Student Abroad Reflection: The power to recreate

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Feb 212013

Author: Anna Palmer

Turning on my computer, I stare momentarily at my desktop background.  My eyes linger over the vibrantly blue water back-dropped by the dramatic snow-capped peaks, wondering to myself if it was all a dream.

Glancing to the north-facing wall in my room, my eyes scan the postcards and memorabilia: the New Zealand flag surrounded by postcards of places I’ve been, pictures I took and a five dollar bill with Sir Edmund Hilary stamped on the front.

My eyes stop at the certificate of the 43-meter leap of faith I took from the site of the world’s first bungy.  This concrete piece of evidence symbolizes the overarching lesson I’ve taken away from my experience: the possibility of overcoming fear in the face of it.

Deep down I like to think I’ve known that the only way to overcome your fear is to face it.  However, being in New Zealand, I was given the opportunity to put this life motto into action.

Contrary to popular belief perhaps, I did not come out of this experience a “changed” me.  Sure, I may have grown into an improved version of myself, but I am still “me”.  I now know that no change in my environment, no matter how awesome and utterly amazing it is, will ever do away with my internal struggles, which take more deliberate, conscious choosing.

Although these personal struggles persist, I do notice more subtle changes in myself.  I feel better equipped at confronting certain fears.  I am quicker to take action and confront these anxious or self-doubting feelings, instead of running away scared.

Instead of getting completely overwhelmed with the laundry list of things to do on a daily basis, I am better able to take it one thing at a time.  I find myself better able to live, moment to moment, recognizing when I am lost in the worries of my mind.

It has been almost two months since I returned from my adventures in the southern hemisphere.  Upon my return, I have noticed subtle changes in my environment as well.  Little things are different but still generally the same: different roommates, same house, different classes, same professors.  It has been a strange combination of getting my footing back somewhere I used to call home.

As ready as I felt to come home at the end of my time abroad, I can’t help but reminisce about the experience in its entirety and about the good friends I made.

Keeping in touch with the friends I made abroad has been as rewarding as it is challenging.  I look forward to our “google hang-out” dates, when all five of us girls can coordinate a time.  Being one of two in the group who lives in the western half of the country nonetheless, this has proved challenging.

All of us are back to our “real” lives, our little circle of friends from home and our school, no longer separated from each other by a mere five-minute walk.  Thousands of miles away, we have tried our best to stay in touch.

I notice myself going about my day-to-day activities as usual, before New Zealand, and something, some thought or memory will appear, drawing me into the past.  Looking back on my experience abroad, I really do feel as though it was almost a dream.

It feels as though I was transported into this sort of “alternate universe” for six months, and I truly was able to recreate myself into whoever I wanted to be.  I knew absolutely no one, and no one knew me.  I could be whoever I wanted to be and that notion in and of itself was drastically freeing.

After a few short weeks of classes back at CSU and readjusting back to the “routine”, I feel myself trying to close the gap between the “old” me and the “new”, subtly-improved version of me.  Like all change, resistance has come up.  Recently though, I feel this last bit of resistance dissipating.  This resistance came from my initial fear of returning back to my “old” life, back to the routine of school and homework, back to the town and people I had left behind.

More so, this fear has stemmed from the uncertainty of the future, my inevitable graduation, and the daunting task of searching for an internship and eventually a job.  But now that I am back in Fort Collins, after being abroad in the beautiful country of New Zealand, I feel myself in a strange sort of mindset.

Initially going back to the routine of school, homework, exams, actual work and the sometimes-mundane schedule did not appeal to me at all.  However, as the weeks have gone speedily by, I am beginning to accept the reality of the hard work that lies ahead of me this semester.

Though I do think back to my time in New Zealand, it is not exactly the nostalgia I had anticipated.  Of course, there are things I miss: the humility of the Kiwi people, the friends I made, the beautiful scenery, the adventuresome spirit I felt there, and the list goes on and on.

