InterNations Featured Blog
Diane: American in Exile
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to New Zealand, etc.
My name is Diane Morgan and I’m originally from Bergen County, New Jersey, USA. I’ve been living outside of America for nearly 10 years now but have been in New Zealand for the past four and a half of those. I currently work for the NZ government as a business improvement advisor however before coming to NZ I used to sail on boats all over the world.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My husband and I began blogging about our adventures together when we left the UK in 2007. Our blog (Adventures of DNA) was written to keep our family and friends up to date with our travels. In 2009, I began writing my own blog because I love living abroad and I think cultural differences are fascinating. I wanted to share my thoughts on the expat experience with others.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
A few favorite posts spring to mind including:
- A trip to Kaikoura last year
- A trip to Queenstown last year
- My attempts to make pavlova, a famous NZ summertime dessert
Tell us about the ways your new life in New Zealand differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I haven’t lived in the US regularly since I was 21 so by now it’s hard to say how NZ differs from my life in America! But I can’t say I experienced culture shock in New Zealand whatsoever. The Kiwis are very laid back and friendly and there are so many expats and students here so it’s a very easy place to set up a new life. The hardest thing to get used to is the quality of housing, which is generally lower than that in other Westernized countries, by which I mean that Kiwi houses are very poorly insulated. It's hard to imagine what this actually means until you spend a winter here, but there’s nothing like being holed up in an un-insulated Wellington house when a southerly is blowing in straight from Antarctica.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in New Zealand? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I’m not sure anything can fully prepare you for life in another country but in hindsight, I feel like the transition to New Zealand was relatively easy. Perhaps this is because my husband (then boyfriend) and I were committed to making our new lives here work and had researched the various aspects of it as thoroughly as we could. We knew what we had to do for immigration, so we found the visa process quite straightforward. We also set up bank accounts before we arrived so we had access to funds in this currency which made setting ourselves up much easier.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
One time we were driving back home to Wellington from a trip out to the Wairarapa over the Rimutaka Hill. This is a very windy, narrow road along the edge of a pretty steep valley, so if you get stuck behind a slow car, you can imagine how frustrating it can be. Coming from the land of five-lane highways, I don’t particularly like to drive this stretch of road but my husband was tired so I was at the wheel and sadly, I must admit I turn into that slug that everyone wants to overtake. Within about one mile of starting the incline, there was already a trail of ten cars behind me, so at the first possible opportunity, I pulled over to let them pass. As the first car shot by, he honked the horn twice. I thought, “The nerve! Why is he honking at me? I’m letting you pass!!” The following few cars also honked (or “tooted” as they call it here) and I got even madder. The New Jersey driver in me took control and I rolled down the window and gave them the finger. My Welsh husband laughed his head off. “Babe, they’re saying thank you!!”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in New Zealand?
- Save up as much as you can before you move to give yourself a buffer for the transition. It makes things a lot less stressful if you have some extra funds stashed away so you can concentrate on getting the job you want, or ensuring your kids are doing well through the move.
- If you’re not sure how long you’re staying, do not ship a lot of stuff down here. It’s expensive and can be a hassle. It’s very easy to find affordable, good quality second-hand items on www.trademe.co.nz .
- The quality of housing in NZ is generally lower than that in other Westernized countries. If you are renting, look for a modern house that has insulation in the floor and ceiling at a minimum. Double-glazing will also keep you much warmer in winter. Otherwise expect very big heating bills in winter!
How is the expat community in New Zealand? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Wellington is full of expats. Some of our closest friends here are Canadians, Dutch, and English. At work, we’ve also got a good mixture of Asians, Indians, and Europeans (and Kiwis of course!). Wellington is definitely a melting pot so I haven’t had any trouble finding like-minded people, not to mention the Kiwis are just as friendly as the Americans so it’s not hard to make new friends and get involved in the community.
How would you summarize your expat life in New Zealand in a single, catchy sentence?
An American girl meets a Welsh guy and they move to the most beautiful country in the world to live happily ever after.