Should I Stay or Should I Go?

September 2, 2020

The honest opinion of an immigrant in New Zealand.

Let me welcome you to my life. I am a 40-year-old Irish woman who was born in Dublin, Ireland until I decided to leave in 2015. I remember having a dream when I was 17 where I was in a field of long grass when I get to a gate beside the edge of a cliff, on the other side of the gate just before the cliff edge was a kangaroo. My decision was to stay in the field of green grass or hop over the gate near the cliff edge to the kangaroo, I hopped over that gate in my dream and also in real life when I went on my first overseas long term trip to Australia in 2006 and have never looked back since.

People who I have met over the years who have not travelled or lived abroad long term think I must hate Ireland, but I am a very proud Irish cailín (Gaelic for girl). I love my accent and the way it can put people at ease once I open my mouth as they find it quite melodic and in some cases it brings back some great drinking memories (or lack of memories!) of the time they spent going around the pubs of Dublin or the story of when their ancestors left Ireland hundreds of years ago.

My reasons were just instinct that Ireland wasn’t suiting me at that stage of my life. I had a longing to leave and I had to fulfil it. I had used all of the visas across the world that I wanted to live in. First with Australia in 2006 for a year, 4 months to Toronto in 2008 and 1 year in New Zealand in 2010. All of these were on a Working Holiday Visa which meant that I could work in any type of job for 1 year and also travel within that time. Once I got the travel bug I was hooked.

The other reason why I left Ireland at that time was the recession that came after the Global Financial Crisis. All my working life all I had known was the blissful economy of the Celtic Tiger period. When I left for Canada in 2008 to join a friend of mine who had enjoyed a summer of continual sun and work in Toronto, I didn’t know what was about to hit me and the world. The usual travel jobs are either admin, hospitality work or working in the fruit picking industry. I had never had a problem getting temporary jobs before but as soon as I landed in Toronto in September 2008 I didn’t know the working world I had enjoyed was all about to change forever.

I could barely get a job that would last a week and with very little savings I ended up leaving after 4 freezing winter months to a frozen economy in Ireland that was to last for years to come. The word recession was to become part of the Irish vocabulary, a word no country wants to hear or be in. When Ireland decided to take the €67.5 billion bailout from the EU in order to keep the banks that put Ireland in the financial ruin in the first place was the time I mentally bailed out on Ireland. I could not stay in a country that put its banks ahead of its people so my plan to leave was put in place. I packed my bags again and headed to New Zealand/ Aotearoa aka Land of the Long White Cloud.

Image for post

Fish & chips ( aka chups in New Zeland)

When I arrived the first time to New Zealand it was for a 1-month tour in 2006 while I was living in Australia. It was the most fun but also the most action packed and expensive holiday I could have imagined. New Zealand has the perfect mix of beautiful volcanic black and pearly white sand beaches with snow covered majestic peaks in pockets throughout both islands when the short winters hit along with every adventure sport you can think of from zorbing to bunjee jumping. Strange that my first impression of Auckland was not great but I loved the similarities to Ireland that the rest of the country had.

When I came back to New Zealand in 2010 to use my Working Holiday Visa, I really wanted to stay permanently this time but with visa restrictions I didn’t have enough points, so I had to return to Ireland. This rejection put the fire in me though to tick off another item on my bucket list, get a degree in order to gain a skill that would give me more points on my visa to stay in New Zealand. Everyone else seemed to have a degree but whether they used it or not was a different story. I worked full time, did my HR degree part time at night and in 4 years I proudly had my honours degree. It was my key to opening the immigration gates as I am now a Permanent Resident of New Zealand.

Kiwi’s can be some of the nicest people you will meet but coming from an island that is cut off from the rest of the world can lead to a kind of friendly isolation that is hard to break into. They are very loyal to friends they have grown up or gone to college with and get married quite young in comparison to Irish people, so when I got here with no partner or kids, I still find it a struggle to make genuine friendships with Kiwis. They love to holiday in the same places with the same people each year and tell you to go to all these great places they go to each year, but not always invite you to join them. Breaking the Kiwi clique can be hard and most immigrants will only know Kiwis from working with them but miss out on the real Kiwi ways of living unless you are lucky enough to marry into the whanau (Maori for family).

I did promise myself though that I would not go out of my way to get to know Irish people when I went traveling as I don’t see the point in going half way across the world if all you are going to do is meet the same people you left in your home country and not try to integrate into the new culture. I believe it can lead to more home sickness, which I have never worried about in all my travels whether long or short.

I have been here over 5 years now and have only this year started to meet more Irish people in Auckland. I now live with 2 friendly Irish girls from Kerry and Galway who can understand every word that comes out of my mouth unlike a lot of Kiwis. People may love my accent but that doesn’t mean they can understand it, just gives me more reasons to talk though so I don’t mind.

The question to stay or return home has come up in my head more since my Dad died in Ireland in September 2018. Even though I missed out on being there at his deathbed and not seeing my nieces and nephews growing up I have to remember my reasons I came here in the first place, quality of life and lifestyle. Since COVID-19 the decision to stay in New Zealand was the right decision as it seems to be the safest place in the world at the minute.

But like all immigrants know there is always going to be the seesawing of emotions between where you have grown up in comparison to the place that has grown on you, and at this point in time the decision to stay and enjoy the health and happiness that New Zealand and it’s great lifestyle brings is more important than the nostalgia of my homeland for now.

Image for post

New Zealand sheep looking out onto the lovely turquoise Hauraki Gulf off the Auckland Coastline