Because I Want To

Somehow the closer I get to leaving for New Zealand the further away it feels. Getting the plane tickets didn’t make it seem more real, as I’d thought. I’m about to finalize the visa thing this weekend and that doesn’t feel very real either; I’m mostly concerned about sending my passport away in the mail for six weeks because what if I want to go to Canada all of a sudden? Every now and again I will mention in a conversation with someone who doesn’t yet know: “Oh, right, I’m moving to New Zealand” and then that person goes “Wow!” and then they smile and congratulate me and then they go “You’re so brave!” and I say something like “Oh, not so brave really!” and then we continue our conversation. I have to take a minute to understand why people think it’s a brave thing to do because it doesn’t seem like I’m really going to do it. Sometimes people will mention their wedding in September or Tribal Quest or something and I will nod for a second, thinking that sure sounds fun, until I remember that, dude, no. I will be gone. I won’t be going to weddings or to dance class or for cupcakes and coffee for a long time, at least not with any of the people that I know now and today.

This happens almost every week, this little reminder, but I still can’t understand that it’s that it’s coming closer and closer every day that I live in this Seattle late winter. The trip doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me somehow. I got all this awesome travel-related stuff for my birthday but I have put it all in a corner and not messed around with it very much, even though it makes me sort of happy to look at it every day. I have stopped reading my Lonely Planet before bed every night but I still read some Wellington blogs just to keep myself in the spirit, and sometimes it works, but most of the time I still can’t understand that if all goes the way I hope it will then that will be my city, for a little while at least.

Is it just because I’ve never done anything like this before? I guess I moved across the country to go to college, but that was way more structured and also I’d been planning for it for at least four years, what with my studious Sweet Valley U and Class of ‘96 research. Everyone knows what happens when you go away to college at eighteen: you pack all your stuff the night before, you meet your crazy-yet-fabulous roommate with a name even weirder than yours, you invest in a halogen lamp, you sign up for classes that will get you nowhere in life, and you make out in various dorm rooms. (If you’re not me then I understand there’s some drinking in there as well). There is a well-worn template to follow and you know, broadly speaking, what to expect. You tell people you’re going away to college and they nod knowingly and sometimes get a far-away look in their eyes when they think about the various dorm rooms in which they’ve made out, and everyone’s happy.

But when I tell people I’m getting a working holiday visa to live in New Zealand for a year, most people, after telling me that I’m brave, say “So…what are you going to do there?” Or sometimes they ask, point-blank, “Why?” I usually say something like, “Oh, I’m just going to, you know, get a job, hang out, travel, kick it freestyle.” Or sometimes I say “Because I want to.” That’s not an answer I’m used to giving to questions about my personal choices in life, and it’s interesting to see that it’s not an answer most people are used to getting. The conversation usually stops there because there’s not much of a schema, amongst the crowd I hang out with at least, for getting a working holiday visa to go to New Zealand for a year. My friends Ashley and Thomas moved to London a couple of years ago, but they had jobs and a flat and a car waiting for them and they also had a very specific sense of purpose when they went, none of which I have. Other people I know have taken long vacations to different cool places because they wanted to see and experience those places, which I guess is a little more like my reason, but weren’t for as long a time and didn’t involve having to find work and a house and a community when they were there. We don’t have much of a tradition of an Overseas Experience in American society so there’s no way to really explain. “Because I want to.”

Maybe, too, there is an analogous lack of schema as far as my personality goes in making this decision and trying to prepare for it. I have no data in my history to suggest that this is something that I would do, in the normal course of events, and so maybe I just don’t know how to feel about it, period. I can read the travel blogs and the packing lists and everything and get some idea of what to expect, even if I don’t personally know anyone else who’s done something like this, but I have no way of predicting how I’ll react to any of this; not the initial shock of being three gajillion time zones away from everyone I know in the world, nor the wandering aimlessly around with my brand new pack-in-the-corner before picking a place to live and trying to get a job, nor the small daily weirdnesses inherent (I’m guessing) to trying to fit into a new culture, even one that speaks your same language.

I guess I understand why I feel the way I do, but I still can’t get how to feel differently: more aware that the trip is really happening and that I really am doing it. I guess I will have to write this entry over and over again until I figure it out.


  1. Having gone on a variety of trips for a variety of reasons and a variety of lengths of time, I can say that I invariably don’t get really excited until I’m actually on the plane (and then I can’t sleep, even though I’ve been depriving myself for several days, hoping to be primed to pass some of the uncomfortable hours in oblivion). Also, no matter what style of trip, I always start thinking of home, or at least ready access to family and friends and salsa, one week before returning. Unless, of course, the trip is less than a week.

  2. Tom (Peter's dad)

    Having moved 15 times in 30 years in the Navy, I understand fully the anticipation, and the angst, of moving overseas. I only have two pieces of advice: First, it will be grand! You obviously know how to bloom where you’re planted, and that’s the only skill you’ll need! Second, I bet that after about, say, 6 weeks there you’ll feel really homesick and depressed. It’s natural! Predictable, even! When it happens, you say, “Oh yes, that’s what this is…it will pass.” (This actually happens in reverse when you return to the States.)
    Anyone with your interpersonal skills will be overwhelmed with happy experiences. I know it.

  3. This is very interesting. When people asked me why I was moving to France, I had the answer, “I’m going to go train with this theater group.” That was a good answer to have, because it made it sound all official and set. Actually, it was much more loose than that. I had to find a place to live and a way to earn money while I was there. And I think it’s one of those things – like you don’t notice any blue ’00 jettas until you buy a jetta, and then you see them all over the place – once I got to France, I met a BAZILLION non-frenchies who were there “just because.”

  4. I didn’t ‘feel it’ until after I’d already been in my new country for some time. Then one day it just suddenly hit me with an ‘ohmuhgawd i’m really here’ excitement.

  5. It never occured to me to wonder why you were moving to another country — it’s just such an inherently cool and interesting thing to do. (And I only went to Canada, where I could still get home easily, except for when they closed the border two weeks after I moved there.)

    Also, you may not have a job lined up, but you can still tell people you are going to be a social worker there and which city you will live in and all that.

  6. I think you’re awfully brave because you actually made the step. There are plenty of people out there who have wished to do what you are doing – live in a new environment for a year – but they didn’t have the courage to make the wish come true. I applaud you tremendously, sweetie. You don’t have to give me a reason why you’re going at all. Just please let me call you “Mr. George Mallory” from now on, mmkay?