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Expat Life in New Zealand: An Interview with LeeAnn

By alison - July 5, 2010 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

LeeAnn and Megan during the Uni days.

LeeAnn and Megan during the Uni days.

Today we meet the final subject of my university roommate expat interview series.  We head back to New Zealand, Wellington this time, to chat with LeeAnn who has been an expat on two continents.

LeeAnn was the English major of our group and she and I had several classes together when I wasn’t studying journalism with Megan. She always had the best reading material and I am thrilled that she just started a new blog, all about books! We spent many afternoons browsing the second-hand bookshops of Halifax together.

LeeAnn grew up on the outskirts of Halifax and actually attended high school with Andrew. She’s moved from one rocky coast to another on the other side of the world.

Tell us a bit about how you came to be an expat.

Well, to start at the very beginning: I have wanted to go off on adventures and see the world since I was a very young girl. I told my mother that I was going to go to Bangkok, Thailand when I was six. She laughed and told me I’d have to wait awhile. I did get there in the end, just 25-ish years later.

I did try to see all of Canada before heading off to experience other countries. But Canada is just so big! I’m from a small seaside village 40 minutes outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the end I only got as far west as the Rockies and I haven’t been to Newfoundland or the Northern Territories at all. Someday!

When the opportunity came up to join my fabulous friend Marilla in England, I just couldn’t resist!

I had loads of adventures and met some great people while living in England. But after almost two years, I decided that it was time for me to go home, settle in one spot and get a ‘real job’. Only that’s not what life had planned for me.

LeeAnn getting excited by Maple leaves in her soup in Japan.

LeeAnn getting excited by Maple leaves in her soup in Japan.

You’ve been an expat twice now. Was it easier or harder the second time?

It was unexpected the second time! And I suppose that made it easy.

I stayed with my family in Canada for almost two months after returning from England. During that time I decided to visit my lovely friend Tez for a road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. I got a working holiday visa so that I could travel and work sporadically in New Zealand for another month or two before flying home to Canada.

During our road trip, Tez and I only spent one night in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, before boarding the ferry to the South Island first thing the next morning. In that short time I fell in love with Wellington. It’s a lovely little city on the sea, encircled by forest, with friendly people and a lively, creative hum.

When we took the ferry back across to Wellington near the end of our trip, the sun was shining and I remember telling Tez that I had the strange feeling that I was going home. So I decided to spend my time in Wellington before heading back to Canada.

Arriving back in Wellington was a great adventure! I didn’t know anyone, so I had heaps of time to wander and explore. I met strange and wonderful people. I spent a lot of time in museums and galleries, soaking in New Zealand culture.

In a nutshell: I took the first job I was offered, met an amazing Kiwi boy at the office and over four years later we have a home together here in Wellington.

What challenges did you face when you first moved to England and New Zealand and how did you resolve them?

I suppose thinking back it’s the red tape and paperwork that’s creates challenges when you move somewhere new. In England getting a bank account wasn’t simple. I needed a job for the bank to give me an account and I needed a bank account before my employer would issue me with a job contract. In the end I had to talk my prospective employer into giving me a letter for the bank, so that I could get a bank account and then my job contract.

In New Zealand the most challenging thing has been renewing visas and getting my residency sorted, but that wasn’t too harrowing. It just seemed that there was always another form or fee or doctor’s visit or document from Canada you had to send off for, just when you thought you were done! I’m sure expats all over the world can relate to that!

In England, sometimes just being a ‘foreigner’ (as they say in the UK) can create challenges for you. Trying to find a job, for example. I had a Degree in English Literature and a new Publishing qualification, but there weren’t any entry level publishing jobs going. I must have applied everywhere in London, sometimes twice.

I got used to rejection by letter and phone. But, you have to be philosophical about these things! In the end I found a good job at the local council, where I met some great people and gained countless interesting insights into British culture. It was a memorable experience.

Did you experience ‘culture shock’ in either country? How are they different from Canada?

LeeAnn and Warwick in Rotorua NZ - on the chair lift to the luge

LeeAnn and Warwick in Rotorua NZ – on the chair lift to the luge

Seeing as Canada is a Commonwealth country, I thought I wouldn’t have too much culture shock in England, but it’s so different from Canada in some essential ways!

It wasn’t just the accents and the slang (which are both endlessly interesting)! It was the history and the worldview. Canada is so new; it was bizarre living somewhere where there were roads built by the Romans and buildings that were so old! There was such an amazing feeling of place and history. I loved that.

At the same time, in some ways, history creates baggage. I observed that the English have a (mostly) friendly rivalry with their neighbours: the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and French. And despite cities, like London, being full of people from all over the world, I heard some English people express very stereotypical views about other cultures, which caught me a by surprise.

New Zealand is much like Canada, geographically and in temperament: we’re both countries with a big, dominant neighbour and we have much of the same geography (NZ just has is conveniently compressed into a much smaller area).

We both have an innovative, can-do, ‘pioneering’ spirit. We’re both quietly patriotic, modest and friendly. We both value the natural world. We’re both obsessed by our respective national sports.

I would have to say that it’s an easy shift for a Canadian to settle in New Zealand and vice versa.

How do you define ‘home’ and where is that for you?

I call Canada home-home. It’s my homeland, and I’m proud to be a Canadian.

I feel you get a more thorough appreciation of your identity and values as a Canadian when you go overseas. Plus, Canada is where all of my family is. It will always be home to me.

