15 April 2010
Continuing in our very popular series of Migrants’ Tale – first had accounts of the migrant experience in New Zealand taken from locations around the net. For hundreds more Migrant Tales in the series click here – link.
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 author is an American from Missouri, neither her nor her partner are currently working in their trained fields. Earning low wages and eating into savings means that they are now trapped in New Zealand and having to make the best of things (some information has been removed in the interests of privacy):
I have been following this thread for a few days whilst I was on Holiday at Lake Tekapo. I guess it is my turn to chime in.
September 11, 2001 was our 10th wedding anniversary and we had decided that to spend it in New York as we were working and living in Toronto at the time.
Well, you know how that turned out. To this day certain smells and noises make me jump & shudder. We were wanting to “settle down” and start a family. I am a Registered Nurse in Canada, Israel, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma & Texas, Hubby is a licensed Civil Engineer (PE) in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Missouri, Oklahoma & Kansas. He is also a secondary teacher with a specialty in Math & upper sciences in the state of Missouri and has his teaching credentials assessed at Level 7 certificate for New Zealand.
We decided to apply to BOTH Australia and New Zealand at the same time with *** being the primary in New Zealand (as NZ had not approved my nursing yet) and I was primary in Australia (who were happy to assess based on USA experience but NOT Israel). Australia replied about 4 weeks later offering us a 2 year work visa contingent upon my finding work as a nurse in Australia. New Zealand offered us Permanent Resident with no strings attached other than we pass the physical, criminal checks and arrive within 6 months to take up residency. We chose to go with New Zealand. BIG MISTAKE.
We arrived in 2004 and I can say I have been utterly SHOCKED at how our lives have changed. Neither me nor my husband are working in our trained fields. We have absolutely NO money nor savings left after 14 years of professional work in the USA. It took 9 months for my husband to get a job at KMart. A year later he was able to get an entry level position as an orderly at the hospital (only because he was willing to work nights). He continues to work there today earning just above the minimum wage. I went round and round with the Nursing Council & decided to do IVF (FREE) and have a child rather then fight with them about schooling. I was shocked to learn that New Zealand would “pay” me to sit at home and have unlimited numbers of children through Work & Income, Housing Allowance, Day Care Subsidy& Tax Rebates at birth. Not a professional salary, but way better then trying to work an entry level position(AND have to pay for daycare).
Brillant for a professional mums wanting a break, but no motivation or incentive for average or minimum wage earners to return to work. In fact, I know of several families who are trying to have more children strictly for financial reasons as they have no training nor skills. Talk about a nanny-welfare state!!!
OK for the good and the bad IN MY OPINION:
Let’s start with the good:
I love the medical system here and find it to be one of the most fair in the world. Should you want care that is not included (as we did with certain fertility treatments) the prices are very reasonable compared to other countries. I never worry about scripts or my child falling ill. I have found the doctors to be VERY well trained and competent (though the nurses and midwives are lacking even the most basic skills such as IV’s) and I have found ALL medical personel to be MUCH MORE compassionate then in the US, Canada or
Israel. You can ring an office at 9am and have your child seen in the afternoon. PLUNKET is a GREAT organization for both mums and babes-care in the home after birth is marvelous here. TOY LIBRARIES are fabolous and very economical.. .can’t believe that we didn’t have them in the US. BABY CHANGING ROOMS in the mall are like mini-hotels- equipped with recliners for breastfeeding and videos for the older kiddys to watch.
TRANSPORT:PRAM ACCESSIBILITY is great with all the busses lowering or having ramps. I have to use the bus system as we can no longer afford to operate a car on our income. I find the prices to be VERY reasonable and you can get just about anywhere at anytime in the city on one.
Schools: I like the fact most schools are uniformed and think it is great that dental clinics are on our school grounds. Manners seem to be a BIG part of the Kiwi education in primary schools. My 2 year old has been taught to say yes please and no thank you. Very impressive to her American grandparents. Regular dental checks are as common as eye checks here. Librarys are a GREAT resource in this city with free WiFi and internet access(although even high speed is very slow)
Jobs: All jobs start with a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation in addition to sick leave and holidays. Enough said.
CLOTHING-two words:Merrino wool. GREAT!!!!
CHILDHOOD: We were out driving one day with friends and found ourselves on a beach with no preparation. I wanted *** to have a play. Lifeguard went to get her a sand pail and told us to just “let her strip and run”. We took some very innocent photos & sent them “home”. My parents “had a fit”-not a single Kiwi cared as half of their kids were running naked as well. It is more important to a Kiwi that your child be warm and mismatched then matching and freezing cold. While visiting the States my in-law’s refused to take 12 month
old *** out one day until we changed her socks so they matched her dress. Holiday Parks and Batches-the ONLY way to afford vacation if you live on Kiwi salary long enough. They are VERY economical and you will find most of them to be quite clean, well kept and GREAT for kids to just run and be kids. Kiwi kids know how to “get dirty” and play with nothing more then some dirt and a stick. Right now *** is entertaining herself with laundry pegs and a watering can.
