22 December 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy holidaaaaaays...happy holidaaaaaays....Hey everyone, long time no chat. Before I jump in and answer the very last question in the first round of "Ask Sarah" I thought I'd give you a quick update as far as what's going on with me these days.

First, I officially completed my studies at the University of Otago. All in all, I'd have to say returning to school and switching back into student mode after two years of official adult-dom was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. While the extra free time and generally low responsibility level was great, the inconsistent schedule, essays, exams, and rowdy freshman got a bit draining. Nonetheless I gave it my best and finished with a pretty darn good grade report.

Second, I decided I am not ready to say goodbye to the land o' Kiwi, and have managed to secure both a work permit and a job. While I will always love the States, I feel I've made a real connection with the Kiwi lifestyle, and have managed to carve a space and path for myself that deserves seeing out. While I'm actually back home in South Carolina at present for the holidays, shortly after New Years I'll plant my fanny once again in that narrow, uncomfortable plane seat and make the 30+ hour trek back across the planet to return to Dunedin. So far it's slightly surreal to be surrounded by twangin' Southerners, but being reunited with my family and sharing in the holiday spirit has been wonderful.

Now that that is out of the way, I'll get on to more pressing matters: (drumroll please) the FINAL reader question:

Ask Sarah v 7.0
Are there any attempts at controlling the sheep population? Are they owned by anyone or managed by the government in any way?

From Mary Dyer, Principal, Hunters Creek Elementary

Amazingly Insightful Answer:
Congrats Mary, you get a special prize for being the official final question asker. It should arrive in 8 to 10 business days. Hopefully you'll have room for in your yard for a sheep.

As far as the sheep go, I feel I should clarify a bit. Yes there are tons of them. That being said, they aren't wild sheep. Those millions of animals all have their own respective homes, whether it's a small family farm or large international argriculture company. While I'm sure the occaisional one or two get loose and head for greener pastures, there aren't roving bands of ferral sheep clogging up roadways and destroying gardens. The sheep industry is tightly regulated by both the business and government sectors.

On that note, I recently found out that the dairy industry is actually usurping the agricultural sector and dethroning the poor sheep as king of business. I'll have to get back to you about why exactly that is though... It may be quite interesting to see who wins the ruminant mammal battle for best pasture space in the coming years!

And with that, in the words of that pentagon of articulation, Porky Pig, ehbehdee-ehbehdee-ehbehdee-That's all folks! Happy Holidays, and see you again in the New Year!

14 November 2008

Ask Sarah v 6.0
My travels have led me to central Europe, about 15 years ago. As a history major before becoming a teacher and administrator, I was intrigued by what I found historically in Vienna, Graz, Munich, and Rothenberg.

My question for you is whether you have had the opportunity to visit ancient sites in New Zealand and what types of places they are. I know very little of this beautiful country, but would like to take this opportunity to hear from someone who is spending so much time there.

Any cool locale's description and maybe a picture would be great.

Thanks for taking the time to help me out.

J A Shannon, Principal
Dixon High School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 6:
I too got to spend three amazing months touring around Europe. My junior year of college I spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. When I wasn't packing on the pounds via mass consumption of pasta and gelato, I got to make the rounds to a number of the surrounding countries and see a really good cross section of all that area of the world has to offer.

As far as interesting "ancient sites" in New Zealand, they are actually few and far between in the techincal sense. Not much here qualifies as "ancient" seeing as the country is barely 250 years old. Ancient churchs, relics, etc. just aren't to be found. Really the only window into the past here is the land itself.
On a random note not necessarily related to history, there are absolutely no native mammals to New Zealand. All the sheep, possums, cows, etc. were brought over by the settlers in the 1800's. Before that the land was ruled by birds, as they were the only creatures that could get to the land mass once it broke off from Gondwana way back in the day. The cool thing is, the birds developed their own food chain/system of predators and dominant species equivalent to the mammal food chain. Also, as the Kiwis like to tell me, there is nothing in the entire country that can hurt you. No snakes, no bears, no poinsonous spiders, nothing. The worst you have to worry about are the annoying sandflies, which are about on par with mosquitoes (only without West Nile or Malaria). Kinda throws it in the face of Australia, which is lucky enough to house 8 of the ten deadliest snakes species, tons of sharks, crocodiles, several species of killer spiders, and one of the deadliest animals on the face of the planet, the box jellyfish (Go here to see the full list of nasty critters Aussies have to deal with: http://www.yesaustralia.com/Curiosidades-animaising.htm)

Now let's see...cool NZ locales...hmmm...how about the ENTIRE COUNTRY. The natural landscape is unlike that anywhere else on earth. The amazing, infinite variety of beauty is truly indescribable. And while I'm not professional photographer, I'll do my best to give you a glimpse. Enjoy!

