My perception of life is Before New Zealand and After New Zealand; there was a time when I wasn‘t very happy and a time when I started being very happy. And there‘s a high school exchange year like a bridge between those times. Crossing that bridge was without any doubt the most beautiful and nerve wrecking experience of my life. You know, how sometimes you worry that everything might go wrong, but then it never does?
Well, for me it did. Literally. Everything.
I left the plane all groggy at Auckland Airport, dragging myself towards passport control when already I heard frantic yelling behind me, and finally somebody handed me my iPod that I‘d managed to drop upon arrival. I stuffed it back in my pocket and entering the arrivals hall I remembered Hugh Grant talking grandly about how airports are proof that love is everywhere, and I sort of got that feeling too for a little while. I saw two friends lifting each other up and a dad kissing his daughter hello, and a couple snogging each other, and yeah, I believed Hugh – it looked like love was all around. But after a while I was left the only person in a wide hall and nobody was holding up any sort of sign any longer, and nobody was waiting for me. I couldn‘t go back, and I couldn‘t go forth, and it was raining, and I hated it so much.
Still, I arrived soundly at my new home. And I was so grateful, because the family seemed lovely. They‘d hugged and kissed me, and they were so apologetic for my difficult start in their beautiful little country. And you know, how that would be a great turning point? It wasn‘t. I was so relieved that I wasn‘t lost any more that I completely ignored that I was being treated like some sort of nasty insect. I had landed in a family with a lot of rules; I had to be home by six every night, I was to go to bed at nine, lights off at half nine. I could use the internet – however, only on weekends and only for thirty minutes max. I was allowed to go to the mall with my friends but had to ask permission way beforehand. No spontaneous wandering off, oh no! And how dare I just announce my intention of going shopping. „You have to say please!“ was my host mum‘s all time favourite catch phrase. So I begged for every minor thing I hoped to do outside this tiny household, and even felt bad for being such a rude little brat.
One day I just had it when my host mum presented me with yet another list of complaints of hers. This one included my turning the lights on in the afternoon – it was raining and getting dark very early, and I wanted to read. The family shamelessly kept their TV on when they went grocery shopping. It included my eating far too much Nutella. I didn‘t eat any Nutella at the time because I knew I‘d get told off for doing so. It included my not putting away the empty toilet paper rolls properly. I‘d forgotten one in the bathroom one day. It also included my being completely friendless and never leaving the house. I was hardly allowed to leave it, actually. But she wouldn‘t hear it.
I have always been an angry diary keeper. So I didn‘t scream or scratch out anybody‘s eyes. Instead I just took my diary and headed to some empty beach. I sat down and put all my frustrated thoughts to paper, and I didn‘t care that it was windy and cold; I had even bought a jar of Nutella and I was eating it all by myself. A woman with a puppy walked past and I patted it for a while, then it walked off with a wagging tail, and I went back to writing. I didn‘t really care that the woman stuck around an awfully long time, throwing sticks for the puppy and watching me curiously.
The same thing happened the day after. This time I wasn‘t as angry and we started talking. She was the sort of woman you talked to easily, and when she told me she‘d happily have me for tea anytime I‘d feel the need for it, I knew I would take her up on that offer.
For a week I didn‘t get a chance to go to the beach that had become my shelter. Instead my host mum found yet other ways of humiliating me further. Because I didn‘t have any friends that she knew of she made her son, my younger host brother ask people from my classes to walk home from school with me. That would have been bad enough, but he specifically asked people I was already friends with. The cringe has never left me, I swear!
But it was just as well, because at least I had another reason to visit the beach with my diary. This time I wrote a letter to my friend back home – a definite sign that I was losing it! I must have looked it, too, because a man stopped right in front of me and said, „What‘s up, girl?“ Before I could answer the woman from the week before stepped up behind him. She excitedly told him about our previous encounters and my terrible living situation. She hadn‘t even finished when he said, „Why don‘t you just come live with us?“
And I went all Taylor Swift and just said yes. They could have been axe murderers but I got in their car anyway. They showed me their house and my room and they made me tea, and I couldn‘t have cared less if they had lived in a barn. All I wanted was some peace, and the couple‘s home seemed very offering in that.
Sometimes all you need is be brave for 20 seconds. Sometimes saying yes is all the courage you need. I lived with these wonderful people for ten months, and there wasn‘t a day that I regretted it (maybe they did, but they have always been very kind not to mention it). When I went through a hair dying phase they accepted all the blonde and purple and black without much commenting. They had „the talk“ with me when I fell for a boy and they bought ice cream when the boy and I fell out. They introduced me to trash shows on TV and took me camping on weekends.
My year in New Zealand was not good every day. It was brilliant on most days and struggling and trying and bitter on some of the others. But no matter where we go in life and what mess we steer ourselves into, all we really need is someone to provide us shelter. There is a time in my life that I perceive as In New New Zealand, and it‘s the time when I learned that strange things happen all the time, and that those strange things are sometimes something like very small miracles.
This guest post was written by Noemi Harnickell, a Swiss girl who spend her exchange year in New Zealand. Want to read more from Noemi? Visit her blog Down the Rocky Road!