'Attitude' makes difference for immigrants

Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

KIWIS NOW: Judi Jones moved from South Africa to New Zealand with her family.

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In 2005 when my sister-in-law left South Africa to settle in the UK, I was angry and upset. I thought she was a traitor.

Two years later, there I was, submitting an expression of interest to Immigration New Zealand.

What happened to change my outlook and turn me into such a hypocrite?

I had become a mum and saw through new eyes a country that I felt offered no safe future or decent education for my little girl.

I saw too many articles about savage violent attacks on new families just like mine.

In the space of a few months, in my close circle, we had a number of violent circumstances which pushed me over the edge to deciding to immigrate: Strikes at a local school, where the kids were all locked in the school hall to try to protect them; a shooting at a local restaurant which I drove past regularly; a friend held up at knife point while riding his bike; another friend held up in a supermarket, with his wedding ring and wallet stolen; a very close friend attacked, raped and stabbed in her home. 

These events set in motion the best adventure of our lives so far. We submitted our paperwork, then came over for a look-see and stayed with family in Auckland and Christchurch, as well as having a quick jaunt to Wellington.

We knew we'd made the right choice, so headed back to South Africa and packed up our old lives.

Our decision was surrounded in prayer and lots of blessings, down to even finding homes for all three of our dogs, including one who was over 10 years old, who we thought we'd have to have euthanased.

We were blessed to have a number of friends and family here, and I believe that helped greatly with the transition - we could return to the safety of something familiar after going out into our new world to discover so many new and different things.

We had done lots of research, so I believe we arrived with reasonable expectations.

I think it's very hard for people who arrive, knowing no one and expecting everything to be just like home, but without the crime.

Things are different here, even if you're a white, English speaking, BBQ and rugby-loving type.

It's attitude that makes the difference - we have chosen to embrace our new home. We decided on day one to support the All Blacks over the Springboks, to always refer to our old home as South Africa (SA) and never home.

We were blessed to find jobs soon after arriving. I found a job within two weeks and am still working at the same firm today.

It has been a huge financial adjustment. I was an audit partner in SA, earning a very high salary and able to buy whatever my heart desired.

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Here, we earn significantly less and have to budget carefully. I think this can be a huge struggle for people who want to maintain a high standard of living and the status they may have had in South Africa.

For us, it's about quality of life and a safe place for our children to grow up in, rather than having a large house and brand new car.

For anyone new coming in, I'd recommend getting involved in a local church or club, you get to meet people and gain a sense of belonging quite quickly.

While we still are fortunate to have our core group of friends and family from when we all lived in South Africa, I think it's important to adopt the new culture - why choose to live somewhere if you don't want to become part of what it stands for?

I feel that we are earning our living from this country and so we owe it some loyalty. It upsets me to see some people groups who have moved here but continue to only work within the realm of their own culture, only buying from those shops, talking that language, etc.

I understand it must be much harder coming from a non-English speaking country with few cultural similarities to New Zealand, but why on earth choose to come to Aotearoa if you don't want to become a Kiwi?

We have never felt discriminated against. In fact, quite the opposite, it's normally me who apologises when I meet someone new, that here is another South African immigrant!

Five years down the line we can't wait to become citizens, but since my parents are still in SA, we will hold dual citizenship until they are able to relocate here.

Life in New Zealand has been all we hoped it to be so far.

I miss my parents and sister-in-law greatly, but both have applied to move here too, and we are awaiting the outcome of their applications any day now.

My in-laws arrived here last weekend to take up their residence here. I can't explain how wonderful it is for us to see them interacting with their grandchildren in person rather than through a computer screen.

Immigration is not for the faint-hearted. It is a very tough decision, with heaps of resources required, including financial, time and emotional, but from my experience, I'd say it's completely worth it.


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