Christa Smalligan - Wellington, New Zealand
New Zealand has no national motto, but if it did, it would probably be "no worries." Everyone I met was kind, generous, and open-minded. My internship abroad was the best summer I've ever had.
The capital was beautiful. Wellington curls around Port Nicholson, nestled between hills and valleys that make the city look like it is rising out of the sea. On a calm day, it is easy to imagine the land floating atop the water like green stones on tinted glass. The city is a centre for art, entertainment and culture. There was something to do every night, no matter what my mood was. People from all over the world come here to stay. I met people from as far away as Cambodia. They celebrate diversity and love to share their own culture with visitors. What I loved most was learning about the Maori people.
The Maori people lived on the islands before they were settled by Europeans in the 1800s. The culture struggled to keep its identity as settlers colonized the land, but a recent resurgence in Maori appreciation has meant more cultural celebrations. One of the most fascinating things I got to see during my summer abroad was the kapa haka, a traditional Maori dance.
The first time I saw a haka, I was at a restaurant watching an All Blacks rugby game. Rugby is huge in New Zealand, and it is impossible not to resist the excitement of the sport. The New Zealand All Blacks have a mighty reputation, and it is well deserved. They play hard, win often, and lose graciously, even in friendly matches. At the beginning of the game, the teams lined up facing each other. Suddenly, the All Black team crouched low, their voices loud and fierce, and began a fearsome chant that intimidated even me. I was impressed. It was an amazing sight to see. The dance showed strength of mind and of body, and unity among the team. I leaned over to the person sitting next to me and whispered, "That is so cool."
Over the course of the internship I got to see more kapa hakas, and I was fascinated by all of them. I went to a student competition at TSB Arena in the middle of the central business district, where the entire audience got up and, as one, performed hakas for the winning teams as a sign of respect. The room was filled with the rhythms of the dancers moving and singing while I sat in the middle of it all, watching the schools from around the country coming together in one amazing show of unity.
The last haka I saw was just as powerful, but in a completely different way. As an editorial intern for a community paper, I was invited to attend the funeral of a prominent police officer killed in the line of duty. The entire Wellington Police force was in attendance as well as new recruits from the academy and high-ranking officials from other cities. As the funeral procession passed by, the new recruits gave a final farewell to their fallen comrade with a kapa haka. Every movement and every word was filled with emotion. It was easy to see the respect and grief officers felt as the hearse passed by.
There were so many things I loved about New Zealand, but the greatest thing was seeing Maori culture embraced and celebrated by Maori and pakeha (non-Maori) alike. That's something the world can learn from New Zealand, besides "no worries."