Wolverines Abroad: New hemisphere, new perspective

Sunday, September 16, 2018 - 5:55pm

New hemisphere, new perspective

New hemisphere, new perspective Buy this photo
Courtesy of author

At the 5,000-foot summit of a mountain in Wanaka, New Zealand, I cried. I was sitting on the ground eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after having trekked up the nearly four miles of straight incline trail. There was salt on my face from the sweat, chilling against my skin in the breeze. As I looked out on the water and mountains surrounding me, I felt a sense of calm I had never known — so much so that I was overwhelmed and, before I knew it, I was actually, embarrassingly, crying.

Next to the sleepy town of Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand lies Roy’s Peak, which offers a full-day zigzagging hike up the side of Mount Roy through grass and packed gravel, littered with sheep and the presents they leave behind. It was a difficult hike for a novice like me, especially considering I was ill-equipped with a pair of worn-in running sneakers and the same Jansport backpack that I use to carry my books to class. Once I reached the summit, I was forced to forget the pain in my legs and reckon with the panoramic, seemingly endless views across and beyond Lake Wanaka.

There are some places and moments that defy description. It’s cliché, trite and frankly groan-inducing of me to say, but this was one of those moments. Not in terms of physical description — I could wax poetic about the rolling hills and cascading mountains, about the bluest blue of the water, about the eerie and comforting sound of only the wind and the footsteps of fellow hikers — but in terms of the feelings it inspired.

I traveled to New Zealand for 10 days during my semester abroad in Sydney, Australia. The decision to study in Sydney was spurred by a desire to go to Australia for as long as I could remember. It’s where I was born and my family lived for five years in the mid-’90s before returning home to Boston. I spent four months in the Southern Hemisphere, kicked off with a trip to Southeast Asia and bookended by nearly two whole days sitting on a plane. To say I experienced more natural beauty abroad than I had seen in the last 21 years of my life would be a given. To say I saw the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world, had what is likely an increasingly rare chance to see the Great Barrier Reef and tasted the Australian delicacy that is a Tim Tam would be bragging. To say I experienced a change within me that can only come with travel would be more accurate, albeit nauseatingly cheesy.

On the other side of the world, in a place that I barely knew, I felt surer of myself than ever before. I felt more grounded and less anxious. I felt less worried about how I was being perceived and more concerned about the next item on my bucket list. I’m almost positive I blinked less, keeping my eyes open wide as much as possible to soak up everything around me. I watched more, I noticed more, I learned more.

A trip like this is few and far between. One where you focus on what is directly in front of you rather than the noise inside your head. One where you wake up and go to sleep when the sun does, rather than when your phone alarm tells you. One where you are overcome with emotion — on more than one occasion — from contemplating just how much bigger and more important the world is than you.

If you are young, have the physical ability and the financial means and are eager to be better, you should travel — as frequently and as widely as possible. Hop in a car, on a plane, on a bus. Plan, but not too much. Eat whatever you think you can stomach, even if it’s a bird embryo in Vietnam. Talk to people. Learn. Be open.

The more places I see and experience, the smaller I feel. The world is impossibly vast, and the more I explore it, the more I realize how little I know, how many places I have yet to go, how much more I have to learn. Traveling makes you feel insignificant in the good kind of way.

This specific, humbling insignificance, I have decided, is my favorite kind of feeling. I want to pocket it for times when I feel too self-assured, too smug, too caught up in my own minute troubles. I want to feel tiny and unwise and know I have places to go that will bring me, in the most literal sense, back down to earth. I want to hold on to this feeling for the rest of my life. When I set off for my return down Roy’s Peak — with a quiet brain, tired legs and a huge smile on my face — I set off in pursuit of that insignificance.

Rebecca Brown is an LSA senior. 

To search for education abroad opportunities and register your travel, visit global.umich.edu.