My parents always told me to see my own country before visiting others. They said it was important to know where I came from so I could appreciate my own country before seeing others. As a result, most of my childhood was spent travelling New Zealand during school holidays, whilst everyone else went away to the theme parks on the Gold Coast of Australia, or the extra lucky ones got to visit England and see where their families originally came from. I hated it. I wanted to go to Dreamworld and Wet n Wild, I didn't want to go camping at Ohope Beach, or visit my aunty and uncles farm down south. I wanted to go out and see the world. The big wide world, not just my own backyard.
My first major trip overseas was to the USA. I convinced my parents that instead of doing my final year of high school in New Zealand, I should be allowed to do a high school exchange to America. I don’t know whether it was because i was an amazing salesperson (even at 16), or I just have awesome parents (probably the latter), but they let me do it.
The year leading up to America felt like the longest year of my life. All I thought or talked about was how I was going to the States. Finally, i was getting to leave small town New Zealand and see what else was out there, and what the real world is like. A week before my 17th birthday, I boarded the plane ready for 32 hours worth of travel, mentally preparing to make Ohio my home for the next year.
You may think that New Zealand and the USA aren’t that different. We both speak English, the food is fairly similar, we dress relatively the same and we listen to the same sort of music, but as a 16 year old girl from a town of 4,800, going overseas for the first time (by herself) to live for a year, we might as well have spoken different languages (and to be honest, half the time people couldn’t understand what i was trying to say anyway).
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved my time in America, and I made great friends who I still talk to years later, but I really began to appreciate New Zealand in a way I never had before. I began to love the small town I came from where everyone knew everyone else names, and the way people would say hello to you as you walked down the street. I missed having only one high school, and at that high school there were only 540 students, not over 1000. I began to appreciate the winding, hilly roads of New Zealand over the long flat highways of America, and I realised how much I loved that in New Zealand we don’t have to drive more than 2 hours to get to the beach or mountains, no matter where you live. Other people may laugh at our ‘funny’ accents, but we all know that’s because they’re jealous they’re not from here (or maybe I just tell myself that to make myself feel better).
We may be a small country, and admittedly people still dispute whether or not we are a made up entirely, but we are truly one of the most beautiful countries in the world. As much as I love to travel (and trust me, I love to travel) there’s no place like New Zealand, with all of its natural beauty, mountains, forests, beaches, small town kindness and smiles that you get wherever you go. And of course the All Blacks, because how can this be an article about New Zealand without bringing up rugby…
So as jealous as I was of those kids at school going overseas for their holidays, I now don’t think they would have the same appreciation of New Zealand as I do. They never got to see the places I did or learn about our country while we were young, and so I thank my parents for persevering with teaching me about my own country, and showing me the beautiful land I was lucky enough to be born in. That same mindset has now been instilled in me, and I in turn will teach my kids about the important of seeing your own country before you see others, and learning to love it for what it is. No matter where you are from, whether its Australia, America, Italy, Japan or New Zealand, I urge you to explore your own backyard. Explore it, and love it. That way, when you do finally go overseas you can tell everyone all about where you are from, and you’ll be even more grateful to go home.