I wrote this back in February right after I left the farm. Instead of writing separate e-mails to friends and family who are asking about my experience so far in New Zealand, I thought I’d share it here.
Besides simply wanting to experience something new (and really, skip a Canadian winter), one of the main reasons I came to New Zealand was to push my boundaries by learning to accept uncertainties and embrace discomfort. I’ve always been scared of the unknown. I am the anxious type who incessantly overanalyzes every situation, especially the unfamiliar ones. I’ve always admired people who can just enter new situations without any worries. Or maybe, I just like the idea that I’m in control of things. I also have a low tolerance for discomfort. Every time I start to feel uneasy, I immediately look for the exit, whether it’s related to relationships, jobs or even ordinary social situations. In school, for example, if I didn’t like the professor or the course materials, I would just change or drop the course entirely without giving them a chance. At 28, I’ve realized I can’t escape every uncomfortable situation but I wish I handled them more with ease. There are many ways people deal with these types of issues, but I figured I’d confront mine by moving to a new country temporarily and allow myself to grow.
For me, moving half-way across the world without any real, concrete plan was an enormous step in embracing new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings and situations. When I had reached the decision to apply for a New Zealand working holiday visa, I determined that getting a job on a farm would be the best way to break out of my comfort zone and experience something totally different. I was excited and determined. I had all these ideas in my head about what it would be like to work on a farm. It was unlike anything I would even consider doing in Canada. Yet when I finally arrived in New Zealand, I wanted to back out of that decision. Maybe working in the city would be enough, I thought. Working on a farm was just too much of a question mark. It’s a long story, but fortunately, I felt pressured to apply for a vegetable picking job somewhere near Wellington.
The farm was located in Levin, about 90 km north of Wellington. I frantically searched online for any information I could get about the place. Good thing I knew the name of the farm, so I was at least able to find some information about them on their website (postings on backpacker job boards often leave out the names of the companies). So I purchased a one-way bus ticket to Levin, not knowing what my exact living arrangements would be (I just knew I’d be living in one of the onsite accommodations) or what type of vegetable I’d actually be harvesting (not that it mattered too much to be honest). So to me, there were enough questions that it felt like I was going into an uncertain situation.
Talk about embracing the unknown; at least my definition of the unknown. I nervously arrived in Levin on a nice warm sunny day, not knowing that days like that was going to be rare. As it happened, summer never fully arrived in Levin while I was there. I soon learned that I’d be sharing a room with someone. Although I very much value my privacy and like having my own space (I even try to get my own room when I stay in hostels), it wasn’t a big deal. I’d never had a roommate before but I thought there was always a first for everything. And I was ready to embrace new situations. Luckily, my roommate and housemates turned out to be absolutely great people. My housemates were from the U.K., Germany, Japan, Argentina and Peru. The staff accommodation next door was also full of interesting people from different countries. Coming from Toronto, diversity was something I’d always been familiar with, but actually living with people from different parts of the world was something else. It was undeniably a unique and an incredible experience. In the short time that I lived there, I learned so much more about their cultures. Their life and travel stories genuinely captivated me.
Shortly after arriving, I also learned that I’d be picking zucchinis. I had never really cared for zucchinis before so I thought nothing of it. What I didn’t realize was that zucchinis grew on bush-like plants; so harvesting them required a great deal of bending down! Let me start by saying that I am not unfamiliar with hard manual labour. I worked as a housekeeper in a hostel for two summers while I was in university. I also witnessed first hand how hard people work to make a living when I lived in the Philippines. So of course I didn’t expect farm work to be easy. But even with that expectation, I was still in for a surprise.
Just imagine walking 10-12 hours a day and bending down every 5-10 seconds (6-8 days straight). Now imagine doing that in all weather conditions: harsh and torrential rainy days, unusually cold, breezy summer mornings, and even the occasional sunny, dry and hot afternoons. It wasn’t even in any way the hardest vegetable-picking job out there (I’ve heard worse!). The actual task of picking the zucchinis was not difficult; there were just a lot of them to pick because they grow in the blink of an eye. It was the long hours and the elements that were the biggest obstacles. Working in rough weather conditions can certainly wear you down fast. The repetitive and mundane nature of the job was also challenging initially, until I learned to just go on autopilot and shutdown mentally. Sometimes, it felt like time went by faster when I’d think about other things I wanted to accomplish once I leave the farm. In the first few days, whenever I closed my eyes, I would see zucchinis. They even started invading my dreams! Eventually, I slowly learned to accept the uncomfortable conditions. I just kept reminding myself that it was a learning experience and to just embrace it, however hard it was on days when I was soaking wet and cold all day because of nonstop rain. After all, it was only a temporary challenge for me.
For some, like the migrant workers on my team, this was their way of life. Even for some fellow travellers, they planned to stay there for months, way longer than I could ever last. But it didn’t matter where people came from and how long they’d been doing it or intend to do it, we all worked as a team. The teamwork was definitely one of the things that amazed me the most. Even in bad weather conditions, we powered through and harvested all the fields, barely any complaints heard. I really felt a real sense of camaraderie among the team. I really considered myself fortunate that I was assigned to a team with such committed and outstanding people.
Overall, my first New Zealand farming experience was a positive one. Let me just say, working on a farm as a traveler is not a unique experience; many backpackers do it. But for me, it was definitely outside of my comfort zone. It was a challenge I’m glad I accomplished. I got to experience something totally new that truly pushed my boundaries. On the farm, I also met some of the most interesting people, like the girl from Peru who was studying Amazonian languages, the girl from Japan who had worked on a banana farm in Australia, the guy from New Castle who left the farm because he got a job as a rocket engineer in Auckland, the German guy who had previously worked on a small farm just outside of my hometown of Toronto. I even met a girl who had worked at my favourite Japanese restaurant in Auckland. She was working at that restaurant when I would frequently go there, so we had probably already met before. What a coincidence! Of all the places in New Zealand, we both ended up in Levin at the same time. Everyone I encountered had an interesting story to tell. I’m grateful I met those people and who knows, maybe I’ll cross paths with some of them again in the future.
So, have I accomplished what I set out to do? Am I now comfortable with being uncomfortable? Have I learned to let go and accept the world of uncertainty? Not fully yet. In fact, I could have stayed on the farm a little longer. I could have embraced the discomfort and pushed my boundaries more. But I left the farm feeling inspired and hopeful that I’ll get there, eventually. I learned that the more I push my limits, the more I can do things. As I’m writing this, I am planning my next journey, and I can’t help but feel that I’m ready for the next challenge, whatever that may be.