Becoming a New Zealand citizen is not as simple as living in New Zealand stuff nation

After living in New Zealand for nearly 12 years, Rhonwyn became a New Zealand citizen in September 2016.
Rhonwyn Newson

After living in New Zealand for nearly 12 years, Rhonwyn became a New Zealand citizen in September 2016.

I arrived in New Zealand in February 2005. In my early twenties I came to the Land of the Long White Cloud to make a go of things with a Kiwi I'd met on a Contiki tour a few years prior.

February is a great time to visit - the weather is settled, the days are long and the water is warm enough to swim in. I soon fell in love with this green land, and with my Contiki fling.

As our relationship continued, so too did my relationship with this country. It wasn't always easy - I missed my family tremendously and I yearned for my home comforts. But I began working here and, after a few years, I gained my status as a permanent resident. 

Enjoying life near the beach.
Rhonwyn Newson

Enjoying life near the beach.

Though I lived in New Zealand, I still considered South Africa "home". When explaining something, I would use phrases like, "In South Africa we have..." through my language distancing myself from being a Kiwi. Each time my partner and I visited my family, I referred to our trip as "going home." 

To be a permanent resident in New Zealand is very special indeed. Residents have nearly all the same rights as citizens - including the right to vote. For many years this was sufficient for me. I could hold on to my South African identity, while continuing to live and work in New Zealand.

My partner and I ended up getting married in 2009, and welcomed our first child in 2010. In 2012, our second baby came along and that's really when things started to change for me. 

Rhonwyn's Kiwi daughters, Maddi, 6 and Olivia, 3.
Rhonwyn Newson

Rhonwyn's Kiwi daughters, Maddi, 6 and Olivia, 3.

As my children started growing up into little Kiwis I found myself embracing New Zealand more than ever. My kids called flip-flops "jandals", so I did, too. I stopped correcting my daughter each time she said "mummy" - in South Africa it's "mom". I loved hearing the Maori songs and phrases they would learn at kindy, and learnt alongside them. When we all went to South Africa in 2014, I looked at their three Kiwi passports, and my odd one out and thought it was about time I got one of my own. During our trip I found myself saying things like, "In New Zealand we ..." or "back home" referring to New Zealand. I am now so emotionally attached to this country and truly consider it home.

There have been some downsides. I no longer watch rugby for a start. I remember watching a game at the pub with some mates in South Africa, having a few laughs no matter which team won. Rugby in New Zealand is a whole different ball game, so to speak. It's serious business and, as the token South African in our group of friends, I was either someone to mock relentlessly if the All Blacks won (the All Blacks always win), or, if the Boks happened to win, I was labelled a lying cheat along with the rest of the team because how dare a team beat the almightly demi-gods. It's no longer fun, so I'm no longer in. Kiwis take rugby far too seriously.

My family. What I'd give to have them all here living with me. Of course, that's not as easy as it once was (not that it was ever easy), but I still live in hope that someday at least some of them will live her. My heart aches thinking about how much I miss them.

Moving to a new country takes a huge amount of courage, and some very big sacrifices. Though I have embraced New Zealand as my home and country, I will always be connected to South Africa. In a note my husband wrote to me on the day I got my citizenship, he pledged to honour all that is good about South Africa, and to learn, and teach our children, about the place where their mum grew up. In my opinion, there is no better gift.

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I know there was a rumour circulating when I first arrived nearly 12 years ago that I was only interested in pursuing a relationship with a Kiwi because I wanted to be a Kiwi. What an elaborate ruse - 12 years, two kids and a mortgage. It's laughable to think of now because there's so much more to becoming a Kiwi than simply living in New Zealand.

Rhonwyn is the news director for the Rodney Times and North Harbour News and lives with her family north of Auckland.

 - Stuff

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