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Becky: Beckoning Balance

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in New Zealand makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to New Zealand, etc.

My husband, youngest (eight year old) son and I moved to New Zealand in May of 2011. We came from the Midwest of the United States. My background is as a mother, a partner, a daughter, a sister and a psychotherapist and writer. My husband has lived all over the world and we had an eye on relocating to Cape Town, South Africa because he had lived there previously. We had visited and both loved Cape Town, but the stars chose their own alignment and we serendipitously fell into New Zealand, knowing nothing about it. We have a large blended family—five are young adults and they have all visited here and also love New Zealand. Our oldest and her partner are in the process of relocating to Australia now, which thrills us. In many ways we stay in better contact with our older kids than we did when we were in close proximity, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I just wanted to reach out and squeeze them. I’m listening to a recording of a great song my son is performing as I type this and it makes me love him and miss him all the more.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I’m a lover of the blog. I had previously blogged from more of a professional perspective after years working as a psychotherapist and writer, creating my blog four years ago. With the move, and lack of current career focus, my blog turned more to our new adventure and awe of the beauty of New Zealand, which in turn moved towards wanting to share, by blogging, so others could get a sense of what New Zealand might be like before they took the leap of “shifting” (as the Kiwis call moving).

I also find myself wanting to promote New Zealand’s beauty and her inhabitant’s creative souls in any way I can. My dream would be to do a series for a great NZ magazine, interviewing NZ free spirit citizens and highlighting lesser-known places of beauty.

As a child and through young adulthood I always had a diary and loved to write—the blog has taken that role in my life.

Most importantly, having left dear family and friends behind, I feel like the blog may be able to give them a glimpse into our lives in New Zealand. And not to be morbid, but maybe it will be a bit of a keepsake for my children.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

I do have a few favorite entries including from before I began blogging about the move, but my favorite New Zealand entry is bittersweet. It’s titled “love, loss and long distance” and it is written from my heart after going through my first real grief and more difficult emotional adjustment since moving to NZ. I was asked to write something for my cousin’s funeral that my three older brothers attended, and apparently the words I chose had brought comfort to a very difficult situation. It was ironic how I could be on the other side of the planet and my family could feel me with them through my words and appreciated it so; it was another example of the distance almost creating a more intense emotional connection with my family than we would have felt if we were all together. My grief was still very raw when I posted this entry, but I felt I needed to honor the loss of my cousin and touch on the grief and the emotions that can go with leaving a family. Realistically? I barely touched on the subject and with a little more distance and healing, I’ll be ready to revisit the concept of how leaving your family behind isn’t always lollipops and rainbows- even when there are rainbows at every turn.

Another favorite is Curve Balls –Part Deux . Again, it touches on a challenge, but illustrates the first time I really felt embraced by community in New Zealand . . . hmmm, or maybe, ever.

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?

New Zealand was a huge surprise: how much of a Pacific island it is—in size and culture; the tropical nature; the rich Maori history and culture; the freedom that can come to a society that has its basic health needs provided; vast amount of artists; conscientious consumers; outdoorsy, “lifestyle” folk; real interacting communities; the amazing beaches and terrain; the love of horses and animals; the relative snubbing of dogs (long live the Kiwi!); excellent performing arts; great food; best coffee in the world; and the list could go on. (Hire me already—New Zealand Tourism!) New Zealand is amazing.

I’ve come to believe that the folks that have the most trouble adapting to New Zealand are those that have not gone into the move 100% voluntarily and are therefore wrapped up in negative thinking about the experience before they get here. We have the power to attempt to make the best or worst of any situation we are in. Some immigrants would do well with vowing to only look for the positives. Negatives are inevitable anywhere we live, it’s the power we choose to give those negatives that will affect us, and those around us.

Our lives barely resemble our lives stateside. My son goes to school barefoot every day, he played rugby barefoot and ran cross-country barefoot. Folks go to stores barefoot and my son has eaten in restaurants barefoot. That said, there is such an amazing marriage between almost primitive living, in some ways, to extreme sophistication and cultural and artistic literacy. I liken the safety factor for my son as to what it might have been like in the US in a small town in the 1950’s. He can take off on his bike, fish, eel, play with friends and it’s all done in a way rarely seen any more in the US. And New Zealand ranks 7th in the world for education compared to the US’s ranking of 22nd. There is a dolphin bell to alert the students to come out and view, during sightings, and they take swimming in the estuary their school rests on. We are thrilled that we are able to give our son this childhood and educational experience; we only wish all of our children could have experienced it.

New Zealand has a very helpful Settlement Support organization that can assist folks in their transition. There is a settlement emotional curve that outlines the phases we go through with moving to another country and it is accurate. That will be another blog post in the future.

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?

No we were not fully prepared. We had visited for a week, during their best weather, when my husband was offered the position he came to interview for. We loved what we saw, but there is no way you can understand a new culture until you are immersed in it. I looked for other blogs so I could read of others’ experience, but they were few and far between. For us, the process we followed has been fine, but maybe we are just very lucky. One thing I know for sure is that we do choose to look at this as a positive adventure and enthusiastically learn about our new country. If we wanted things just like they were in the US, we should have stayed there.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

We laugh at ourselves, and transplant situations all the time, but the first thing that comes to mind is how I have to stifle laughter every time my turning-Kiwi-eight-year-old son asks for a “rubber.” Eraser that is . . . (giggling now)

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in New Zealand?

  • If you are not a nature-lover, rethink your decision.
  • Consult a NZ immigration consultant to help you negotiate the maze. I’ve reassured Kiwis who’ve lamented about all the “foreigners moving over here,” to rest assured that the immigrants are well-vetted. There are so many legal, financial, educational and medical checks, Kiwis can be sure that “undesirables” are well screened. The immigration process to NZ can be daunting and our consultant was worth every penny.
  • Come with an open mind, love of life and desire for new adventures in a new land and embrace the rich Maori history and cultural experiences offered, as well as other cultural, art and nature offerings and don’t hide out only in expat communities.

How is the expat community in New Zealand? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Whangarei has a wonderful organization for women called WINGS- Women’s International Newcomer’s Group Social. They offer all sorts of social opportunities. The local Settlement Support organization has a wide variety of helpful offerings on a regular basis. There is no reason to feel lost in our area. Having those organizations as a back up has been an emotional security blanket that I have not had to rely on greatly, but I have meet some great people. Personally, I really wanted to get involved with Kiwis and have no problem reaching out to local and indigenous folks and encourage others to learn from the people who have been in this country the longest. Also keep in mind you will meet other expats at every turn—like it or not.

How would you summarize your expat life in New Zealand in a single, catchy sentence?

New Zealand: where I found myself.

Serhat Ahmed

"With all of the information that InterNations provided on Wellington, it made my move from Turkey easier than I could have imagined."

Melanie Rasbery

"Since I knew about the active expat network in New Zealand, InterNations made moving to Wellington more exciting than it had seemed before."

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