Two And A Half Years In New Zealand – NZ Like South Dakota

Continuing in our series of Migrants’ Tale – first had accounts of the migrant experience in New Zealand taken from locations around the net.

This message was published on a members only internet Group, a hybrid between an electronic mailing list and threaded internet forum with hundreds of members. This is a common way for intending and existing emigrants to exchange information about New Zealand. The post has been edited for privacy reasons.

In it the author gives an honest appraisal of the pluses and minuses of NZ life, and although he loves the country is unsure of how long he’ll stay be able to stay there:

“Two and a half years in New Zealand

This June our original 30 month Work to Residence application is up. We arrived in Jan 2008 from *****, KS. We sold our house, gave away about a third of everything we owned and attempted to sell our 2 cars. At the time of our decision the exchange rate was in the 80’s and even with all things considered it was an income cut to move. We had 6 weeks of a Serviced Apartment booked in Wellington, our 6 suitcases, and the 3 of us.

We found a home to rent in about 3 weeks. We had a car leased in 4 weeks. We used the small bit of cash we had to pay for a few new appliances in our home. A co-worker generously let us borrow a trailer load of “camping” gear to live with until our container arrived. The rest of our stuff appeared in record time about 6 weeks after we arrived. No one I’ve talked to got their stuff faster. Our son enrolled in **** Primary School and started in Feb with the rest of the class. Within about 2 months we were, more or less, fully established in Lower Hutt just on the east side of the Wellington harbour.

The first 6 months was a constant exercise in “What is different?” Everything from ketchup, to banking, to eating out, to politics were all different in small to significant ways. It took a good year before I stopped noticing the differences in everything. Change is stressful, even when desired and good. We all struggled at some point. We missed family. We missed Mexican food. We missed the ease we had from familiarity. It took a while to get used to.

Financially the story gets alarming. The costs were higher than we expected and we expected high costs. But we did adjust. We’ve not really suffered, but we certainly have prioritized. The exchange rate dropped from 80 to 60 to 70 then to 50 before making a slow recovery to 70 again; recently it is dropping again below 70. Dramatic shifts made paying bills difficult and then impossible. We had to rework a lot of things and even cashed out retirement funds to make settlement payments to the bank. The worst part was our 2 cars never sold and all we could do was let the finance companies re-claim them. After 2 and half years, I think we’re mostly stable. We are not losing money, but we are not saving effectively either. We still rent the same place. We ended the lease on the NZ car after about year. It was cheaper to buy one with cash. Our biggest bills are US debt, Rent, Gas/Electric, and groceries (in that order).

Our story started with a job offer from Telecom NZ so I had employment immediately. **** struggled for over a year to find a job. It proved difficult to get interviews as an immigrant. However, once you did get hired, work history helped smooth the way for other employment. In general, the work here is has an easier pace compared to the US. All the employers I’ve talked to seem to understand a more natural rhythm to families and work. Holidays are bunched up at the end of the year being summer school vacation, Christmas, New Year’s, and Waitangi Day (sort of the NZ founding day). This makes the work load from November to February pretty light.

New Zealand today (and historically) seems to be shaped by two major themes; small population and geographic remoteness. Everything seems like a small town. Truly remote areas are so sparsely populated you might not see another human for miles. But even a short 45 minute trip out of Wellington can get you to an empty coast line or scenic rolling hills. Small populations mean small economies. Folks don’t move to NZ to get rich. It might be comparable to moving to Montana or South Dakota; mostly rural with only a few focal points of wealth. Being a remote country and really not even “on the way” to anywhere else means that unless you’re really trying to get to New Zealand you won’t end up there. Without the same profit motivations as say, Australia, growth in NZ is slower. Markets are mostly saturated and there are not going to be “new” markets. What you see is what you get in New Zealand.

We have watched the politics of NZ unfold around us and we are certainly affected by the changes, but we haven’t really participated much. The long established Labour party was voted out and replaced by the National party. I don’t know that either of them have great platforms… so about the same as the US.

