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How Moving my Life to New Zealand for 3 years Changed Me

I came to change New Zealand. After 3 years, New Zealand changed me. Cliche I know, but this ended up being the truth.

This post has been written over the past 18 months. My thoughts, my observations, and my feelings have obviously morphed along the way, but let’s just start at the beginning.

With 50lbs of luggage, a working knowledge of left hand driving, and one solid contact, I packed up what I owned and moved my life to New Zealand. I kissed my parents, hugged my niece, wished my siblings well, and flew. In my luggage was an optimistic, slightly naive, monstrously unrealistic idea that I was going to get a job, in my field, in the first few months. With…one…solid…contact. Yeah. Right. Continue reading “How Moving my Life to New Zealand for 3 years Changed Me”

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I’m An Extroverted Introvert. Huh? Yep.

Some of you may have seen articles floating around talking about “Signs of an Introvert.” “20 Things Extroverts Do. Introverts, THIS IS FOR YOU!” “ISFP, it’s okay to Party!” If you have a Facebook NewsFeed, then you’ve seen these articles. Most likely when you’ve read one, you’ve read them all, so you skip over the ones that seem formulaic…okay, all of them are like that.

I am an Extroverted Introvert. Party in the Library. A Rave of One. Shots with a Book in my hand. Whatever you want to call it, I do both. Most of my friends who understand Myers Briggs know that this is quite possible. Others may force me to choose a side. How can you be both? That makes no sense at ALL@!!1! How can you love people but also HATE THEM!?!!22!

Continue reading “I’m An Extroverted Introvert. Huh? Yep.”

Fulfilled, With More to Come: Thoughts of a 26year old

In a few days, I turn twenty-six years old. Without jumping head first into the endless clichés about what I thought I would be doing at this age, what I’d be earning, or what number child I’d be raising, allow me to let you into my head.

As a very healthy (minus a busted ankle), average height, average weight, educated, Gen Y, you could say that things are going pretty well. Up to this point I have made it through life without breaking a bone (no fault to trying), received a trophy in tee-ball at the age of five, got baptized at 7, class president in the 5th grade, class clown in the 5th grade, won a relay race in the 7th grade, 7th grade: closest I came to getting straight A’s (next time would be in my graduate year, almost 9 years later) made it through junior high school (and that’s actually a great achievement if you know how horrible it is to be alive in a public school from ages 11-13), organized a “See You At The Pole” day junior year, led a Special Needs Physical Education class with my best friend, Corbin Elliott, led a Leadership Course senior year for sophomores (the course that convinced me that I wanted to work with teenagers when I was older), graduated high school with an above average GPA, was awarded the “Matt Corgian Life Award,” senior year, built an addition onto a church in Renosa, Mexico with my friends, went to a highly decorated philosophical college in Grand Rapids Michigan called Calvin College, discovered I wanted to have a career in Social Work, worked at Apple, Inc for two years, became a youth pastor for a year, became Head-Counselor at Dickson Valley Summer Camps, transferred to Aurora University, realized that I wanted to become an International Social Worker, considered the idea of moving to NZ, learned that youths with ‘suicidal ideation’ were going to be the population I would serve, received a Bachelors in Social Work, made the decision to move to NZ, I achieved “Excellence in Academics” during my graduate year, was awarded a Masters in Social Work, acquired my work visa overseas, moved to a country half-way across the world, traveled the breathtaking New Zealand landscape, watched/talked/ate with NZ’s politicians in governmental buildings, and graduated from a very prestigious internship in Auckland called the Maxim Internship.

As I sit here in the dwindling light, in this increasingly uncomfortable wicker chair, thinking about all the things that I have done in my life up to this point, I know in full understanding that my life is only a quarter of the way complete. There is much more to be written, many more knees to be scraped, stories to be told, loves to be had, and breaths to be taken away. I know that.