But as much as I miss these things and sometimes wish to go back, I know that this chapter in my life is just one of many.  Being abroad showed me that all I truly have is the given moment, a point of decision to make it what I choose.  I can smile and relish over my past experiences abroad, but to reach into the past with longing is to enter into dissatisfaction with the present.

The “take-home” message, if you will, that I took from my experience was to live moment to moment, enjoying all that each day, each opportunity, has to offer.  Once it is gone, there is no going back.  I know that as much as classes and the workload I have this semester can feel overwhelming and stressful, I will want it back when it is gone.

Once I graduate, I know I will long for the life as a student once more, so I might as well soak it up while I can, enjoying the “simple” life of studying, classes, and hanging out with the good friends I have missed while being abroad.

My eyes glance back to the wall in my room, this time, to the map of New Zealand.  My gaze stops at the point on the map marking the city of Dunedin that I called home for six months.  Flashes of memories appear: eating “hokey pokey” ice-cream, trekking to the New World supermarket, running in the botanical gardens, and going on “tramping” excursions each weekend, pushing my body and mind to their limits.

Pulling myself out of this reminiscent dream, I smile as I return to reality, knowing that this dream feeling is accessible at anytime.

I will never forget the beauty of “Aotearoa” (“the land of the long white cloud”), nor will I forget the empowerment it gave me to recreate my life, but I will move forward into this next chapter in my life, feeling more assured in my ability to face whatever comes my way.

Student Abroad: A Positive Outlook

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Nov 152012

Author: Anna Palmer

As I look outside my window at the beautiful, clear, blue sky a smile begins to form on my lips.  Despite the stress of this past week studying for exams worth half of my grade, I feel relatively at peace.  Generally speaking, I feel like I’ve managed to keep a level head throughout this month of examinations, knowing that all I can do is my best.  That isn’t to say there haven’t been moments of panic these past weeks at the thought of not passing one of my classes here.  All exaggerating aside, there is a realistic chance of this happening.  The thought of this possible failure has overwhelmed me from time to time these past couple of weeks but I think I’ve slowly come to the realization that no matter what happens and what grade I get, I know that I did my best.  And I also know that if I do fail, then it is simply life’s way of giving me an opportunity to learn and grow from.  These thoughts seem to ease a lot of my fears, especially around this fear of failing and I know that fear itself is such a fleeting emotion.  It comes and it goes, in cyclical, almost predictive patterns and I know that if I act fast I can prevent it from taking over altogether.

So that’s what I have tried to do throughout this period of high stress; I’ve been working on noticing and acknowledging the fear and anxiety, detaching myself from it and observing it from an outsider’s perspective and then finally letting go of it.  This fear is not who I am.  It is merely a symptom of the ego.  By detaching myself from this fear, I’ve begun to realize that I am so much more than my thoughts, so much more than my emotions.  I know I struggle to not get wrapped up in this negative thought pattern and I know that it is simply a result of habit, a maladaptive pattern of conditioning.

These past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed changes in my mood that will happen literally from one second to the next.  One moment I felt stressed and anxious about an exam and the next moment I felt calm and relatively at peace.  You would think this shifting of emotions, literally in the blink of an eye, would make me feel like I’m going crazy or losing my grip on things.  And sure maybe my ego was losing its grip on things in feeling like it didn’t have any control in how well I did.  But the truth is this is not the real me that felt like it was falling apart.  It was simply my ego feeling like it was on the brink of losing its grip on things and losing control.  My mom sent me a quote by Yogi Amrit Desai that has been stuck in my mind ever since:

“When you feel like you are falling apart, it is not you who is falling apart; it is who you are not.  The real you can never fall apart.”

This quote really struck a cord within me and has made me come to many realizations.  We are not our emotions nor are we are thoughts, or even our personality.  We are all so much more than that.  We are souls, full of love and life.  This is the part of us that remains constant, ever-stable and resistant to external influences.  I think I’m finally opening my eyes and heart to the truth in that I am so much more than this façade, I am so much more than my personality, than my body, than the thoughts and emotions that go along with these.  The real me is not influenced by how thin I am, how pretty I am or even how well I do in school.  When I feel like these are the things that define me I know that is when I have lost the connection with this inner, whole and all-loving part of me.

