It was 6am in the morning and I was sitting in my Aunt’s car. Street lights shone out of the darkness. I concentrated on the view ahead. Surprisingly, I did not feel anything. I had thought I would feel excited, or even tearful.
I caught the last glimpse of my flat. I would not be returning home for at least two years.
The past week had not been an easy one. Tensions in the family had been flaring up. Packing, and re-packing the luggage to ensure that it met Air New Zealand’s baggage requirements had put a strain on my family. My mother started to get upset about my imminent departure. I was just tired by the sheer effort of saying farewell to my teachers and friends.
I heaved a sigh. Two more hours to flight.
I found myself hugging my soft toy on the plane, lost in thought.
What would it feel like to be a university student, at last? I had taken a gap year in 2015. Despite being described as an affable individual, I continued to doubt my ability to make friends in a predominantly European society. I am, after all, an Asian. Worries about being discriminated against suddenly seemed all too real.
The first glimpse of the Auckland airport comforted me a little. I saw this poster below, which was exhorting the conservation of nature. ‘That’s aligned with my values,’ I thought.
But, landing at 12 midnight, I could barely see anything else as the car zoomed past the streets of Newmarket into Albany. I felt a tinge of disappointment. I honestly don’t know what I was expecting. Spectacular scenery? A glorious blue ocean? I started to doubt my choice to study in Auckland.
I woke up to a view that stunned me. Goats raised their heads as I stepped out of the granny flat, into the cool air. I shivered. This was definitely not the weather that I am used to. I decided that, if I were to survive, I’d have to will myself to adapt to the cold.
I checked my phone. It was 8am in New Zealand and 3am in Singapore. I thought of my friends. I had received a few messages from them, but I brushed them aside for now. I suddenly felt keen to explore Auckland. It felt like I was starting out on a blank new slate, empty and open to new ideas that the city would fill me with.
I jumped at the invitation by my hosts to explore Mount Eden. Huffing and puffing up the hill, I marvelled at how Mother Nature has surrounded Auckland in her embrace. The sea met the wharves, mountains cropped up every once in a while… There was this general sense of spaciousness that I was relieved to find, having grown up in Singapore – a country with an extremely high population density.
I gazed triumphantly at the scenery below. This is my home for the next 4 years, I told myself. I felt ready to embrace it. I noticed a sundial which marked the peak of Mount Eden and started fingering it, reading its inscriptions. ‘227 km to Rotorua,’ it read. My host noticed my interest and grinned. ‘Why don’t you take your family to Rotorua next week? Plan a road trip.’ I grinned back. Adventures had already begun sprouting in my head.
Thus started the gradual easing into the way of life in the City of Sails. Staying with a Kiwi-Singaporean family of four was really helpful. They gave all the tips they could offer about transitions into local life. It felt like a home away from home. I would wake up and make myself breakfast in the kitchen, play with the household cat and help to water the plants. When they were free, the family would take me grocery shopping. I soon learnt that ‘PAK N SAVE’ was the best place to go for awesome discounts and that ‘Countdown’ & ‘Westfield’ were household names.
I found myself being treated hospitably, even warmly, by the people I met on the streets. One particular incident stuck out. I was returning my trolley in the New World supermarket and waited patiently for an elderly Kiwi lady to pull out a trolley for herself. She turned around, saw me waiting and gave me a silly grin. ‘Sorry to keep you waiting, darling,’ she smiled. I squeezed a bright smile in return. It was such a small gesture but it made me feel so welcomed. It assured me that I was going to be accepted by New Zealand society.
Two weeks flew past, in a whirlwind of Asian food stores, board games, car rides and trips to scenic places. By the second week, I had come to appreciate some noticeable differences between my culture and that of Kiwi’s. I had visited a few houses and observed how Kiwis tended to their backyard gardens with pride. Some Kiwi-Asians had, in particular, moved to New Zealand to have their own little garden. I heard compliments heaped upon the affirmative role that the education system in New Zealand plays, as well as the robust, but expensive to upkeep, welfare system that New Zealand has. I observed that Kiwi children had more time to get themselves acquainted with games and sports, and could generally be trusted to do as they please as they grow up.
All was definitely rosy for now, and in that comfort also grew a sense of restlessness. I had found my feet in the first two weeks here, under the watchful eyes of my most gracious hosts. I was well-rested, and could not wait to settle into The University Life and to meet actual Kiwis of my age.
The story of my arrival was complete; it is now the time to see it continued.