11 November 2008

Ask Sarah v5.0
It has been so interesting reading about your adventures in New Zealand--especially when your mom came to visit! As an educator I am interested in the schools in New Zealand. I have the opportunity to work with a VIF (visiting international faculty teacher from New Zealand for three years at NC elementary school. She has said that the New Zealand schools have strong literacy programs is this true? What can you tell me about the New Zealand school system.

Kim Cooke
Marvin Ridge High School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 5:
Kia Ora Kim. Glad you got to get to know a kiwi...not too many of them pass through the Southern heartlands, so consider yourself lucky! As far as the school systems go, unfortunately my experience with anything other than the University level is pretty limited. The most I can tell you is that all the "school" kids (as the term school refers only to grades k-12, which are actually called "forms" rather than grades...confused yet?) have to wear really horrible blazer-kilt-clod hopper shoe uniforms, and get out much earlier than any school I ever went to or was familiar with. That being said, I have heard from time to time that NZers do invest a lot in literacy...if a child is struggling with reading they will provide tutors or additional instruction free of cost to the parents. Other than that, that's about all I can tell you, I'm afraid.

There are a number of interesting differences at the University level that I noticed, so just to beef up this posting a bit, I'll share those. Firstly, Uni admin is much more deeply involved in the planning of it's students degrees. At the University of South Carolina, where I received my undergrad, it was basically up to you to pick your courses, make your schedule, etc. As long as you paid your money, the University really couldn't care less whether you were taking the appropriate course or on track for a timely graduation.

At the University of Otago, however, they are in there every step of the way, almost to the point of frustration. They have an entire week of "course approval" where you must visit professors from each department which you want to take a class in, where they either approve or don't approve your attendance; then after you've got signatures for each class you have to go to another advisor who makes sure you are taking what you need for your degree, puts it in a computer system and makes sure there are no schedule clashes, and then may or may not sign off on your schedule. If you wish to make any changes to it once that's all done, you have to go through the entire process AGAIN...it was actually quite irritating, for someone who was used to getting online at an assigned time and switching their schedule and enrollment as often and whenever I wanted. I suppose it's a good thing though, as it shows the university actually values the students' educational journey and not just their bank accounts.

Also, just an interesting note to close out with...when grading work--which they actually call "marking"--rather than starting at 100 % and taking off points for incorrect answers, everything starts from zero and you accumulate points. Probably some outgrowth of the obsessive political correctness influencing NZ social policy and politics, something like it is "better" to reward good work by adding points then punishing bad work by taking points away. But who knows, now I'm just philosophically digging. Sorry I couldn't be more detailed about the school system as a whole; if I get the chance I'll definitely do some research and post again with more info. Ciao for now!

07 November 2008

Ask Sarah v4.0

Question 5:
I would like to here about the contacts that Sarah has had with the native New Zealander’s. I have always been fascinated by their culture. Thank you!

Elaine Justice
Principal Queens Creek Elementary School

Amazingly Insightful Answer 5:
Hi Elaine, great to hear from you. When you say "native" New Zealanders, I assume you mean those of Maori heritage, correct? It's a really interesting situation here, as far as that particular demographic is concerned. Approximately eighteen percent of the population claim Maori lineage, however due to colonization and urbanization and a very flexible definition of what qualifies a person as Maori means that there are virtually no people left of "pure" Maori blood.

That being said, since the latter half of this century the New Zealand government has taken many, many steps to help keep the Maori culture alive. Maori is an official language of the country, they have their own political party w/ seats in parilment, most public signs and documentation are in English and Maori, the list goes on. The story between the Maori and the settlers is very long and very complicated; I'd suggest doing a quick google or wiki search as there's no way I could possible even brush the surface of it all in my little blog.

As far as my own personal experiences with the culture, besides the folks I've met through university and travel, I've had to opportunity to visit a Maori marae, which is essentially like a community center or meeting house, only with a sacred, religious bent. From my understanding, all sorts of activities--from cultural presentations and performances, communal meals, important meetings, community events, traditional ceremonies, etc.--all happen there. There are a number of rules and traditions that have to be followed within the property, such as removing your shoes upon entering; food can only be consumed in certain areas; and visitors must be formally invited and greeted in a tradition fashion, usually involving a greeting speech in Maori and a song "exchange" between the visitors and the hosts.

An interesting Maori practice that has made it's mark throughout the rest of the world is the Maori haka, thanks to NZ's champion rugby team, the All Blacks. The haka is a traditional chant/dance that was performed by Maori warriors prior to battle, as a means of intimidating the enemy (this is not the exclusive use though; there are many other types of haka, including welcoming, entertainment, and so on.) The rubgy team performs this dance before pretty much every game, which I got to see first hand when I saw them play in Dunedin. It's really pretty intimidating to watch, particularly when it's gigantically beefy rugby players performing it; here's a YouTube link if you want to check it out for yourself:


I could go on with facts and factoids about NZ's Maori, but this posting is already getting a bit lengthy, and I'm sure an encyclopedia or other sort of book can give you much better description of the culture's history and nuances. Another suggestion is to look for the movie "Once Were Warriors." It's a NZ-made film about contemporary Maori; interesting perspective on the Maori's current social status and a great example of Kiwi culture. If you get the chance add it to your Netflix list (boy do I miss Netflix. No equivalent here yet).