Although I am just beginning to learn that what truly matters in life is the love you have for yourself and the love you give to others, it does not change the fact that I am still human.  I still have these human characteristics (thoughts, emotions, bodily ties) that do have a say in how I carry myself.  Even though I know the real me is so much more than the thoughts I have or the emotions I feel, I know that this realization does not do away with these instinctual primal instincts.

I know that these negative thoughts and emotions are fleeting and truly do come and go and this realization has led me to believe that I truly do have power over what I think and feel.  I can consciously choose to feel stressed or think negative thoughts or I can consciously choose to shift my focus to the positive things in life.  This conscious choosing really does impact on how quickly your mood and mindset can change.  Even today, after getting out of my last exam, feeling a bit discouraged, I simply decided to shift my focus on the positive: the beautiful blue sky, the warm sunshine on my face, and the fact that I will get to spend the next couple of days with the friends I’ve made here in New Zealand.

As my time here in New Zealand is quickly coming to a close, all sorts of thoughts and emotions come up: mainly sadness of leaving and the regret of things I didn’t do or changes I didn’t make within myself.  Despite these negative feelings, I choose to shift my focus on these last couple of days and to truly enjoy my time with the friends I’ve made.  As I shift my perspective from dwelling on the negative to basking in all the wonder and beauty surrounding me, I find myself content and at peace with where I am.  I am thoroughly grateful and appreciative of this opportunity that I’ve had to come abroad and to have all of these wonderful experiences.

I also know that my outlook on this experience and in life in general is greatly determined by my conscious choosing.  I can choose to dwell on the regrets, the mistakes, the negatives or I can choose to focus on all the good that is around me each and every moment.  Being in New Zealand has made me realize that each and every moment is a new moment, a chance to consciously choose happiness and love over doubt, fear and second-guessing.  My gaze shifts back to my now open bedroom window and as I look up at the beautiful blue sky and bask in the sunshine pouring down on me, I smile and relish in the beauty and simplicity of what I have in this moment.


Student Abroad: Appreciation

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Nov 082012

Author: Anna Palmer

For the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling this ever-familiar feeling of no motivation coupled with the ever-destructive feeling of not caring. As finals are approaching, I find myself with little to no motivation to study. A part of me would like to say “screw it” and just not even try, but another part urges me to buckle down or else I am going to be kicking myself for it later. As finals here are worth 50 percent of my final grade, I find myself in a panic, full of anxiety about not being able to tackle this seemingly huge feat in front of me. I find myself in fear, fearful of not passing my classes, which would be not only devastating but a pretty big waste of time and money. Sure, I am abroad and have had all of these amazing experiences but my parents are paying lots of money for me to go to school here too. Inevitably, all of this stress and fear of failing is combining and resulting in a feeling of almost paralyzing and overwhelming fear.

This semester, I know I have not been the typical “A” student I have been in the past and I’ve justified this by saying that school is not my focus while I am abroad. But I’m realizing I may have taken this too far and I know now that though my time abroad has been a lot about discovering myself and having all these awesome adventures, it wouldn’t be a true study abroad experience without the actual “study” aspect. This whole semester has been a blur of amazing experiences, but with this there has come somewhat of a price to pay. It feels like I honestly have not done any schoolwork since I’ve been in New Zealand. Now, that isn’t the case, but compared to the amount of work I would have back home it’s nothing. I’ve managed to pass all my assignments but just passing has left me with the added pressure of having to do fairly well on all my final exams. I feel like I’m playing catch-up for the entire semester and having to actually learn all this material in a matter of weeks. And the fact that a whole month is dedicated for finals adds to my procrastination and makes the stress and anxiety endure much longer than I would like.

