Top 10: Immediate Differences I Noticed Returning to the States from New Zealand

Recently I became patriated back in the United States and lost my ex-pat status. Having lived in New Zealand for three years, while gaining professional development in my field, I was the outsider. There were some obvious things that changed about my everyday life once acclimating to the Kiwi lifestyle. Little driving here, little change in cuisine there, you get the idea. NOW, after coming back to my home country, the Motherland if you will, the Red, White, and the True…Gun toting, freedom speaking, manifested country, where if you look at our current election process proves that truly anything is possible in this land of promise (good or bad), I take note to the things that immediately stand out to me…in comparison. For your enjoyment, here is the Top 10 VERY different things about the two countries that I quite immediately noticed in my first week back. [I want to offer a DISCLAIMER that this is observational humor, try not to take too much offence to it. Also, this is true about the cities of Montgomery, IL, Aurora, IL, and parts of Naperville, IL as is the direction of my writing today.]

10. Accents

This was the first real thing that hit me coming back. You would think, “Eric, you’re an American. Our accent should not surprise you.” You would be right. The accent didn’t really surprise me, it was something else. I was attending a Josh Garrels concert a few days after coming back, and I was sitting in the auditorium when I noticed that I was not the only American voice in the din. For three years, I was the American. If in New Zealand I overheard an American in a crowd, it excited me! I went over to them and struck up a conversation about how they came to be in New Zealand, where they were staying, etc. The accent was special…unique. So was I. I’ll put it to you like this: You know how some women in America love a foreign accent? It was kind of like that, but now reversed. People made me say words just to hear how they sounded coming out of my mouth. It was bizarre at first, but it ended up being kinda cool. Now, I looked around, listening to all the Americans at this concert in Wheaton, IL thinking, “I’m no longer the only American in the room. I’m surrounded. This is no longer unique. Hmm.” SIDE NOTE: I also noticed at this concert…how loud we all are. For a long time (and even still…), I was the loud one in the room. But man, I just became attuned to so many loud, obnoxious, shameless people. For some reason, I heard WAY more Valley Girl dialects as well. Gag.

9. Gas is cheap….actually, clothing is cheap…also electronics are cheap…EVERYTHING IS CHEAP.

It’s true. If you’ve ever been outside the country, you know that things can get a bit pricy out there. But when I came back and gas was $1.29 per gallon, which equates to about 56 cents per liter…I was shocked. Apparently there is some fun stuff happening with our country providing its own gas now, leaving middle eastern countries in the cold and driving competition WAY up. I think I remember that competition is good in Economics class. Sweet! Clothing. Oh man. I’ll agree with you who know American clothing. Some of the clothing is cheap and not very well made. But I have noticed that there is some very good clothing made here that is not expensive at all. More and more people are getting into “U.S.A Made” products and textiles, which in my opinion is awesome. We should start taking more pride in this countries efforts and bring some more jobs back to our own. All in all, I’m noticing a vast difference in price, even with the exchange rate. Yes, some of the price difference is because things get shipped to NZ, but still. This leads me to number eight.

8. Amazon.com

Oh my Lord. I have so missed Amazon. Also, GET AWAY AMAZON! Too easy is it to buy vintage leather toiletry bags and a bundle of my favorite DVD’s, but also beard oil! No longer will I succumb to your tempting offers to also buy an add-on cedar scented candle with the sea sponge loofah. It stops now. Also, I never want it to stop. Amazon…you do you. And keep offering me free shipping.

7. No cafés

Where there are an abundance of cafés to choose from in NZ, almost too many, there just aren’t any in a good distance of your immediate location here. That to say, there are cafés around, but you’d have to drive there. The point of a local café is that it is proximate and offers a good selection of coffee and cabinet treats to get you on your way. They really are delightful in a way that you really take for granted. This leads well into my next observation.

6. Good Coffee

Right here, right now, know that I am not a coffee person. This being said, I have to tell you that the best coffee I have ever tasted was in NZ. My friend, who is a coffee fanatic, traveled across areas of Europe…including Italy, America, and other countries, and has sworn by NZ standards of coffee. For some reason, Kiwi’s decided, “Hey, yeah, we’re going to be the best in the world at this.” And that’s what they’ve done. They just get it. I don’t know how or why, but personally, I think they are coffee wizards. Magic. Dark Roast Magic. So if you go there, get Supreme Coffee. Now. America. Not bad, just not as good. Again, I’m not a coffee guy, but I’ve had enough to know. Leading neatly into quality vs. plain.

