The First Glimpse

I have been in Romania for a little over one week now and it feels like so much has happened already! This past week has been filled with all sorts of emotions. As I am still soaking up the new environment and trying to settle into my new routine, I found it helpful to organize my thoughts and adventures under these categories:

My Host Family

My host family is fantastic! The first night that Jill and I arrived into Sighisoara, they greeted us with a delicious fresh baked plum cake. Jill and I were a little exhausted from the 24+ hours of traveling, so after chatting for a bit, we retired for the evening in our room. Jill and I also have our own bathroom – which apparently is rare for students in this program, so we sure are lucky. 🙂

The room is huge! This is just my half. 🙂


Fortunately, Romania starts school later in September, so Oana, my host sister who is also in college, is able to spend time with us before she leaves for her school of design in Cluj, Romania. Oana, who speaks English very well, is a lot of fun and gave Jill and I our first official tour of the citadel! There happened to be a Film Festival that first weekend that we arrived, so Saturday evening, Jill and I met with Oana’s friends in the citadel to watch a Romanian film (without English subtitles!), and on Sunday night we returned to the citadel to listen to a few local Romanian bands. Oana just so happened to have studied abroad in Latvia last semester (!!!) so we were able to bond over our similar experiences. It will be sad when Oana has to go back to Cluj, because she has been extremely helpful with adjusting to the Romanian lifestyle.


Aww, aren’t they cute?!



Growing up on a fruit farm, I was particularly worried that I would not be able to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as I am used to. What a surprise I’ve had! The majority of the food that we eat is grown in my host family’s backyard or is bought at the local farm market on Wednesdays or Saturdays. Our milk is straight from the neighbor’s cow, so in the mornings, I strain the fat out of the milk myself! Raspberries, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, herbs – you name it, we probably have it in the garden! It is a great season to be visiting. 🙂 Oh, and I absolutely love the neighbor’s fresh grapes! They’re incredible! My host family prefers to eat only organic food, and I love the healthy options that they provide for Jill and I each day.




Schedule/ Classes

As I mentioned before, the Romanians were still enjoying their summer break this past week, and therefore some of the Veritas programs (like Kids Club, Adolescent Youth Group, Kindergarten, and Special Needs Club) will not start until tomorrow (Monday the 16th). However, we, the RSP students, were kept extremely busy this past week in preparation for the start of the Veritas programs. Jill and I have a 30 minute walk each morning into the citadel where our classroom in the House on the Rock (one of the Veritas buildings) is located. This past week, our Romanian language class started at 8 am, and was either followed by a Romanian history class or a Romanian literature class. After classes, we would have a 15 minute walk over to the Family Center (the other Veritas building where most of the programs take place) where lunch was prepared for the Veritas staff and students (we will continue to have our lunches prepared for us during the weekdays at the Family Center throughout the semester). After lunch, our afternoons were filled with home visits, staff meetings, visiting elderly clubs, and listening to presentations on what each program consists of at Veritas. These presentations and informative meetings were crucial in helping me decide which programs I wanted to participate in this semester for my field practicum. Tomorrow, after language class, the plan is for me to attend an elderly club until lunch, and then after lunch work with the adolescent/teen club.The schedules are still very likely to change, but I have been told that after this first week it gets easier because then we’re able to settle into a routine.


It can be a bit distracting sometimes…


Most importantly on this trip so far I have learned to: 1) stay flexible – our schedules are constantly changing, 2) force myself to try to get to sleep at night at a reasonable hour, and 3) keep relying on God for strength each day. This semester will be a challenge, but I know good things are happening here.


The RSP students! In the Back: (Left to Right): Jill, Me, Deanna, Lauren, Sarah; Front: (Left to Right): Veronica, Darbi, Ashley


Marga =)

Gaining Some Altitude

Hello Friends!

