A place to stand

In all honesty, prior to arriving in New Zealand, I knew little about the Māori culture. The only thing I really knew was the 10 second elevator speech I had formed in response to the question “what classes will you be taking?”. After listing off “An Introduction to the Māori World”, I explained that Māori are the indigenous Polynesian settlers of New Zealand, and this course would hopefully give me a glimpse into their culture. Indeed it has.

Between this course, everyday living experiences, coupled with a recent “Noho Marae” stay, I feel as though my time in Aotearoa (the Māori word for New Zealand), has been enriched with a better understanding and appreciation for Māori culture. Like any culture, so many elements, large and small, contribute to make up the greater whole. Impossible to cover everything, this post is dedicated to giving a glimpse into the culture by highlighting elements seen as crucial components to the backbone of Māori traditions and world views.

From a Māori perspective, everything in the world is interconnected and related through whakapapa, or genealogy. Whakapapa is a cornerstone to Māori people which permeates across all aspects of their culture, connecting everything back to their gods. Traditionally hunters, gatherers, and farmers, Māori are a people extremely connected to their earth, and the places and tribes which they come from. This is reflected through many things, but most traditionally expressed through your pepeha, or formal introduction. Last weekend I had the opportunity to do an overnight stay at a Marae, which is a space in Māori culture dedicated for carrying out ceremonies, celebrations, and cultural practices. Among the tasty traditional food cooked underground (known as “hangi”), song, and games, we also learned how to construct our own pepeha. Mine went like this…

Constructing my pepeha got me thinking a lot about home. Even further, about what Māori call tūrangawaewae, or standing ground. Similarly, in the beginning of the semester I had to create a presentation about my identity, including pictures of the people, places, and Appalachian mountains I call home. This eastern perspective has revealed to me just how important the places we come from are in shaping our identity. For Māori, it is typically the mountain, river/lake/sea, canoe (to Polynesians this is very important), founding ancestor, tribe, sub-tribe, marae, and region that is associated – but your standing ground is not limited to this. Whether it be a mountain, cityscape, desert, ocean, or really anything, Māori view you based on the places you come from.


Studying abroad has taught me a LOT of things so far, but I’ll dedicate a post for that later. One of the biggest things it has given me is a new appreciation of my home, more importantly, my standing ground. Those ridge and valley Appalachians I call home hold my heart. There’s almost nothing better than crossing over the Lehigh river after time away at college, looking up to the slopes it once carved into Blue mountain. I am proud of where I come from, and I feel these landmarks to truly be my tūrangawaewae. With that said, I must not forget about the people I come from. To me, family is also oh so important to my identity. They have grown me both literally and figuratively, and can be the most mobile “home” I know.

My standing ground.

Not only have I learned so much about the rich culture that represents the roots of New Zealand through lessons and experiences, but I have been encouraged to think about and appreciate my own roots from a new and valuable perspective. To those supportive readers who have gotten this far, thank you. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend pondering your own roots in such a way. If you’re not sure how, take a trip to your local landmarks – whatever they may be. Far from home? Dig up some old photos or phone a family member. Whatever your roots may be, I encourage you to never forget to dig them up every once in a while – after all, those very roots are what you’ve grown from.

If you’re interested in creating your own pepeha, the link below provides a fantastic service to help you do just that- and even provides a free jpeg image of your final result! https://pepeha.nz/start-pepeha.html



I would like to especially thank my Māori professor, Rangi Matamua for his dedication to so passionately sharing his culture with the world.


A rolling stone

“A rolling stone gathers no moss” said my mom, as we hiked through the lush beech forest, carpeted with moss and ferns of all types. I was quite puzzled by this expression, and she explained that the old proverb refers to people who are always moving, with no roots in one place or another, to be avoiding responsibilities and cares. However, the common modern meaning turns this around to suggest that a person must stay active to avoid stagnation. To be always moving or rolling in this case, is a good thing. Just keep moving and you will gather no moss. 

Marveling with mom at those gathering moss.
Photo credit: Claire Lewis

Recently, mid semester break has allowed me to be a rolling stone. After a week of traveling with family and now nearing a week of traveling with friends, my mind is on the move. Free from the structure of academia and some everyday responsibilities has been a treat. In combination with new places, perspectives, and experiences, the past two weeks on the island have been unique of my abroad experience so far. Much of my travels have been spent on the South Island, where I’ve spent time in National Parks such as Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, and Westland Tai-Poutini. Pristine glacial lakes, gorging rivers, plummeting waterfalls, and towering mountains (the Southern Alps) have been a large component of the views out my car window. But this is not without the lush green “bush” full of tree ferns, or long stretches of paddocks filled with red deer, sheep, cows, and the occasional alpaca that add a classic kiwi charm. I’ve also been lucky to have gotten some glimpses of ocean! New Zealand is so vastly diverse. I feel quite spoiled with all of these views, and am enjoying every minute of the adventure.

But a rolling stone gathers no moss. Although these two weeks of traveling have been exceptionally amazing, all good things must come to an end. As attractive as it may seem, the nomad life doesn’t exactly suit me. Responsibilities await me back in Hamilton but so do some amazing people among so many other good things. On the other hand, with respect to the more modern take on the expression, it has been so good to move. To walk, explore, capture, and write freely. To see the beautiful country I am lucky enough to be studying in! Stagnation is hard to encounter, while opportunity for growth and development is easy find. All of it has been so so good.

So I suppose this brings the question: to grow moss or not? I’ve pondered this thought throughout my trip, and I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer. Even if it’s not moss, as long as you keep growing through what you’re going through, grow on. I will say, if you’re looking for a change of pace, a road trip may be a perfect way to do just that.



