Former UCHS student glad to be back in Canada

What started out as an academic adventure turned into much more than Adam Baker had anticipated.

The former Unity Composite High School student travelled to New Zeeland for a semester abroad as part of his U of S studies. No one could have anticipated the events that would take place while he was there.

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Safely, back in Canada and having completed a mandatory quarantine Baker tells us of his historic adventure.

“New Zealand began a high-level quarantine back in March and, in the beginning, I was very scared for my future. I was stuck in a country with a deadly virus and I was unsure that I would be able to return home. I knew there was nothing that I could do about my situation, so I ignored those negative thoughts and focused on my studies.”

New Zeeland was on an alert level 4 for the beginning of the lockdown, meaning that people could only leave their homes if they were essential workers, or they needed to get groceries or exercise. Grocery stores changed drastically and social distance lines were formed through the parking lot, taking more than 15 minutes to enter a store.

New Zealand began to flatten the curve moving them into an alert level 3, then 2 and finally 1 where everything was almost back to normal.

“Originally, the University of Canterbury was going to have a month-long mid-term break in April,” Baker says.  

“However, once the outbreak began the school decided to move up the break. So, for the first month of quarantine we had no classes. Many tests were cancelled as a result, and their grading weights were transferred to assignments and the final exams (my one exam was originally worth 60 per cent, but it was changed to 70 per cent, so that stressed me out quite a bit).”

Classes resumed in mid to late April and were online instead of in-class.

“I didn’t have any live Zoom meetings, just pre-recorded lectures and online assignments and essays,” Baker explains.

“This made living with quarantine easier to bear, because I could sleep for as long as I wanted and not miss a class. I did find that my procrastination was further enabled, so I needed to stay focused in order to meet deadlines.”

As his semester came to end, his family and he began looking into ways for him to return home. He had initially hoped to travel direct from New Zealand to Canada to avoid running the risk of entering countries like the United States, where infection is high. A repatriation flight the government was arranging would have been a safe direct flight, however it was discontinued.

The Baker family was grateful for the help of local travel agent, Gwen Frantik, who was able to procure a flight from Auckland to Las Angeles to Vancouver to Edmonton with minimal exposure. They decided it was the safest way to get Adam home as soon as possible.

The journey wasn't without challenges. Baker describes a 12-hour flight to Las Angeles and then a 17-hour layover in the airport there. That was followed by a three-hour flight to Vancouver and another two-hour layover before proceeding to Edmonton.

“The flights from LA to Vancouver and Vancouver to Edmonton were amazing because I was given business class seats. This meant plenty of leg room, plenty of space between people, and every passenger was given a little COVID-19 kit that contained a fresh mask, water and sanitation tools. Possibly one of my greatest flight experiences from Air Canada.”

Baker says he has good memories about his experience.

“I’d say my best experience pre-coronavirus was the trip to Mount Cook. Just before my flight home I decided to embark from Christchurch on a week-long journey up the South and North Islands. I bused and ferried from Christchurch to Wellington and Wellington to Auckland. Being able to see the country was amazing. I was also able to visit some of the Lord of the Rings locations that I came to New Zealand to see. I stayed at two AirBnB locations, where I met with some amazing people.”

He also shares a negative side.

“When the pandemic started, I was terrified that my journey would be stolen from me, and I refused to come home. But then a lot of my new American friends were forced home, and I began to feel very alone. I wanted to come home, which made me feel like a failure, and when I learned that I could not return, it got even worse.

“Overall, I was in a very low place that first week. Thankfully I had two amazing roommates left, and we three where able to withstand quarantine together.”

The journey home also had some extremely trying aspects.

“I’d say the 17-hour layover was the worst part. During that time, I had to wear a mask constantly, I was not able to sleep, and all the food places in the airport were shut down. So basically, I had an hour or two of sleep, some cashews and some Skittles to survive on for a day. Honestly, I think the only thing keeping me going was the thrill of adventure.”

Now that he is back safely in Canada and his quarantine period is over, Baker plans to reunite with family, friends and pets, and take time to relax a little before returning to work as a summer student with the Town of Unity. He is excited and getting back to reality and back in Canada.

Baker will be returning to the U of S. Fall classes will be online, but like other university students, he is uncertain about the winter term.

In closing, Baker says, “The only record of my adventures is through photos on my phone, and in my mind. But my mother and grandmother have suggested that I put down my memory of my last adventure of New Zealand in a book while it’s still fresh in my mind.”

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