Yesterday I went on an anticipated three to four hour hike that turned into a seven hour hike. You know, you just can’t rush when you are going along. There are so many things to look at and so many different things to climb. I went with another student, Luke from Indiana, and I tell you what- we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Luke had ‘mapped’ out the hike to a supposed hidden, secretive gem of Cape Town that we thought would take about two hours to get to. After about four hours of hiking, we realized how comical the directions online really were (ie. ‘Once you reach a set of jagged-looking rocks, turn left onto a faint path and walk approximately four minutes). Perhaps an experienced mountaineer would have fared better, but everything sort of looked the same to us. Regardless of never actually finding said ‘secretive gem’, the whole ‘path’ we were on was absolutely incredible.

I was nervous climbing out to this ledge but it was worth it!
I was nervous climbing out to this ledge but it was worth it!
A Protea- South Africa's national flower!
A Protea- South Africa’s national flower!

Luke and I kept commenting that even with the best camera it would be difficult to capture some of what we were seeing. At one point, when we were climbing down next to a stream, the wind was was lightly blowing the rain water off of the mountain and as the sun was shining down it look so beautiful- I had never seen anything like it! I have had the conversation a number of times with friends that within nature is where I feel most human yet this feeling became even more apparent yesterday. There is just something right about being able to hear the birds chirp, the water flow in the distance and your own heart beat as you work your way up the mountain; something about being able to drink cold, fresh water right off of the rock that makes me feel I am where I need to be.

The two photos above were taken when we started to get closer to the top of the mountain. It was amazing- in the entire seven hours that we hiked we only saw one person! It was so quiet and peaceful! There are so many great places to hike around Cape Town and I want to explore as many as I can before I leave!


Veritas Open House Day!!

On Thursday, September 19, Veritas celebrated its second annual Open House Day. This day was the official “Welcome Back” party and fundraiser for the students involved in the Kindergarten and the after-school Kid’s Club and Teen’s Club programs. There were lots of games for the children to play, and there were even fun activities for the adults that visited. The cost of participation in the activities and games ranged from 50 cents to 5 dollars, which was fairly cheap considering we offered stations for haircuts, manicures, clothes and crafts for purchase, face painting, hair braiding, bracelet making, games with stuffed animal prizes, a puppet show, a photo station with picture frame making, jewelry making, a few concession stands, and balloon animal making (which I was in charge of)!!!
Livu (the clown) is the head of the after school Teen’s Club program at Veritas and is also one of my supervisors for my field placement. In the above picture, he is presenting to me one of the flowers that I actually made!! I’m pretty much a balloon animal/object making professional now. 😉

The day started at 10 am and ended around 7 pm, and it was a huge success! Over 100 children visited throughout the day, and we even had two teachers from local elementary schools bring their students to participate in order to show their support for Veritas. We raised almost $800 through the donations, games, and activities, which was a blessing because the Veritas Family Center is currently undergoing construction for expansion. The day was also a great way to get the community involved and inform them about what is happening at Veritas and how they can become involved.

Jill and I (top left) each had bugs painted on our noses. Darbi and Jill (top right) proudly displaying a small fraction of the balloons we had to blow up for each child to take home. And Jill (bottom right) proudly advertising the creativity of one of the girls from the Teen Club.
Adela (center front) is the director’s assistant for the Romanian Studies Program, a law student, my friend, and a translator (among many many other things) and is pictured here finishing the last face painting of the day. Meanwhile, pictured in the back from left to right, Lauren, myself, Darbi, Jill, and Sarah relax after the long day.

Overall, Veritas Open House Day was a huge success, and I am thankful that I was able to participate in the event! All of the Veritas programs (and my field placements) will officially begin on Monday, and I am excited to work with the elderly programs, the Teen’s Program, and to start my school visits! The days are busy and long, but after two weeks I am finally feeling as if I am making a bit of progress in establishing relationships and understanding where my place is here in Sighisoara!

O zi buna!!

Marga =)



Finally.. My First Post!!

I can’t believe I have been in Granada for almost two weeks already!! My journey started in Chicago on September 2nd, where I sat on a seven hour flight directly to Madrid. Surprisingly, I wasn’t sad about leaving my family or friends back home and I sat in my seat smiling. I was counting down the hours until we landed and thinking about what I was about to experience. After a four-hour layover in Madrid, I flew to Málaga, where I met up with the rest of my program. We stayed in a hotel overnight and I had a chance to meet my roommate, Allie, who has been my new amiga from the second I met her! I’m VERY sorry that I haven’t had the chance to blog yet because I have been recovering from jet lag, but now I have so many things to share with everyone that I don’t know where to start. It’s a good problem, right? 🙂
My first couple weeks in Granada were filled with various orientation activities, mostly in a classroom setting but we did take some walks in order to explore the city.

