Last week, I started profiling my former university room-mates, who co-incidentally have all ended up as expats. Continuing the interview series, we head to New Zealand to talk to Tez.
Tez was one of the very first people I met at King’s during Frosh Week. She saw me quietly hiding out in the shadows and introduced herself with the huge smile that everyone who knows her recognises. Her laugh was infectous and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by a warm circle of friends.
Tez is now a teacher in Auckland, New Zealand and married to a Kiwi. She is relatively new on the blogging scene but her blog Perspective is as open and heartfelt as she is in real life. In her interview, she talks candidly about her setbacks and achievements as an expat, with her ever positive attitude.
Tell us a bit about how you came to be an expat.
I’ve always wanted to travel and on some level, I always knew I wanted to teach. Teaching is the perfect profession for opportunities to travel. Montessori teachers are in demand all over the world, so I thought that it would be as easy as pie to find a job somewhere else in the world. My curiosity about the world and desire to travel is also one of the reasons I wanted to go to university in Halifax – I wanted to know more about Canada and know a bit more about myself, not being in my “home” environment.
There were a number of catalysts that lead me to leave Toronto.
First, I was ready for a change at work. There were a few frustrating moments (as with any job), but they helped spur me into action.
Second, my great-aunt passed away during that school year. I only realised retrospectively that this was one of the things that pushed me to leave. I was visiting home and I found one of my many journals and I flipped through it. I can’t remember exactly what that particular entry said, but it referred to my grandparents’ generation and the life changing moves and risks they took for their children and in their lives. I (apparently) felt very complacent and cushioned and had resolved to change that. I didn’t want to be 90 and in the same place I had always been. Some people prefer that and it works for them, but I felt like I wanted something different and more for myself.
Also, that happened to be the year that it started snowing heavily in November and didn’t stop until April. That’s six months of winter and snow. I was utterly fed up come March.
So during March Break, I applied to a number of Montessori schools around the world. I sent my CV off to warm places like: Hawaii, Grand Cayman Islands, St Maarten and then a few interesting places – Tokyo, Prague and London.
I saw the job postings for two schools in New Zealand. *I* thought New Zealand, being so close to Australia was going to be warm year round (and to be fair, a cold winter’s day in Auckland is around 9°C, not -20°C.) My cousins here the previous year so I asked them what they thought about it and they raved about it. I still wasn’t sure about NZ so I sat on the decision all week. I saw the posting for both schools on the Monday of March Break and on the Friday I figured “Why the hell not?” and sent in my CV.
I was offered both jobs and picked the one in Auckland (warmer up here and they offered first.) It was all done and dusted in five days… and I moved three and a half months later.
What challenges did you face when you first moved to New Zealand and how did you resolve them?
You know, I’d love to say that it was REALLY difficult and I had SO much adversity, but I really didn’t so much. I was intensely lonely for the first few months. I have an amazing group of friends at home and I am so close with my family, I felt like there was a bit empty pit in my heart when I got here. I’m very social generally and sitting at home, every night (for the first few months) watching my three television channels was enough to send me over the edge. I cleaned. A LOT. My first flat was spotless… I should try to recapture a bit of that!
I know people don’t perceive me as shy and I don’t come across as shy, but I am. I found it hard to talk to the other staff (but it was all me, not them – I was just REALLY nervous.) Then I got to know a couple of people on staff, went out on the town with them, and just gradually got to know them. They turned out to be fairly awesome. Some of my co-workers are among my closest, life-long friends now.
Around the same time, I got a car and a map book (thanks to a generous loan from my dad and brother) and it just seemed to help. I could go explore, go to mosque (where I met so many amazing, kind and loving people – which has really helped, to have that safety net behind me) and have that same measure of independence as I always had at home. It also gave me a bit more confidence.
