While I loved Florence in its entirety, I had no idea I would miss London as much as I do. Maybe it is the lack of rip-your-face-off January cold (more of an icky, damp, cold, but still not as bad), or maybe it was just having an entire city full of accents at my disposal, but I think living in London was an experience that I may have actually taken for granted.
Regardless, studying abroad was the highlight of my year and quite possibly my life so far. It struck me how I was in a place with people who looked and dressed like me, for the most part, but who had an entirely different perception of the world. While on a date with a math teacher for a private boys’ school (I know, right), he and I had a contest to see if he could name more states than I could name counties (I won). In my life’s journey to find new and exotic ways to laugh with people, I am glad I got to cross some borders.
How can I even begin to describe what New Zealand is? It’s a place where things thrive. The air is so clear it seems tinged with blue at first. Clementines and avocados fit in your hand at the market, lilies swan out of the tangle of weeds in front gardens.
The rain is definitely wetter, no matter how softly it falls. I can still visualize how to walk from my flat to the harbor, how to weave my way through the mishmash of buildings that comprise the design school. We walked everywhere and saw a lower standard of living than what we’re accustomed to in the States, but nowhere here have I found a higher quality of life.
Being a design student there for a term has opened me up to perceiving the visual world with a heightened sensitivity. I’ve learned to look at design as a means of communicating intent, and it was everywhere from concert flyers on Cuba Street to the pohutukawa trees on Mount Victoria. Wellington invited such creativity it was nearly overwhelming, and I got to call it home for nearly five months.
One of the most amazing parts about studying abroad is being able to connect with a much deeper past and history than we are used to even contemplating in this country. Just to give you an idea: I drank chai tea with my Spanish intercambio (language exchange) friend in a cafe in Barcelona’s Barrio Gótico (the gothic quarter). I took a weekend trip to Rome, and watched three lanes of traffic zip past the Colosseum, which is almost two thousand years old. My favorite experience of all, historically, personally, spiritually, and otherwise, was walking 30 miles of the famous Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), a trail through northern Spain that Christian pilgrims have been traveling since the Middle Ages. I’m not a Christian, but I’m not exactly a historian either. It doesn’t matter. Even though my pilgrimage or my weekend in Rome could have benefited from more specific historical knowledge, I still was able to appreciate that I was a part of something bigger. That is something you cannot experience the same way if you spend your life living in the American suburbs.
This common Marmoset was taken in Costa Rica, fall term of 2008. This silent, yet powerful picture echoes the daily mistreatment of our environment, such as the exploitation of the rainforest. Our simplest acts greatly affect more than we are aware. We are living in a disposable society chained to materialism.
—Po Ling Chan