– I correspond with a lot of folks in a Yahoo Group called Expats-in-New-Zealand. These are wanna-be immigrants to New Zealand, folks who’ve just arrived and folks who’ve been here for years – all in a big discussion about what it is like to be an immigrant to New Zealand. Most of the folks are Americans though many other countries are represented as well. FYI, of all the folks who immigrate to NZ, only about 3% are Americans.
– Below, is a piece I recently wrote and posted on the Yahoo group summing up my experiences in NZ. It was in response to a flurry of such pieces in which folks were discussing what they liked and what they didn’t like about New Zealand and about how much the experience has been as they expected and how much of it has been a surprise.
– Not everyone who immigrates, stays. I’ve heard that as many as 30% of folks return to where they came from for various reasons. It is, after all, not always greener on the other side of the fence.
– In any case, these were my thoughts and I thought I’d share them here on Samadhisoft as well.
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My New Zealand immigrant story.
I secured, with my then wife, a resident’s visa in 2006 and finally moved here permanently (sans wife) in 2009. It’s a long story about the wife but the simplest explanation is that she changed her mind and I did not. I will, however, be forever grateful to her because I would have never secured the right to immigrate here without her as she was younger and better educated.
Be all of that as it may, I’ve been here permanently since 2009 in Christchurch.
My story is different than a lot of folks, I suspect. When the residence visa was granted us in 2006, I was 58; already past the use-by date of 55. When I shifted here permanently in 2009, I was 62. Now I’m 65 and I’ve got Social Security from the USA and a Gold Card here in NZ.
On the good side, I free-held a nice apartment then in Christchurch. On the bad side, I was ending a 20 year marriage that I thought was going to be for life.
But I had, and still have, good friends here. People, other American immigrants, that I’d met through this group in 2006. Friendships that have endured all this time and become central in my life.
Then came the Christchurch earthquakes and I lost the apartment and all the patterns of my life were tossed in the air – just as I was beginning to feel some daylight following the ending of my marriage.
But, life has a way of smiling upon fools. A Kiwi lady I’d been dating prior to the quake took me in as a temporary measure and we are both living together still today and it has become a wonderful relationship and the emotional center of my new life.
I’ve always liked people and I find it fairly easy to meet and get to know new folks. So, my circles have grown. My original US expat friends are still my core group. Colette, my partner, has introduced me into her extended family and friends. I’ve met people through meditation groups, through a men’s group, through open mike poetry readings, and through motorcycle riding. I worked as a programmer for nearly two years with a Kiwi high tech company, SLI Systems. I met many Kiwis there as well as other immigrants like myself.
My younger son has come over and has a work permit, works in Christchurch and now lives with a beautiful Kiwi women on a farm not far outside of the city.
So, with some rough patches, my new life here has worked out well for me. But, as I said, my story is a bit different.
Most of the people who come here from the US are more into the central part of their life and careers. Their careers are mid-stream, they have children and mortgages and they are still building their finances.
I came nearer the end of my life and career – though my health is still excellent. My finances, between what the apartment was worth and what I get from the US Social Security, mean that I can live simply but well without having to work anymore. My partnership with Colette has also helped in that. She owns her house free-hold and is near the end of her career with the New Zealand Ministry of Justice and, by sharing our finances, we are both empowered.
It’s been with some sadness that I’ve watched others come to New Zealand and then depart again for a variety of reasons. But, I don’t think there are mistakes. Just events we experience and learn from. A couple with the last name of Rice left because they found a glass ceiling over their heads at the University. Another couple, Mike and Cara left because Mike couldn’t find a pathway to use his considerable artistic talents. There have been others and each story is different.
Today, it’s Curtis and Amy from Wellington who are heading home.
I’ve dealt with the fact that I have many people I still cherish back in the USA by resolving to go home once a year for a month or two and to see all of them. And, for the last two years, I’ve done this and will continue to. I drive all up and down the west coast sleeping on couches and sharing stories of where we are now, in our lives. Those bonds, build of a lifetime’s love, are too important to me to let them wither with distance and inattention.
As a fact, I deeply love the US and its people. But, just as certainly, I detest the politics, the corporations and the politics with a passion. It is, in my mind, an empire in collapse from within riven by the greed of those who are looting her. But, like all such things in history, when you are in the middle of living it, it is very difficult to see clearly.
I’m here, probably, for good. I never say never because, as I’ve found so clearly in my own life, life can turn on a dime. But, for right now, that’s what I’m thinking.
Colette and I have made plans to go and see some of this amazing world while it’s still intact and while we can. And as I said, I can get by without working if I’m careful. Colette will be able to maintain well if she works on contract work for about six months of the year and then she’ll be free to play the other six. So, our plan is to spend three to four months a year each year in a different foreign city. Perhaps, two cities a year. This year, we’re spending four months here in Wellington while things wrap up for her with her government job (she’s been made redundant). Then, in June, we’re off for month in the US while I visit my peeps.
And then, for July, August and September, we’ll be in Paris living frugally in a small apartment. Shopping each day in the local markets, walking the city, seeing the many museums and just generally ‘being there’ as a way of seeing directly what it’s like to live there.
After that, we’re back to Christchurch. The next year? We’re not sure yet. Montreal, Canada, Vancouver, Canada, Florianopolis, Brazil have all been discussed. Maybe even Cuba? In 2014, I’ll have my NZ citizenship which I’ve been waiting patiently to acquire.
Life has been good here in NZ though I do have my gripes. Why does Steinlager cost $15 a six pack here and $6 in the US and Britain? There are many economic anomalies like that which makes me suspect that under all their good-natured Kiwi masks, their lie some skanky good-old-boy networks here cornering markets and suppressing the sorts of competition that keep prices low. No proof, of course – just suspicions. Book prices? Give me a break!
And then there’s John Key and the Nationals wanting to always put business interests to the top of the pile and to disassemble the social nets. Sell the asserts, trim the education programs and sign onto free trade agreements with economic sharks like the US – putting NZ freedoms and self-determination at risk. Don’t get me started.
But, the one thing to say about NZ is that it’s better here than in the US. Just today, I read that in the US in the next few days, a law is coming into effect that will make it illegal for folks to break the ties that make their cell phones dependent on one network. After that, if you have a phone (that you own outright) that is tied to the AT&T network, for example, you will not be able to liberate it without breaking the law. Isn’t that sweet – for the networks and the phone manufacturers?
I want to mention one other thing before I end this long piece.
Part of the reason I’m here is that I love NZ. Another part is that I detest the US’s politics and economics, as I said.
But there’s still a third reason and that has to do with the fact that I think the world’s getting unstable; environmentally and politically. There are a lot of meters creeping up into the red zone. But they are moving so slowly that it is easy to get used to the rising sounds of impending political and environmental doom and gloom and to just take them all for granted.
But I believe, at some point not too far (5 years .. 20 years?), the wheels are going to come off and there’s going to be a major global reset and many millions are going to die. Quite some time ago, when I first became aware of all this, I decided that very probably one of the best places one could find themselves and their families would be right here in NZ. The low population, the high food production, the physical isolation, and the strong infrastructure all tell me that if chaos begins, New Zealand may be able to hold the remnants of civilization together while the rest crumbles.
Something else to think about if you are thinking of where you might want to end up.
Thanks for reading my story.
2006 Seattle -> Christchurch