Continuing in our popular series of Migrant Tales – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.
Today’s tale was sent in by K, a Scottish migrant who moved to NZ when she was young. Her parents moved to New Zealand because they’d heard the stories about it being a good place to raise kids. Nothing could have been further from the truth for this young woman during her upbringing in Dunedin.
Eventually K moved to Dargaville to finish off her schooling where she found the poverty to be “rife,” and then back to Dunedin where work was virtually impossible to come by and life is very hard.
She finishes her tale with this simple yet eloquent statement
When explaining NZ to people I’d say image a small rough village, rife with small mindedness, inadequate facilities, and lacking entirely in opportunities or forward thinking where most people are racist and very selfish, there you have New Zealand..
Here’s K’s Tale:
“I grew up in New Zealand as the child of two people who immigrated here when I was only a toddler, I’ve lived in different areas and my experience has been pretty consistently negative. I haven’t seen a lot of stories from that perspective so I wanted to share mine.
I was born in Scotland, prior to moving my parents had spent some time living in South Africa before moving back to Scotland and then they decided to move to NZ as they had heard that it was a good place to raise kids and they had recently had a lottery win. Moving here used most of that win and they were never well off in the first place.
Upon arrival, they stayed in the North Island, somewhere near Orewa. While living there they felt very excluded, in general having children will help you to connect with other parents, but my parents never got that, they instantly felt as though they were outsiders. At first they made a big effort to do things the “kiwi way”, my Dad prefers football to rugby, but watched it all the same to try to fit in with the nation’s unhealthy obsession with the sport (which is for many people a way to disguise their racism as “competitive spirit”), both parents were working and attended their work parties, and they would act in a way that they hoped would allow them to gain some sort of network. They went on like that for a long time but were never accepted because at the end of the day people still saw them as the foreigners who spoke funny. It didn’t matter where they were living either because we’ve tried a few places and it’s always been the same.
Before I started primary school, we moved to the South Island, more specifically the Dunedin area. Both of my parents continued to work although getting a job here was harder for my Mum as she was unable to transfer or be referred on like my Dad did because she was just a cook in a local McDonalds when we lived up north. Dad was working at the local Fisher and Paekel factory. Now, I feel I should mention that in the UK and South Africa my Dad had trained and worked as an electrical engineer, but his certificate wasn’t accepted as relevant here and due to the cost of studying, he has had to work in factories ever since which meant he was more or less taking a double pay cut. He had had several jobs in between but they were either unsuitable for a family man or the place would shut down or pay people off. He worked there for many years and even got my mum in there, we were scrimping and scraping to get by but it was better than nothing. As another article has said, the making do attitude is not a choice.
At the same time I started school and it was hellish. When I was five years old I had a Scottish accent like my parents, people don’t even TRY to understand, they hear the accent and stop listening, I know for a fact that this is worse if you aren’t white, I’ve seen it happen on an almost daily basis. I was bullied right from the start they told me to go back to Scotland and found a million other things to pick on me about. One kid even practiced his wrestling moves on me, but the kids were never punished and I was merely told to harden up, they literally teach “sticks and stones etc” as part of the curriculum rather that don’t bully. It got so bad that after the first couple of years my parents had to move me from one school to another. This school wasn’t much better, but compared to what would follow it was paradise. I still didn’t have any friends even though I had began mimicking the NZ accent when I spoke to Kiwis, to this day I do this but if I’m by myself or talking to someone else with a Scottish accent I default back to my Scottish accent. My parents got us all our citizenship, I think they had been hoping that it might make things a bit easier for me, but kids were still terrible and the one time I told someone to leave me alone, he told his Mum that I was “mean” to him and she came in and told me off, the teachers still did nothing, in fact that one kid bullied me right up until I changed schools for my last year of high school. There’s a lot of the “harden up” “kids will be kids” mentality going on so from day one bullying is rife in schools.