03 November 2008

Ask Sarah v 3.0

Question 4
Greetings Sarah! Congratulations to you as you enjoy your time as a Rotary Scholar in New Zealand . I have been a Rotarian for 25 years, and this past spring helped to host a Rotary Group Exchange Team from Nigeria as they visited throughout western North Carolina . I know you are having a wonderful time.

This past spring, while I was in Washington at a conference, I had the opportunity to visit the New Zealand Embassy. They were most gracious, and the food was outstanding! Finally, I have been a avid fly fisher for over 20 years, and I know that some of the best fly-fishing in the world is in New Zealand. Perhaps you will want to try some fly-fishing before your leave! I hope I have to chance to visit New Zealand some day.


Amazinglingly Insightful Answer 4:
Hi Duane, it's great to hear from a fellow Rotarian. I have heard the same thing about fly fishing here...unfortunately it's not something I've done here (or anywhere, really), but I have done some fishing out in the Pacific. I was lucky enough to take a trip out on a catamaran, and really all we had to do was drop the line in the water, wait two seconds, and reel in the catch. Now that's my kind of fishing! Plus I won the prize for biggest catch.

And as far as the NZ embassy in DC goes, I too had a good experience with them...to make a long story short I managed to lose my passport and visa the week before I was due to depart for NZ, and got to spend the day before my flight in the waiting room of the embassy while they processed a rush visa for me. They were incredibly kind to do so, and the moral of that story is ALWAYS know where your documentation is. Hopefully you will get to take a trip out here someday...If it's in the next year look me up, as I liked it so much I've decided to stick around for quite sometime. Thanks for reading!

24 October 2008

Ask Sarah Contd.

Question 3
Hi Sarah, I am in the World View Course on Globalization. I have hundreds of questions, but one on a personal level. What are some of the major religions in New Zealand and how have they influenced the customs you are learning about? Thank you Sarah.

Bridget L. Grady
Assistant Principal, Sand Ridge Elementary

Amazingly Insightful Answer 3
Hi Bridget,

As I'm sure you are aware, the role religion plays can vary wildly from nation to nation. Whether it is a central, driving factor influencing all aspects of life or more of individualized choice of lifestyle, the religion of a country helps define and shape a nation's culture. As far as New Zealand goes, religion seems to fall in the latter category. While Christianity is, technically, the predominant religion (see demographic breakdown below, courtey of the World Factbook), it doesn't seem to hold a major place in public life (obviously it may for particular individuals, however). The attitude here is very much one of "live and let live." New Zealand is very good about making sure everyone has the chance to live the life they want, unfettered and without discrimination. However, the "let live" part is also fiercely protected. Yes, you can live how you want, but your life choices are not allowed to be impressed upon others or affect their life in any way. It's very much a keep it in your own backyard type of thing. Really, it's not much different from the US in that way. They just don't have a Constitution spelling it out; it's something that's intrinsically understood.

CIA World Factbook NZ Religion breakdown: Anglican 14.9%, Roman Catholic 12.4%, Presbyterian 10.9%, Methodist 2.9%, Pentecostal 1.7%, Baptist 1.3%, other Christian 9.4%, other 3.3%, unspecified 17.2%, none 26% (2001 census)

21 October 2008

Ask Sarah Contd.

Question 2
I hear in New Zealand sheep out number people 3 to 1. Is this true? Have you had any encounters with sheep? Are they roaming through the neighborhoods like stray dogs or only seen on farms in certain areas of the country? :)
Thanks, Tara

Amazingly Insightful Answer 2:

Actually Tara, there are approximately TEN sheep for every one Kiwi here in Aotearoa. (I personally believe all those wooly creatures are secretly plotting to overthrow the nation. They are just waiting for when the time is right...)

Funny story, when I arrived in the country back in February, I remember excitedly asking my Rotary host counselor if and when would I get to pet a sheep. He gave me a slightly confused look and said....um, sure....haven't you ever been up close to a sheep before? To which I responded, well I saw one in a zoo one time...About five minutes later, after he had finished laughing hysterically at the thought of someone paying to see a sheep in a zoo (those crazy Americans), he took me to see a farmer friend of his, who (after also laughing at the whole sheep/zoo thing) not only let me pet his sheep, but gave me a fully detailed lesson on the twenty four different species of NZ sheep, carefully explaining which type was good for meat, which for wool, which were hardier, which were really, really dumb, and so on. I have yet to try my hand at shearing a sheep, but it's definitely on my must-do list!

