When you emigrate, it’s like an adventure. At least it was for us. It’s daunting for sure, but the excitement of living in a new country, discovering a whole other part of the world – that’s a special opportunity that we knew we were blessed to have. Gareth had a great job offer and we were moving to New Zealand, where so many of our friends and family had visited, coming back with wonderful reviews of the scenery, the people, the food and way of life.
We’d had a hard time bringing our two babies into the world, but they had arrived safely and we had our family. I wanted to leave, because as a country girl at heart I felt claustrophic in a busy city and I wanted some space. Ironically in the months leading up to our departure we had even less space. Our house had sold quickly and so whilst we waited for the visas to go through we lodged with a family. Their house was huge and they very generously gave us three bedrooms so the children each had a room, but after five months with a new born baby and toddler, living in someone else’s home – I was struggling to breathe!
Finally the visas came and we were on our way. It felt like such a release.
We went through the 32 hours travel with two young children and somehow it didn’t seem so bad. In the first three weeks of being in New Zealand we lived in three different places. We moved from the end of the UK winter into the beginning of the NZ autumn. We’d never set foot in the country, so we had to begin everything from scratch; bank accounts, mobile phones, doctors, childcare, contact lenses, literally everything. Jackson was being weened and Minnie was midway through her terrible two’s. There were daily stresses but I remember it as a really fun time.
Meeting people in their own country is lovely. They open their homes to you, go out of their way to help you, they find you interesting even when you’re actually pretty average. Every day you discover new things, because everything is new. Or when you find something familiar, like The Graham Norton Show on their TV or a pack of Tunnock’s Teacakes in the international food section of your local supermarket, you realise you’re not totally out of place.
I was really conscious that in the first six to 12 months of our life in New Zealand I would constantly make comparisons of the differences between NZ and UK. Sometimes it was amazement at how much more pleasant it was to live in NZ, sometimes it was total shock at the things that hadn’t quite made it over there. I’m sure our new friends got sick of hearing about central heating and online shopping but I hope it was balanced out by genuine admiration for a country that was so joyful to live in.
At some point in the following years, I began to feel less like an immigrant and more like a resident. I think a major factor in you settling in a country or in fact any new place you move to, is how your children are in that place. If they are happy, if they feel at home, have friends, relate to the community around them, find things they love to do, experience life in a positive way, then you allow that place to become home to you.
In the five years that we lived in NZ, the children and I didn’t go back to the UK once, so the fact that life in the UK was a memory and NZ life had been constant for a number of years, meant that we all began to feel more at home there than anywhere else. In the last year I would often make the mistake of thinking someone was english when they were in fact kiwi. Reflecting on that now, I think it was because I no longer heard the kiwi accent, it sounded normal to me. I don’t think I picked it up (sadly for this languages student I don’t “do” accents), but being totally surrounded by it for so long, I just didn’t hear it anymore. I had become immersed.
What I have discovered in the last four weeks, is that repatriation is not as much fun as emigration. It’s early days and I am open to the fact that the first month in NZ might have been harder than I remember now. Both moves have equal amounts of frustrations related to stopping your life in one place and then starting it again two days later on the other side of the world. But coming back to your home country is not as exciting, you are returning from the adventurous unknown, to the familiar and expected. I don’t want to sound like it’s therefore negative, it’s not and there are so many positives to returning to your home country, which I will most likely dedicate a whole blog to at some point.
For me, it feels like emigration is about starting and repatriation is about ending. We started an adventure by emigrating to NZ, so by moving back to the UK, our adventure in NZ has ended (for now). And when something good ends, it’s sad. As I write, I worry that our UK friends and family will be offended by this, like I’m sad to come back to them. That’s not it at all, because I had desperate moments of homesickness when I was in NZ and it’s so good to make plans to meet up with friends we haven’t seen in years. I am sad right now for what we have left, our friends (including our dog) and our life in NZ, because it was a good life, it was my life.
I think by emigrating we created two homes. And it means that no matter which one I live in, there will always be a part of me that misses the other.