It has been a little more than seven months since I returned home from my trip to New Zealand as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Award grantee. With the exception of a few reminiscing photos, I have not written any reflection pieces on my amazing experience until now. This post will not have the scope and depth I am looking for, but perhaps a future post will peel off another layer of the onion so to speak.
As usual I have written this post may times in my head without writing anything down which is a big mistake. When those deep compelling emotions and ideas are flowing like water out of a faucet they are meant to be caught in a bucket but for some reason, I never seem to have a bucket handy and the water just flows into the gutter and disperses all around instead of into the container. So here are today’s thoughts, which are nowhere near as good as yesterday’s but I have my bucket in hand right now and I have to catch whatever drops of water are left!
On the North Island, the capital city of Wellington and the major city of Auckland are busy, metropolitan places. Just like anywhere else, there are some people that are “way too busy” and there are also people who know how to relax.There is no one type of kiwi. However, overall, there is a more calm, relaxed feeling and it seems that people have more free time to pursue their interests or spend time with their families than we do in the US.
I’d like to point out that in general, people do not shop around the clock the way some of us do here in the US. For one thing, many businesses close by 5 or 6 pm. There are a number of exceptions including grocery stores and the major discount retailer The Warehouse (like Walmart). There is also a retail store (Farmers) that seems to have one or two late nights each week. Nevertheless, in general, if you need something from a store, you need to think ahead and buy it before evening comes around. Ergo, the first reason people have more free time is that they are not running around at all hours of the night picking up last minute supplies for the classroom, birthday gifts at midnight, or ingredients for a last minute recipe because at 11pm because they forgot it was their turn to bring a pot luck meal somewhere the next day.
Despite the somewhat limited shopping hours, there is another factor that influences people. While there are exceptions, kiwis do not have a consumer mentality. They are not trying to constantly buy new stuff. Why is that? Well for one thing, they are a very handy bunch and they often fix stuff that we would just toss in the trash. Why is that? Well it might be out of necessity...it costs a lot to ship items to New Zealand (and also fashion them with the correct electricity on a low volume basis in the case of the next example) so the prices of goods can sometimes be very high. I don’t want to mislead anyone with incorrect figures but for instance a Vitamix at the retailer Harvey Norman is 1,485 NZ dollars which is about $1,040 US dollars and I purchased mine for under $500.
But do not fret, many discount stores are open for business and if you must buy inexpensive novelty items, there are many imports from China, just like we have here. But, there is a certain sensibility about the kiwis and most know how to hold onto their money. This is because salaries are not that high compared to the cost of living such as the prices of housing utilities, and in some cases food (especially organic food).
This post is starting to sound incredibly boring. I am sorry but I am not bored with this topic so let’s keep going. Internet access--While there have been some upgrades to internet speed and also there are now some “unlimited plans” in general, internet can be slow and expensive, especially since the great majority of people have to pay for the amount of data they use and when they run out they run out. Running out of data is very frustrating--You budget for a certain amount and when you go over, it’s like you lost the game and you feel like money is just flowing right out of your pocket into the trash. Of course it’s not trash, you are buying a service but we are so accustomed to our fantastic data plans that we spend a great deal of time on our portable devices chatting, uploading pictures and video, browsing, watching content, creating content etc. We certainly know how to use our unlimited data here. And right now, we are in an unprecedented time for the expansion of unlimited data and the lowering of our cell phone bills!
Well you might start to get the idea that the reason people have more time is they do not shop as much, they have less money to shop, they have more sensibility than to go out literally “looking for stuff to buy” (but everyone likes to shop for deals), and they are not glued to their portable devices because it’s nearly impossible to either afford it, or have a fast enough connection for what you want to do.
With all that being said, the country has been installing free wifi networks in many public places and so it is accessible. However, if you are a power user or simply want to sync your phone to google photos, it’s not really a practical solution (first hand experience)--that’s just not what the free public wifi is intended for. Although again, I hate to generalize because the National Library in Wellington has pretty strong public wifi. People mainly use the internet at work for necessary things and some people rarely turn on their computers when they get home. What? Is this possible? Well I feel certain that many kiwis do use their internet at home but I believe it’s on a more limited basis compared to the number of ours we surf at home.