As far as roving bands of stray sheep, it's not like you wake up in the morning to find several outside your door munching on your garbage (at least not in metropolitan areas...). But in the more rural areas of the country, it's not uncommon to see houses with two or three sheep in their yards, sort of like pets; and naturally there are the large farms with mass numbers of them.

Driving through the country side, it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll see PLENTY of sheep in pastures more or less the entire journey. And there's a good chance that at some point you'll encounter a herd being shifted, which looks like this:

I'd have to say this sort of traffic jam is infinitely more interesting than sitting stuck on I-95--watching those sheep dogs in action is truly fascinating, and you don't have to worry about road-raged psychos rear-ending you.

20 October 2008

Ask Sarah

Kia Ora once again everyone! To change things up a bit, rather than rambling on about my general state of existence I'm going to be answering questions posed by teachers from across the great state of North Carolina. As I tend to be long-winded and want to answer the questions as fully as possible, I'll be tackling one or two a day for the next week--and hopefully the gut-wrenching anticipation of what pearls of wisdom will be offered next will keep you coming back for more. So here we go!

Question 1

I've enjoyed reading your posts and used your experiences to expand and deepen my knowledge of New Zealand.

My high school hosts several exchange students each year. Our students also participate in semester and year-long study abroad programs. A common problem for both groups is culture shock, when they arrive in the host country and also when they re-enter their own culture. How did you prepare for culture shock? Can you post some tips that will make transition to a new culture easier for students planning to study abroad?


Ron Thomas,
International Baccalaureate Coordinator
Myers Park High School
Charlotte, North Carolina

Amazingly Insightful Answer 1:

Thanks Ron, hopefully my posts have provided you with both amusement and information. As far as preparing for culture shock, really the only thing you can do is accept the fact that it's going to happen, and that you can't really prepare for it. It certainly helps to know as much about your host country as possible before arriving; but ultimately no encyclopedia or travel book can really convey the feel for a culture.

Culture shock can come in any crazy combination of confusion, excitement, disbelief, amazement, fear, depression...you name it, you'll get hit with it. But when you experience these emotions--and EVERYONE does--I've found the best way to deal is to simply recognize them for what they are, and just tell yourself over and over again they are only temporary and all part of the process.

Something I found to be incredibly helpful in dealing with crazy culture-shock moments is to find a place in your host city--like a beautiful courtyard, comfy cafe, a shady spot in a park, etc.--that for whatever reason really resonates with you and makes you feel truly comfortable and secure. Make this spot "your place" of retreat and solace. Personalizing a small piece of your new city helps you to feel more connected and "at home,"and little less like a clueless visitor in a strange new land.

Talking to a friend or family member back home on a regular basis is also a great way to ground yourself and help assuage any feelings of being "lost at sea." Sharing your new observations and experiences with loved ones is an excellent way to better understand and appreciate the complexities of the culture in which you are participating.

Lastly, I personally believe the culture shock period is one of the most invaluable parts of a study abroad journey. It's the time when you really come to terms with the fact that your way of life is NOT the only one out there, and it's when you start to realize all the little things in your life and even your thought processes that you didn't even know could be different or culturally influenced--something I've found to be one of the most rewarding parts of living in a different country.
So while it may be a really difficult period in your time abroad, just try and remember that you're going to come out of it a better, wiser, more appreciative person.

Hopefully all or at least parts of this will be helpful to anyone lucky enough to embark on a study abroad adventure. Stay tuned, as there are more questions and answers to come! Cheers!

05 September 2008

Spring is Springing (or at least trying to)

Hello all you folks out there in cyberspace. I wish I could give a good excuse for my general slackness in generating new posts, but alas, I have none. To my credit though, for awhile life was just schoolwork, running, and salsa, and I can only make that so interesting. But now that mid-semester break has come and gone, I actually have something to write about. So hold on to your hats, 'cause here we go!

A lot of things have happened within the past few weeks. Not only did I celebrate my 24th birthday, I got to share it with my MOMMY :) She flew all the way over here from the States for an eleven-day whirlwind tour of New Zealand, jam-packed with Rotary activities. Thanks to our killer planning skills, Abbie (the other ambassadorial scholar here) and I organized a Rotary travel extravaganza in which we hit up three different clubs throughout Central Otago and gave our presentations. It actually all worked out really well, as we were given lodging, some help with gas money, and lots of free food. Plus, mom got to experience a bit of my relationship with Rotary, meet a lot of locals, and listen to me crack the same jokes over and over. And I actually drove for the first time since I've been here, on the wrong side of the road and everything. It was surprisingly easy actually; I didn't jeopardize our lives or the lives of anyone else at all. Go me! (It probably helped that I had done virtually no driving for the past two years, so I wasn't having to do any major mental shifting...).