FOOD: We DO eat much more healthy then in the US-but we do so out of “poverty”. Healthy eating has never been an issue for me and my family and we find the “basic” food items to be the only ones that we can afford. Yes, we eat seasonally and yes I have learned to like my fruit and vege’s. I do cook HEAPS more then I use to in the US. I think it is better that kids have to take their lunches to school (for the most part) and you cannot find Burger Kings and McDonald’s in the school cafeteria like you do in Lee’s Summit Missouri.
KIWI’s-are quite reserved and distant for the most part, but there are those naturally “friendly” ones. MOST Kiwis are basically honest and look out for the safety of children. When my child went missing for a few minutes last month I was more worried that she had fallen into the Avon River then that she had been kidnapped or worse. At large scale events Kiwis often write their mobile phone numbers down the side of their child’s arm so they can find someone to ring Mummy or Daddy should they get lost in the crowd. Can’t imagine that in the US!!!
Now for the not so good:
COLD LEAKY UNINSULATED HOMES-I find it APPALING the whole heating issue. Your heating bill will be hundreds of dollars and you will still be cold. You would think people who settled a country could figure out how to build a decent house to keep you warm. Prices are very high for sub-standard housing.
MEDICAL:Although Jewish I do have hints of Midwest conservatisim in my blood and do NOT like the fact that my child can seek reproductive health care (BC pill & abortion) WITHOUT my knowledge nor consent at the age of 14!!! I find the level of RN’s training to be less that that of an LPN in the States. Kiwi’s tend to take great pride in sub-standard credentials and training.
TRANSPORT-there are HEAPS of old clunkers that are dirty and loud on the roads. We cannot afford to own and operate a vehicle because of all the WOF requirements without changing something else in our lifestyle. Boy Racers are a royal pain and the police tend to have a very “boys will be boys” attitude when dealing with them rather then enforcing the law.
CRIME-while I do not worry when walking down the street with my child about being “mugged” or attacked, I find the “petty” and “annoying” crimes to be MUCH more prevalent then where I lived in the States. As stated, boy racers are annoying, loud and dangerous. There is a VERY VERY serious alcoholism problem in this country, not just drinking but “binge” drinking that you usually do not see until college in the States. Graffiti is EVERYWHERE. The only country I have seen that smokes more than Kiwi’s are the Israeli’s. I see more teenage drop outs and kids doing nothing then I ever saw in the suburb’s of Missouri. Teenagers seem unmotivated & many seem to lack direction.
SCHOOLS-my mother-in-law does International Intakes (in the States) of chilren who are returning to the USA for her school district. She USE to say that the Brit’s were the worst in testing. She says in the last ten years she has seen that the Kiwi’s are BY FAR the least motivated, and most behind of any country she has seen short of refugees. She says that they do not even know how to take the test. Handwriting is awful and most teenagers cannot do multiplication without a calculator or even count change back properly. There is no record of testing, grades, conduct or reports. She has begged me to “homeschool” *** if we are going to remain here (it’s just not in my blood) and tells me that by age 8 *** will be a good 2-3 years behind her American cousins. There is only ONE school (per gender) in the whole of the South Island that offers the IB program which is the ONLY credential from New Zealand that colleges and Universities abroad will recognize. It also costs $18,000 a year to send your child there as it is a private school. It is not uncommon for “professional” Kiwi parents to take their child out of public schools at age 14 and place them there for the IB program if they can afford to do so.
JOBS-there is nothing for me to add to this other then the fact that MANY of the jobs that are advertised have already been promised or given to a family member or friend and they are only advertising because the law says that they have to. There is NO sense of fairness or “the best person for the job”-I feel like I live in one great big social “gool ole boys club”. My husband ROUTINELY sees that the “Asian” nurses often get the hard or difficult assignments at work. There is Anti-Americanism, but it is not so much the fact that we are American as it is the fact we are not Kiwi-born. Most people who dislike Americans tend to avoid us rather then confront us.
CLOTHING-expect to pay Dillard’s prices for Walmart quality. Not much in colour (unless you like pink). But then, EVERYONE is in uniforms, so clothing is not as big a deal over here. An expat friend brought *** a dress with tights and leggings last year with the Walmart price still on it. It has outlasted three other dress bought at the Mall here for TRIPLE the price -and she loves it so much the dress has become a tunic. Walmart quality is better then any quality you will find here other then wool products.
FOOD-from someone who is NOT organic or natural and does not care about such things I find the food to be VERY expensive for very little quality with the exeption of yogurts. Sweet corn was the same price as I paid in the USA last week, only the quality is what the Missouri farmers us to feed to the pigs. Not even yellow with many kernels missing.
I miss the simple naughty things:Cool Whip to mix with JELLO (jelly here gets a film on the top), VELVEETA cheese blocks for yummy nachos, HO HO’s, Ding Dong’s Quicktrip fountain drinks & Prime Rib steaks. I also know that this is just a part of adapting but basic food prices are higher here then in any other country which I have lived. I am totally bored as it is unusual to get new products down here. I did get lucky last week and found Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip cookies for .99 cents a package. I asked why they were so cheap. “We have to get rid of them. None of the Kiwi’s are buying them, they don’t like new foreign stuff down here.” I can get Reeses Peanut Butter Cups now at the cost of $1 PER CUP and Dorrito’s have just arrived. I really hope that Kiwi’s decide to like them.