One big change for me is that I can barely read US news sources any more. The stories are horrific by comparison. The details of torture, murder, and gruesome death have become just too shocking to read. The scandals of top politicians, hate mongering, and religious zealotry are hard for me to acknowledge. I struggle to comprehend that I am from that place. NZ has its share of social issues, but seems to completely lack carnage, seedy scandal, or extremism. Violent crimes occur. Horrible things still happen in bad circumstances. But there still is plenty of room for other news.

So what now? Well, we’ve applied to become Residents. We have to make all the same immigration hurdles we made the first time. This is quite expensive to pay for again (well over $3000 total), but should be the last “serious” round of checks. My job offer with Telecom is indefinite. I do good work and while Telecom has plenty of problems, I feel like I can make it better. I don’t know how much longer we’ll stay. Perhaps another couple of years. I would like to take the stability we’ve had and turn it back in to a retirements savings and investments. That could take another 5 years. If that plan worked out, then I think we would all be just fine with it. Sometimes I wish New Zealand wasn’t quite so far away or quite so under populated… but then I remember that New Zealand would be none of the things I love if it was.

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3 thoughts on “Two And A Half Years In New Zealand – NZ Like South Dakota

  1. Mmmmm, Mexican food!
    We found a place on the SI that does mail-order Mexican.
    We did a Cinco de Mayo fiesta for friends for several years.
    A Kiwi friend [who’d frequently been to the west coast of the
    US for buisness] had told me that this was the best Mexican
    that he’d ever had. I think that the MO place was in Dunedin. FYI

  2. I must say I have to agree with Charlene. I’m a born and bred Kiwi, but one who has lived, backpacked, and worked in many countries. The rugby mentality here is suffocating and ridiculous. The top item on the news in the last week (along with ‘Breaking Developments’ and crosses to live reporters) has been that, yes, we are being ripped off by Adidas for the crazy price of an All Black replica jersey by a few dollars. Cheap arse kiwis – either buy it or dont. Get over it and move on. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, London is in flames and the US is melting down, NATO are bombing the hell out of women and children in Libya and millions are starving to death in Somalia, and the kids of NZ are being killed by their parents and drugged by gangs. But oh no, the big issue is the bloody jersey!
    This is just one example of the myopic attitudes here.
    But on the other hand, should we be glad that this is all we have to talk about? Yes, but for god’s sake please let’s talk about SOMETHING else.

  3. I think that an article I read in the Herald a couple years ago in 2008 was pretty accurate.
    They are heavy on teamwork and group think.
    The outer image of the Kiwi public is more forward-thinking than it is on the inside. It is a very conservative society in regard to the expectations and behavior of individuals towards one another on the daily level. You feel as if you are back in the 1950s.
    Superficially people are friendly, but it’s about creating a certain impression rather genuine friendliness or interest. It is very hard to make solid friendships that last.
    You can’t stand out – that makes it worse. You are already a migrant. If you are a bit eccentric or don’t fit they avoid you. You will begin to feel like a leper after awhile.
    Kiwis cannot laugh at themselves.
    They don’t want to hear anything even slightly negative about their country. You have to tell them it’s tops. All the time. Or they will become angry and argue with you until you agree or modify your statement.
    I find it annoying that they do not communicate in specific terms, seem to be ignorant of the word “feedback” outside of “awesome” on trademe, and do not maintain networks for the sake of having them because networks are temporary and purpose-driven. If they do not want to give you an answer or do not know it, they will not simply state that. They will just change the subject because they wish to avoid conflict. There is not much subtlety in their relations and they do not have much to talk about. They are pragmatic and distrust ideas. So you cannot talk about ideas with them. I have never been so conversationally bored anywhere I have lived. An Englishman told me that Kiwi girls refused drinks with him in a rude way, but he was unaware that a drink does not mean any more than that in the UK but in NZ still a man buying a woman a drink usually means he wants to buy her for the night as well. They are very cheap and don’t stake money if they don’t think they have a good chance with you.
    Many migrants I know recognise that this is an alien culture. They may speak English but they are not Pommies. They are not Canadians, Yanks or anyone else. They are their own very isolated and unique thing. And not to everyone’s taste.

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