When we weren't speaking at the clubs, we filled our days with all sorts of activities: touring wineries, enjoying pinot noir, mini-hikes, driving past snow-capped mountains and crystal blue lakes, enjoying more pinot noir, flying in a two-seater mini plane over Wanaka (courtesy of a very generous Rotarian), drinking even more pinot noir...For my actual birthday on the 27th, I revisited my personal heaven, the Canyon Swing at Queenstown. It was just as AWESOME as I remembered it from Easter break, and this time I got a free jump since it was my b-day. And my mom once again proved her own awesomeness, as she actually took the plunge and did the swing too. How many people can say their mom has the guts to free fall 109m off a ledge over a water-filled canyon, I ask you?! She was definitely scared, but she came up laughing with a big smile on her face. After the adrenaline rush subsided, we stuffed ourselves with birthday ice cream and super-tasty Indian food, and then headed back to Cromwell for more pinot noir :) All in all the week-long tour was a great success and tons of fun!

Mom and I spent the last days of her trip enjoying the sites of Dunedin, which actually had really great weather the entire time. I was thrilled, as prior to her arrival it had been raining continuously for about a month. But it was sunshine-y and warm the whole time, so Mom got to see exactly why I love it here. The grand tour included the Cadbury factory, Speights brewery, Larnach Castle, a drive through the penninsula, and of course, souvenir shopping. Mom also had her first salsa lesson at the Taq; I don't know if she'll be hitting the latin dance scene any time soon back in South Carolina, but she gave it a good college try and seemed to enjoy it well enough.

So all in all it's been a pretty awesome two weeks. Mom survived the flight home, and I've got my bed all to myself once again. Coming up on my schedule is the Moro half-marathon around the penninsula, which I'm super-excited about, as well as a salsa competition in Christchurch. While I'm not competing I've got a few good friends who are, so I'll tag along as moral support and to enjoy the sure-to-be-rocking after party. Somewhere in there I should probably try to get some homework done...but we'll just have to see how that goes :). And I'll try to keep more on top of the whole posting thing, too. But for now, I'm off to enjoy the beautiful sunshine.

25 July 2008

Life After a Studio Room

Hip hip hooray! I am thrilled to say that after a month of waiting, someone (a couple, actually) has finally agreed to sublet my room. It all happened so fast it's a little hard to believe. Last Wednesday I got a text from a young man asking to see the place, and by five o'clock that night he called me back saying he'd take it and could I be out by tomorrow. Rather short notice, but I was so thrilled someone with cash in hand wanted it how could I say no?

So I called up Graham, my super-awesome Rotary host counselor, and humbly requested the aid of he and his vehicle to move my hastily packed stuff, and by 1 p.m. the next day I was the newest resident of 15 Howe St. So far, I'm incredibly happy with the move. My 4 new flatmates are not only Kiwi (yay for more exposure to authentic Kiwi culture), but they actually TALK and INTERACT and hang out with each other (unlike the 8 people in my old flat where I could go a whole month without seeing anyone). that, and the two girls, Jess and Hannah are awesome cooks/bakers and have thus far kept me quite well-fed. So any future weight gain I wholly blame on them.

Other than that, things have been fairly low-key here. Naturally as soon as I got in the flat I developed a yucky cold/sinus infection that has been hanging on for about a week. It's pretty sweet how I get to be like "Hi, I'm your new flatmate. I come complete with tons of snot and germs, I'll be sure to share them equally with everyone." I'm doing my best to kick this bug, but so far it's been an uphill battle. Hopefully I'll prevail soon, as it's putting me waaaay behind in my marathon training.

I did have the chance to experience a classic NZ cultural experience, however. A couple weekends ago I attended the All Blacks rugby game played at the Dunedin stadium. It was definitely a bit more subdued than a USC football game--probably because the stadium only holds about a third the amount of spectators. But there was a streaker that attempted to give his boy goods their 3 minutes of fame by running onto the field. He didn't make it very far though, as he got clotheslined pretty quickly by security.

Another...hmm...interesting aspect of the rugby game was, well, just take a look at the video below. Supposedly this performance is a tradition, put on every year by the residents of one of the freshman dorms. Yes, these are ALL GUYS doing their interpretation of Swan Lake. Overall I must admit their sychronization is certainly on point, and what they lack in technique they make up for in dedication. Perhaps the streaker was inspired by the boys in booty shorts.

Other than the afore mentioned attention grabbers, I must confess the rest of my attention was hardly spent actually watching the rugby carnage. Call me unsport-y, but all in all I'd say I only watched about ten minutes of the actual game. I spent the rest of the time playing with 6-year-old Temika and 4-year-old Jayden, the niece and nephew of one of the crew--an activity I found to be infinitely more entertaining than watching the All Blacks lose to South Africa for the first time in 20 years or something.Anyways that's enough from me; as it's actually NOT raining for the first time in four days, I'm going to head outside and live it up while I still can. Cheers!

