sierra in new zealand

Tales of a Nomad in New Zealand: Why Leaving Isn’t Goodbye

Bell writer Sierra Flach ’18 has traded her Road Hall at Gordon for the rolling hills of New Zealand. Studying abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, she will be bringing the latest articles from the last stop before Antarctica. She’s taking a mix of English and communication arts classes during the week and traveling as much as possible on the weekend, while reporting back to Gordon with advice for future nomadic students who want to take their studies to a whole new level. Read her first post and second post >

As things wind down for students at Otago, I’m shifting my focus from the assignments and exams checklist to the final items on my “abroad bucket list.” Recently this has involved laying on a beach on the Otago Peninsula, sitting on ancient basalt rocks called the “Organ Pipes,” and watching giant New Zealand pigeons (Kererūs) fly overhead. I’ve laughed a lot with my flatmates (and fought a tiny bit), travelled 2,000+ miles to see and experience beautiful places, but now at the end it’s amazing to me that you can feel so attached to a place and its people after such a bite-sized amount of time.

When final exams and late night studying finally came to a close, I ventured to the keyhole cliffs on Aramoana beach. All around me, families were picnicking, children were sand dune sledding and Uni students were running in and out of chilly water. Alone atop a rock looking out over the Pacific, I listened to the brand new Conor Oberst album “Ruminations,” took the title to heart and did some thinking.

In my New Zealand literature class, we learned about the concept of “liminality,” which is a state of being in-between places. It is characterized by being caught between the fear of leaving what is safe and familiar and the opportunity and excitement of moving on to something better. In books and stories, authors usually use cars, doors, porches and other thresholds to describe it. I’ve been finding that my November in Dunedin could be summed up by this term. Constantly standing in doorways saying goodbyes to friends, or crossing threshholds for the last time, knowing that my own departure is on the horizon, I’m in a perpetual state of transition right now—and I’m learning to be okay with it.

These sorts of times are inevitable and even illuminating. You learn how to say goodbye without forgetting. You learn to leave a place but still carry it with you wherever you go. In this way you are no longer leaving one experience behind for another, but rather each of them build upon each other. So, transition itself should not be seen in intervals but as a fluid concept—not from one point to another, but instead a continuous journey. I’ll never fully leave New Zealand, just like I’ve never left New York or Massachusetts, or anywhere for good. They are always there—the memories, the people, the possibility of return. This is what I learned on top of Aramoana. And in the end, this broadening of understanding is what studying abroad is all about.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Sierra Elizabeth Flach ’18, communication arts and English language and literature (creative writing)