A view of the famous Alhambra from a plaza in the Albayzin neighborhood, which is the best place that we walked to during orientation. I hope to take a tour of the Alhambra at some point!
A view of the famous Alhambra from a plaza in the Albayzin neighborhood, which is the best place that we walked to during orientation. I hope to take a tour of the Alhambra at some point!

It was an intensive introduction to the culture in Granada and one topic that we discussed was the differences between here and the U.S. One major difference is that everything in Spain has a purpose. For example, when greeting someone you give them two kisses or “besos” on the cheek, which shows that you are genuinely happy to see that person. Also, meals, specifically lunch, are not rushed like they can be in the States. The average time it takes for my family to eat lunch is an hour. It’s all about conversation and stopping to enjoy life.
A highlight of the past two weeks has definitely been my homestay. Allie and I live with an older couple named Carmen and Fabian (referred to as Fabi from now on). They are very funny, sweet, and a little overprotective! In our casa, I’m known as Conchi because Carmen and Fabi cannot pronounce “Courtney” to save their lives.
To finish off, I have a funny story. One day in my orientation class, the teacher passed out different scenarios to each student and we had to go in front of the class and act it out with words. My scenario was that my boyfriend broke up with me and I wasn’t too bothered by it, so I go in front of the class and say: “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. There are many ‘chicos calientes’ in my gym.” WELL, come to find out afterwards from my teacher that caliente in Spanish does not mean “hot or sexy” but something PG-13 rated.. I will leave this for you to figure out!
Just a heads up! I’m heading to Barcelona this weekend, so expect another post on either Sunday night or Monday 🙂

A Week in the Life

Top of Mt. Cargill
As I awake from my slumber in a foggy haze on Saturday, the 7th of September, I look at the time and realize I have no discernable reason for waking up. However, instead of returning to my comatose state to try and get a few more REM’s, I decide to grab my laptop and play a bit of Pokémon: Leaf Green to get my brain active. After exploring the Kanto region for about an hour, I prepare for the day.

With not much planned on this lazy Saturday, my flat mates and I decide to head off for a mission to Shag Point. Upon arriving, we immediately catch a glimpse of a napping furry seal. The nearby sign indicates that they are very territorial, and you should not come between them and the water. Taking these words to heart, we snap a couple pictures before doing some more exploring. Spotting a seal emerging from the sea to get some shut-eye down below, I decide to climb down the rocks to get a better look. As I come within 15 feet of the creature, he lets out a loud bellow, indicating that I should leave him alone. I proceed to sprint away as the noise he made was rather frightening. The adventure soon came to a close as we made our way back to the city.

After waking up at 5:00 am to watch the Detroit Lions play football, I begin class at 10:00 am. I walk to the Castle lecture theater to see another power point presentation on PHSE 202: Movement Analysis and Control. I have a brief break from 11-12 before resuming class in St. David’s lecture theater at noon for HEAL 192: Foundations of Epidemiology. This is the largest lecture theater on campus, yet it is filled for each lecture. I am led to believe there are over 1200 students taking this course, as it is required at this school for anyone who is pre-health. At 4:00 pm, I have tutorial for HEAL 192. This occurs every other Monday, and is basically a workshop to enhance your understanding of the course material.

For dinner, my flat mate Dan and I attempt to make a chicken stir fry/curry type of dish, but our lack of refined culinary skills cause the product to be rather disagreeable. To make up for the poor taste, I finish the meal off with a delicious PB&J.
Photo on 2013-09-15 at 20.01
I begin the day by hurriedly putting the finishing touches on a homework assignment for the 2:00 laboratory I have for PHSE 202. At the start, the lab instructor delightfully informs us that today’s lab will not require the full 3 hours, and shouldn’t be too much of a bother. It turns out to be a rather enjoyable experiment, as we use motion-capture technology to examine stride length during both running and walking on a treadmill.