04 July 2008

Sarah the Explorer

I can't believe I'm about to start my second semester of classes at Otago in only two days! It feels like just yesterday that I was be driven around in the pouring rain on the hunt for accommodation, completely disoriented from the combination of being on the wrong side of the road and lingering jet lag. Funny how things come full circle--which I will elaborate upon in a moment.

A lot has happened over the break; I finally got a job at a store called Wild South, which sells high-end outdoor wear (yay for paychecks) only to be told by NZ Immigration I was missing the appropriate permit I need in order to work. The frustrating part is, I did have the appropriate permit on my original visa; however in the confusing process of moving back home from my passport was misplaced and I was forced to get a new one and a rush visa the DAY before my flight over here. And unfortunately the new one does not have the appropriate language, so I'm currently $120 NZD poorer and waiting on the paperwork to go through (seems unfair doesn't it, having to pay money to work and make money...).

I'm also in the process of looking for someone to sublet my room. As much as I love the place, it is simply too great a drain on my limited finances (hence the job). It's been a little stressful, as I found a room I like but can't move into it until someone takes this place over--and I'm not sure how much longer it's current resident is willing to wait. I thought I had found a taker last week, and went so far as to cancel a scheduled trip to Wellington so that I could move. Only the person suddenly changed their mind, putting me out about $100 and back at the drawing board. (If you haven't guessed by now, it's been a bit stressful here...)

I do not like to let things like this get me down if I can possibly help it though, and I refused to have gone the entire 3+ weeks of my vacation without doing anything cool, so I planned and organized a trip up to the mountain lake town of Wanaka in about one day--my first solo travel excursion. It was really nice to be able to get away and be on my own and really take some me time, especially in an area as beautiful as Wanaka. The land surrounding the small town is absolutely breathtaking, with it's snow-capped mountains, ice blue lake, and lush valleys. In fact I'll even go so far as to say it was, as of yet, the most incredible scenery I've seen yet (sorry Milford Sound). I hiked through the Rob Roy Valley, a four-hour trek alongside a river that leads to the Rob Roy glacier, and was incredibly proud of the fact that despite being inadequately waterproofed and tromping through plenty of snow, I never once noticed how cold my feet were!

Unfortunately the second day didn't quite live up to the first; freezing wind and pounding rain relegated me to fire-warmed cafes, after I was forced to abandon an attempt at another scenic walk halfway through due to general soakage and fear of hypothermia. But so it goes. And despite the bus ride home being equally frigid, I managed to make it back to Dunedin in time to assist the free Salsa lesson at Taqueria Poblano, and dance the night away as usual.

So all in all, things worked out ok. I'll be glad to be back in class once again; as much as I love free time, I love learning even more. And hopefully soon I'll be cleared to work and find a taker for my room. Oh, and before I forget, Happy Independence Day, USA!

14 June 2008

My work here is done.

As of Friday, June 13, 2008, I feel that I have wholly and completely fulfilled my role as an Ambassadorial Scholar for the United States of America. How did I manage to complete such an amazing feat, do you ask? By introducing one of the U.S.'s most iconic and beloved dance contributions to the people of New Zealand. I can proudly say that I, Sarah Price, taught and got an entire restaurant dancing THE MACARENA.

It all started as a typical night at Taqueria Poblano, the lone Mexican-esque eatery existing in Dunedin. Come 8:30p.m., the place transforms from a slightly overpriced purveyor of pseudo burritos and kiwi-ized chimichangas to a pulsating Latin dance party, thanks to the marketing skills of my incredible dance teacher, Alfonso. Salsa, bachata, meringue, reggaeton--you name it, it's gonna be played, as long as it's latin and SPICY. It is without a doubt my favorite night of the week, and this Friday was no exception.

Things had been going along swimmingly as usual; following the well-attended free Salsa class for newbies at the beginning of the night, the dance floor was crowded with Salseros of varying levels but equal enthusiasm. After dancing my legs into the floor for a solid hour and a half, I had just sat down to take a water break and enjoy the scene when I heard it. Da da da da-duh Heeeeeeeeeeyyyyaaaayyyyyy-ooooooooh---instantly I recognized that infamous wail and those 80s-esque, electronic synth backbeats.

I leapt to my feet immediately, grabbing my friend and fellow American Rachel mid-sentence and dragged her to the middle of the dance floor. Regressing to our past lives as thirteen year-olds, back when Macrena mania was sweeping the nation, we both sprang into action, performing those genius arm motions immovably ingrained in the minds of all our generation like there was no tomorrow.

Up to this point pretty much everyone else had stopped their salsa-ing and had been absently drifting away from the dance floor. But then they noticed these two crazy girls doing some sort of choreographed "dance" to the obnoxiously catchy song blaring from the speakers. Soon the crowd had regathered around Rachel and I, their inquisitive Kiwi faces furrowed with a mixture of bewilderment and intrigue. "Come on guys, it's easy! Just watch!" I shouted to the onlookers.

