It is said that one should not have expectations when visiting another country. I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. We are humans, though, and expectations creep in even without our realizing it. I was aware of two particular ones swirling around in my head before our departure, one was language-related and the other was the ever menacing culture shock.
Being a nonnative English speaker, I was expecting a bit of a challenge understanding Kiwi speak. This worry proved to be unfounded. Most people I interact with speak lovely, clear Queen's English. The other expectation was a shock in all its glory. I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that it would rear its ugly head eventually, and I thought I had weeks, perhaps a month, to prepare for it. I did not expect it to hit me within a week of our arrival. Somehow I was also assuming that having gone through this experience once before would give me a leg up over this monster. Not so at all. I found myself in the same emotional state I was in some 20 years ago. I am grateful for being 20 years older and being able to analyze what it is that bothers me the most, compared to being my 21-year-old self crying nonstop for weeks.
Being surrounded by water, it is only natural to feel waves of grief over a loss of connection and a sense of belonging that being a member of a community provides. Community in all its shapes and forms: the friendly neighbor with whom I don't need to exchange niceties anymore but can be genuine any time of the day, the friends we as a family shared traditions with, the people I saw each day and shared my routines with, and all the people, big and small, that love my kid to pieces. I am realizing very acutely how much these connections define me and what role community plays in shaping my sense of identity.
What is encouraging is the friendliness and openness of the Kiwis. During one of our walks in the evening we came across a karate class being held in the local community house. The doors were open and the teaching was impressive. As we watched for a few minutes, the sensei paused the class and came over to shake our hands, introduce himself and offer the three of us chairs. There were kids, adults, women, men, yellow belt to black belt students, all participating in the same practice, at their own level, moving as one. One thing is clear: once we settle under our own roof and get our blowup mattresses to sleep on, the next priority is to find myself a dojo.
A few pictures of the people and groups we belonged to in our American life. I miss you all dearly.