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Home sweet expat home: Builder's life in Vermont

MICKEL ZUIDHOEK
Last updated 14:30 01/04/2014
Vermont
BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters

OUTDOORS: The Vermont landscape is part of why living there is so enjoyable.

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Home sweet expat home

You don't know how lucky you are in NZ I felt like an alien in my US homeland I love NZ but Oz opportunities are endless Size is everything for New Zealand Berlin is home now but NZ still thrills Global reminders of NZ spark nostalgia Of all the places I've lived, NZ is the best A reminder New Zealand - we've got it good $380 for the doctor's? Welcome to America Should you stay or should you go?

If someone had told me eleven years ago....

So I am writing to you from the Northeastern US, more specifically Vermont (sandwiched in between upstate New York and New Hampshire). I moved here the end of June 2003 aged 38, but my story is not one of your typical Kiwi traveller extending his OE, or looking for riches outside of Godzone. 

Like most Kiwis I spent a portion of my youth living overseas. I spent three years living in the Netherlands from 1988-1991. I considered remaining there until I came home for a holiday and the pull to come back to New Zealand was too great for me to ignore. It was one of those momentous occasions of my life where I knew something to be so right I could not question it!

Fast forward to 2003 where I was choosing to leave my home in Wellington (most underrated city in New Zealand) to look for land in the Marlborough Sounds. It was time to fulfill my dream of building my own home and start a new career. I wanted to open my own private school. What better place for this than one of New Zealand's most beautiful locations? 

Around the same time I received a call from a friend in the area asking me to come and build them a house. I thought this was a perfect opportunity for a working holiday and a chance to do some local research. Everything was falling into place as I had planned, or so I thought.

I was staying at my friend's backpackers while building their home. One of the guests was an American woman who had taken her son out of school to home school him around the world. New Zealand was their last stop before heading back to Vermont. You can probably guess that a flaming romance ensued and all of a sudden my best laid plans were derailed.

Visa applications were filed, interviews with the American consulate in Auckland and I was on my way to the US, temporarily I thought. Well, at the end of my six months in Vermont I proposed marriage and my proposal was accepted. We bought a property with 30 acres of land, an off-grid home complete with garden and spectacular surroundings, perfect for my school. The following three years were some of the best and worst of my life... and in the end the marriage was aborted.

The year is 2007, my marriage was over and I had just returned from Valencia where I went to watch Team New Zealand unsuccessfully attempt to take the cup back home. Being back with my tribe again was just awesome. I didn't have to explain my humor, I didn't have people asking me 'What did you say?' whenever I spoke and more importantly we were all there to cheer New Zealand on. It was a common goal which we had a hell of a lot of fun with despite the outcome. 

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So back in Vermont I asked myself, what is there for me here? This was a question I struggled with but I realized that my old life in New Zealand was no longer the option I thought it was. All my close friends were beginning families and steering a course of their own, I had also experienced a life, while fraught with challenges, that offered opportunities I could not hope to achieve back in New Zealand. Some of that is purely statistical, the possible network connections in a first world country with 300 million people versus the connections in a country with four million people, there is no comparison.

The United States is a country with many issues both internally and externally, but my experience is that it is still a place where those who look for opportunity, and are willing to work hard and use their creativity, will find what they are looking for.

Living in rural Vermont has been a wonderful experience but after spending time working in Providence, Rhode Island, I came to the conclusion that I need to be closer to a more diverse and populated area. I want to stay in the North East as it has so many positive attributes, among these the four seasons which I think are the best in the country. It is still the engine of the US economy and the cultural melting pot is continually increasing. If you had told me eleven years ago that I would be living the life I am in the United States I would have said ' Mate, you need to get your head read!'

I currently have my house on the market and am still pursuing my dream of opening my own private school. I am a little closer. I teach at a very popular design and building school here in Vermont and have a business where I travel around the East coast teaching people to renovate their own homes. 

I will be travelling to Portland, Maine, in the summer where I hope to finalise preparations for the next phase of my life. I feel that wherever I settle I will need to have the area reflect portions of NZ.

Will I come back to live one day? Well, if there is one lesson I have learned in my life is that I will never say never, but for now my future is here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 


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