One by one, the crowd began to copy us; haltingly at first, then with increasing confidence as the Macrena's mind-numbing repetitiveness began exerting its hypnotic effects. Soon the entire floor was filled with jubilant Kiwis, thrilled with their powers of basic coordination and recall, stepping and motioning and hip swirling with all the enthusiam of sugar-buzzed pre-teens at a middle school dance. And Rachel and I were right in the thick of it, leading the pack until that very last, slightly screamy "owwwwuh" sound reverberated through the air. The best part of all though--everyone actually clapped afterwards.

That, my friends, is what it truly means to be an ambassador of culture, and no doubt will remain one of my fondest, and proudest memories of my time in New Zealand :P!

07 June 2008

A wintry June

Ooooh the weather outside is frightfulllll! It is now June, and instead of buying bikinis, bumming around on the beach, and firing up the barbeque, I'm sitting inside wrapped in a fleece jacket and slipper socks, looking at the light smattering of snow dusting the Dunedin hills. And it's definitely throwing off my internal clock--my poor northern hemisphere brain can't tell what season it's supposed to be. If you want to really confuse yourself, just think that for the Kiwis, Christmas isn't a time of snowflakes and sleigh bells; it's sunshine, summer vacation, and plenty of surfing. Weird huh?

Anyways, enough about the weather. As far as my life goes, I managed to survive my first semester at Uni, and now have a pretty sizeable vacation before the start of the second round of classes. Lucky me only had one final, and it was on the second day of the two-week period allocated for exams. So I got to be done quite early, and make all my friends jealous. The exam was definitely tough and required a completely different kind of cramming from what I was used to, as it was my exercise science class as oppsed to the English/writing/advertising oriented tests I slogged through for four years. But I survived nonetheless, and should come out alright. Now the problem is figuring out what to do with myself in the meantime. Unfortunately my travel options are pretty limited as I await my second scholarship payment--too bad but can't be helped. Right now it seems venturing into the world of work is my best bet to fill the time. Hooray for paychecks, boo for work. But oh well. At the very least, I've now got the time to catch up on all my blog posts. So be on the lookout for a big heap of them the next couple of weeks. At the moment though, I'm going to call it quits and say adieu, as I have to get in an eight-mile training run while the sun is still shining. I don't think I mentioned that I decided to participate in a marathon around the Otago penninsula in September...it'll be my second after doing the Marine Corps Marathon in DC last October. Super excited, and ready to wrack up the miles. Take care everyone, and check back soon!

30 April 2008

North Island Adventures

Hello once again everyone! I'm back after a whirlwind of a vacation, trying hard to get back into the groove of school and homework and responsibilities... not the easiest of tasks, but I'm always up for a challenge. For the last two weeks, I've been taking full advantage of my university's mid-semester break to do a bit of travelling around the North and South Islands. I was able to cover quite a bit of ground, and undertake a number of awesome (and sometimes awesomely scary) adventures. I should also mention that this vacation was an extra special one, as I got to share it with my fiance, Michael. He's currently living and working in Washington D.C., and it was the first time we'd seen each since I left for NZ almost three months ago. Since it was also Michael's first visit to the country, I tried my hardest to show him a fair representation of all wonderful things NZ has to offer--no easy task on such a limited time frame. But in the end I think we did a pretty good job it. If nothing else, we definitely came out with some excellent stories!

We began our adventure up on the North Island in Auckland, NZ's largest city. (Take note here; it's a common misconception that Auckland is also New Zealand's capital city, when that honor actually goes to Wellington.) While it's not quite on the same level as New York City, Auckland was definitely quite a change from the grassy hills and brightly colored bungalows that make up Dunedin. With plenty of modern high rises, the futuristic Sky Tower, and a diverse population, the "City of Sails" had the bustling feel of a metropolis, but without the intimidating size or crowdedness.

After seeing the sights and taking a trip to the nearby volcanic island of Waiheke, we decided to try our hand at driving on the opposite side of the road and brave the motorway to Rotorua. The second we arrived, we immediately realized what the Rotarians back in Dunedin had meant when they said they city was "stinky." Because it is. Very very stinky. Located in an area of constant thermal activity, Rotorua comes complete with steaming rocks, bubbling mud, spurting geysers, and an oh-so-lovely rotten egg smell wafting throughout the entire city. You also have to make sure you watch where you step, and stay on the lookout for "KEEP OUT. ACTIVE THERMAL AREA." signs. Stepping in a boiling pit of mud wouldn't exactly make for the best time while on vacation. We did have a great time, however; seeing an authentic Maori village and song/dance performance, watching the Pohutu geyser do its thing, and careening down a mountainside on little plastic carts on wheels, known here as the Luge.