After class, I return home to see several of my flat mates relaxing in the living room. We decide to spice things up by turning on a kick-boxing workout video to get our hearts pumping and sweat glands active. It’s important to stay in decent shape while in New Zealand, as there are always mountains that need to be traversed.

Having no class today, I took the opportunity to relax, as well as have a nice solo jam session in the drum room of the University music studio. For dinner, we head out to a nice Turkish restaurant for our flat mate Whitney’s 21st birthday celebration. Whitney is a short, blonde Canadian from a small city between Vancouver and Calgary. She enjoys small animals, yelling, and is a fabulous cook. The Turkish meal itself is delicious, and the restaurant provides us with crayons to draw on the table. Still, eating out here is rather expensive, and causes me much grief when I arrive to the cash register to pay my dues. This is the main reason why I have been eating pasta and bread day in and day out. Still, life goes on.

On yet another lazy Saturday, my flat mates and I embark on another mission. This time we head to Mount Cargill, which overlooks Dunedin. On the hike up, there is a place called the Organ Pipes, which are large rocks that form the shape of the previously listed name. My good friend Dan, who is a geology major, is unable to describe to me how they attained that shape. I let it slide, as he often is helpful in teaching us about different geodes.
Organ Pipes
At the top, we are greeted by a stunning 360 degree view of Dunedin and the surrounding area. To the far west, we can spot snowy mountains creeping over the hills. Down below, we see the Otago Peninsula jutting out into the ocean. A vast expanse of water lies before us. And to our north and south: lush, rolling pastures create a sea of green, a dazzling sensation to behold. Such views have become commonplace during my time here in New Zealand. God surely smiles upon his wondrous creation.

The nighttime brought more fun and games to our complex, as we spent valuable time together creating memories for years to come.

As I reflect on the past week, and the week yet to come, I gaze upon the morning sun, the dew on the grass, the smiles on the faces of my friends, and I thank the Lord above for his gracious bounty. There is work to be done in the coming days. I have a test on Friday for HEAL 192, which I am all but positive I will ace. I also have to complete my laboratory report from Tuesday’s experiment. Furthermore, I have my percussion technical for my music class in 2 weeks. It involves 5, 7, and 9 beat double-hit rolls, different patterns of beats using the entire drum kit, and reading/performing a piece of music. For the latter, the professor selected the theme song from the 90’s show MacGyver. This is one final I am sure to enjoy.

Yet while I’m handed a steady dose of scholastic material to keep me busy, I still manage to find myself whisked away to magical lands each week. I only have 2 months left in New Zealand, but I still have so much to see.

PB&J count: I’m pretty sure I’m closing in on triple digits.

New Day New Experience


Wow, I cannot believe how long I have been in Cape Town already! The time is just flying by! I apologize to those who have been waiting on the blog- it took awhile to get everything set up, there were some issues with uploading the photos and school has been rather hectic lately! I have so much to talk about and will now be blogging consistently. Okay- I want to get everyone up to speed on what has been happening over here in South Africa. The first two weeks were completely PACKED with various orientation activities. I spent most of the time with the other international students in my program exploring the popular spots in Cape Town and touring the University of Cape Town (UCT) where we would be taking class. We stayed in UCT residential halls for the first week and at the start of the second I moved in with my host family!

Classes are now in full swing and I have turned in my first few assignments. Now that I have had time to get into a routine and actually know how to get to the bus stop, where my classes are and how to walk home, things are going quite well. I did struggle a little at first; everything was so new and different and I didn’t know anyone! When classes started it really hit me that I was not at Hope anymore. Sitting in lecture halls of 300 students, not knowing how to print in the library or where to go in between classes, I was definitely challenged. Yet, any time I became anxious or overwhelmed I would just say to myself, ‘It’s all part of the experience’. I am experiencing so many new things every day, and whether good or bad I am learning from them; learning more about South African culture and more about myself in the process. In short, I am loving it. I went for a hike up one of the mountains recently and at the top as I looked out in awe over Cape Town, I just couldn’t stop thinking, ‘I am here- I made it!’ Feeling so blessed by this amazing place. It is difficult to describe everything in words so below are some photos I have taken thus far!

