I saw the stars in New Zealand. The kind of stars you read about, but have never really seen living in a metropolis your whole life. Swirling white, blues, and purples of the Milky Way looked just like what old middle school science textbooks showed. After gazing up at the stars out of the small car window in silence for nearly 10 minutes, my new house-dad said to me in his soft New Zealand accent, “Are you tired?”
“No,” I said, “I’ve just never seen stars like this in my entire life.”
I went on to describe that where I was from in the United States, the lights from the developed area makes it hard to see the sky in such glorious detail. From this, we began to chat about air pollution, environmental issues, and a bunch of other random topics. Moments of bonding between such different cultures, like this one, were characteristic of the unforgettable three days I spent living with a Kiwi family in Te Awamutu, New Zealand.
In high school, I traveled throughout the South Pacific for nearly a month with an organization now called called People to People Student Travel. In New Zealand, each of us were set up to stay with a family for a few days to learn about the country from a new, more authentic perspective. I stayed with the lovely Awhimai family—made up of a teenage daughter, Shaani, her older sister Jo and her two small children, and their parents. They were a Maori family, meaning they are descent of indigenous New Zealanders, and referred to themselves as “Kiwi.” Their quaint, pink house was situated on a small farm with a few cows and chickens.
The three days I spent with them were challenging at times (it was winter and the house had no heat… cue endless shivering), but also extremely rewarding as I gained insight into New Zealand living, culture, and politics that I would have never learned elsewhere. Surely I could write for pages about everything that happened during my homestay, but I’ll boil down a few takeaway points from my whirlwind experience:
- I didn’t know the real meaning of “farm to table” until I realized my favorite chicken with the brightest feathers went missing one day. Many New Zealanders raise their own animals and grow their own produce, a process that makes eating feel much more intimate… but also delicious.
- The Kiwi people value old traditions. One day, I had the opportunity to go with the Awhimais to their family’s wharenui, a meeting house where ceremonies from gatherings to weddings to parties occur. There was signing, dancing, and an obvious passion for keeping old Kiwi practices alive. Shaani told me that “it was all they had that was truly theirs.”
- New Zealand, like many other nations, is also troubled with tension between native people and the majority. It was interesting for me, as a young black woman, to draw parallels between the struggles of Kiwi people and minorities in the United States. Even across oceans, we are more alike than we are different.
The time I spent and conversations I had during my homestay were simply priceless. I was proud of myself for going into it with an open mind, and more importantly, and open heart ready to absorb all it could. So, thank you again Awhimai family and thank you New Zealand! Hopefully, I’ll see you both soon.