A BIG thing in resolving my loneliness had nothing to do with me. I got booted out of my first flat because the house had been sold and the new owners wanted to live in the whole house. I ended up finding a lovely, tiny little flat in the downstairs of a townhouse. The people upstairs and my other neighbours ended up being the best group of people I could ask for. I don’t know that I would have stayed if it wasn’t for them. They looked after me, and we all watched out for each other. I love them like my own family. I don’t live near them anymore and I’m incredibly slack and keeping in touch (just like real family.) But I do think about them daily and count my blessings often.
Aside from that, I managed to get myself into some financial strife. Phill helped sort me out with a budget, I stopped spending frivolously and I also was getting paid more so I developed some financial common sense. I got a loan from a friend and a bank and sorted it out within a year. That took a lot of pride swallowing to admit that I’d screwed up and it was a lot worse than what I wanted to think it was. I was very pleased with myself when I managed to pay both loans off in a year. I have continued the pattern of saving, so whatever was going into loan payments, now go into our “house fund.” I pat myself on the back quite often about that.
The biggest challenge, aside from being lonely from time to time (which I still feel sometimes) is being so far away from my family and some friends; especially when things are difficult. It’s gut-wrenching and it kills me every time I have to leave; can’t really resolve that – if I went home, I’d miss some of my friends from here just as intensely.
Did you experience ‘culture shock’ in New Zealand? How different is it from Canada?
Not so much actually. A few of the sayings were a bit funny to me at first and required explaining, but that’s mostly it (I still ask Phill occasionally what some things mean.) I found the accent really hard to understand at first, but now I don’t even hear it. Canadians and Kiwis are meant to be very similar in temperament and so on, so it wasn’t too hard in that sense. It’s a lot more laid back here than in Toronto, but I like that (more along the speed of Vancouver.) Their love for rugby equals our love for hockey. People are very friendly and always willing to help, but the same can be said about Canadians. A great movie to watch is Footrot Flats which gives great insight into rural New Zealand life. Phill bought it for me – he sometimes still needs to translate if I’m a bit tired.
How do you define ‘home’ and where is that for you?
I can’t define home. When I leave New Zealand to visit Toronto, I say “I’m going home!” Then when I leave Toronto to come back to New Zealand, I say “I’m going home!” What I said most recently was “I’m leaving home to go home.” I know it sounds a bit trite, but it really is where the heart is. Wherever Phill and I are and will build our lives at that stage is where home is. At heart, I love Toronto and I’m intensely proud to be Canadian though.
What have you learned from being an expat?
Don’t be frivolous with money!
Seriously – I’ve learned to enjoy my own company. That silence is okay. Sometimes, it isn’t a bad thing to be home on a Saturday night. Most of all, I learned that I can actually depend on myself. I don’t know if I am, but I feel like I’m a lot more independent – that I can handle most things on my own. It’s a huge bonus now that I’ve got Phill and I don’t have to handle everything on my own, but I know I can if I must.
Have you done anything since moving to NZ that you never would have expected?
Not really. I think moving so far away was a bit unexpected for me… and staying. Like I said, that independence and that self confidence was a happy discovery. One of my favourite memories is the winter weekend I jumped in my car, early Saturday morning and drove north. Just drove for a few hours, stopped in a small city, had breakfast, wandered around and carried on. Once I got to the spot on the map that I decided to stay at, I flipped open my guidebook and picked a backpackers. I went ocean kayaking (something I always wanted to do); went north and slid down massive sand dunes on a boogie board; hugged a massive, towering tree and just enjoyed being myself and meeting different people. It’s not crazy or huge, but it was a big thing for me to go on my own. It was also a LOT of fun.
Professionally, I’ve had more opportunities to become well known in the Montessori community within New Zealand. There aren’t so many of us here, and it’s great that people know me. I’ve run a workshop for other teachers and got to share my expertise, which I really enjoyed. I’ve been asked to do others, but timing hasn’t worked out – I am hoping to do more. I don’t know that I would have had the same opportunities in Canada. Maybe, but who knows?
