I have taken, to loosen the grip of
control, and to keep moving, plunging ahead into the thralls of this spectacular adventure.

Student Abroad: Conscious living in New Zealand with Anna Palmer

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Aug 222012

Author: Anna Palmer

This image shows the popular Koru Flag, a prop...

This image shows the popular Koru Flag, a proposed secondary flag of New Zealand designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1983. It is based on the Koru, an iconic symbol of New Zealand flora. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Koru is a Maori spiritual symbol meaning new life, creativity, personal growth and new beginnings. This New Zealand fern plant represents the unfolding of new life, a subtle reminder that everything is reborn and continues. It represents renewal and hope for the future.

The Koru is not only symbolic of this journey I am embarking on, but of the life I have left behind. Standing on the precipice, I left behind my family and friends as the fate of my home stood on the brink of disaster. The Waldo Canyon fire swept through the foothills at a pace so rapid I am grateful for the life it did spare…the life of my family and friends. The flames charged down the foothills behind my home, urging us to leave behind the majority of our material possessions. I will never forget the image of the massive flames flickering in the rearview mirror as we drove away looking back on what would be the last view of our home and life as we knew it. The fire took away my home, leaving behind only rubble and ash. The destruction this fire evoked will not be forgotten for many years to come. The hiking trails I grew so accustomed to and maybe even took advantage of are now gone and exist only in my memory of life before the fire.