After two days had passed --and just when we were almost used to the sulfur smell--we hopped back in the car and headed for our first truly extreme adventure: black water rafting in the Waitomo caves. It was absolutely insane, the things we were doing with zero caving experience at all. After training for a grand total of five minutes, we started out with a 37m abseil into the cave. And I don' t know about you, but when I'm strapped onto a smallish-looking rope and dropping 100 feet down a black hole with only a cushion of jagged rocks to break any potential fall, you start to seriously wonder why it was again you thought this was a good idea. Needless to say our guides taught us well, and everything went perfectly. Soon we found ourselves lost in an endless chasm of rock and dark, with only our head lamps and the green luminescence of the sticky, thread-like glow worms to light our way. I got to zip line from a ledge to the cave floor below, just off a cliff into a FREEZING underground river, and scale up (yes I said up) a raging waterfall. It was scary, exciting, cold, and utterly amazing.

I hate to cut this short, but in the interest of space and attention span, I'll get into our adventures in the South Island the next time around. But as a quick preview, it involves gale force winds, more cliff jumping (only this time from significantly higher up) and getting stranded in Fiordland. So stay tuned, more is on the way!

10 April 2008

Living the Life

Greetings everyone! (Or Kia Ora as they say here in the "land of the long white cloud.") Before I share some of the amazing adventures I’ve had so far in my time as a Rotary Ambassadorial scholar, I want to say thank you to World View for allowing me this opportunity, and to you readers for taking the time listen to (or read, technically) my ramblings. So let’s get started!

For the past two months, I’ve been living waaaay down on the opposite side of the planet in Dunedin, New Zealand. And when I say way down, I mean way, WAY down. Dunedin (pronounced duh-NEE-din) is almost at the very bottom of the NZ’s south island, right on the eastern coast. It’s far enough south that there are penguins along the beach, year round. But surprisingly, it isn’t very cold. (Except for the water; if you want to get in, you’d better have a wetsuit!)

The city has about 110,000 people—over one third of which are students—and one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever had the privilege to call home. With its rolling green hills, brightly colored houses, and the beautiful coastline, Dunedin has the environment to suite any taste, all rolled into one vibrant city.

As far as daily life goes, NZ culture is a fascinating mixture of contrasts and similarities to that of the U.S. For example, I still have the option of eating at Subway or McDonalds; shopping at K-mart or Office Max; and catching the latest episode of American Idol. However, I had to figure out that "jandals" = flip flops and "togs" = bathing suit; learn to drive on the left side of the road; and get used to seeing people walk anywhere and everywhere barefoot (I suppose that comes from the strong surfing culture…).

And of course I had to grow accustomed to seeing sheep. Tons of them. Everywhere. My host counselors had quite a laugh when I told them that the only sheep I’d ever seen were in a zoo. But I suppose I’d find that funny too, had I grown up in a place that has more of the wooly animals than people.

While I’ve only been an honorary Kiwi for short time, I’ve had more new experiences than I can count! Surfing at a beach surrounded by rocky cliffs, tramping (the Kiwi word for hiking) through lush forests serenaded by the many native birds, paragliding off a mountainside, careening down a canyon river in high speed jet boat—the list goes on and on. And I’ve barely brushed the surface of all New Zealand has to offer. From glaciers to volcanoes to sprawling vineyards, the variety of adventure in this incredible country is endless.

So I don’t bog you down right out of the gate with a super-long blog, I’ll save the details of my favorite experiences thus far for my next post (which will hopefully give you a reason to come back!). Please, please feel free to respond with any comments or questions you may have about my life here or about the blog in general; I would love to get a good dialogue going! Thanks so much for reading, and check back soon! Cheers!

06 March 2008

Introducing our New Rotary Scholar E-pal at-large

Meet Sarah Price, our new World View-Rotary Ambassador Scholar E-pal at-large! Presently, Sarah is fulfilling her ambassadorial scholarship at New Zealand's oldest university, the University of Otago in Dunedin. She is studying a broad range of subjects, including nutrition, exercise science, and New Zealand history and culture.

Prior to becoming an honorary Kiwi, Sarah was working and living in our nation's capital, the District of Columbia. Putting her advertising degree from the University of South Carolina to good use, she worked first as an intern at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and then with an online/print mapping company. Despite her wandering feet and adventurous spirit, Sarah will always call the state of South Carolina home, having spent her youth growing up in the town of Sumter. Besides travel, Sarah's interests include all forms of dance, theater, cooking/baking, and nutrition and fitness. And of course, her fiancé, Michael, to whom she is slated to marry following her return to the States.

As our Scholar at-large, Sarah has agreed to answer questions about her life and work while in New Zealand. To ask Sarah a question please send an email to Julie at World View (kinnaird@unc.edu). Questions, answers, and stories from Sarah will be updated regularly, so we encourage you to check back often.