KIWI’s-I find most of the adults to be quite friendly and pleasant to your face, but that does not mean you will ever be invited over for a cup of tea. They have their cliques and groups of friends and many of them have been “best mates” since grade school. Being an outgoing person I have found myself to be MUCH MUCH more happy when I decided to stop focusing on the Kiwis and just look around. In the last four years I have developed a “core” set of friends-on is Dutch, one is a Brit, one is from Seattle, one German and we all get on great. WE are family. WE go away for holiday’s together and split the cost. The only problem with this is you will find that every year one or two people come and go, and this can get hard emotionally. That is how it is with expats…very few actually come here to stay even though they may THINK that they are at the time. Once again, it often winds down to a job. Had we not had ***, I’m not sure that we would have financially been able to stay.
RUGBY: Other then half-time on Superbowl Sunday,I ignored football in the States and once in a while would watch baseball. I’m just not a sports type of person. I thought that football fever was bad in the States, but it is NOTHING compared to Rugby down here. It seems to be the ONLY thing that Kiwi’s care about. And it seems to be the ony thing (other than weather) that Kiwi’s can hold a conversation about. I feel like it is contantly being “shoved down my throat” and more then one Kiwi has said that I will never be a “real Kiwi” until I learn to follow and care about Rugby. VERY ANNOYING.
SO IF YOU DISLIKE IT SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO HOME?
1. We cannot afford to. As stated we have blown through ALL of our saving’s are are now living on minimum wage & Work & Income. We feel TOTALLY trapped here. We would have to move in with our in-laws and attempt to find work in the American Recession.
2. We have just applied for citizenship and are saving up money to get our Kiwi passports. It now takes 5 years of living and employment to qualify.
3. *** was Kiwi conceived, Kiwi born and the least we owe her is a Kiwi childhood. I want her to skinny-dip, fly-fish, dirt bike, skateboard, swim in glacier fed lakes, jump from trees, horseback ride, drink from a stream, trust adults, sleep in a tent, ice skate under pine trees, etc. Our goal is that she will have fond memories of her childhood in New Zealand before life got complicated or hard that she can tell to our grandchildren.
YOU ARE BOTH PROFESSIONALS, SO WHAT IS YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
1. My husband is returning to school full-time for the next 2-3 years to have a Kiwi DEGREE and qualification. I have been in contact with Australian Nurses Association who tell me that I will have to take a 6-8 week “refresher” course should I wish to return to and practise nursing in Australia.
2. WE are trying to have another child as I am now 40 and time is running out to give*** a sibling. New Zealand seems to be the only country I have lived in that actually “pays” you to have kids. Why not do it here?
3. Hubby will have to work a year in his field here in New Zealand after “completion” . At that time we will assess whether it will be better to return to the States or simply do what most professional Kiwi’s do and move to Australia. *** will be about 7 at that time. WE will have to determine her personality as well in determining where to go. It would be nice to stay in New Zealand a few more years (for her sake)-but it seems to be professional and financial “suicide”.
4. We will continue to stay close to our “friends”. We all live in Christchurch, some have kids, some don’t. Many of us happen to be Jewish but that only means we do not eat pork around the others (some are vegeatarians) -we go “camping” about three to four times a year together and often have a Saturday meal at my house. We all “care” about issues, but none of us are “fanatical” and most of us are giving this Kiwi thing “a go”-most happen to be Engineers and nurses but that is because of immigration policy’s. So, if you are “lonely”
(but not really) and think you might fit into the “group”-pop me an email and then come around to meet some people and see if our little group works for you. We just had the man from Seattle move to Australia this week, so we are looking for “a new cousin”.
OK SO THE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE THAT I WOULD OFFER TO YOU?
Set a financial limit, (whatever that may be-often it is the price of a ticket home)-come, give it a go. You will always wonder what could have been had you not. Make friends with expats and other’s in this forum first, then worry about befriending Kiwi’s. Let them come to you. Give it a REAL go and then, if you hit the financial number you set, marry a Kiwi, have a kid, or go home. Sounds blunt, but that is our live in a nutshell.
Finances – I echo everyone’s sentiments – Save as much money as you can before you come. Everything’s expensive, with smaller selection and often of lesser quality. Weekend markets are great places to get produce and fruit, sometimes less than half of the supermarket prices. We brought a container, and loaded it w/ food from trader joe’s – only wish we’d brought more. I took someone else’s advice and also packed two year’s worth of clothes for our daughter.
Childcare – Actually cheaper here than in Seattle. And very good! At age three, the gov kicks in a subsidy. (Not clear on all the details, but I believe it’s a relatively new programme and quite generous.)
Sentiment toward Americans/Foreigners – Socially, we’ve felt very welcomed. Within the first few weeks of settling were invited to several neighbor’s homes and social gatherings. It could be the neighborhood, fairly old and v.international w/ many retired diplomats. Everyone at the park we frequent chats with each other.
Hope this was helpful. As our time progresses, I’m sure our experience will evolve.