But New Zealand is home too. I feel a sense of belonging here, in many ways. My Kiwi guy, Warwick, is my family. And I have an amazing circle of friends who I can count on like family.

The idea of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ is complicated. It’s also emotional. When it comes down to it, I suppose, anywhere can grow to become home, but there will only ever be one homeland.

What have you learned from being an expat?

So much! I find it endlessly interesting to learn how things work differently in different places. And to gain insights into how people see the world differently. That’s why I love travel in general.

Anytime you go somewhere new you get to be an outsider: you can to observe and ask questions. I think it’s great to have that opportunity to see the world in new ways, and to better understand others.

You also learn more about yourself, and your country, through better understanding others.

It will sound super corny, but you learn again and again that although we may see things in different ways, when it comes down to it we’re all human beings who come from the same place (our parents) and just want to be ourselves, belong somewhere and be happy.

You learn that it’s the people that around you that make a place home. And you learn that you’ll never stop missing the place that you came from and the people who are important to you there. And so, out of necessity, you learn creative new ways to manage homesickness.

Have you done anything since moving to NZ that you never would have expected?

I would say that settling in New Zealand was very unexpected. Other than that I can’t think of anything specific that I have done in NZ that falls into the unexpected category.

What do you love and hate about New Zealand?

LeeAnn and Warwick posing on the desert plateau in New Zealand

LeeAnn and Warwick posing on the desert plateau in New Zealand

I find living in the southern hemisphere strange. I don’t ever think I’ll get used to Christmas in the summer.

I suppose the most challenging thing about living in New Zealand is the distance from other places. But that’s also part of its charm. It’s isolated and independent.

I love the compactness of New Zealand – you can go from sea to mountain to farmland to a soak in a thermal pool in no time flat!

I love the people here. So many people made me feel welcome when I first moved to Wellington. It was really amazing.

I love learning Maori words. It’s a beautiful language and a rich culture.

And I love hearing Warwick try and do my Canadian accent – he sounds like Kermit the Frog! Somehow, that’s always entertaining.

What do you miss?

About Canada? I miss everything!

Most of all, I miss my family: spending time with my parents, laughing over nothing with my brother and sister, getting to see my charming wee cousins grow up. I miss going around to my grandparents’ for a cup of tea and natter. That’s the hardest thing about living on the absolute other side of the earth – you are so far away and it’s expensive to get home. You develop strategies to deal with how inexpressibly hard it is to be far from your family.

I also miss being surrounded by Canadian things: I miss turning on the radio and hearing the CBC (though I stream a few shows it’s not the same). I miss hearing my own accent all around me (although whether I still have my Canadian accent is a topic of debate). I miss loonies and snow and being able to say ‘toque’ without seeing a confused face looking back at me. I miss being able to read French on all of the road signs and cereal packets. I miss how familiar and comfortable things are at home.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I have found a perfect match here in New Zealand, so home is here with him and our crazy cat Yoshi.

We’ve decided if we ever win the lotto that we’d live half the year in my hometown in Canada and half the year here in New Zealand. And sprinkle some travel in between, of course. It would be endless summer! I guess we should start buying lotto tickets!

So how lucky was I to be friends and room-mates with all of these amazing women? But this isn’t quite the end of the series yet. Next week, the tables are turned and the room-mates get to interview me. What do you think they should ask me?

Looking for more resources for expats living abroad? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
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10 comments

  1. Comment by tez

    tez July 5, 2010 at 10:26

    Love it. 🙂
    I agree with LeeAnn – Christmas in the summertime is just odd.
    Can’t wait to read yours, Al!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison July 5, 2010 at 10:31

      Yeah, I’m not sure I could get used to that either… although I like having Christmas without snow 🙂 (At least, usually we don’t have snow).

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Expat Life in New Zealand: An Interview with LeeAnn | CheeseWeb: Travel, Photography and Expat Life in Belgium Blog -- Topsy.com

  3. Comment by Megan

    Megan July 5, 2010 at 21:53

    I just HAD to get to a coffee shop to read this (there is no Internet at the family camp). Great job, guys. And now I have another blog to add to my reader!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison July 6, 2010 at 08:33

      That’s hilarious. I thought I was an internet addict 🙂 Time to start the 12 step program!

  4. Comment by Charlie's Tribe

    Charlie's Tribe July 6, 2010 at 18:05

    Tell us when the 12-step program starts, we’re also without internet at home so we keep having sneaky peeks at our favourite websites at work (shh if anyone asks, we’re doing work-related research). Great interview, by the way, we’re really enjoying meeting people with such interesting lives. I love it how connections can be made over such distances on the internet.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison July 6, 2010 at 18:12

      The only problem with the 12 step is I don’t think I actually want to give up the internet… I’m glad you’re enjoying the interviews! Maybe it should be one of you guys next… Charlie?

  5. Comment by Lee

    Lee July 8, 2010 at 10:12

    Thanks to you and your friends for these interview posts – very interesting to hear about all the different places and experiences, including the American expat in Canada experience (having been one of those myself for several years before we came to Italy). Looking forward to reading their interview with you. 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison July 8, 2010 at 11:02

      Thanks Lee! Glad to hear you’re enjoying them. I’m working on my answers for Monday 🙂

  6. Pingback: Expat Life in Belgium: An Interview with Alison | CheeseWeb: Travel, Photography and Expat Life in Belgium Blog

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