It’s always been hard for me to focus on one thing at a time and to not get overwhelmed with everything I have to do. When I lose my focus and get wrapped up in a whirlwind of all the material I have yet to study, I literally want to curl up into a ball and attempt to shut out and forget about what I have to do. I inevitably end up sabotaging myself in the process and end up more stressed. I know that if I just take it one topic, one subject at a time I will be much more successful than getting overwhelmed with all the material I have yet to learn. And at the end of the day, I know all I can do is my best. I know it is my fear of failure that makes me believe I am destined to fail but realistically I know if I simply put the work in I will be successful.

I know that the stress and anxiety does nothing but make things worse and I also know that in order to relieve these feelings, I need to actually sit down and start chipping away at studying. So that is what I have been doing, but I am struggling to actually retain the information. My first final is in less than one week and even though I have done a good amount of studying for it, I still feel as though I am nowhere near prepared. You’d think this lack of preparation would urge me to sit down and study more but it in fact has had the opposite effect. This lack of motivation, though it hasn’t had severe consequences yet, has been hugely affecting my work ethic. But it’s time I stop putting off the inevitable and really crack down on studying.

I need to keep reminding myself that even though studies have not been my top priority abroad, this is still a very important aspect of my time abroad. I came here to learn both in and outside the classroom and I need to pass these classes not only for the transfer credit but for my own peace of mind. I want to succeed and I want to do well and in order to do so I know I need to start putting in this work. With this, I know that I cannot work myself into a frenzy and sacrifice my own sanity, so I need to balance this work with periodic breaks, whether that be a short walk or just taking a moment to breathe and meditate. My sanity and well-being is way more important than how well I do in school but I also know how much I do care about school.

Everything is a balancing act, balancing work with keeping a sane and peaceful state of mind, balancing lack of motivation with the reminder that it will all be worth it in the end, and balancing the lack of care with the reminder that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to not care is to let this experience pass me by. I came to New Zealand to discover myself, and I would like to say that I’ve done that but if I am going to be honest, it hasn’t quite happened the way I’ve wanted it to. It’s been a process and being abroad has dramatically changed a lot of things in my life but I am realizing that everything, every challenge every struggle is truly a process and going to some foreign country may not rid me of that but it has forced me to deal with and work through them. I know I struggle to fully appreciate everything I have at a given moment and maybe that’s the key to this whole school thing, truly appreciating this opportunity to learn just for the sake of learning and in a foreign and beautiful place, like New Zealand, nonetheless.

Student Abroad: Home away from home

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Nov 012012

Author: Anna Palmer

This past week I went WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for a wonderful Kiwi family in the beautiful and majestic Waitaki Valley.  Immediately, I knew I had picked the right family.  As I waited at the bus stop, a woman called out asking if I was Anna and greeted me with a warm, welcoming hug, instantly soothing my nerves.  I had been slightly nervous about this experience, going away on my own, living with a family I had never met and really putting myself out there not knowing quite what to expect.  What I found was truly a home away from home.  The Tyrrell family welcomed me into their home with open and loving arms, making me feel apart of the family.  It was amazing to see the hospitality that a stranger can give to another stranger and the unique bond that comes from this simple gesture.  They had welcomed me into their home in exchange for 4 mere hours of work each day, which consisted of painting

The house where I WWOOFed for a week

The house where I WWOOFed for a week

closet doors.  A seemingly simple task, but one that requires careful and precise movements, I came to find myself quite enjoying the meditative, peaceful state it put me in.  Time seemed to fly by so quickly and I found myself meditating on the seemingly simplistic aspects of life.

In a warm and loving environment such as it was, I felt myself enveloped in this cloud so full of love the entire week.  Their house was nestled in a beautiful, peaceful valley, with snow-covered mountains in the backdrop, a picturesque place where I found much peace, rest and tranquility.  Interacting with the family felt effortless and natural, almost as if I were a relative visiting for a couple of days.  I felt myself opening up to these seemingly strangers and effortlessly conversing with them.  I had some of the best conversations with Amber, the mom, and the conversation between us felt completely natural.  She had much wisdom and love to share and it was absolutely amazing to hear about some of her life experiences and the spiritual journey she has been on.  This week was like a breath of fresh air, as it gave me the chance to converse on a higher spiritual level than I’ve been able to in a while.  We were able to talk about things like meditation, near-death experiences, finding the God within and truly living out your life purposefully and meaningfully.  It was amazing to be apart of this opening up process and experiencing this higher-level connection with someone who was previously a stranger.