The comments I have made thus far may be interpreted as problems or “negative factors” about the country. But, on the contrary, I see them as bonuses! Living in New Zealand allowed me to take a step back in time, to a time when people still spoke to each other in person or on the phone(rather than on email or text). A time when the workday was over, free time began. This is not to say that Kiwis do not take their work home. I feel certain that there is a whole cadre of these people. However, I did not meet that many of them.
Even with a more laid back environment, there is pressure on kiwi educators so I do not want to make the NZ experience sound like a walk in the park. -The teachers work very hard trying create solutions for all of their students, looking at them as individuals needing individual plans. There are other lesser known issues that impact education in NZ. But the overall working conditions feel very humane. The students are cared for during the 10:30 tea time (or some look after themselves) while the teachers congregate, chat, and enjoy elaborate snack spreads. The government pays for the tea and hot chocolate for the tea time and it’s a very nice time to catch up with colleagues and do informal collaborations. In one school there were trusted counselors provided and they would float around during tea time to be available to pick up “new cases” although they did not call it that. The counselors would help with anything that was getting in the way of your ability to work. So for instance, if you were helping a sick friend every day and because of that you were exhausted, they would try and get the sick friend some help so you could get a break and be able to focus on your work.
Slight change of subject but still related to school...the most fascinating aspect of the kiwi students is just how self-sufficient they are. They are taught self-management starting at a very young age and each year they learn more and more independent living/social/emotional/coping skills. The students are therefore able to work independently and in groups without a whole lot of fanfare. They are typically challenged through inquiry based learning activities and are able to develop their creative problem solving skills in contrast to many learning environments here in the US where the students are doing seatwork all day and are expected to magically have good group social skills given limited to no practice opportunities in their school careers.
Where are we in this post? I do not think I have hit my stride and this is getting really, really long. I’d like to say that I really miss New Zealand. The people there were so gracious. They opened their hearts and homes to me. They invited me to their schools and shared more than just academics; they shared pieces of their spirits and souls. I was lucky enough to create intimate friendships with people that I had only spent a short amount of time with. The people that passed through my life helped me in many ways and they will always have a special place in my heart.
I am reminded of NZ every day as I wear my NZ charm bracelet given to me by my Victoria University advisor, Brends Chawner, the fish hook necklace I wear every day
(that I got while at a Māori event with Nessa and Mariol), and for vegetarians and animal activists, I apologize but I eat NZ every workday as I get the Silver Fern NZ venison shipped and each 4 ounce medallion is my lunch, I have my bright blue wild kiwi rain jacket that I got on a group trip to the Tongariro Crossing which I wear all the time and the list goes on and on. What’s most special are my walking/hiking shoes. I put many miles on them as I commuted around Wellington on foot, always trying to plan out an efficient route but would always end up with errands on opposite sides of the city. They are now worn out but I got a new pair the other day.
What will do with my new shoes?
Well, as some of you know, I was hearing voices in the shower. It was not like a psychotic episode, (though I have never had one). It was coming from some other place-- I am not sure where but I have been called back to New Zealand for a trip over Spring Break. I have never been called anywhere like this and I find it highly unusual because the idea did not originate from my own thoughts (although there is a theory that all of our thoughts come from elsewhere but that’s another conversation). I never thought I would make a trip of this distance for one week. It takes two days to get there. I will leave on Friday evening and arrive on Sunday morning 2, April and leave the following Sunday 9, April evening. Since you “get home the same day you leave”, at least you don’t lose time on both ends of the trip. So while it may take two days to get to NZ, I don’t have to get on the plane two days early to get home in time to go back to work. So in summary, this was a long post to say that I loved New Zealand and the more time I am away from it, the more I love it. It is not a perfect place--I could write a short post about a few things that are not discussed on general tourist sites and that most people are not aware of, but I still love the place and accept it just the way it is.
Here are some pictures from my photo albums. I am sorry they are not captioned right now.
Sue is a teacher and school librarian living in Atlanta, GA, USA. She was in NZ as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher from Feb-June 2016.