My friends are getting a little bit annoyed. It’s been one month since I returned to the U.S. and I still manage to work a story about New Zealand into every single conversation. I miss that place.
Missing New Zealand isn’t like the way I missed home. I only realized the things I appreciate about the U.S. when I left the country.
But in New Zealand, I knew how special it was in real time. I knew it the moment that a Kiwi taught me how to find the Southern Cross. I remember the instant I saw that German backpacker with the blond braid break into a beaming grin when she talked about her new-found independence. I was mid-laugh with my flatmates, reveling in the awkwardness of the “New Zealand Bachelor” TV show, when I knew I would miss this.
Of course, some of this “living in the moment” perspective is typical of any traveler taking in new sights and sounds. But when the novelty of another breathtaking view or Hobbit-related attraction started to wear off, the gratitude for the present experiences didn’t.
I thank the New Zealanders for that. Their easy-going attitude and constant kindness made me feel so at ease that I never worried about not having plans, whether it was for Friday night or for my future career. Kiwis just knew that the future would work itself out, so they took the time in the now to look out for each other.
I was well cared for in Aotearoa. Some of the “most New Zealand things” to happen to me were instances of Kiwis being Kiwis. One time, my friends and I missed the last flight of the day. The airport wouldn’t let us sleep there and we were cranky, cold, and utterly exhausted from four days of hiking. The owner of a local hostel came to the rescue, though. Not only did he pick us up from the airport, he also gave us a little driving tour of the neighborhood. Then he took our bags into his cozy hostel/home and scrounged around until he found soap and towels. When we got to the private room that he so graciously gave us even though we paid for the shared dorm, he had already turned on the heater.
I have never been so grateful. New Zealanders were so eager to share, whether it was dinner or their house or recommendations in their hometown. I’ve already offered up the same to close friends and random acquaintances when they come to visit the U.S., but that’s nothing compared to everything New Zealand has given me.
I miss the slower pace of life that enables people to make time for everyday kindness. I miss the mountains and the ocean, but mostly, I miss being able to have a chance to take it all in. I miss being able to smile, not because it happened, but because it was happening with incredible people in this beautiful country.