The WHV experience is part of me, it made me who I am. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without these two trips.
I took my first WHV trip at 24, with one of my best friends. Then, at 29, I signed up for another adventure, on my own this time but building on my previous experience abroad. Both times, I headed for the Southern hemisphere, far away from France, in countries with gorgeous scenery. Yet, these are the only similarities because the two countries I explored were very different and so were my two experiences.
When I went to New Zealand, I was still a “work in progress,” easily influenced, open-minded, eager to experience something new and unique. I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know what I should expect. I embraced a certain degree of carelessness and let it carry me all the way across the world, to this small, remote country.
This was probably the best decision of my life—and definitely the one that made the biggest impact on the woman I became.
It’s impossible for me to provide a succinct summary of my WHV experience. First, because so much happened over the course of twelve months, second because I don’t remember every single moment and third, because at times, it was so intense it’s just too hard to describe. I’ll say that much—it’s a transformative experience.
I think the year I spent in New Zealand made me more confident and strengthen some aspects of my personality. For instance, I’ve always been very independent, now even more than before. I’m still shy but less than I used to be. I’m still that curious person eager to discover exotic, foreign lands off the beaten path. Of course, I didn’t realize how much I had changed right away. But when I came back, I felt different and it was hard to explain why and how. I had to work hard to fit in again, readapt to the familiar life at home I had left behind. It takes time to feel comfortable again with your environment—in my case, almost a year. So, I’d say the WHV experience is one you plan, life and digest over time! And every participant tackle all these steps at their own pace.
Yet, you can never truly leave your experience behind because it shapes you so much. I never thought I’d travel again after New Zealand. The routine of life at home took over—a strong social circle, a steady job, love stories, a nice city in which I felt comfortable, two- or three-week holiday spent here and there. But these trips always felt too short. I was only getting snapshots of a country instead of spending enough time there to get to know the place. That’s when I heard the call of the road again. However, I didn’t answer it right away. This time, even though I didn’t know what this new WHV experience would deliver, the stakes were higher—I knew what I could lose or miss and I was leaving a lot more behind. Or maybe this time I cared more, I was more mature. This second WHV experience sounded more like a challenge than an adventure. Could I still handle it? Leaving everything behind for … the unknown. Yet, I’m a pragmatic. I put the challenge into perspective. I would be gone for less than a year, time goes by fast. And to minimize risks, I took a sabbatical so I’d be able to return to the same job, in the same role, upon my return—yes, I was already planning for my return.
My experience in Chile was different. I choose to settle down whereas in New Zealand, I had roamed the entire country. I was happy to land in a destination far, far away but I didn’t feel ready to hit the road. I wanted to settle down somewhere, work, find a place to live. I wanted a life steady enough to meet people and get to know them. In the end, during this second WHV experience, I did the opposite of what I had done during my first adventure. Chile was as rewarding as New Zealand but I tackled the adventure differently. Travelling wasn’t new to me anymore—I had already taken my big trip. And at 29, I was much less influenceable than at 24! This time, I didn’t change as much. My WHV in New Zealand had been a learning experience. Chile… I don’t know, it’s still too early to tell. But I faced the challenge. Yes, I can still go far and leave for a long period of time. I can still find my way around a new city, get a job in a country where I don’t speak the national language that well, meet new friends…
New Zealand has been a milestone to the young adult I was but to me, Chile is just a chapter of my life. There is a before and after New Zealand—not for Chile.
You may think I just didn’t enjoy this second WHV experience much—this isn’t true, I had a good time and met amazing people. New Zealand exceeded my expectations, maybe Chile didn’t. Nonetheless, I don’t regret this choice of destination and I hope I’ll get a chance to go back soon.
These two experiences remain two major moments of my life and represent decisions I’m proud I made—for both, New Zealand and Chile, because the stakes were different.
WHV experiences shape you, help you grow as a person and stick with you.