After primary school I went to intermediate. My intermediate was combined with a high school and it had a bad reputation, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a better school because the transport costs would be astronomical and the better schools cost a fortune to attend. It was also at this age that it became apparent that I wasn’t okay. As it turned out I suffer from depression and anxiety and intermediate/high school worsened this exponentially. The students were even worse and at this point the teachers were too afraid of the students to do anything about it, students would do terrible things to me right in front of the teacher and if it was a nice teacher they’d look at me with pity in their eyes and if it wasn’t they’d just walk away, a few times I even got told off instead since I was an easy target. Hearing these things one might assume I was in one of the lower classes with the “naughty kids”, but I wasn’t, I did pretty well in school and was in the advanced classes, this was just the norm. I had issues with self-harm due to my mental illnesses no one knew this for sure as I kept covered at all times, but because I had dyed my hair black to try to stop them picking on me for having a slight ginger tinge to my natural hair this led to them assuming I was what they call “emo”, I had sharp objects thrown at me, and people told me on a daily basis to kill myself. My parents tried to complain once, but they were ignored. Bullying is such a problem that even the teachers get bullied; one teacher I had was Chinese and had a thick accent while also being rather soft spoken a lot of the time and not only the students but also the teachers made racist remarks about him frequently.
These things have side-effects of course and I was impacted by them, New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is appalling, my parent’s used to comment how it seemed that everyone knew someone who had committed suicide, in fact, my first love, committed suicide at the age of 15. He had been in foster care as his own parents were abusive (the system is very broken and abuse is a big problem here), he had been through a few different places and had been treated poorly, when he attended school he was bullied. He ran away and started dealing drugs (something else that’s absolutely rampant here) and after several months of that he committed suicide. In schools you aren’t taught about these things, and little help is provided to those who are struggling, in fact a lot of the time mental health related issues are treated as a joke or a reason to treat someone like something you’ve trodden in. I had one teacher who told the class that “being different in any way means you’re asking for it” and that’s a disgusting thing to teach youths. If you are struggling and need to see a professional you need a referral from your doctor to a mental health clinic and it takes several months to actually be seen by anyone, then when you do there are very few people available to speak with, so if your counselor is unsuitable (and there are many reasons why they could be) then you basically have to either give up or go through the entire process again. Plus a lot of employers won’t take you if they look at your medical records and see that you have a history of mental illness, even if you are otherwise capable of doing the job, NZ isn’t a great place to come with mental illnesses.
Another contributing factor is that children are forced to grow up in a hurry because parents are mostly living a bare bones existence and there’s also a weird mentality relating to growing up. For instance, I was helping out at a garage sale and a woman and her child came in, the child couldn’t have been more that 4 years old, most likely younger and they were interested in the soft toys that were for sale, the mother barked at her child that they were too old for those and the child looked really sad. Now these toys weren’t expensive in the first place, but I thought maybe it was a cost thing so I said that if they liked they could pick one soft toy for free, just because they looked as if they were about to cry, then the mother turned on me and told me that the child was far too old and needed to grow up, suffice to say I was disgusted. If a child doesn’t get to be a child, then how can we expect them to be a reasonable teenager or adult? This also contributes to the teen pregnancy rates and binge drinking culture as well as the high prevalence of drug use in youths.
In my final year of high school I changed schools because I had met someone online and wanted to be with them so I moved up to Northland while my parents moved to Southland and into the Clutha district. The school I attended was a lower decile but the teachers and the education they provided was far better than it had been at the high school I had attended prior to that and I graduated with decent marks. I still had no friends because I was always “other” so other than dating I never got to connect to anyone, to this day my only friend is my partner and this can be rough considering my family is all overseas now. I went through phases where I’d try to fit in but the hyper-competitive attitude meant I just never did because I wasn’t interested in competing and I hated sport and my mental illnesses made me incredibly shy. I tried joining in, I tried acting like I didn’t care, but simply being born elsewhere and having different interests was enough to leave me a total outcast and when living in smaller towns and cities in an already small country joining a club relevant to your interests usually isn’t an option even if you could afford it. I was living in Dargaville and poverty is positively rife there, there were children with no shoes and their clothes were ratty, the school had to start offering breakfast free of charge because so many kids showed up starving in the mornings, John Key can deny it all he wants but I’ve seen degrees of this all over the country, my own family had weeks where we could barely eat because landlords would decide to sell their property and give us a couple of weeks to get out of there unless we could afford to buy it off them ourselves, which we never could, especially since the factory both of my parents were working at closed down while I was attending high school so for a while they both had no job and they basically had to take the first thing they could find.
