I came to change New Zealand. After 3 years, New Zealand changed me. Cliche I know, but this ended up being the truth.
This post has been written over the past 18 months. My thoughts, my observations, and my feelings have obviously morphed along the way, but let’s just start at the beginning.
With 50lbs of luggage, a working knowledge of left hand driving, and one solid contact, I packed up what I owned and moved my life to New Zealand. I kissed my parents, hugged my niece, wished my siblings well, and flew. In my luggage was an optimistic, slightly naive, monstrously unrealistic idea that I was going to get a job, in my field, in the first few months. With…one…solid…contact. Yeah. Right.
The next few months were a bit of a haze. I was meeting with professionals in my field, interviewing when I could, and making connections. I was networking! For an introvert, this was a big deal. This was akin to me volunteering dental surgery on my own teeth. Painful and messy. I soon realized that I needed a better framework for this country. I just didn’t know enough. I decided that interviewing for the Maxim Internship would go a long way in securing a job in this country. Through the four and a half months in the internship, I worked on a Marae, and learned the finer details of tradition, culture, history, and customs with the Maori people. This was exactly what I was looking for.
The next five months were a struggle. Before moving to New Zealand, I never had to really worry about finding a place to live or a salary paid position. I had lived with friends in the past, worked at fast food joints, summer camps, pizza delivery, electronic stores, home refurbishing, etc. I was eager to start working in my field of expertise. I was eager to do something…adult for once. I was 26 after all. After the internship, for the next five months, I looked for work. I was looking for work before the internship as well, so you could chalk it up to 9 months of job-hunting all-together. Unless you are experienced, it’s difficult to understand what it feels like to get rejected almost literally everyday by another organization, agency, school, or group. I can tell you, it’s very demoralising.
November came. I was a month away from a deadline the country gave me to find work or else be deported. My mood was not exactly the greatest. Outside of an interview I did for an organization that advertised a job I never saw myself doing, I had run out of positions to apply for. The end of the month rolled around and with it, Thanksgiving came. I was spending the holiday with some American friends. I was sitting on their couch eating pizza and talking about the things I’m thankful for when I got a text on my phone. It was an email alert telling me that the most recent place I applied for a job had accepted my application. I got the job! I read the email three times, each time faster than the last. I stood up, looked at Josh & Steph and told them the news. They screamed, like good Americans, and hugged me. They threw a full sized candle stick into a bowl of ice cream and congratulated me on the new job. It was a great moment.
The job was working with Youth Justice Kids in a Residential Center. The job was difficult, and had a pretty big learning curve. I had a good team and quickly learned what to do and what not to do. There were a few incidents that went down while I was working that have forever changed me, and if you were there when they happened, you’d know why. Some things you can’t un-see, or un-hear, and others you don’t want to. The daily crap we go through shapes us into better professionals, better able to make the decisions and choices that keep the unit running. I can honestly say that I’ve had the worst day of my professional career at that job. Still, if we are working somewhere that keeps us stagnant, what are we doing?? How will we ever know what we are capable of? How will we be able to better help those who call upon us as professionals? Easy answer, you won’t and you can’t.
I thought that in the time I was here, I could do more change for the youth in this country. But when I thought about it, what was I trying to change? The suicide rate? The way we treat suicide victims? The prevention methods we use to reduce suicide? Did I bite off a mammoth of a problem? Could I do what I set out to do? Answers to these questions resulted in me needing more time. A lot more time. Now, I needed to answer one question: Was I committed to stay in NZ for more than ten years? What I set out to change was not easy to fix. Was I ready just yet? I came to NZ to live and work for 2-5 years. To achieve what I had set out to do, I would need more than 2-5 years.
At my job, I worked with many young people from gang life with mental illness, troubled childhoods, and broken families. It wasn’t uncommon to be watching over kids who had suicidal ideation, history with depression, or families who have survived a member dying from suicide. In NZ, everyone knows someone who has died from suicide, or has a friend who had someone close to them die from suicide. In a way, I tried to get a job that put me in the middle of that problem. When I received the job working at a youth prison, I thought that I missed the mark to work in the field I wanted. I thought I would fail to work with youth suffering from depression and suicide. What I found out was so far from this reality. Everyday, I was surrounded by kids who were in the lowest points in their lives. In my time at that job, there were three separate cases that involved me and my co-workers handling very suicidal youth. Sometimes the youth would actively be trying to kill themselves and we were the only people keeping them alive. Honestly, we don’t get paid enough. No fault to my supervisors, I’m just saying.
When I moved to New Zealand, I knew that I was moving to a natural wonder. The green hills, crystal lakes, powder mountains, and incredible weather were just what you see in the brochure. A land with incredible hiking tracks, ski fields, camp grounds, and climbing. A country you could take a bike around and never grow tired. A city with beautiful culture, cuisine, and wine. Easy on the eyes, New Zealand is a paradise. Mmmm, the good life. Yeah…that’s kinda true. At least that’s the tourist brochure. Sure, you could find all that….if that’s all you’re seeing. When I leave, NZ will have a piece of my heart. Always. It’s just the way it is. She’s stuck with me. What I didn’t expect was the amount of people that I would meet. Truly. I knew maybe 3 people in NZ before moving, not counting the Elliott family. Now? Now, I am blessed with a multitude of incredible families, friendships, and acquaintances. I have made a family while being in this country, and she’s accepted me as her own. This means that I’m not just leaving a country that I moved to three years ago. Now, I’m saying good-bye to loved ones. People that have shaped who I am today. You see, this is what happens to you when you give in, and let people into your life…you end up getting changed.
To my friends back in the states, who I said good-bye to all those years ago: If I seem different to you in any way…look to the lovely group of people on my right. Through being almost completely broke in a country I didn’t know, through a random existential crises I had about myself, through going to the immigration offices many…many times, through looking for a job, through a struggling faith in God, through a job giving me more than I thought I could handle, through deciding to leave NZ and live with my family again, through understanding what it actually meant to leave this country, through having to say good-bye to this country…these people…this life…through it all…through these people and also the prayers from overseas, I have been changed for the better. I’m a different man. How can you not be??
At the beginning of this journey I knew I was looking to become more of an adult and experience what the world had for me. What I didn’t know was everything that followed. I am grateful, so so incredible grateful for the life I’ve had here in New Zealand and there’s not much else I can say to convey how much I will fully miss you all. I don’t know when—but I will see you again. Thank you for joining me on this great adventure and I look forward to the next chapter of my life. I think I’ll call it, Settling In.