It’s almost 6 months since we moved country- admittedly not a huge cultural leap from Sydney to Auckland but nonetheless, a move which brought with it significant logistical and psychological challenges.
This is the second time in my life I’ve moved countries, the first was from the UK to Australia at the age of 12. While there are certain aspects that are easier to deal with now, as an adult, there are several things I wish I’d realised back then, which might have made the transition a bit easier. I will endeavour to remember them for next time, should there be one (back home or onwards elsewhere).
- Embrace the differences– it’s so easy to moan and groan about how much you miss x, y or z about home, about how things “just aren’t the same here” (anyway, if they were just the same, what would have been the point in coming?). We moved to NZ in winter, and while I was prepared for NZ winter weather being awful (which, as it happens, it wasn’t), I wasn’t prepared for the seeming absence of a spring. The wet, cold weather seemed to go on forever. As I drove home in an icy rain from Miss L’s swimming lesson one day in early November I lamented that it was only 12 degrees in the middle of the day! I’m used to high 20s and low 30s in November! While our friends in Sydney showed off about swimming in the ocean on circa 30-degree days, I just got sick of hearing “November rain” on the radio (yep, hilarious, every DJ seems to think they’re being clever playing that song when it rains in November). This last week or two, however, I’ve been really enjoying the weather. Yes, the rain has eased, which helps, but I actually much prefer 20 degrees to 40- you can’t DO anything in 40 degrees. The kids are hot, no one sleeps well, it’s just horrid. And the odd rainy day is easier to bear, because I’ve valued the nice ones so much more. One of the other things I’ve missed is breakfasting out- we haven’t really found any café that does a decent, reasonably priced breakfast. But we’ve found alternatives: breakfast at home (pancakes, scrambled eggs, home made bacon & egg rolls) and rediscovered the pleasure of lazing around in our pyjamas till 9am catching up with the in-laws on FaceTime, or driving out to the Farmers’ Markets at Clevedon, where they do awesome bacon and egg rolls and coffee, the kids can run around and we can stroll around and pick up some free-range eggs or farm-grown veggies and make a whole morning of it.
- Get involved– in September I joined a playgroup. I had always avoided them in Sydney, having had a couple of mediocre experiences which left me wondering why I’d bothered dragging the kids out to sit around with a load of strangers watching everyone fight over the communal toys. But here I have been lucky enough to find a lovely playgroup and have met some very nice, very normal Mums. A couple have become people I can catch up with at other times during the week, a couple more are just people I run into every now and then at the library or the supermarket, and it makes me feel so much more at home in our new neighbourhood to be able to say hello to people I know in the street! Maybe taking up a new sport or joining some other group might have helped me at school, too, instead of sitting around with my instant group of 4 arbitrary friends waiting for more people to come up and initiate contact.
- If something’s not working, move on (but give it a good go first)- Next year we are changing swimming schools. I’ve given our current one 6 months and have decided it’s not for us. I sometimes wonder if I’d been truer to myself at the age of 12 and not bothered with things I wasn’t really interested in (like some of those arbitrary friends, perhaps), or didn’t feel rewarded by (the violin, the agriculture club), I might have avoided a lot of the angst I felt then.
- Pursue your pre-existing interests but also look for new ones There are so many running events- long, short, on-road, off-road, local, far away, regular, one-offs etc around here. I’m really looking forward to getting into some of them after Baby L is born. We bought a stand up paddle-board shortly after arriving and (to my surprise) I’m actually not too bad at it. Somehow putting on a wetsuit and paddling out on the harbour when It’s 14 degrees doesn’t feel as crazy here as it would in Sydney! When I left England I had just discovered I wasn’t a bad runner and had started playing rounders with a team after school. When I moved to Australia, the spots on the athletic team were all taken and I didn’t know the rules of softball so decided there was no way I could play and clearly I’d never be considered a good runner at my new school if the places were full already, so they went by the wayside, to the detriment of my fitness, weight and probably general well-being.
- Put a positive spin on things– so my job isn’t my dream job and in retrospect I should have taken on more hours, if for no other reason than to help me settle in a bit quicker. But hey, that leaves me the luxury of being able to pick up extra shifts when I want to, for a higher hourly rate, and also gives me the flexibility to get some new experience doing other things. I’m enrolling to do an extra qualification while I’m here which will hopefully not only be useful and interesting, but make me more employable next time I apply for a job, as well as giving me something concrete I can say I’ve achieved whilst here.
