Different attitudes to leaving home

23:29, Jul 03 2013

It comes up from time to time with you guys, and though I accept that I've been here in the US less than three years, I have to say that I don't see myself moving back to New Zealand.

I say it with no disrespect to New Zealand. I probably would move home eventually if it were not for LP. But that's not to say that she has undue influence on the decision. I'm not here any under any duress. It is not a negative we grapple with.  

To me it's influenced by personal and cultural factors.

For a start, think of where we grew up and our expatriate diaspora and then think of America.

A 2008 estimate put the number of Americans living abroad at somewhere between three and six million. Even the higher end of that estimate still amounts to less than 2 per cent of the total American population.

There were about 800,000 New Zealanders living overseas permanently last year. That's a little less than 20 per cent of our national population.


So in America, you might encounter one person out of 100 who lives abroad long term. In New Zealand, it's one in five. In New Zealand moving away forever is just one of the options, in America it is a bit batty.

I have a sister who lives in Sydney with her husband, who is also a New Zealander. At any given time in the past decade, between three and five members of my extended family have been living overseas. I have half a dozen good friends scattered about Europe.

For, LP it's just not the case. It's not so much arrogance as it is geographical orientation. We New Zealanders are born on a series of small islands surrounded by the ocean. Americans are much more inwardly focused. There's 40 times as much space, 80 times as many people and Europe is just a short flight away. You don't have to move there to take it in.

These attitudes are inherent in LP and me. She moved to New Zealand for two years in 2008. It was a bit of a shock, as any global move is, but ultimately she loved it. She loved the country. She's respectful of my ties to home and understanding of my need to disappear there for weeks at a time. She's as excited as I am to return at Christmas.

But ultimately, there was no question for her that she would move back. Because of how we grew up and our automatic responses to the situation. I knew I would be the one to move to America.

I'm just more OK with it than she is. I'm close with LP's parents. As in-laws go, they're somewhat of a dream. But I think they would have struggled with her living in New Zealand for five years, or a decade, or forever.

I know it's hard on my parents and family too, me being all the way over here, but departing is embedded in the fabric of who we are. As New Zealanders we can rationalise and appreciate being overseas because there's just more and better opportunity.

I'm self-employed and surviving pretty easily at the moment. I don't think that would be the case in New Zealand. Who knows how long that will continue for, but it allows me to return home semi-annually for longer spells.

LP and I know that when kids come and commitments get more concrete (we're still relatively young and fancy free) these trips will become harder and less regular.

That said, the New Zealand thing is part of both of us and the fabric of our relationship. We consider actively how we will knit it into our lives when we have a family. I've accepted that I'm going to have big goofy American children with weird accents, who play baseball, not cricket.

But it's important to both LP and me that when we have kids of our own, they know that they have a family on the opposite side of the world, as hard as it might be for them to imagine.

This might take the form of us spending the American summers in New Zealand each year, or every second year, or maybe one day owning property at home (in our economic fantasy dreams...).  

Because on the flipside of knowing that I'll probably never move back (I throw in the probably, because you can never bet completely on never, right?) is knowing that New Zealand and the people there will always play a gigantic role in my life. 

Is it strange to me sometimes to think about never living in New Zealand? Totally. Do I have concerns about America, about healthcare, childcare, the cost of an education? Completely. But we'll manage. LP and I are lucky with our lot in life.

I don't think I've get 100 per cent used to not living in New Zealand. It makes me sad sometimes, but as odd as it sounds, I have no regrets.

I'm here for the right reasons. I'll always be a New Zealander. 

And as much as we try to fight it, leaving is a huge part of our national character. So in some ways, I'm sort of living out part of that destiny, right?

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