I was greeted at the airport in Cape Town by the resident assistants for my program!
I was greeted at the airport in Cape Town by the resident assistants for my program!
Sunset at Signal Hill!
Sunset at Signal Hill!
A great view of Table Mountain from the Company Gardens.
A great view of Table Mountain from Company Gardens.
Cape Point! It took a long time to walk up all of those stairs!
Cape Point! It took a long time to walk up all of those stairs!

Well, that is all for now but more to come soon! I can’t wait to see all that Cape Town has to offer! 🙂 Peace and Blessings!


A Delicious Burger, Among Other Things

Ferg Burger
The past two weekends I went on a couple trips, as well as spending some valuable time with my flat mates here in Dunedin. The first trip was up to Christchurch. Here I met up with my good friend and fellow Hope College student, Mary Kate, who is studying in Christchurch this semester. I arrived on a Friday night and we went out with her friends to a couple clubs, and returned back to the flat without causing too much raucous. The next day we explored the morning farmer’s market, before heading into the heart of the city. The city of Christchurch had a very damaging earthquake early in 2011, with many casualties as a result, as well as an extensive amount of damage. It was very surreal seeing the destroyed buildings that have yet to be rebuilt. The most interesting part of this experience was the abandoned buildings, such as a book store and a coffee shop, which have gone untouched since the earthquake, looking as if they were frozen in time.
Ancient Quesadilla
Next, we headed to a hiking trail that led up into the hills above the city. The view was nice at first; although eventually the fog got so bad we couldn’t see 100 feet in front of us. To get down the mountain, we went to the other side into a town called Littleton, where we stopped to rest and grab a warm beverage and snack. We took the bus back to the flat and watched LOTR FOTR until the wee hours of the night. The next morning we explored the city a bit more, until it was time for me to head back. On the journey back to Dunedin, we stopped in the small town of Oamaru, where we tried to sneak a peak of some penguins, but there were none to be found.

The next weekend, another Hope student and friend, Jacob Bonnema, visited me during his spectacular solo vacation around New Zealand. We drove out to Queenstown, where we explored the city the first night. After feasting on our famous and extraordinarily delicious Ferg Burgers, we rested for the night. The next day, Jacob went on his trip out to Milford Sound, while I had the day to myself. My goal was to have the most fun for the least amount of money. I found a nice little 9-hole golf course nestled in the city, where I rented some clubs and did my best Tiger impression. Although my play wouldn’t have won me any majors, I had a great time teeing off while being surrounded by large mountains with snowy peaks. Later I squired myself about town before having a couple of delicious cold ones beside the lake.

On our last day, we took the short drive to the town of Glenorchy. This drive was a windy road through the mountains along the river, and is no doubt in the top 10 of the most gorgeous drives I have ever taken. After spending a short time walking through town, we made our way back to Dunedin.
Road to Glenorchy
The next week I spent some great time with my flat mates and other great friends. Dan, Tim, and myself have become somewhat infamous in our flat for playing card games to no end. I would easily guess we have amassed over 15 hours of cards in the past week alone. Also, we take time each Monday night to watch the newest episode of Breaking Bad. Since it is on cable television that is not streamed to New Zealand, we have to take special measure using the World Wide Web to be able to watch it a few hours past it’s original air time. It is a very fine bonding experience.

Later that week, a few of us went out to a nearby beach where there is often Sea Lions getting cozy in the warm sun. This was a spectacular event, as we were able to get within several feet of the marvelous creatures. Being the risk-taker that I am, I ventured a little too close to the beasts, receiving a bit of a warning when they began to hop towards me. Although I may have flown too close to the sun a couple times, it was surely a day to remember.
Fun time with Mr. Sea Lion
These journeys have been nothing short of spectacular, and I look forward the upcoming semester break, where I will be off to Australia for 10 days of adventure.