I moved back south with my then partner once we graduated to attend university which cost a fortune. During this time my mental health continued to decline since the care I received was inadequate and by the second semester I had to drop out because I couldn’t handle being around people and I couldn’t get out of bed. I was barely eating because I couldn’t afford to since rent in Dunedin is absurd when you consider what you’re actually getting (the rent prices here have worsened since and there are no jobs, most people my age are unemployed until they move elsewhere which costs money of course). So now I have a $22,000 student loan and nothing to show for it. I decided to get a job while I tried to get professional help and moved back in with my parents, we made plans to return to Scotland at this point as none of us could stand it anymore for various reasons. I had been looking for work since my last year of high school since I wanted to work part time in the hopes of being able to reduce the amount I had to borrow for university, it took almost two years across two cities to find a part time job in the bakery of a grocery store. I took on a lot of cover shifts and most weeks I could scrape up full time hours, however, it was very poorly paid (minimum wage) and sometimes they had me working seven day weeks in hours that contradicted my natural sleep cycle. I tolerated it as long as I could, but because I was still waiting for my referral to go through to a counselor I ended up breaking down. I went to the doctor to see if she could help, this doctor consistently runs at least an hour late and seeing her costs a fortune even if she doesn’t actually help, she panicked and sent me to the hospital and I was treated abysmally there, the lady I saw was rude and harsh and made things worse considering she was supposed to be a “mental health crisis team professional”. A lot of doctors and counselors are like this when it comes to mental health and again it comes back to the “harden up” mentality which is inherently dangerous.
Once I had quit that job I then had to deal with WINZ. If you quit your job there is a 13 week stand down period, during this time you aren’t entitled to any support and they assume that your parents will support you, this was hard on my parents as they were also supporting my brother who was still in high school, but planning on dropping out in the hopes that he’d find a job instead (he did not find a job in the two years that he was looking but within a month of returning to Scotland he found a job, a month later he quit that and within another month he had found another job that was willing to train him up). I applied for hundreds of jobs, most of which I knew were going to make me miserable, but it was a means to an end and I just wanted to get my ticket money to get out of there. In NZ there is a general mentality among employers that if they can get away with not training someone, they will; so as a result, most of the time they won’t hire you unless you have a year of experience in that specific area, this has lead to an ENORMOUS youth unemployment problem, particularly in Dunedin, because they’ll only hire people who are older and have been working already, it can be nigh on impossible to get your foot in the door of a job you don’t want let alone a job that you do. Dunedin is as bad as it is because the PM is intentionally trying to kill it off by moving everything away from here, Dunedin doesn’t even handle its own post. Dunedin is generally a Labour seat due to the high number of students and unemployed people hence the National PM won’t help here at all and is more than willing to actively worsen it.
Eventually WINZ began paying me a benefit, which was and still is embarrassing to me, it was barely enough to get by on and I was told that if I wanted things to be easier I should get rid of my cat (out of the question entirely because she’s family) because a lot of people view animals differently here, as you might expect this means that there is a big animal abuse and abandonment problem both in terms of livestock and pets. I have had WINZ employees refuse to believe that I have mental health problems and get rude about it, I have been shouted at and called names, they have been terrible and very unhelpful, even though I do what I’m supposed to do and I don’t take advantage of the system (even though doing so would mean I would be able to buy things like fruit).
I was unemployed for almost 3 years and even now, I’m only working part-time in a job I hate and still having to deal with WINZ because I wouldn’t be able to survive off of my wages alone. My work place could close down in the next few months because the owner is totally inept, this is a trend among a lot of places, the “higher ups” do as little as they possibly can to generate themselves income, so many workplaces are disorganised and barely functioning, not to mention that unions are becoming less and less common so very little protection is afforded to employees of these companies, but you can’t just quit because there are so few opportunities going otherwise. People graduate university and can’t get jobs without going overseas, people with a ton of experience struggle (like my parents did on multiple occasions) and then you have people who are trying to enter the workforce who lack experience and can’t even get into any training because that costs money and volunteer work and internships are a rarity.