With any experience though, I find myself wondering what was lacking.  This experience was not about getting my hands dirty and really immersing myself into the farming environment nor was it about waking up at the crack of dawn and working till dusk.  It was of a different, unique type, one that I am overall very thankful for.  Although I did not get the hands-on experience of working with farm animals, I do believe this was a good starting point.  It was a nice way to ease myself into the WWOOFing scene in a way that has urged me to seek out more opportunities and challenge myself to try out new things, things I may initially be unsure of.

This experience gave me something I didn’t quite know I needed.  It gave me a break from the mundane routine of everyday life.  Being surrounded by a family so full of love and kindness made me appreciate the family I do have back home.  There have been a handful of times while I’ve been abroad where I’ve longed to be with my family.  Being with a Kiwi family, in a way, substituted for the family that I haven’t had while I’ve been here.  It was nice just to be surrounded by that love that so often goes unnoticed and unappreciated in a family.  Being with the Tyrrells made me appreciate my family and look back on all the times we’ve shared with fondness and appreciation.

A view of the Waitaki Valley

A view of the Waitaki Valley

I am so thankful to have had this experience, not only this past week but of these past 4 months.  It’s all too often the case when I am unable to appreciate what is directly in front of me whether it be the amazing beauty of New Zealand or the love of a family.  Although I long to be near to my family and long to be back home every now and then, I stop myself because I know that once this moment is gone I will long to have it back as well.  Everywhere I go I’ve been seeking to really appreciate and soak up each and every moment for I know once it is gone I can’t get it back.  I’m slowly working toward being content and satisfied with what I have and what I am experiencing in this moment, not reaching toward the future or delving back into the past.  All I have is right now, this moment and I can choose to check out and miss out on all the beauty and love right in front of me or I can consciously choose to remain present with all the love and bliss that surrounds me at all times.  This love is within me and accessible at all times and all that is needed is to make the choice to access this true state within me and let go of all the worry and fear.  So in this moment, I choose to return to this state of love and align myself with all that is good for in this moment all is well and all is just as it should be.

Student Abroad: No Regrets

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Oct 252012

Author: Anna Palmer

A view of Lake Alexandrina

A view of Lake Alexandrina

As I’ve slowly begun to get back into my meditation practice, I have noticed some resistance.  This resistance comes from the ever-racing mind that rarely ceases to quiet and sink into the background for even one moment of peace and calmness.  My mind is simply not used to the quiet of sitting in stillness and has been fighting to maintain its grip, by flooding me with thought after thought, worry after worry.  As I sat in my meditation this morning, the same anxiety, the same pattern of racing thoughts resurfaced until I was unable to even enjoy the brief moments of silence. Getting back into my meditation practice has been nothing short of a struggle and I am regretful of not keeping up with my practice while I have been abroad.

Sitting in my brief meditation today, a simple thought floated to the surface.  How would it feel to live a life with absolutely no regrets? How would it feel to simply leave the past behind, accept what you did and did not do, and move freely, uninhibited into the present moment? I feel like I’m consistently struggling to maintain a grip on the now, without feeling drawn into the past, for what it was and was not.  To live a life of no regrets would mean to accept the past for what it was and was not, accept the situation for what it was and was not, and simply learn from these past experiences in order to enhance growth and fulfillment in the now.  But, the mind ever struggles to allow this simple, effortless process of letting go to take place and instead fights even harder to maintain its grip on things.

Instead of regretting the past and wasting time dwelling on what went wrong why can’t we simply acknowledge these shortcomings or mistakes in our past and learn from them?  It sounds so easy and yet it is all too common to repeat the same cycle, never learning, never growing.  Maybe it is easier to dwell on the past rather than actually taking the initiative and changing these maladaptive patterns.  For these patterns are what we know, what we are used to and to sway from them would be a journey into the unknown, the unfamiliar.  But to keep repeating them would be an even bigger disservice to ourselves and to others.

