So IES has a little secret. They arrange a field-trip vacation for you over your mid-semester break. When I registered for my study abroad semester in New Zealand I was not aware of this. However, that made the realization all the more exciting when I was told that for my break I would be going to the Cook Islands!
I flew with 12 other IES students and our program director Eunice McKessar to Auckland and then Rarotonga, the largest island in the Cook Islands the morning after our last day of class. We stayed there for a week and it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. Despite only having a total of 7 hours of “free time” our field trip was chocked full of some of the greatest adventures that I have ever had. We did so much that we were busy non-stop from 8am to 10pm at night.
A highlight for me was visiting a local school. We got to watch the children in class, talk to them about what we are studying, and play with them during recess. I enjoyed a game of rugby with a group of boys that were there. Each team fought over me viciously because I was able to truck through and score a tri only because of my size in comparison to anyone else.
It was beautiful to see these kids play outside, with each other, in the sunshine, and just laugh. These children were actually children! It was almost weird to see. It highlighted to me how much a typical “childhood” in the United States has been lost. Thinking of the schools that I have been to at home, I get the feeling that American children where I come from progress from infant to adolescent, being robbed of a childhood. Watching these children and their pure joy in life was so refreshing and inspiring!
Another highlight was participating in a Hangi – a meal cooked in the ground, with a local Cook Island Maori family. They taught us how to weave our own plates, and make sarongs. Following dinner we had a dance competition and I won for the men!
Other notable activities were a cross-island walk over a mountain, biking around the island, going to a local market, snorkeling on the coral reef, and eating seafood on the beech by a fire. The week was busy but one of the greatest times of my life!