5. Industrial Everything

New Zealand is known for it’s mom and pop shops. Little places that open up and might be gone in a year, or might stick around for a lifetime, depending on their appeal with the surrounding community. NZ is known for having a variety of these kinds of places open up and about 80% don’t end up thriving and eventually shut down. Still, this environment gives you the blessing of choice. You could eat at a different Indian restaurant everyday for a month. You could also do this with Chinese, korean, mexican, tapas, burgers, you name it. Then you have unique pop up’s like Vietnamese, Southern St. Louis cooking, and authentic American diners. It’s incredible. When I came back I noticed that we have plenty of choice, but it felt so industrial, concrete, and plain. Restaurant chains were very common, as were shopping malls, strip malls, fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and long highways connecting it all. If I had to try and describe it, there just didn’t feel like there was any culture in it. These areas were constructed for convenience, but devoid of any individuality, any…pride. That’s what I liked about small shops. You found someone in there who fought, sweat, and bled for their dreams. Again, this exists in America, ABSOLUTELY, it just wasn’t the impression I got when coming back.

4. Music

In New Zealand, you are going to expect some different types of music. I definitely heard more Pacifica music than I ever had in the states. I kinda liked some of it…enough to make a mix-playlist for the return back home. I’m not sure if I’ll ever hear the soothing tones of Stan Walker singing over the radio to Aotearoa from the beaches of Piha, but it will always fondly remind me of another time in my life.

3. Banking is Getting better…but

I’ve never really been too impressed with the banking infrastructure in the United States, but when I went to New Zealand…I got a dose of how this can be done better. Not only are the banks in general better at getting back to you and helping you with your problems and not charging you weird fees, BUT their “pay-and-go” system is incredible. They have a thing called EFTPOS or electronic funds transfer at point of sale. This allows you to pay very quickly. We pretty much have this too. But, they have “Pay Wave” allowing you to, when prompted, place your card next to the machine and pay with a beep. You’re done! That’s it! So simple and so hassle free. On top of that, their mobile banking is second to none. Because the banks communicate with each other fairly well, I can pay any of my friends via my phone, even if they have a different bank than me. I just type the amount, and send it. It’s like the money never left their pocket. This came in handy when we saw a movie together and ordered tickets online, or when we paid for a meal after eating out together. Seamless. SIDE NOTE: You can order seats in a theater for movies. How genius is that?! No more waiting in line. I’m gonna miss that.

2. Cars are HUGE

I will say this. Maybe there is less demand for a massive truck in New Zealand (definitely not true on the farms), but you just don’t see massive trucks, especially with 6 wheels on said truck’s axels. You don’t. Neither Hummers, massive Expeditions, Escalades, or whatever massive car you can fill in the gap with. You do see a lot of Land Rovers though. Hmm. Anyway, we like it big here in the good ol’ U.S of A. and I’ve known for a while now that this love permeates into food, clothing sizes, houses, and yes gas guzzling cars. I guess it was just a little bit of a shock how many more massive cars there are here compared to NZ. Which leads me in a car related note to my final and most passionate observation.