PB&J count: 62

Let the Adventures Begin…

In THREE days I am leaving for Sighisoara, Romania, and I could not be more excited! Last week, I had a final meeting with Professor Sturtevant, the professor and chair of the department of social work and sociology at Hope, and Jill, my friend and fellow Hope social work student who will also participate in the Romania Studies Program (RSP) this fall. In this meeting, we reviewed the basic guidelines and requirements for fulfilling our 440 field practicum hours while in Romania, and Professor Sturtevant gave us last-minute tips on how to adapt to the Romanian culture. Because Jill and I are the first Hope social work students to seek to fulfill our field practicum hours through the RSP, we do not know what exactly to expect from this trip. I believe that the “unknown” aspect of this trip is what excites me the most. We are the “guinea pigs” for the social work department, and this opportunity is seen as a blessing for my adventure-seeking heart. I anticipated leaving the meeting feeling overwhelmed, and was surprised when I felt even more assured that this is the trip God has in store for me. It will be comforting having a friend embark on this journey with me, and I am thrilled that I get to leave so soon.

These last few days have been filled with last-minute shopping, visiting friends, and spending time with family. I am still working on packing, and I have found it extremely helpful that the director of the RSP, Dorothy Tarrant, sent us a packing list that included the breakdown of clothing and toiletry necessities, gift ideas for our host parents, non-essentials that we may have room for, as well as possible donation ideas for the sister program in Romania called Veritas. I have planned out what I intend to bring, and now the trick is to fit it all in the one suitcase and one carry-on that I am allowed to bring – I’ll let you know how that goes. 😉

Wish me luck, and keep me in your prayers, for in THREE days I will begin the trip of a lifetime!

Marga  =)

PB&J’s for Second Breakfast, Part 1

Myself at the top of Mt. Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty
So I’ve been in New Zealand for 4 weeks now, and through absolutely no fault of my own, just got this blog set up. Now it’s time to get everyone reading caught up to speed on what’s going on over here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. However, due to the number of amazingly fun adventures, of which you are sure to be jealous, along with the strange yet titillating mini-adventures on which I have embarked, I have decided to make a 2-part recap of the last 4 weeks. This is PB&J’s for Second Breakfast, Part 1.

June 22: A warm, sunny day on the southwest side of the greater Detroit area. It started off just as I anticipated; my mother’s bi-annual baking of my favorite cinnamon rolls.  In a pack of 10, 200 calories each, I inhaled my all-time favorite breakfast, soaking up the 2,000 calories in mere minutes. However, this day was unlike the other times I had eaten this delicious concoction. Normally I would sit around the house for a few hours, allowing my digestive system to undergo a complete overhaul. Instead, I had to rush to my room to complete my packing before driving to the beautiful Detroit Airport.

After saying my goodbyes to my loving parents, I hopped on the plane, with a stop in Chicago, and over to LAX. With a 5 hour layover, I took my time to navigate the surprisingly confusing and overwhelming airport to make my way to the proper terminal. About 13 hours later, I was in Auckland, New Zealand.

Along with the rest of my GlobaLinks group (About 50 students), we made our way to the tour bus as the sun rose over the green pastures surrounding the airport. Our first stop was to a hill (the hill’s name I cannot recall) overlooking the city. It was a gorgeous view at the top; a great way to start my long journey.

We returned to the hotel, went to our rooms, and, after far too long, showered. With a fresh, clean feeling, we were free to roam about the city, with only a short meeting and nighttime meal on our schedule. The meeting was enjoyable, as we met our leaders for the week, Paul and Tyme (both Kiwis). We did the usual, icebreakers and safety protocol, while they read us stories of former students who got into some trouble during their time in the country. Being a risk-taker myself, I felt no fear. After the meeting, we were free to explore. With a few other students, I walked about, stopping at the pier, as well as having a beer in a local pub. Shortly after, I separated from the group, walking about the city on my lonesome. I entered shops here and there, as well as further explorations of the pier.

Later that night, we had a dinner paid for by the program (as most of our meals during the week would be), and returned to the hotel. While some students were keen on having a few drinks that night. I was determined to go to bed at a reasonable hour. However, instead of listening to my gut and overcoming jet lag, I realized I only had one night in Auckland, and I wanted to see the city. So I went out alone, and explored the nearby casino. I spend about 30 minutes watching gamblers play craps, roulette, and a few card games before heading out. I ran into a few other students, and with them we explored the city before I returned to bed to restore my internal clock.