Sun showers & rainbows

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows… You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”

The well-embraced words of Rocky Balboa have become unexpectedly relevant to my time abroad so far, especially this past week. But not so much from the “hard-knock life” perspective. In fact, my week was full of sun showers (a new vocabulary word I’ve picked up here) and rainbows quite literally. Although I must confess – I don’t recommended last minute lab reports. I’ve learned my lesson… I’ll leave it at that.

Compared to what I’m used to, it rains a lot here. One minute the sun is shining, and the next the sun is still shining… but its pouring down rain! Sun showers have become an almost daily experience here and are truly a sight to see. They never last long though, and are much better for the soul than a cloudy rainy day in my opinion. It just goes to show you how deceiving the weather can be!

In the past 3 days I’ve seen 5 rainbows. For a kiwi I suppose this may not be a lot, as I felt like a rainbow tourist for all the pictures I took on a class field trip over the weekend. But to me that’s incrazing (shout out to my best friend Katia for so cleverly coming up with this word)! There’s a lot of science to rainbows, but to keep it short – it has to do with moisture particles. Also, nobody can see the exact rainbow you can, because how you see it is dependent upon the exact place you’re standing.

In his famous line, Rocky goes on to say: “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”

From my experience, no matter how many times we try to be fearless of the weather ahead, it does have an influence. On our plans, our moods, and sometimes whether we’ll be taking an involuntary shower when we choose to go outside (I fell victim to this today on my walk to church). The thing is, we do not have control over the weather – whether you like it or not. As my nana always says: “there’s nothin’ you can do about the weather, its the only weather we’ve got”. 

So where am I going with all of this? Wherever you are reading this from, however you may be feeling, whatever your weather… I hope you know even though the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it is full of weather. Whatever the weather – the storms, the rain, the sun showers; we must go through in order to get those rainbows. Life can hit you hard (so can rain), but your rainbow awaits. Take that rain, and keep moving forward.



Settling in: grow those roots

Kia ora! After some time spent away from the blog, I’m ready to write. The past three weeks have truly been full of new experiences, places, and people. I know, what an original statement! But it’s true. These weeks have also been a time of settling in. Settling into my living space, my new “uni”, and what will become the new ordinary for the next four months.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a good bit of traveling in recent years. With that said, this travel experience is unlike any other. Never have I spent more than 4 weeks in a country- let alone 4 months. This is a temporary home. Living out of a suitcase is no longer acceptable, budgeting feels ever so important, and there is pressure to make roots that will sustain your growth for the months to come. What might I perceive those figurative “roots” to be? Well, the friends I make now are likely to be some of the people I make my greatest study abroad memories with. The spaces I choose to spend my time in are likely to be where I picture myself when I think back on this experience. The routines and habits I develop now are likely to stick with me in the months ahead. This unfamiliar place must become familiar. It is my new home. I must grow some roots.

It is so easy to fall idle to this pressure, especially if you’re an introverted over thinker like me. So, here are some takeaway tips I’ve found useful throughout this settling in, root-growing process…

  • Find a safe space and make it your own. This will likely be your room, for me it is. Some posters, a handful of polaroids from home, twine, and sticky tack have helped make my room into one of my favorite spaces here… but don’t worry I’m doing my best not to be a hobbit!
  • Be prepared to talk about yourself. People want to get to know you just as much as you want to know them!
  • Say yes. Whatever the activity, no matter how much you would like to substitute “no thanks” into the offer, choose to say yes. I have yet to be disappointed from using this simple strategy, and have met some amazing people along the way.
  • Keep a journal. Starting from the ground up with just a head on your shoulders and a suitcase calls for some record keeping! It’s also a great way to track your development throughout the process.
  • Be honest. To an extent, being friendly is a key to making new friends. But while you’re out there meeting these awesome people, be sure you’re honest with yourself. Remembering your values and what makes you happy is so important.

I understand that these tips may not apply to the entire audience of this post, so thank you for reading this far if that’s you. However, regardless of your life season or take on studying abroad, I hope that these tips might help you navigate new situations even the slightest bit better… they sure have for me. Grow those roots!


A native Tui bird perched next to a common campus walkway. It’s easier to hear one of these birds than see them, notable by their distinctive & gorgeous song.

Kia Ora! Day 3 in NZ

Kia Ora! This is a Māori-language greeting which has entered New Zealand English I have become instantly familiar with. It translates literally as “have life”, “be well”, or “be healthy”, and is used as an informal greeting equivalent to “hi” or “hello”.

Today officially marks my third day in New Zealand. Much has happened and been learned since I said goodbye to the states. To sum it all up…

  • I’ve never ran faster in my life to catch a connecting flight
  • 14 hours on a plane go by quickly if you’re able to sleep
  • Although I made my connecting flight, my bag did not
  • I became familiar with the New Zealand equivalent of Walmart, “The Warehouse” quite quickly (always pack an extra pair of clothes in your carry on my friends!)
  • It’s winter here, but green is still in! (The sun sets at 5pm)
  • I’ve found a church (and some lovely people)!
  • Calling back into time kind-of exists (thank you, 16 hour time difference)
  • Air New Zealand/Star Alliance provides great customer service
  • My bag hopped on the next flight over the sea and was returned to me!
  • I’ll be getting a taste of bigger campus living this semester!
  • The nature here is SO diverse
  • Swiss chard makes for a nice city landscaping scene

Orientation begins tomorrow. Classes start Monday. I still have more settling in to do, much to learn, and a world of new experiences awaiting. This is my first blog post of many, and I hope you’ll follow along on this journey of mine!