1. Aggressive Driving

Some who know me, whether in NZ or the U.S., know that I can be a bit of an offensive driver. I take turns quickly, zip into an opening when I see it, and pass cars faster than some would like. Growing up on I-88, I-294, I-355 and the formerly dreaded 80/94, I had to learn how to make some decisive decisions. Out there, if you don’t make a choice quickly, you get passed up. Sometimes and indecisive driver can cost someone their life. When I moved to New Zealand, I was told to “chill out.” There is no need to drive this way. And they were right, there wasn’t. New Zealand has bad drivers, as any country will, but what I noticed was a vastly different driving culture. Let’s take merging for our primary example. “Merge like a ZIP!” The catchphrase will be written on a road sign and burned into everyone’s memories growing up in NZ. Drivers over there know how to merge and let people in, taking turns and not getting self righteous when someone needs to get in. It’s beautiful people. For three years, I had an incredible merging driving culture. In the second day back in the country, I went out to do some errands, as you do. I turn right on red into a two lane road with traffic in the left lane and me in the right lane. The road quickly turns into a merging one lane road. I indicate to the other cars in the left lane that I want to come in. The car just behind me on the left speeds up, blocking off my way in. Naturally I’m a bit mad about that, but I wait for him to pass so that I can get in. It’s what happens next that sends me into the deep, dark pit of “bad-driving-habits.” A hole reserved for foul mouthed sailors and vindictively colorful sign language. The car behind the car who sped up saw that I was trying to get into his lane. He also saw the car in front of him speed up to block off my entrance. I can only assume the man had a brain aneurysm and this caused his foot to jam on the accelerator because he ALSO sped up to block me off. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. I am now driving through a “right turn only” lane…because I had no other choice, the two cars pass me. As they glide blissfully by, singing the tune “Penny Lane” in their stupid cars, they would get a front row view of my window…displaying a most offensive bird attached to my hand. Was I proud immediately after I did it. Sorta…yeah. Then shock settled in. I had NEVER done that to anyone before. I had never in my life been so enraged by another driver’s actions. Something spoiled me in NZ when everyone merged so well, no matter what. Most kiwis are probably thinking, “Well, that guy is probably pooping in his pants and is racing to the nearest porcelain refuge. I guess I’ll let him in.” But really, it’s because they’re decent human beings. Godbless kiwi merging.

So that’s it, the Top 10 Immediate Differences I Noticed Returning to the States from New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed that. If you did, check out some of my more impassioned writing on the home page labeled “BEST OF THE BLOG”. Enjoy.

 

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How Moving my Life to New Zealand for 3 years Changed Me

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. Continue reading “How Moving my Life to New Zealand for 3 years Changed Me”

Ukraine: What is Happening Over There.

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For the betterment of those who have not been made aware of the events unfolding overseas in Ukraine, or who have just been too busy to keep up-to-date on world events, or for those who haven’t looked at a TV, computer, smartphone, or newspaper a long while….it’s your lucky day! Read on for your quick read on what is happening over there.

very brief summary of why there is tension with Ukraine and Russia: Ukraine and Russia have a very close history together coated in tension, claims over land, identity issues, and ukraine-protests-map-by-language-kcultural hijacking. Ukrainian President Yanukovych rejected an expected deal for greater economic integration with the European Union. This deal was pretty popular with the Ukrainians in the Kiev part of the country, but Ukraine is fairly split between Ukrainian speaking Ukrainians and Russian speaking Ukrainians. The rejection of the deal symbolically tips its hat to Russia, as Russia has it’s own counter offer for Ukraine. This is where the History comes into play. Russia has a LONG history of subjugating and ruling Ukraine that spans many generations. So, you can see why some would not be too happy with the idea of this deal.

Additionally, Ukrainians just have a fundamental problem with President Yanukovych. The hatred stems back to 2004 when they protested him right out of office, but he came back in 2010. Since then, his government has been saturated with corruption and Pro-European integration protesters gather at the site of clashes with riot police in Kievmismanagement of the economy. We all know what that’s like, am I right Chicago! The reason the protests had surged so dramatically against this deal since January 16th, is because Yanukovych mucked it up by signing an anti-protest bill. So, what happens when Ukrainians who don’t like the rule of Yanukovych, are told by Yanukovych that they can no longer protest under threat of arrest? Riots, violence, organisation, and…….more protests of course. This is the reason behind the increased media frenzy around the issue of the deal.

When I said that Ukraine was split on the issue, it’s not hard to imagine. Ukraine has a deep history of division in language, culture, and politics. 1/3 of the country speaks chi-graphc-language-and-politics-in-the-ukraine-20140219Russian, associate themselves more with Russia than Ukraine, and live in one half of the country. This division gives Ukraine a disconnect over the vision for where the country should go. Ukraine only gained its independence from the USSR in 1991, after refusing to put up with their rules anymore. Here is another really good graphic displaying how incredibly fractured the country is culturally. As with all things, this cultural confusion began very long ago. The first Russian influence came 250 years ago with Catherine the Great. Then of course there was Joseph Stalin in 1930, who “collected” Ukranians to run state farms where millions died of starvation. It was a genocide.

Heavy stuff, I know. we’re almost through.

