Jennifer: Practically Perfect...
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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 Jenny and I’m an American who has been living in New Zealand since May 2010. I’m originally from Indiana but have also lived in a small Massachusetts town called Easton. My husband was offered a job at a New Zealand university, and we decided to take the plunge and experience life as expats.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I began blogging in 2006 as a means of keeping friends and family up to date on our lives. I simply kept blogging and sharing our experiences when we moved to New Zealand 2 years ago. Prior to moving (back in 2010), I’d discovered that (a) there weren’t many expat blogs written by Americans in New Zealand and that (b) the ones that were written by Americans either weren’t kept up to date or they didn’t respond to questions. I really wished that I could have found a blog where someone shared what life was like here and promised myself that when we moved, I would answer what questions I could and give advice when it was solicited. Blogging about our experiences is a means of keeping that promise.
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?
Our way of life is basically the same – we’re still happily married and doing what we loved to do, but there are quite a few differences between New Zealand and the United States. I have found that many people move here and are shocked by the high prices. We knew that things would be more expensive, but didn’t realize just how much more expensive it would be overall. We’ve gotten used to it and adjusted our budget accordingly, but many people struggle with this aspect of living in New Zealand, both expats and Kiwis.
Another difference is one that we chose to make: we don’t own a car. Most people in New Zealand do own a vehicle, but we decided to try going without one and to use public transit and our own two feet. We live in an area where this is possible and are still without a car 2 years later. On occasions where we do need a car, we simply hire one for the weekend or for the day.
Another big difference that stood out to me was the prenatal and pregnancy care in New Zealand. We had our first child in June 2011 and coming from the US, I wasn’t sure what to make of the New Zealand system and use of midwives. I’m happy to say that we had a wonderful experience and I loved our midwife. I’ve also been very impressed with how supportive the New Zealand system is for parents and children.
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 don’t think that anyone can ever be fully prepared when moving to a foreign country. We were well-prepared thanks to having done a lot of research online, reading expat forums, emailing with the few expats we knew who were already living in New Zealand, etc., but there were still some surprises. If I could do it over again, I would bring some warmer clothes for winter. I would buy an electric blanket on the first day of moving into our apartment (that would save us from having one VERY cold night!). Last but not least, I would figure out the metric system before moving here and learn how to cook according to weight rather than using cups and tablespoons.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Our funniest experiences have revolved around the Kiwi accent and Kiwi terminology. When my husband asked for a French press coffee maker in our hotel room and they said that they would send a “plunger”, we thought that they were sending up something to unclog the toilet! And I’ve been teased a few times about the look of confusion that sometimes crosses my face when trying to decipher what a co-worker has just said. That’s all part of the experience, though!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in New Zealand?
If you can, do a “try it before you buy it” trip to New Zealand. I’ve met some people who moved here, sight unseen, only to discover that this was not the country of their dreams. Some were able to move back fairly quickly but others had to wait for a year or more until they could save up the funds to buy a ticket back home.
I would also advise against coming here unless you’ve got a few thousand dollars of cash at your disposal. I believe that we were told to have anywhere from US$3,000 - US$5,000 readily available. My husband’s employer paid for our initial accommodation, moving expenses, the temporary use of a car, and airfare, but we arrived a few weeks before his and my first paychecks. Money goes quickly when you’re spending it on letting agency fees, tenancy bonds, first week’s rent, high-priced groceries, expensive petrol, etc. I’ve known expats across the financial spectrum, and every one of them – rich, poor, and in-between – has remarked on how expensive it is here.
How is the expat community in New Zealand? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I’ve found that having a blog brings the expat community to you, especially if you’ve listed your blog on an expat site. I have made some wonderful friends through blogging and hope to continue to do so. We don’t all agree on everything, but that’s part of what makes life interesting!
How would you summarize your expat life in New Zealand in a single, catchy sentence?
I’d have to say, “The life and times of a Midwestern girl who’s moving around the map!”