Story by Amelia Aldrich, Study Abroad ⎜ Photo by Margaret Sweeden
There are few places in this world that embrace nature so effortlessly and without hesitation. Whether it be simply taking a moment to appreciate the clear blue skies and favorable surfing conditions, or disregarding responsibilities for the day and heading out on a hike instead, the small island of New Zealand has perfected the art of prioritizing the outdoors.
New Zealand is a playground for explorers, dreamers, and thrill-seekers alike. It is home to breathtaking views, crystal clear waters, and the most kind and welcoming people; and I was lucky enough to call it home for five months. While I admit that my superficial reason for going was to study abroad at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, my true purpose was to refocus on aspects of my life and restore a love for nature that I felt I had lost since entering college.
I grew up experiencing the best of both worlds—while I was raised in Boston, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city—my family would escape to a different world whenever we had the chance. We would spend holidays and long weekends in the Green Mountains of Vermont—isolated in the forest and deeply immersed in nature, far away from any sign of civilization. I had a charmed upbringing, having the privilege to learn from two vastly different worlds. I was never fully devoted to one, but instead had one foot in each, taking advantage of the beauty in both.
Nature has always offered me a unique sense of calm and has served as an escape, allowing me to breathe easier and self-reflect. However, as I have grown up and become more entrenched in the busy pace of college, my priorities have shifted and the time I used to spend outside has transformed into time I spend in seemingly endless meetings and lectures. As classes quickly consumed my attention, my mind became occupied with concerns about upcoming exams and deadlines—and in turn, my free time disappeared.
When I was presented with the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in New Zealand, my first thought was, “Wow, I am going to miss out on so much here—is that worth it?” I could picture all the weekend trips, board game nights, and dinners I would miss out on. When I tried to envision myself on the other side of the world, I could not help but feel left out of all the events happening at home. I started to consider if it would further my academic career and if I might benefit from a more demanding program elsewhere. Then I caught myself, re-evaluated my thought process and said to myself, “This is an opportunity to live somewhere new, exchange the New England winter for the New Zealand summer, make new friends, and revive your love of being outside—how could you ever question that?” Reflecting back on why I chose Northeastern, I remember telling my friends, “I’m going to Northeastern just so I can leave it.” It being Northeastern. I saw college as the time to take chances, challenges and explore. However, upon reflection, I quickly realized that this opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand fell squarely in line with my initial decision to attend Northeastern. Northeastern encourages time abroad like other universities encourage academic excellence, and this realization made my decision easy. Moreover, selecting my classes was a breeze, flights were booked within minutes, and even saying goodbye to friends and family was painless. I packed my hiking boots, some warm layers of clothing, and a journal for my thoughts—and I was off to fly around the world to this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
As soon as I landed, I knew I made the right decision. I was greeted by snow-capped mountains, a warm sun, and endless shades of green. I spent the next five months fully immersing myself in nature—exploring New Zealand’s infinite national parks, hiking countless trails, and surfing the massive waves of the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to the stunning landscapes and views, I was also surrounded by people who were likewise there to appreciate and take advantage of all that New Zealand had to offer. Every weekend was a new adventure and there was never any hesitation on my end, or my peers’, to miss a lecture if a hike was in question or the waves were high. Every person I met—whether they were a fellow student, traveler or professor—had the same avid desire to be outside and appreciate the full extent of nature. The two islands that make up this magnificent country boasts of extraordinary landscapes, steep mountains, and endless coastlines. Everyone around me clearly mirrored my excitement and love for the outdoors. Never did I think that my love of being outside would be met with such enthusiasm by my professors, who often encouraged us to take breaks and step outside. Most of them having grown up surrounded by nature themselves, were well versed in the physical and mental benefits nature offers. They would support our choices of spending the afternoon in the sun rather than locked up in the library, reminding us that there will always be time for studies when the sun isn’t out.
After five months in New Zealand, my appetite for being outside has been replenished. Although I do not have access to the same resources in Boston as I did on the South Island, I still make a conscious effort to appreciate nature. When the sun is shining and the sky is blue, I make a point to go outside and let the sun warm my skin—even if just for a few minutes. I know now to remind myself that prioritizing the things you feel passionately about and make you happy will forever be more meaningful than a single exam grade or perfect class attendance in the grand scheme of life. So, go outside. Take a breath of fresh air. Take a hike. Use those moments to remember what is most important to you, and don’t let it slip away as we so often do.