I did not expect to meet the man I was going to marry. I met him the night I was seriously discussing where I was going to travel to next. Travelling is not out of the question, but it will be the two of us.
What do you love and hate about New Zealand?
It’s so freaking far! Love it and hate it. The cost of living is a lot higher for some things and there’s not as much selection here. The country is three islands in the middle of the South Pacific. Things cost a lot to get here! That’s really what gets me the most.
The distance from the rest of the world is a bit of a safety net though. New Zealand (like Canada) is a fairly benign place – who’s going to attack here? The global financial crisis didn’t affect us as much as a lot of the world since the economy was a bit stronger and tied so closely to Australia and increasingly to China.
It’s stunning. There are parts of the country that have literally taken my breath away. People are friendly – I like the laid back lifestyle and “She’ll be right” attitude of Kiwis. Sometimes it does drive me nuts, but for the most part I love it. The lifestyle is just lovely… as are the beaches!
I also love how innovative New Zealanders are. For a small country, they come up with a really high proportion of cool things. In the field of education, so much good research comes out of New Zealand and they are very progressive in their views. I love that Montessori is accepted in mainstream schooling and it’s more accessible than in some parts of North America.
What do you miss from Canada?
Family. Friends. Shopping. Poutine. I miss the buzz that Toronto has… when there are a million things to do on a warm summer evening. I’m longing to see the bright and vibrant colours of the leaves in rural Ontario changing in the autumn. The very first snowfall, when it’s not too cold yet, and the snowflakes come down in big, fluffy clumps and make the most drab street in the suburbs turn into a winter wonderland. I miss ice hockey. I miss the geographical diversity of Canada from the East to West Coasts. I miss the world class concerts and stage shows of Toronto. I miss accessible and somewhat affordable travel overseas, or a drive through to the US.
I miss my family and friends so much it hurts sometimes. I hate that I’m not there for the “big” things, both good and bad. To be brutally honest, I miss my nephew the most. He’s a really cool kid and his smile could light up a room. He’s just such a sweet, gentle, loving, fun kid and he’s so freakin’ cute!
You are now married to a New Zealander. How do you share your cultures with each other?
Just like it’s hard to define Canadian culture, it’s hard to define Kiwi culture.
Phill takes an active interest in Canadian culture – he really enjoys ice hockey, which is a huge bonus! I’ve made him try poutine and he claims I say “aboot” and “eh” a lot. I subject him to Canadian music in the car and I want to show him all of Canada. I’m aching to take him East so he can see where else I’ve lived. I’ve taken him home so he can experience a proper Christmas, with snow and a roast turkey.
I’ve started watching rugby. New Zealand is a very sporty nation, so I’ve started watching more sports with Phill and supporting more Kiwi teams (although if they are playing Canada, it’s a foregone conclusion that I will proudly sport red and white.) It’s a lot more agricultural here than Toronto so there are things about farming and agriculture that are considered general knowledge, which I’m still learning. He’s adamant that Christmas is meant to be spent playing cricket and having a barbeque – which I’m still trying to reconcile with what I know to be true.
Otherwise, like I said, it’s hard to define because there are so many similarities. Maybe LeeAnn can come up with a better answer!
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Ummm… pass? Wherever Phill is? Probably New Zealand or Canada… we’re both open to the idea of moving, but I have said that when our (fictitious) children start school, I want them to be in New Zealand. Ideally, we’ll be able to afford to send them to a Montessori school, which are around the world, but if not, I like the New Zealand education system. It’s what I want for my (fictitious) children. Right now, New Zealand reminds me of what Toronto was when I was growing up and I want that for my kids. It’s a good place to be. Phill tells me of his childhood in a small beach town and it sounds pretty idyllic – I want that.
Many thanks to Tez for all of her fantastic answers! Stop by next week, when we meet room-mate number 3, Marilla!
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