We left the next morning for Rotorua, a few hours drive from Auckland, for 4 days of great adventure. We had a couple more meetings each day, but the real excitement came from the extras. On one of the days, we went on our pre-booked adventures. I chose white-water rafting. While not quite as intense as my previous white-water experience as a teen, this river was absolutely gorgeous, and included a 7 meter waterfall drop (the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world). I got a special treat, as my raft flipped over and we were dumped into the water. It was truly invigorating.

The next day we went to the Waitomo caves. Here, we repelled down waterfalls, squeezed through holes, and viewed glow worms 2 inches from our faces in the pitch black (to date, this is my favorite experience here in NZ). It was amazing. I felt like I was on the film crew for Planet Earth.

We departed the next day for our individual universities around the country, hopping aboard some small planes out of a disturbingly low security airport. I arrived in Dunedin with a handful of other GlobaLinks students, hopped aboard a shuttle, and arrived to my flat at night. My home for the next few months resides on Castle Street, in the heart of the city.

My first two weeks involved getting accustomed to the university, learning where my friends from the GlobaLinks program were living, and meeting my flat mates. My flat, from what Tim, my Kiwi host, has told me, is one of the better flats that the university has to offer. The first week of classes is known as Re-Orientation week, where there are comedians, bands, festivals, and the Paint Party (which set the Guinness World Record for largest paint party). This week was filled with many get-togethers and fiestas. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this was a very college-oriented town, and that any night I wanted to go out, there would always be something to do. Each night holds something new and enjoyable, as I grow accustomed to taking care of myself.
Bell tower of the university
Through several factors, mainly my inability to cook and the lack of a cheap meals around town, I have resorted to eating an inordinate amount of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Between these, scrambled eggs in the morning, and the occasional pasta and alfredo meals, the number of PB&J’s I have taken into my body astounds even the most dedicated of PB&J enthusiasts. My meals have become the epitome of cheap and plain eating. Although no matter how many I eat, each sandwich is more scrumptious than the last.

Well, I skipped over a few bits here and there, but Hope College is paying me to blog, not to tell you what I ate for lunch on a Wednesday in a random city in northern New Zealand (it was a pork curry at a Thai restaurant….delectable).

PB&J’s for Second Breakfast, Part 2 coming whenever I get around to it.

PB&J’s for Second Breakfast, Part 2

So I’ve been in New Zealand for 4 weeks now, and through absolutely no fault of my own, just got this blog set up. Now it’s time to get everyone reading caught up to speed on what’s going on over here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. However, due to the number of amazingly fun adventures, of which you are sure to be jealous, along with the strange yet titillating mini-adventures on which I have embarked, I have decided to make a 2-part recap of the last 4 weeks. This is PB&J’s for Second Breakfast, Part 2. (Click here for Part 1).

After spending the first two weeks of school in Dunedin, 4 other males and I decided to make a last second travel plan to Milford Sound for the weekend. We rented a cheap car and stuffed in there, ready for a weekend of glorious views and mighty peaks. I was the first to drive, in the dark, no less (we left at 6 am), so I had to get used to the left side of the road in a hurry. All was well for most of the drive, as I became accustomed to having the wheel on the right side of the car, when out of nowhere there was a car heading straight at me in my lane trying to pass a truck. I quickly hit the brakes and made a slight swerve going into the shoulder. The other driver did the same, pulling back behind the truck. Disaster was avoided, but the collective heart of our vehicle may have skipped a few beats in that fleeting moment.

The highways here in New Zealand are not the four-lane luxury interstates we are used to in America. Here, they are 1 lane, weaving and winding through the hills and mountains of the beautiful landscape, making for a rather enjoyable yet slightly more dangerous driving experience. As we moved closer to the Fiordland National Park, the scenery became even more delightful, as we were greeted by mountains with snowy peaks before our very eyes. We stopped at several locations along the way to take in the scenery, and I could barely contain myself. I was in absolute awe at the majesty of the famous fjords. After a brief dip in the shimmering, yet freezing, waters of Lake Te Anau, We were almost to our final destination: Milford Sound.