Recently I attempted to return to university, getting into university isn’t the hard part I had that sorted, but Studylink has set things up to make things impossible. My entire family now lives in Scotland, I am the only one here because I need to stay with my partner and I’m willing to sacrifice things for that since love has always been the most important thing for me even if this place makes things very difficult a lot of the time, you would assume that this would mean that Studylink would not consider your parent’s income when deciding what you’re entitled to since your parents can’t support you. I got a letter from my doctor to advise them of this and they said that unless my parents were dead or had officially disowned me (and I’d have to prove it) they would still include my parent’s incomes. That might’ve been okay except they calculate everything before tax and convert directly from pounds to dollars, not allowing for different tax rates or expenses or anything so I wouldn’t be eligible for any of the student allowance at all (that’s the money you don’t have to pay back) which would mean borrowing over $100 a week on top of the existing loan and the rest of what I’d have to borrow to cover tuition and course related costs on a degree that’d take four years to complete meaning I’d owe probably well over $100,000 by the end, and then to make matters worse if you leave the country for over a year and have a student loan that loan begins accruing interest at a ridiculous rate so you basically can’t leave unless you’ll have enough money to pay the interest and the loan itself in order to try to avoid potentially being arrested and deported from wherever you are. The government did this specifically because people were moving overseas with their degrees at too high a rate, but they didn’t then generate jobs for the people who are trapped here to work in to pay off their loan before they’re dead. Before I even got to the point of finding out that no matter what I couldn’t afford to study here, I had to make several trips to the doctor ($45 each) to prove that I dropped out last time due to mental health issues and that therefore it was beyond my control, they didn’t even want to give me a loan at all at first.
I haven’t been to the dentist since I finished high school when it was free so I have tooth and jaw problems. It is just too expensive to eat, rent a place, pay bills and then go to the dentist. Expenses are shared between two people and our flat is on the cheaper end of the scale, the bath is rusty, there is no insulation or heating, the kitchen isn’t even big enough for one person to cook in because there’s no bench space, the other rooms are also small, however, there are fire alarms and it gets some degree of sun (which will hopefully help keep mold at bay) which is an improvement over a lot of places I’ve stayed. I’d say that 90% of the houses I’ve lived in since my parents moved us here have had damp and mold problems, and we have lived in a lot of different places. I can’t swim so all of the water related activities and boating is lost on me and even if I could most of the waterways are unsafe anyway. One of only two dreams I’ve consistently had since I was a child is to travel and due to how isolated New Zealand is it is hard to get anywhere and the job situation makes it impossible to save to get away at this point anyway. We can’t even go on a weekend trip within the country because if we take days off then we can’t afford to eat. We don’t have a sofa or a TV or anywhere to sit and eat. This is considered average among a lot of our age group unless you’ve had some good luck somewhere. This isn’t something that people choose, this is just the way it is and no one will do anything to change it because a lot of people are afraid of change or progress.
Having no degree and next to no experience (none in anything that I might not hate working in) means that it’s harder to move overseas and harder to get my existing student loan paid off since it’s impossible to step from this situation into a job that’d allow me to get a job that’d pay enough in relation to the cost of living to also pay down my student loan. For years I have been working toward learning Japanese because I had wanted to move there, but you can’t move there without a really good job within Japan and a four year degree. Things are arranged so that it’s hard to get out of here when you want to because they tie you down with expense after expense and then pile additional financial complications on top of that then tell you that it’s entirely your own fault. You aren’t even offered the comfort of this being a friendly place because it’s harsh, rude, racist, sexist (to literally everyone) and insensitive. Granted, not everyone is bad, my partner is a New Zealander, but in my experience most people are exclusionary at best. When explaining NZ to people I’d say image a small rough village, rife with small mindedness, inadequate facilities, and lacking entirely in opportunities or forward thinking where most people are racist and very selfish, there you have New Zealand.”