Sheep being herded on the drive to Mt. Cook

Sheep being herded on the drive to Mt. Cook

Looking back on my time in New Zealand, I would like to say that I have no regrets and, for the most part, I do not.  But a part of me, the part that continues to pick at the past, obsessing and analyzing and fretting over what was and what could have been persists.  My regrets revolve around me getting in the way of myself.  This struggle of mine has persisted here in New Zealand.  My anxieties, my insecurities, my fears have continued to block my path at times, preventing me from being fully present and able to enjoy the moment right in front of me.  However, the times that I have managed to keep this presence have been some of the best that I have had in New Zealand and in my entire life at that.  When I have been able to let go of my racing thoughts and get out of my head, I have been able to thoroughly take in my surroundings and soak up the experience and people around me.

Though my meditation practice has been somewhat non-existent since coming to New Zealand, I’ve found myself slowly acquiring the ability to draw myself back into the present as I go about my day.  This growing sense of awareness of what I am experiencing in the now has dramatically enhanced my experiences lately.  This past weekend, I traveled to Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook with a group of friends and I can honestly say it was one of the best weekends to date.  The reason for this exists in the fact that for the majority of the weekend I was able to maintain presence with each experience and resist the urge to be pulled into the ramblings and worries of the mind.  I was able to continually bring myself back to the present and because of this I fully experienced all the beauty and wonder that surrounded me.  I was even able to enjoy the seemingly unenjoyable, from camping in the snow and raging wind to taking a dip in the freezing, but beautifully blue lake water of Lake Tekapo.  And I can honestly say that I came out of this weekend with no regrets and only a desire to return to this state of awareness.

I think I’m finally beginning to understand that all I truly have at any given time is what lay directly in front of me.  I can’t waste my time or energy or sacrifice my happiness dwelling on what could have been.  All I can do is move forward with awareness and presence in each moment and simply breathe in all that is around me.  Living a life of no regrets means accepting the past for what it is, simply allowing the thoughts and worries about what could have been pass on by, learning from past mistakes and moving forward into the present moment, breathing in all that life has to offer.

Student Abroad: The fear of failure

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Oct 112012

Author: Anna Palmer

I have recently found myself in the presence of an overwhelming feeling of impending failure.  From past experience, I know this feeling envelops me at times when the future is uncertain.  It presents itself at times when I am unsure of how I will do on an essay or a test, badgering me into thinking I am destined to fail.  It pesters me when the task at hand seems incomprehensible, urging me to stop while I am ahead.  When it hits me full force, I begin to believe that I will not be successful in the long-term.

Upon coming to New Zealand, I believed I would miraculously discover what it is I want to do with my life, post-graduation that is.  I had this picture in my head of finally discovering what it is I’m passionate about and pursuing this passion with vigor and intensity.  I cannot help but think now that this was too high of an expectation, one that has inevitably left me feeling like somewhat of a failure.  I still have absolutely no idea what I want to do after I graduate, and that is such a scary, looming feeling.  It leads me to the irrational conclusion that no matter what I set my sights on, I will fail regardless, so I might as well not even try.

Why is it the fear of failing gets in the way of all the possibilities that lay ahead?  Why is it so challenging to look past this possibility of failure and simply try your best anyway?  Are we so conditioned to believe that any amount of failure impacts upon who we are as a person?  Any attempts to rationalize this fear lead me to believe that such rationalization is not possible.  But this does not take away from how much of an effect this belief can have.  Failing is an inevitable part of life; if it weren’t for the mistakes we made, the tests we failed, the misjudgments we made, how would we ever learn?  Somehow, this knowledge does not make the fear diminish.  It would be all too easy if we knew at what we would be successful and what paths we had better veer from.  If I had the opportunity to peer into my future and deliberately assess when and where I would make my mistakes, I cannot be certain I would turn it down.

