Your study abroad experience will undoubtedly be filled with unforgettable memories. Some will be major, like sky diving or summiting your first mountain, and others will be so minor that if you don’t pay close enough attention you might not even realize how much of an impact they have on you. While the major memories provide you with stories to tell friends and family, the minor ones are the little things you can hold close that can turn out to have been much bigger than you could have ever imagined. Below are the 10 moments, both big and small, that I believe defined my study abroad experience in New Zealand (in no particular order).

1. Seeing Mount Cook for the First Time

Growing up along the coast of New Jersey, mountains were never a part of my life. When I chose to study abroad in New Zealand, however, I knew this would change. When I saw Mount Cook for the first time, I was completely awe-struck. I wanted nothing more than to just sit and gaze at this incredible mountain for as long as I could.

 2. Finishing my First Half-marathon

I always have liked to keep in shape, but despite my lanky legs I was never really much of a runner. I would run a mile or two here and there, but I had never made it more than 4 miles at a time. But while abroad, I lived with another international student who was big into running with multiple half-marathons and even a full marathon under her belt. She brought up the idea of training for the Christchurch half-marathon that took place in the beginning of June, and I decided to test my body by signing up with her. I didn’t make it in any sort of record-breaking time, but after about three months of regular runs I crossed the finish line in a full sprint. I was sore and tired, but I was extremely proud of myself and what my body was capable of.

3. That Time I took myself on a hike

One beautiful weekend, I found myself with no plans and an empty apartment. In an effort to seize the day, I hopped on the bus and made my way to Sumner with the goal of tackling one of the local trails. With lunch in my bag and a screenshot of a map on my phone (there was no chance at wifi once I left my apartment), I trekked through hilly neighborhoods overlooking the sea, wandered across the infamous surfing beach, Taylors Mistake, and eventually discovered Godly Head Track. Godly Head was a winding walk between rolling, grassy hills and cliffs that dropped off to the bluest sea. I found a seat along the cliff and ate my lunch to the tune of crashing waves. The sun was on my back, I was surrounded by incredible natural beauty, and I felt so at peace in my own personal serenity.

4. Eating Potatoes with Germans

When my sister came to visit, we took a trip to Kaikoura and stayed overnight at a small hostel in town. On our first night there, the owners of the hostel hosted a “spud night” in which all guests were invited to dine on a baked potato buffet with an optional donation. Three, long tables were combined and surrounded by adventurers from around the globe (though an unexpected majority of them were from Germany). We shared stories about our travels, compared cultures, and finished the night with laughs over a game of cards. I was always open-minded to the idea that people around the world are more similar than we often think, but this thought was solidified as I looked around the room and failed to see any sort of distance in a room of people who are ordinarily so far apart.

5. Seeing Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers (or lack-there-of)

As an environmental engineering major and die-hard tree-hugger, I am very aware of the impacts climate change is having on our planet. When I visited Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, my heart broke at how far they have receded in recent history. It was difficult to convince myself that they really had once been so much larger, and made me all the more grateful to be there in that moment and view them before they were gone for good.

Franz Joseph Glacier | TEAN Alum Dariush Sarrafzedah, Purdue University

6. Realizing what I wanted to do with my future career

My favorite class that I took while abroad was all about Antarctica and was taught by seven different professors who were each either currently or had previously conducted research on the cold continent. Each professor taught a different section, from engineering to glaciology. During a lecture by Professor Katja Riedel, who taught the atmospheric science section, we learned about ice cores and how scientists are able to extract air trapped in ice and analyze it for carbon content. By doing so, they are able to map the greenhouse gas levels of the atmosphere over a period of hundreds of thousands of years. Learning about this absolutely blew my mind, and made me realize that I wanted to focus my future career on climate change so that I could be involved in incredible efforts like this.

7. When I (literally) choked on my dinner

I was involved in a club at the University of Canterbury for international students called “Operation Friendship.” Every month, myself along with a few other international students would get picked up from campus and brought to the home of a local family where we would meet their relatives and friends and enjoy dinner, dessert, games, and wonderful conversation. These people were welcoming, positive, and made me feel like I had a home with them. The last dinner I was able to attend was internationally-themed, in which we were encouraged to bring food from our own countries. While I was making my way around the buffet and enjoying my diverse meal with my hosts, I found myself literally choking on my meal. My kiwi hosts immediately came to my rescue, comforting me and assuring me that everything was alright. One comment that has stuck with me since was when someone met my apologies with, “don’t worry about it, you’re family!” Although this experience was not one I’d wish to repeat, it confirmed the sincerity of the relationships I had formed.

8. That afternoon I spent getting to know Christchurch

One beautiful fall day, I grabbed a book and rode my bike into the city. I treated myself to a smoothie from a shop in the Re:START Mall and made my way over to a bench in the Botanic Gardens along the Avon River. I parked my bike, got comfy, and traveled through the pages of my novel, looking up every once in a while to appreciate my surroundings and wave hello to the people punting down the river. I was so content and felt like I was truly at home in this country.

9. The Day I said Goodbye

My time in New Zealand was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I saw incredible sites, met unforgettable people, and embraced kiwi culture. Above all, I learned so much about myself and truly feel that New Zealand left its mark on making me the person I am today. Saying goodbye was awfully difficult, but at the same time I left the country with the confidence that I would be back. Maybe it would take a few years, but New Zealand is an indescribable place that continues to beckon me to this day.

Sarah Jakositz is a TEAN Alum and student at the University of New Hampshire, she studied abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand