Emigrating can feel like the opening credits of Mr Bean.
This is how we felt arriving at Auckland Airport at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon back in February 2006. We sold or gave away everything we owned, loaded ourselves onto a plane with a one way ticket and waved goodbye to England. There was no Plan B. If we didn’t like it, tough.
The roller-coaster ride of your life
A roller-coaster ride? Yeah, sure. But not the plane journey. A year of applying, selling a house, 2 vehicles and lots of stuff, re-homing a gorgeous family dog. Yeah, it was also the year of goodbyes. I cried for most of the month before we left. I started on January 1st and kept going until the plane left the runway on 31st Jan 2006.
I cried at goodbyes I thought I’d be okay for. I didn’t cry at those I thought would break me. Some goodbyes were permanent and I’ve cried since, because I didn’t realise. One particular goodbye I couldn’t even do. The words wouldn’t come. I wrote a letter and posted it, knowing it would arrive after we left. I hope it dried out in the post box because it left my possession saturated. I spent a month discovering how deep my cowardice ran. It took 3 years to get over.
Find what you need – or learn to need what you find
Kiwis are lovely people. But they’re different to Brits. They’ll tell you anything just to be helpful. But it’s not always the right thing. I once spent an hour walking around a mega-store looking for a PE bag. Not hard. It’s a drawstring bag which kids can put their sports kit or shoes in. The staff pointed me here. They pointed me there. They pointed me every damn where. No PE bag. I just about blew a gasket describing the thing. They didn’t have any.
A week later I saw them at a different store. I’d tried PE bag, drawstring bag, shoe bag, sports bag. I’d described it with words, sign language, charades and finally tears.
Sundry bag. The bloody thing is a sundry bag. Who knew?
This is what you’re up against. If you shop and colour is any part of the decisions you make; you’re sunk. We once spent a week eating tinned peaches because the tins looked like a multi-pack of Heinz baked beans.
Roll with it. Emigrating is painful. It requires you to leave EVERYTHING. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You left. Make your mind up to try new things and not sweat the small stuff. So my kids hate tinned peaches. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve told them they don’t have to eat them with mashed potato anymore, but some scars are permanent.
A three year grieving process
You become a bit of a weirdo in those first, painful 3 years. Yes, grief takes 3 years to get over from start to finish. You might think you got away with it but something will tip you over. Some people do seem to sail through but nobody comes out unscathed. If they said they did; they’re lying.
Year 1 – Time goes by in a blur. You’re acclimatising and everything is strange and new. Your family has struggles at various points and you pretend it’s all amazing and wonderful when Skyping family back home. You let a lot of things go because it’s early days.
Year 2 – Patience is in short supply. You’ve decided everything is stupid, called stupid things by stupid people. It’s all stupid. You have moments of wishing you never got on the plane. Family members struggle. If you’re the parent you feel like they blame you. They do blame you. You can’t do anything about it. You admit to yourself that last Christmas sucked but don’t tell anyone else. They think it too.
Year 3 – It feels endless. You look forward to the end because you think it’s on a timer and the 3rd anniversary of your arrival is a miracle date. One of your family suffers health problems and you yearn for the NHS. All. The. Bloody. Time. And especially whilst reaching for your wallet to pay for appointments and prescriptions. All the newness got old. You’re in paradise but you still need to clean the loo and feed the kids. You feel embattled, but you’ve enjoyed some changes in circumstance and things are looking up. It will be okay. You’re learning to make your own traditions and accept that this is home.
It’s different for everyone. On our 4th anniversary of arrival, my husband bought me a kitten. It sounds like a silly thing when we had 4 kids for me to nurture but the kitten actually loved me. It gave me a goal. I taught her things the kids never grasped properly, like house training and coming when I called her. Instead of trawling the malls between work and school pick up time because my empty house mirrored my state of mind, I rushed home to cuddle the kitten. On my days off she sat on my knee. I didn’t need to insert myself into painful social situations just for the company. I had her. And she had me. We’re still mates 7 years on.
Expectation is your enemy
I’m not kidding.
I thought we travelled towards paradise. It would be amazing. When people pointed out the pitfalls, we laughed them off. That wouldn’t be us. I expected a lovely home like the one I left. I expected great jobs like the ones we gave up. I expected fun and laughter and a permanent state of bliss.
I was my own worst enemy and expectation came a close second.
What I really wanted was everything I had, but better.
I wanted lots of things.
For some people it’s like that. They leave the mother ship for better jobs, great prospects and amazing lives.
But that wasn’t our story. We left those things. Idiots.
11 years later and we have a better house, better stuff, better lives and amazing relationships. We’ve all wound up doing things we didn’t expect but are happy doing.
It was probably okay after about six, if I’m honest.
But we can have hard times anywhere.
There were always snakes in paradise.
Different is good.
We’re taught that different is bad, isolating and dangerous. We’re wired to be the same even if we switch location or company. We’ll actively try to force everyone into our idea of normal, even half way around the world in a totally different group of people.
Our favourite phrase is, “I always do it this way.”
Emigrating is hard enough, without trying to keep everything the same when you get there.
It’s okay to become a different version of you.
Accept the different things around you.
An old Chinese proverb says:
“Man who kick wall, hurt foot.”
Na, that’s not true actually. I made it up. But a very wise Chinese person might’ve said that once, if they thought about it, which they didn’t. Probably.
But emigrating successfully is a state of mind.
It’s about accepting where you’re at, digging in with the people you came with and seeing it through to the end.
If you kick against the wall, you will eventually hurt your foot. That’s not a proverb; it’s obvious.
Hopefully I haven’t put you off. Because if you’re emigrating, then wow. You’ve done enough of the hard work to know it’s not easy, but just remember there’s more to come.
Do what it takes.
Stick together. This one’s important. I know so many people who’ve gone home only to discover they still hate all the reasons they left in the first place. I also know many who’ve turned in on their only allies and sought to relieve the pain by tearing down their own homegrown army. Stay with the people you came with. It’s not their fault things didn’t go to plan. It’s not yours either. Sit it out and everything will be okay.
K T Bowes is an Englishwoman living and writing in New Zealand. She’s a dual citizen of both countries.
She’s the author of 21 novels, some of which are best sellers. To look at those go HERE.
She works as an archivist for a private collector.
Her children are now adults and have graduated from hand luggage to hold items.
They aren’t too mentally scarred by the experience of emigrating.
But they could tell you some stories…