To access the sound, we needed to go through Homer Tunnel, which cuts a half mile through the heart of the mountains. After another long, winding road through the valley between the peaks, we were at the sound. It was a breathtaking view, as the mountains seemed to jut out the water until they reached the stratosphere.
Milford Sound
Since the only way to really see the sound is to take the somewhat pricey cruise along the lake, and since we were trying not to spend too much this weekend, we decided to make camp outside of the Sound. After exiting Homer Tunnel, we made our way to the picturesque Lake Gunn, where we made camp for the night. After a night of charades, which would soon become commonplace amongst the group, we were ready for a nice hike up Key Summit the next morning.

We proceeded up along the trail through the rainforest-type flora and fauna, basking in the glow of Mr. Golden Sun peering through the treetops. There were several views of a small yet gorgeous waterfall, as well as a certain point that looked like there was a way to climb down to get a better look (we’ll get to this later). We reached the top of Key Summit, but were greeted by views that we did not expect nor welcome.

It was fog. Nothing but endless fog.

What was supposed to be a lovely view of the surrounding mountains was nothing but a collection of liquid water droplets suspended in the air near the Earth’s surface. We continued to walk around at the top, before admitting defeat to Mother Nature and headed back down. On the way down, I spotted a way to climb down to a waterfall, and could not pass up the opportunity. I used roots to slowly ascend down the muddy hill, before sliding down the last 15 feet. The view was incredible, and I was glad I climbed down, but I soon realized getting back up would not be an easy task. It was all muddy with no firm roots for me to grab hold. There was a creek that looked as if it would take me in the direction of where the path had started, so I yelled up to my friends to meet me down a ways. After walking along the creek, I found myself at the edge of a previously unseen large waterfall, with no way down.  I started to worry how I would escape, before finding another way up through the jungle. I climbed up for a few minutes before finding the path, and proceeded to catch up to the others, who were less than jubilated that I had attempted such a foolish feat.

The next day, we made a long hike up to Lake Marion, which turned out to be a stunning sight. I climbed out to a rock peninsula, briefly removing my socks and shoes so I could wade out a bit further. There was a waterfall to the side, and the combination of the clear lake and large mountains made for a rather peaceful feeling. Our time in the Fiorlands was over, and I am filled with serenity any time I picture the amazing scenery that was upon me that weekend. We returned home, and caught up on our rest before class began again on Monday morning.
A refreshing dip beneath the mountains.
The very next weekend, we were back to the trails. This time, it was to the Catlins, south of Dunedin. Our plan was a simple two-day hike while camping out overnight. The hike was lovely, as we cut through the amazing jungle, whilst waking across several catwalks that seemed about as sturdy as a Kardashian marriage.

Just before dusk, we arrived in an open field where we would set up our tents. As the moon and stars became apparent, we built a nice little fire and gazed at the heavenly cosmos above. The beauty in the skies that night was almost enough to make me want to switch my major to astronomy. For the first time in my life, I was able to see the Milky Way peer through our Solar System the same way an Osprey peers through the water to spot it’s next meal. It was simply a breathtaking experience.

The next morning, we made the tramp back to our cars and headed to a town nearby, where the sweet old lady running the local museum gave us directions to a waterfall in the area, as well as a lighthouse lookout called Nugget Point. After briefly viewing the cascading falls, we made the short trip to Nugget Point. Here, we feasted our eyes on the vast waters of the Pacific. We walked out to the lighthouse, where we were able to see some sea lions on the rocks down below. After this, we returned back to Dunedin for yet another week of classes.
View from Nugget Point lighthouse.
Keep in mind, that during all of these stories, I am averaging about 2.5 PB&J’s per day. During the weekend trips, it’s literally all I eat. I’ve found that the best way to pack food for these journeys is to pre-make PB&J’s, so that you don’t have to carry the ingredients with you on your excursion. Because of this, I have decided to keep track of the number of PB&J’s I ingest this semester. I will also update the count at the end of each blog.

Thank you for taking the time to read my 2-part recap of my first 4 weeks in New Zealand. There are plenty more adventures to be had, so I’m sure I’ll have no problem keeping this blog as updated as humanly possible.

Current PB&J count: 47.