This fear of failure is something I have been feeling more and more recently.  Maybe it comes from the realization that I will soon have to go back to my “normal” life of challenging classes and, from there, I am edging closer and closer to the end of my college career.  It is the fear of the unknown, the fear of what I cannot predict, wrapped up in this fear of failing.

I know that when I return home, some big decisions await me, decisions I would rather not worry about not now, not ever.  And with these decisions come the possibility of failure.  Looking over the classes I have yet to take, I worry that I am never going to graduate, another irrational fear. This leads me to the conclusion that I will never find my passion in life and thus never be successful; something I know is not likely but nevertheless feels so possible at times.

It comes down to the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing what I should do.  I should focus on the task at hand, not on trying to predict what will happen in the future.  I do not know how successful I will be nor do I know exactly what the future holds, but I do know that failure is a part of life, for better or for worse. This thought brings me some comfort, knowing that it is a natural part of the human experience, and the choice comes in the decision to learn from the experience or not. Actually turning this knowledge into a core belief and acting upon this belief is the tricky part that will inevitably take time and effort.  But for now, I seek to work toward a relinquishing of this fear of failure, as it does not serve me in the present moment nor does it push me to do my best, for this is all I can ask of myself.

Student Abroad: A state of balance

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Oct 042012

Author: Anna Palmer

Today, I came upon a realization as I browsed through the spirituality section at the local used bookstore.  After approximately thirty minutes staring aimlessly at the plethora of books, eyes scanning from title to title, I realized I had no idea what I was looking for. I was on the search, for something, something to draw my attention.  I self-consciously stood there, worried that the man sitting at the counter would eventually come over to make sure I was finding what I came looking for.  For the answer to this simple question, I did not know.  I had come looking for a book, but upon self-examination, I knew I was looking for much more.  I came to that bookstore looking for meaning, meaning I know deep down I cannot find in some book.

Since coming to New Zealand, despite all the amazing, unbelievable experiences I have had, I have noticed a subtle, yet drastic change, a shift in focus you might say.  I’ve noticed myself consumed by the superficial world, pulling me into its tight grip.  I have become preoccupied with this world…consumed by concerns over my body and appearance, the party scene, the Facebook obsession, worried about what others are doing, thinking, saying, worried about my grades and stressing over my school work…all the minuscule things in life.  I’ve resorted to this superficial layering of life that we all find ourselves trapped in more often than we would like to admit.

Taking a step back, I realize that my sense of balance has been swept under the rug.  I feel like I have lost my connection to my spirituality, the part of me I deem most important.  I have lost my sense of meaning, of purpose. I am uselessly trying to fill this hole, this emptiness with things of the superficial nature.  I’ve noticed a hunger, a longing to regain this connection with my spirituality and I have responded by filling it with things of this nature.  As much as I hate to admit it, I have resorted back to old habits. But it’s time I start being honest with myself.  Until I do, I will be trapped in the same cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors.  I realize I must make a conscious effort to respond to this sense of longing in ways that actually work toward filling this hole.

My meditation practice has been basically non-existent since coming to New Zealand and I recognize now how much of an impact this has had on my day-to-day life.  In the bookstore today I discovered I was searching outside of myself for something, some book to inspire me, to relight the flame of purpose and desire in my heart.  But I now am beginning to realize, I do not need a book to achieve this.  I must look within myself instead, for within myself lies all the love, comfort, meaning, and purpose I need.

Realizing how unbalanced I’ve become took a lot of conscious awareness and I know that each moment presents a new challenge to remain conscious and present.  I must work diligently to regain this sense of balance, whether that is through meditation or journaling, some way to keep my focus clear of all the superficial clutter.  I know this will not be easy and temptation will inevitably present itself, but I am up for the challenge.  With this, I must bear in mind that perfection is not an attainable goal, not now, not ever.  All I can ever do is my best.  Each day is a new day, each moment a new moment, a new opportunity to realign my values toward love and acceptance, toward a state of balance defined by utter peace and harmony.

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.