Time Flies (But Kiwis Don't)

“You know, you’ll never get New Zealand out of your system,” she said. “Oh, I know,” I replied, almost before the sommelier had finished her sentence, the minerality of the last pinot noir still lingering on my palette. How can you not love this place, though, I thought to myself as I looked back over the neat rows of grapes running down the hills of the vineyard towards the estuary, that turquoise blue water stretching out into the sun-drenched bay, mountains rising up in the distance to both the east and west.

I’ve been privileged to find myself in a lot of spectacular and breathtaking places this year, sitting there staring, and thinking, “How is this even real?” or, “How did I get this lucky?” but mostly just, “I love this place.”

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Then a familiar impulse would always creep in. It was an urge to grasp the moment and hold on tighter, because the temporality of it all became so incredibly apparent. As I realized that moment would never exist again, my thoughts started to veer off from gratitude to panic. Don’t let this go! How can I hold onto this longer? What if I forget what this looks like or sounds like or worse, what this feels like? How can I make sure I remember this properly? I’m sure any traveler is familiar with that feeling.

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Here’s the thing though, if you’re lucky, you will probably soon have another moment like that, and you might forget the specific details of the previous one. That’s the gig though, right? That’s life, dude! If you’re using all of your energy worrying about capturing a moment (a moment which, by the way, will never ever be able to be contained to the confines of your teeny memory) you’ve got no chance of ever fully living it.

In the back of my head I always knew this was all temporary because the Working Holiday Visa only lasts a year. That fact could easily be seen as something that would put a damper on this year, but I think it turned out to be a blessing, because when you know you have a finite amount of time in a place you waste very little of it. (So if you want to practice living in the moment, get yourself a non-renewable 12-month visa.)

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And now, very suddenly, that day that I always knew was coming is here and my year in New Zealand is over. But, hey, what a year it has been.

It’s difficult to put into words what this year has meant to me. Quitting your job, moving to a foreign country, and living there for a year on your own would be a pretty life-changing experience regardless of which country you chose, but I can’t deny that experiencing all of that in New Zealand has made this year what it was to me. There’s something about this place that’s kind of magic.

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I keep being asked, “How do you feel about coming home?” Well, I haven’t really found the answer to that question yet. I’m still processing everything so I guess the best answer I have is mixed feelings. Very mixed.

The last time I experienced anything close to this feeling was when I was preparing to leave Spain at the end of my time studying abroad. That was the first time in my life I had lived outside of Seattle, and as I was wrestling with the idea of identity and place and the intersection of the two, I found this quote:

“You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place…like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again.” -Azar Nafisi

I remember it striking me as quite sad when I read it for the first time in Spain. At that time, I saw leaving as losing the person that I had become after six months of European life. But it strikes me very differently now, because as much as I will miss the people and the life I built here, and as much as I realize I will never be this person again, I don’t feel like I’m losing anyone or any part of me. I know that I get to take all of it with me.

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Leaving New Zealand is undeniably hard. But it’s also an opportunity, it’s a chance to take stock of the ways this place has changed me. If you’ve traveled for any extended amount of time you know that the places you go affect you in very tangible and distinct ways; you always come back different but you don’t always come back better. Sometimes you return from a place feeling like you need to recharge, refill, and resettle yourself. Some places drain you. Some places make you harder and more cynical.

If I think back to the Carly that waved goodbye to her family at SeaTac Airport last Christmas, I almost don’t recognize her. I feel softer, more trusting, generally more hopeful about humankind. (Too much? Sorry, can’t help it, all emotions are very intense right now.) Judging by the number of people who have been asking me for directions lately it must be showing, I think I lost my resting bitch face this year. That has to be magic, right?

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So the sommelier was right, I will never get New Zealand out of my system. But the truth is I don’t want to. I want to keep it with me. This year has been such a meaningful one, so many shifts, and growth, and surprises—I couldn’t have planned this year if I tried, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand, this sweet little pair of islands floating in the Pacific, my temporary home, has taken up permanent residence in my heart. And even though I might be leaving, it will never leave me.

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