- Make the most of it– we have made a big list of places we want to see and visit while we’re here, and we’ve been making an effort to go to as much as possible around Auckland too- from Christmas carols on the local village green to visiting waterfalls, volcanoes and bike tracks further afield. Not to mention the zoo and the various museums. We don’t want to turn around at the end of our time here and say “Well we always meant to see more of NZ but somehow never got around to it”. As a 12 year-old who’d migrated permanently without any say in the matter, it was harder to see our move from England as something finite to be “made the most of”, but when I look back at my high school days, what I really regret was finishing school and feeling like I’d missed out. On friendships, experiences, hobbies, all sorts, essentially due to the giant chip on my shoulder, which constantly whispered in my ear “It’s not fair, I hate it here, these people aren’t my friends, I wish I was at home”. With an attitude like that, it’s clear to me now that it’s no wonder I didn’t feel like I fitted in. Maybe if I’d been less concerned with fitting in for the sake of fitting in and more concerned with taking an interest in other people, places and activities because they might actually be fun and new, I’d have found my company was much more appealing to other people. No one (really) seeks out unhappy, bitter, grudge-bearers to spend time with. Someone who’s enthusiastic and willing to give things a try, whether it’s sport, music, language or anything, really, is always going to get more out of life.
- It’s not just you having to adjust– something I never really thought too hard about after we emigrated to Australia was that maybe my parents found it hard as well. My mother, being the way she is (and possibly because she was the one who drove the move to Australia) was very vocal and somewhat patronising about how wonderful Australia was and how fabulously we were all doing, while I personally thought nothing could be further from the truth. Whether that was cover-up or what she truly believed, I’m not sure. Rather than this false bravado, I don’t think it would have hurt for my parents to have asked how we were doing, or at least acknowledge that things might have been hard for us, and for us to do the same. I remember my sister telling me years later how she’d been picked on and at times pushed around in the playground because she had different shoes to the other kids and because of her accent. I was really ashamed to hear that, because I’d never for a moment considered she might have had trouble settling in too- she was only 8 and I so I thought she was too young to feel any kind of adjustment shock. She seemed to have a close group of friends so what was the problem? Teenage self-centeredness to some extent, but sometimes, even now, I find myself assuming it’s all so hard for ME changing jobs and leaving my friends, when in fact I also need to think about the kids (ok they are really tiny, so probably not analysing the differences too much!) but also Mr L, who has taken on a whole load of new challenges himself, not to mention gaining a (at times) homesick and complaining wife!
Of course, some of these things are lessons learned not through my specific experiences but just as part of the general process of growing up. At 12, belonging to a “group” at school is the most important thing in the world- having people to eat lunch with or walk from the train station with are make-or-break issues in the daily happiness of a teenager. I remember asking my Mum when I started at my second new school in 6 months and she started her second new job “Is starting a new job as bad as starting a new school?” I just couldn’t bear the thought that for the rest of my life I was going to have to deal with the overwhelming feelings of loneliness and fear that starting a new school brought, every time I started a new job (which both my parents did frequently so I assumed this was the norm). Fortunately, her answer was “no” and, even more happily, she was right. Partly I suppose, because adults are generally better adjusted and more considerate of social niceties than kids, and of course, a professional setting is very different to the largely social setting that is school.
But what I really like about being a grown-up trying to make new friends is that if I don’t like someone very much, or don’t have much in common with them, I don’t have to spend time with them. It’s ok to have friends who belong to more than one “group”. It’s ok to have friends who are different to all your other friends.
The other thing I know is that if we decide we were happier back in Sydney and that’s where we want to be, then that’s where we’ll go. But I need to be mindful of the last lesson in the list:
8. Everything changes– Just as you are changing and moving on, so are the people “back home”. When I was 16 , we went back to the UK for a visit and the hardest thing was realising there wasn’t a space reserved with my name on it, people had moved on, they weren’t sitting around waiting for me to reappear (I had flattered myself!) I need to remember that if and when we go back, my job will have changed, my friends will have changed, mothers group may no longer meet, Master L’s preschool may have closed down, neighbours will have moved out, our nanny may not be available any more. But that’s just part of life really, all the more reason to make the most of now.