And let me reassure you that for every good thing mentioned above, there was an antithesis. A few for example: no broken bones? MANY torn ligaments, sprains, and hairline fractures. Trophy in tee-ball? Every other team I would played for after that would never win first place…ever. Made it through junior high? If “making it through” with emotional/physical scaring due to incessant bullying for 6 years, all thanks to my red hair, counts as “making it through,” then I made it through. See You At The Pole day? Add ‘Christian’ to the list of things I was randomly punched in the hall for at school. Wanting to become an international social worker and moving overseas? Well this one takes the cake, because if you asked scrawny, 13-year-old Eric, walking home after getting verbally thrown down in the dirt, for something he couldn’t change about himself, that one day he would leave the most comforting, loving, understanding, and wholesome people in his life…people that cried for him, prayed for him, and were there for him…and move to a country where he knows only a handful of people and nothing else….to work with youths who aren’t given the time of day…..I would tell you that you were wrong. I would tell you that my family have been, and always will be, my rock…and that I would never leave them.

The fact of the matter is, I’m here. Over 8000 miles, (or 13,000 kilometers) separating us, doing what I feel called to do. Loving those I feel called to love. Investing in those young, crazy kids, and seeing myself in them every…single…week. And you know what? It may seem like I regret being here, or that I’ve made the wrong choice, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A lot has happened since the days that I was a child.  I have seen tragedy. Loss. Hurt. Death. Seeing the vulnerable picked on, seeing the desperate crawl, and seeing the hopeless take life into their own hands and crush it. This is apart of growing up. This is apart of living life. A part of that is also learning countless lessons, making some incredible lifelong friends, seeing some incredible places, and knowing compassion of which I had never before known.

In the end, I hope to chalk a few more things up on my list of life achievements one day…things I can be proud of. A fulfilling job that I didn’t sell out for, a wife who loves me, a family with a kid of our own. A kid that will most likely experience similar trials I went through, but a child that I will one day love like crazy and pour everything I have into. Until then, I’m twenty-six, and instead of thinking back on the things I didn’t do, the things that I regret doing, or the things I don’t have…time is always better spent on the journey looking forward. So with that in mind, lets see what happens next.

Here’s what was next: The Beginning of the Ending –https://ericlukepeterson.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/the-beginning-of-the-ending/

Allow Me to Pop Your Bubble

In case you were under the impression that I am living the good life over here, sipping cocktails, kicking my feet back in the warm, dwindling rays of the New Zealand sunset every week, allow me to pop your bubble. No I’m not donning a hobbit costume, herding sheep through the exquisite mountainside, going on wine tours, vacationing on the weekends, hitting the beach whenever I can, eating at highly rated establishments, or adopting a general “take it easy” mentality.

Let me take you on an eye opening journey through what my life looks like up here and what the reality of the situation looks like.

I wake up. I figure out how I am going to eat, pay for gas, and where I’m gong to live next week. I worry. Yeah, I worry a lot. I pray for continued reliance on God. I pray for peace amidst the chaos. I hope that tomorrow is the day I can stop worrying about finances. I swallow my pride (admission: this is my newest addition to the “things Eric loathes to do”) and asking for help when I can’t do it. I keep myself busy filling out job applications and watching tv shows, reading books, or writing because if I stop for one second, I will think about my family and how much I miss them. I constantly remind myself why I’m here, my calling, and what I sacrificed to get here.

Sound familiar? NZ is no different than any other part of the world when it comes to daily struggles. Pretty mountainsides and golden sunsets don’t buy you food, close a mortgage, resolve a fight with your spouse, keep kids off the street, end injustice, create equality, or stop a kid from putting a gun in his mouth.

imagescamgs1nzYou want to know the sad thing? I haven’t seen anything yet. I’m still VERY green to this country, and I will be shocked. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon. New Zealand is filled with sadness, pain, suffering, damage, grief, and wrongdoing…And if you thought I came here to escape the problems of America to go and live in a paradise…then you are so far outside of reality, that I can’t help you. It doesn’t matter if you live in Fiji, Hawaii, or Jamaica…brokenness will follow you, because there isn’t a place on this Earth that doesn’t have any.

I realize that I have perpetuated this in the past with only showing photos of the good thingsAmnestyInternationalfashion3 TBWA France I’ve been exposed to in this country. I have since stopped doing that on facebook, but the truth is I can’t even properly display in photo, video, or even text…as I am doing now…the true horrors I am exposed to in New Zealand. Nor would you want to hear about them. The truth exposes things and forces you to step out of what is comfortable. We like comfortability. We like it so much that we have fallen in love with “talking” about things that matter, yet rarely do anything of personal sacrifice. Rarely acting towards “otherness”, rarely REALLY believing in what we talk about.

