I have hitch-hiked myself only a handful of times, but I can boast of a record of extremely short waiting time with my thumb in the air before getting picked up. Of course the usual response is something like, “Well duh, you’re a cute girl of course you get picked up right away…” This however is not the case. The truth is simple: Karma. I pick up hitch hikers whenever I can. I love it. One of the great things about the South Island of New Zealand is that it is rich with humble hitch-hikers from all over the world. And if you chose, you can share that extra seat in your car with someone in exchange for a short story, their story. It belongs only to them, and you only get to hear because you delayed your travel time by 3 minutes to help out a fellow wanderer.
Today I learned Rosa’s story. This morning on our way through Wanaka there was a young woman walking along the side of the road with her arm out. Her mustard coloured ski bib gave away that she intended to get to the same place we were. My adorably introvertered Kiwi partner, well familiar by now with my love of hitch hikers, slowed to the side of the road.
Rosa is originally from Holland. However she hasn’t lived there for a while now. She has been in Austria, Australia, Canada, and now New Zealand. She is chasing her passions. Learning to surf each summer, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, taking life as it comes, seeing more of the world than most people I have ever met, and that is because I am American.
There is a wonderful thing that happens between more developed countries all over the world that the States chooses to miss out on: The Working Holiday Visa. This visa allows young adults to move to an other country to find work and travel for one year. I am fortunate enough to be on a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand, especially since the USA does not offer this Visa to Kiwis. There is this funny thing about foreign relations I have realized during my time in New Zealand, and that is if you treat other nations nicely, other nations will return that kindness. When it comes to visas, it is well known that the USA doesn’t play nice. And we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Because the States does not give working holiday visas to anyone, I can get a working holiday visa in four forgiving countries: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Singapore. Not too bad… until your Partner talks about working a ski season in the French Alps and you realize you can’t tag along. But because he is from New Zealand, he can chose to go just about anywhere. As a matter of fact he has, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lativa, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Phillipines, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, OR Vietnam to choose from. My list doesn’t feel so generous anymore does it?
The United States, more than any other country in the world, needs this program, for the same reason they chose to neglect it: The USA (excuse the generalization) is a narcisstic, xenophobic, nation, that is still riding on the high that once being a super-power offered them. We choose to deny these young people like Rosa access for 12 months to our country, and it is a big loss for us. The people who are traveling on this visa are our generation’s thinkers, doers, adventurers, wanderers, and problem solvers. They are not just dreaming, they are making it happen. Regardless of where they came from, these men and women are inspirational, and we need to learn from them. At the same time, they can learn from us. We American’s need to represent our nation and break down our negative stereotypes while learning about other cultures in Europe, in Asia, in South America, in Oceania. We need life experiences in new places imbedded into our culture if we want to succeed in the evolving challenges of our globalized world.
Rosa’s story was not exclusively about fun and adventure. She had an American boyfriend she traveled with for sometime. They intended to be together long term, until his Mother became sick. He returned home to help his mother and she couldn’t follow. This part of the story stayed vague, and I couldn’t bring myself to pry for detail as her somber tone told of the frustration she felt at a circumstance that puts being with someone beyond her power. I couldn’t help but feel especially angry about this. About how unfair it is that someone as sweet and hard working as Rosa is not welcome into my country because she was not born there. It almost makes me more angry when people like Rosa talk about how much they would love to see the wonderful landscapes and cities we have in the States, because they are so forgiving and accepting of the fact that they will never be able to do it. Most can not afford to travel there if they are not earning an income simultaneously. It is ridiculous and we need to demand change.
We live in a world where traveling is easier than ever before. Multi-culture is imbedded in New Zealand’s culture. This small little island state is so well aware of the rest of the world it would blow most Americans away. They can distinguish different regions of accents from various countries without a second thought, they know about politics and history of other places, and they welcome all different nationalities who want to enjoy the amazing scenic landscapes they call home. Kiwis grow up expecting to spend a significant amount of their lives traveling. They save more money for plane tickets than materialistic waste. Its a beautiful way to live. I wish America could try to be a little more like this. We have so much to learn from one an other. Nothing is better than learning about and experiencing a place through someone who calls it home.
In the States we live with so much fear of forgien immigrants. It is pumped into our system through the media and politicians. Yes, I wont dishonor horrible events such as the Boston marathon. Many would argue is a reason to tighten our boarders and restrict young immigrants. But the truth is we do more harm than good when we stop millions of amazing, loving, diverse people from living in our boarders for a year in hopes of preventing just one potentially dangerous person. Have faith. Relax. Know that all people are inherently good. I wish I had the power to convince our country to make this change. Would it be overwhelming? Maybe initially as visa applications flood the system. Would it be startling for your barista to have a thick Dutch accent? For some, possibly. Would it be worth it? Absolutely. We forget that ours is a nation of immigrants. Why do we feel like we have the right to stop our own distant families from sharing the new world with us (and just for a year!)? Imagine the country we would become if young Americans spent more time learning and engaging with others overseas. Imagine the world we would become as our generation becomes congressmen, business owners, doctors, professors, artists, designers, envrionmentalists, etc. with education and life experiences rich in influence of various cultures.
Please. Have this discussion. Share these thoughts. Lets get our people out amongst the world. Lets get Rosa to the United States she so longs to see, to her love she was forced from. We need more Americans in the world, hitch-hiking, sharing stories, and making change.