NZ beach
On the beach – just taking it in

I love being busy. I am a workaholic. Extra-curriculars are my calling. From primary school up until now, I’ve filled the calendar to the brim, with everything from scouts and three-sport seasons to honor societies, volunteering, and multiple jobs. I can admit to myself that I don’t work well with unstructured free time; usually I reach a point of no-return and devolve into a blob in front of the television or the computer. Scheduling is a hobby. Lists are my best friend. However, if I’ve learned anything during my time in the laid-back country of New Zealand, it’s that some things can’t be planned for, and spontaneity can bring just as much satisfaction as crossing the last thing off your to-do list.

It shouldn’t be surprising that some part of me viewed studying abroad as the next great activity, a checklist within the Great Checklist of Life, an opportunity to cross off all those plans I’d built up over the months leading up to departure. So far, I’ve been able to put a neat check next to many of those things, adding to the satisfaction of knowing I’m really getting something out of my study abroad experience (old habits die hard, what can I say). Most weeks, though, the to-do list is unsettlingly short. Without 15 hours of class a week, two jobs, and organization meetings to attend, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. As the initial excitement of traveling abroad subsided, panic set in. What to do with all that time? I’ll let you know, walking around in a constant state of alarm does not do much to remedy the situation. I realized I had to learn how to take a deep breath, and let things happen as they would.

Surfing in NZ
Spontaneous surfing trip

The first few days of “letting go,” if you will, felt like I was completely revolutionizing my entire personality. I walked around in a daze, not really believing that aside from homework (which was often minimal), I didn’t have any responsibilities. Eventually, I came to accept that I could read all day and not feel guilty, that the only plan I had to make for the weekend was to not make any plans. I slowly got into the habit of being lax, and actually started to enjoy it. I did have to join at least one club, lest I actually lose my mind; however, speaking as the newest member of the Massey University Drama Society, I can tell you that spontaneously auditioning has created one of the most rewarding experiences of my time here. I wouldn’t have time to do theater back home…here, I can take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way.

Drama club
In costume for the Massey University Drama Society play “Stuck in the MUDS”

Kiwi culture has taught me that not sticking to an hourly schedule is not going to cause my world to implode. Trying new things off-the-cuff, making plans with strangers, changing plans last minute…all of these things can result in great memories, new friends, and unforgettable experiences. I realize now that at the end of the day, it’s not about how many things I’ve subtracted from my to-do list, but how many memories I’ve added to my list of experiences. The possibilities are virtually limitless, as long as you keep an open mind and a willing attitude. Studying abroad can’t (and shouldn’t) be micro-managed; it’s only when we take a step back that we really see the bigger picture. The bigger picture here, of course, is that I’m on an adventure of a lifetime, and cannot wait to discover what the remaining few weeks have in store.

Madison Dockter is a student at Drake University and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Madison is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Palmerston North,  New Zealand.