If I could give any one piece of advice to a future study abroad student it would be this: be invested. You can’t do anything better for yourself while studying abroad than to become invested in the community. It makes goodbyes harder but the memories all the sweeter.
Throughout the semester, I have found myself falling in love with the community here in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Not only has it been the community at the Old Convent, but the greater Kaikoura community. I have grown to love the people at the local New Life Church, attending Sunday services as well as sunrise prayer every Tuesday morning at 6:30am (or as my friend Lisa terms it, “stupid-o-clock”). We pray for each other, the community, and the troubles facing the world today. As a group, we have grown together in our faith and love. It truly is a beautiful thing. I’ve also been volunteering for the Kaikoura Ocean Research Insitute (K.O.R.I) for the last 6 weeks, weighing little penguin chicks, recording adult identification tags, and measuring eggs. It’s been so special observing this part of creation and forming relationships with the researchers here in Kaikoura. As a group, we have also been involved in beach clean-ups with the local elementary schools, volunteering in various places throughout Kaikoura, and getting to know the locals through our time spent in town. Many of us have also returned to our homestay families to watch a rugby game or have dinner or just fellowship. And beyond the people, we have become invested in the nature all around Kaikoura. We have learned the names of the trees on our property and throughout the town, the local birds and marine life. Because of this, we have found this deep sense of care for this place.
For our last Sunday here in Kaikoura the church community gathered around us and prayed over our journey home and our lives as changemakers. Some elders prophesized over us, giving visions of little rocks being dropped in the ocean and sending ripples to the far reaches of the earth. How beautiful is it to be a part of such a loving, faithful community! Tonight, Sunday, we will be having a Thanksgiving celebration with the
Come Friday, many tears will be shed as we say goodbye to the place and the people we have become so invested in, but how beautiful is it to be leaving a place with people to miss and people who will miss you! I take back my former advice to study abroad students and extend this to all. If I could tell anyone one thing, it is to be invested in your place. Whether you are studying abroad for a semester or remaining in the place you call home, become invested. Get to know your community, volunteer, and learn about the birds and trees around your home. When we make home and come to be invested in a place, we can’t help but feel this deep sense of love and care and that is one of the most wonderful feelings I’ve ever felt.