And how were things in Wellington?

I was on the other side of the globe for an exchange, and suddenly the world had exploded. After a two-day hike in the bushbush, without news, it turned out I had to adjust my plans rigorously. It was even exciting if I could come home. Read here about my CoronAdventures abroad.

photo Eline van Leeuwen

The office life of an internship last year was the reason I wanted to go on exchange anyway: íf (as I expected) the experience would not be life changing and orgasmic, then at least it would be an adventurous splurge before civil life after graduation. I wanted to go somewhere with beautiful nature and not too much culture shock: New Zealand was the place. I planned a road trip in California at the beginning of the adventure and half way through the exchange I would discover the South Island with my boyfriend. Apparently the South Island is one of the most beautiful places on earth… Spoiler: I never saw the South Island. The road trip was very awesome as planned – no problem there. Our greatest fear was if the police would ask why we were overnight parking with our camper in random suburbs illegally.

In Wellington I realized that everything is quite nicely organized at TU/e, how nice teachers in New Zealand are and how expensive life of an architecture student is without cheap stuff offered by uni. Although, you get used to all that after a few weeks.

Last nice weekend

And yes, I díd meet a group of amazing people with whom I went on cool weekend trips and we did have quick and pleasant bonding because everybody was away from home and slightly out of place. The last nice weekend that I remember, we went into the bush bush with the tramping club, including backpacks, extremely basic style and completely cut off from the world. It was the weekend that Donald Trump seemed to have Covid 19 and we secretly hoped that he would have disappeared from this earth by the time our weekend was over. Because well, he is quite old after all.

After the weekend away, Donald Trump was still alive, but the world had exploded. In the 48h after our return, the outer boarders for the Shengen area were closed as well as New Zealand’s boarders – my South Island adventure was officially not happening. It was completely unclear to me what to do with all this information. The TU/e asked met carefully if I would consider to maybe come home – it was not obligatory.


Key points

New Zealand still had a normally functioning public life and the Netherlands had 1000 times as many cases of corona. One day of contemplating the implications of my next step gave a very clear outcome: actually being áble to go back home was not a self-evident option any longer. The geographical location of New Zealand and the xenophobic Australian border policies made me – more than ever – aware of being on the exact other side of the globe. Organizing my return home can be summarized by following key points:

Travel agency: unreachable. Dutch embassy: unreachable. Airlines: unreachable. Amount of return tickets purchased: two. Amount of times being sabotaged by Australia: one and a half (they finally allowed me on my flight 10 minutes before leaving after phone approval was necessary from the Border Police for each European passport).  Duration of the journey: 54 hours – that is two full days and then some. Amount of mental breakdowns: approximately 3.5. My new favourite person at uni: Petri van de Vorst from insurance. She always replied (at all haha), reacted nicely and sent some mental support via email. Petri is a hero.

And then I was suddenly in Honolulu, for 14.5 hours. It was the first time in five days that the word ‘adventure’ was going through my mind. I made the best of my time and went lying on the beach. It was crazy warm and moist and relaxed and after my beach adventure I had a temperature of 39.2.I could have saved the world from Corona, handed myself in and spent 14 days of self-isolation on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean. I did not save the world, but stuffed myself with paracetamol.

I got home via Vancouver. I have never been so emotionally unstable from hearing the words ‘we are honoured to bring you home’ come out of a KLM guy’s mouth and I have never respected people working in aviation ever before in my life. And I have never been so incredibly happy to be home in our tiny flat country. Things are really quite relaxed here and I look forward to spending my boring civil life here. I continue my courses online;  New Zealand into total lockdown around the time I touched Dutch soil – all uni stuff is now online anyway. Although social distancing is monotone at times, I go for a walk every now and then and I am quite satisfied with it all.

I think in a way my exchange was similar to others’: surprising, different than you expect, sometimes fun, sometimes lonely and sometimes a surprise slap in the face. Would I have done it all again, knowing what I know now?

Now idea. Probably I would.

And I will be back for the South Island sometime in the future.

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