I’m having mixed feelings about travelling after Peace Corps – half the time I think “I just want to be home already!” and the other half the time I think “Thank goodness I’m not back in the States yet!” Overall, though, I think my week in New Zealand is more or less beneficial because it is serving as a buffer. I’m getting a good dose of reverse culture shock here, and my audiences are only temporary so my cultural faux pas and social maladjustments don’t really have any serious impact. But if I don’t get them all out here, surely I’ll be forgiven back home, right?
So far, the experiences here resemble my past travels in Peace Corps. Above all else, I can’t believe how big everything is! I can wander around in grocery stores for hours! All the buses have cushy seats, and not every seat is full with people sitting on laps! The cities have more than 2 streets! I remember this shocking me on previous travels, but the surprise never seems to wear off. I also find myself continually surprised to encounter personal cars, stoplights, hot water, microwaves, people who speak English as their first language…the list could go on and on forever. It mostly includes conveniences – the hot water, microwaves, places to get food outside of standard business hours, wi-fi! Sometimes it’s wonderful to be in a first world country. However, I am slightly annoyed that my bus driver doesn’t pick me up from my door and drop me off exactly where I want to go. I’ll miss that.
It’s been really weird to travel though, because every time you meet somebody, you’re obviously a tourist (I can’t help it, I like to use the map to know where I am, and even then I get lost sometimes. Seriously, I walked around downtown Rotorua for at least an hour because I couldn’t match up the intersections in real life with the picture on the map), so the standard questions always come up: “Where are you from? How long will you be in New Zealand?” I always try to give a brief answer to these questions, but really there’s no way to explain it without some background. “I’m just in New Zealand for a week because I’ve been living in Samoa for the past two years, but I’m on my way back to the States and wanted to squeeze in just a little extra travel on the way.” If people are particularly interested, they get to find out that I was teaching English in Samoa, I’m going home for the first time in two years, and New Zealand is awfully cold in summer. That’s usually where the story ends, although I’ve had some longer conversations.
It’s a nice place to leave Peace Corps behind. There’s a strong bicultural identity to New Zealand, so I can still see Polynesia, but Maori tradition is drastically different than Samoan tradition, so it’s familiar, but not very. I’m just starting to move away from Samoan culture, but I haven’t left it behind entirely. At the same time, I’m getting a taste of what the States will be like without having to jump in all at once. Sometimes I still give my name as Tali, although it’s really the Ziemba they’re looking for in their list of reservations. I haven’t caught myself trying to speak Samoan all the time, but I still use some expressions in regular conversation, and I still rely strongly on the nonverbal communication I picked up. I always wonder about that – what do these people make of the fact that I’m wiggling my eyebrows all over the place while they’re talking to me? I can’t help it; I do it unconsciously.
A few of my PCV friends keep asking me how my time is in New Zealand, and I keep telling them that I’m getting a lot of rest, relaxation, and food, and honestly, that perfectly sums up what I’m doing. I’m taking a break. I’ve left home, but I’m going home, and this just gives me a chance to breathe and let things pass.