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Still, even someone like myself, who left everything behind to live-out my calling, I found myself asking the important questions, “What am I doing for these people I came here for? How am I living in “otherness?” How am I actually living how Christ called us? Christ became a human being, talked to whores, touched lepers, broke the sabbath and had Sunday lunches with sinners. To live like Christ? This means: Otherness. Pay attention to “others” and love them. Actually DO those things.

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Living in New Zealand is not easy, let me make that very clear, and I hope I have. This was not an easy decision to move here, and life here is not glamorous. Let me also make clear that I do not hate living here. The reason I don’t hate living here is that I truly believe in this country and I believe in making a change here. I have committed to New Zealand, and I’m not giving up on her. And though it’s not comfortable, I will continue to force myself to consider the “other” and to love them in my work. This is seeking the kingdom of God. (Matt 6:33), and if anyone does this, God will take care of the rest.

This I needed you to know.

What I’ve Been Doing for the Past 6 Months

Convicted murderer, high gang affiliations, addiction, domestic violence charges, and theft. I have to admit, I was quite nervous. Still, Te Whakaora Tangata wanted me to interview some people who attend their organization. I had never conducted interviews before, let alone talked for an hour at length with Maori people. What could I say? What couldn’t I say? What would be taboo for me to bring up? Will I insult them? What do I need to know before going into this? These questions and about thirty more were cycling through my head.

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For those who didn’t know, for the past 6 months I have been living in New Zealand, working with Maxim Institute. Maxim Institute is not the think tank where they come up with a bunch of ideas for a dirty magazine (sorry if that joke flew over your head), but rather a political think tank where we discuss policy and inform the leaders of the nation about issues that matter. Yeah, it’s been an interesting time. And for those who know me and are like, “Eric? You? Working at a political think tank? Yeah, okay. So what are you actually doing in NZ, common, you can tell me.” Ummm, I don’t know what to tell you. I have been.

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I graduate on Thursday and reflecting on what I’ve done here has been bitter/sweet. The beginning of this post was describing the project that I have been working on for the past 4 months. Basically Maxim and Te Whakaora Tangata (an organization that works on the Marae (a sacred meeting place for Maori (the native people of NZ))) have partnered to bring their first placement together in the internships history. Mainly to best take advantage of my specific skills as a Social Worker. What can I say? I’m kindof a big deal.

The day that I applied to the Maxim Institute, they asked me what I was passionate about. I told them that I loved being on the ground floor, helping people in their place of need. TW saw this as an opportunity to do something that they have been meaning to do for some time. They asked me if I could go to the Marae and interview people who have used their services. The object was to hear them out. The opportunity to be heard is a very powerful thing. To be noticed, to feel loved, cared for, and heard…can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, as an organization, it is important to know that you are serving the people in the most effective and efficient way possible. This is done by the very popular and arduous process of research. I was to ask specific, and yet representative people questions about their past, present, and projected future through the work that TW has been doing in their lives. I was beyond excited. This was an opportunity for me to do what I have always wanted to do.

With my mentor Luke helping me through the process, I felt much more confident, as he has done this very thing in Germany 4 years ago. I knew from the start that the interviews would be incredibly helpful for the organization and for myself. I would gain knowledge and understanding about the people and culture, and TW would understand what they are doing well and maybe not so well.

Looking back on the experience now, I could not have been set up with a more perfect fit for my placement. This is Social Work. Helping people where they are at. Not in a cold office with a fluorescent light beating down on you, but on the streets, in their meeting places, in their homes, with their families, seeing the problems they’re facing, understanding their stories, and doing something about it. Social Work requires action, and I feel that my placement allowed me to know more about what that looks like. Now I am left with the question: “So what? What will you do about it?” Honestly, I can’t wait to answer that call, and this placement has given me the confidence to act.

This project was my baby, and tomorrow I present it to the organization, Maxim as well as the Lion Trust. I am excited and hopeful that the results will spur further action to aid the people in the Manurewa area. From here, I go on to bigger and more challenging opportunities in Social Work.

I will continue to live in the Maxim Intern Residence that I’ve been living in, until November, when the new batch of interns move in. There I will be living with the guys that I will be flatting with for the coming years in NZ. I have to say that I am excited for the changes ahead. Change, historically for me, Eric Peterson, doesn’t usually hit me until about 1-2 weeks later. At least not the sad things. So whatever comes, let it come. I’m ready for you.