Maxwell Weaver – Film & Media – Level 3
AUT University, New Zealand
Skyscrapers and Fries: A Journey to Auckland and Back
My layover was in Dubai. As we came into land over the desert, the sun rose, filling the flatness with an otherworldly red. I snapped a photo on my 16mm film camera. A few days later I discovered that the film had been permanently damaged by the baggage scanners. That first week’s photos had been lost, only to be maintained as a memory. Such fleeting images served as a twisted omen for things to come, though I did not know it at the time. They forced me to question the age-old question: is it better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all? I fell in love with Auckland.
I arrived on Valentine’s Day around midday. The air was sweet, and the sun covered the city in a blanket of dazzling light. I thanked the bus driver and walked down a street which I had memorised weeks before from Google Maps, all my possessions strapped into a large rucksack on my back. In order to avoid coming off as an advert for the city of Auckland, I’ll summarise by saying that it is by far the greenest and most beautiful city I have ever seen, packed to the brim with shops and cafes, benches, and lovely pedestrianised streets. Strolling through the city is bliss at any time of the day or night. It felt impossible to feel low when walking anywhere. The city was a comforting shoulder. The university accommodation was a two minute walk from the main high-street. It was called The Wellesley City Apartments: two distinct thirteen story towers, connected at the bottom by an astro-turf courtyard and a reception area. I was shown to my room on the top floor where I dropped my bag and met my flatmates. There was Eric, a trap-music loving stoner who found everything funny; Eva, a vaping Irish lady with just my kind of humour; and Jordan, a sweet young lady with whom I could confide in anytime. These three, along with four other people from a flat downstairs, formed my new best friends. I think about them daily. They are what made the journey worthwhile. The accommodation itself was the best I have ever seen, though the bar was fairly low. The view from our flat looked across the city and Albert Park, never ceasing to take my breath away. From my room I had the perfect view of the Sky Tower, and importantly, of the neighbouring accommodation which belonged to the University of Auckland, as opposed to my university, the Auckland University of Technology. Surprisingly there was no rivalry between the two, and students would mingle together, taking turns to hang out their respective social spaces.
The Auckland University of Technology, AUT for short, was an incredibly high-tech and layered university with a plethora of various buildings for different subjects. I was stunned to enter the main building and see café’s, skylights, plants hanging from the ceiling, and mac books lying everywhere. I felt like I had been transported to a utopian liberal planet where funding wasn’t an issue, and anything a student wanted would be supplied to them. The classes were as a result equally high-tech, studying 16mm filmmaking, studio photography, documentary-making, and screenwriting. The teachers were lovely, the students were engaged and enthusiastic. I will admit I did feel partly closed off from them; they had already established friend groups and knew the ins and outs of the course, but I got over it soon enough. As I did, the worst came to be.
After a month and a half of making relationships, wandering the streets, constantly eating fries and vegan fast food, I went into our local shop to buy some groceries. The aisles were empty, and people were filling their trollies with whatever they could. That night the UK government announced that citizens abroad should return home, and borders started closing around the world. My parents booked a flight that night for the Monday. That night I received a text that told me it had been cancelled. My parents swiftly booked me a new flight. I left on Sunday morning at 4am. Around a month after returning, New Zealand’s coronavirus cases dropped, and they were taken out of lockdown. I continued online classes but struggled to remain focussed on anything other than a pessimistic view of my Scottish surroundings. I had experienced first-hand how everyday life in a tropical metropolitan city could be, to return to Fife with my parents made me less than pleased. I felt depressed, I couldn’t see my friends whom I hadn’t seen since I had left in early February, nor could I really do anything fun. I became trapped in the living embodiment of Plato’s cave; I had seen the sun rising over the Pacific, and it affected me deeply. It still does.
I miss it dearly. It’s extremely bittersweet to think about my exchange experience. For all it’s positives, of the friendships and the experiences, there is an equal number of existential negatives. It has displaced my mind, though I would argue this is ultimately for the better. The fact that a situation can change so drastically in a couple days is a testament to why we shouldn’t be afraid to take risks. The risk I took to go out there has equipped me for so much more, intellectually, amicably, and most of all emotionally. I spent the remaining three months stuck at home watching lectures at midnight. When I left my last Zoom meeting, it was 11:30pm. I closed my laptop and acknowledged that that was the last time I would ever attend a university lecture. I had finished university. I went to the kitchen, made a cup of tea, and sat with my parents in the living room. There was no grand celebration, no going for pints with friends, little acknowledgement from anyone that anything had changed. What had changed? Only a slow realisation of how much there is to life, how many places there are undiscovered, people yet to be met, things yet to do. To avoid the risk of leaving this blog post on such a downer I will say I am ever grateful for the opportunity to experience what I experienced. QMU and the bursary I was allowed by Santander allowed me to witness another way of living I may never have got to see. The existential awakening that has befallen me happened by stepping out of my comfort zone in the grandest way. To risk sinking low is to reach high. When it fails, well, that’s not so fun, but you pick yourself up and try again. When it finally goes well, it’s the best thing in the world and it vindicates the struggle. I fell in love with Auckland and I can’t wait to return, but maybe when the world stops being so crazy.