Everyday ambition: the greatest gift New Zealand gave me

by Daniel Alexander

When cutting flax to weave a Māori-designed* basket, it is important to use only the flax leaves farthest from the center of the plant. This is because the new leaves grow from the middle, so the leaves on the outside are the oldest and cutting them does not impede the growth of the plant. When I left for Dunedin, New Zealand in February of this year, I had no idea that this was something I would know in a matter of weeks. In fact, I didn’t even know what a flax plant was at the time, or what the Maori used them for.

During a March excursion with my BCA program, my peers and I learned how to identify the flax plant and weave a few simple designs with its leaves. The flax intrigued me because it is durable and relaxing to weave; I was curious to learn more. On our next trip with the program to a Marae** I had an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity when we met with an Kiwi outdoors expert. From him I learned how to harvest flax leaves without harming the plants, and how to remove the fibers from the leaves and use them to make durable rope (I admit I have yet to master this skill.) Since then I have used the Internet and a little bit of guesswork to learn to make a few other patterns, such as belts and baskets.

While I have thoroughly enjoyed learning how to harvest and weave flax leaves, overall the experience has been a relatively insignificant part of my semester in New Zealand. However, it is a great example of one of the many ways I have applied myself to a new experience precisely because I am abroad. Had I spent this semester at my home institution, I likely would never have learned a skill like weaving flax. This is not for a lack of opportunities to learn about new art forms or native cultures in Pennsylvania, but simply because my time abroad is a constant reminder to soak up every experience while I have the chance.

Recently, I was discussing with another international student about this desire to get the most out of our short time abroad when he brought up something that struck me. He is a Tunisian student getting a four-year degree at a college in Pennsylvania. He explained that the brevity of our time in New Zealand had driven him to peruse more, new experiences in this one semester than he had in his first two years of college in the United States even though he is really studying abroad in both places. As I thought about what he said, I realized that all too often, I become idle in my everyday life when I am at home. I neglect to seek out the new and thrilling exploits like the ones I pursue so regularly here in New Zealand.

When I return home from New Zealand, I am determined to let my experience be a reminder that opportunities for learning and adventure are constantly available, and that just because I am home again does not mean that I must live without the everyday ambition to try something new. My desire to learn to weave flax is a perfect example of this ambition: my placement here has encouraged me to learn a native art form. However, when I return home there will be no shortage of arts and skills to learn. As long as I choose to retain this everyday ambition, I can continue find adventure and growth throughout my life.

The halfway point of my semester has passed and the date of my return to Pennsylvania will arrive before I want it to. Although I will soon have to say goodbye to New Zealand, there are some things from this experience I intend to take back home with me. Perhaps the most important one is the mindset that my adventure can continue, regardless of where I am. Whether I am hiking under the shadow of Mount Cook, learning to make a basket out of flax, or trudging through the creek in my own back yard in central Pennsylvania, I intend to let my everyday ambition add flavor and joy to my life.

* The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.
** A gathering space for Maori communal and religious activities

About the Author – (Joseph) Seppi Grugan, Spring 2018 Dunedin, New Zealand & Juniata College student

My name is Seppi Grugan. I am 22 years old and a junior at Juniata College, in Huntingdon, PA, where I study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. I hope to someday work in criminal justice reform.