So underlying all of this, Russian President Vladimir Putin desperately wants Ukraine to join Ukraine Proteststhe Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union INSTEAD of the European Union. To insure this, Putin is offering Ukraine literally billions plus 33% off Russian gas to reject the EU. This got Ukrainian President Yanukovych interested, thus the outrage when Yanukovych went in Russias direction. It was just another example of Ukraine bowing down to wise, all knowing, powerful Mother Russia….And Ukrainians were not going have it. Not at all. This was the last straw, and they went to the streets.

It’s at this point that we get radicals vandalising, tipping cars, starting fires, and revolting Anti-government protests in Ukraineagainst the police. Protesters even started branching beyond Kiev and breaking into other government buildings, essentially taking them over. Ukraine starts looking less like a city, and more of an apocalyptic war zone.

Obviously with any conflict, there are Ukrainians on both sides of the fence who think that this kind of action is not the right path for Ukraine. If any country was going to be split on how they should act as a response, it’s Ukraine. Still, this seems to be something that makes sense to the protesters. THIS is what we can unify under, and they have gotten our attention.

Once I was made embarrassed by how little I actually knew about what was going on in Ukraine, I did my research for this article and became swept up in the story behind it all. A pro-European integration protester looks on through a visor reflecting burning tyres at the site of clashes with riot police in KievUkraine has such a rich and yet disheartening past. The Ukrainian people have endured being ruled by oppressive governments, war, slavery, genocide, corruption, and not to forget, massive nuclear fallout in 1986. These people are tough, hardened, and incredibly resilient. They persevered, they held on, and they are saying: “Enough is enough”…just like they did in 1991.

I am encouraged by their resolve, and yet I can’t help but side with the those standing back and saying, “This is hellish. Can there be no other way? Why has it come to this?” I encourage you to make yourself likewise aware of what is going on over there. It’s always a good idea to pop the bubble you’re living in and actually realize what is happening when life around you continues on in normal fashion. If you like the photos I have used in this post, click on the link labeled, “Pictures” below to find more truly incredible and raw footage of the events unfolding.

ALSO, check out Jeremy Vargo’s excellent post, from the Maxim Institute on the same topic: What I Didn’t Know About Ukraine

Pro-European integration protesters gather in front of burning tyres during clashes with riot police in Kiev

SOURCES

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-9-questions-about-ukraine-you-were-too-embarrassed-to-ask-20140219,0,3331368,full.story

Pictures

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/01/24/this-is-the-one-map-you-need-to-understand-ukraines-crisis/

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/03/opinion/ukraine-protests-russia-forbrig/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

http://www.hlntv.com/article/2014/02/19/ukraine-protests-things-know-yanukovych

Waitangi Day/Treaty Explained

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On the other side of the world, today, February 6th, is Waitangi Day….and Bob Marley’s Birthday.

Since nearly all of you probably know who Bob Marley is, here is a brief lesson on what Waitangi Day is to New Zealanders; you basically need to only know a few things. In 1840, starting February 6th and going through till May 21st, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson trekked from the North Island all the way through the South Island getting around 550 chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty was a set of instructions Hobson received from London in 1839. Being the founding document of New Zealand’s history, politics, and culture of society. There are three articles:

Article 1: The Chiefs, and other signatories gave all their sovereign powers to the British Crown. Article 1 according to Maori: The Chiefs conferred on the Crown the right for the British to govern the colony, in a mainly administrative capacity. So you can see how the treaty has caused controversy with the different interpretations of the treaty. This can happen when trying to translate words into Maori that don’t exist. It is still to this day discussed in length.

Article 2: The Chiefs were granted, in return for their cession of sovereignty, full rights of ownership of their land and other assets. The second part of this article deals with the idea of preemption. This involved the Crown having the first option to purchase Maori land at a mutually agreeable price. Article 2 according to Maori: The Chiefs were guaranteed their rights of chieftainship (tinorangatiratanga) – effectively a sovereign right. Moreover the chiefs were promised their physical possessions and also, all those things that they held precious. The second part of this article closely resembles the English version in the guarantee of preemption. 

Article 3: Maori were granted the same rights as British subjects, but were not actually made British subjects. Article 3 according to Maori: Maori were offered the protection of the Crown, and the same rights as the English people.

The Treaty of Waitangi is a HEAVILY debated topic in NZ politics, as our U.S. Constitution would be. Still, I have to say that the defining difference between how we treated the First World people of North America and how the British treated the Native people of NZ, is this treaty. I don’t really remember America caring too much about the rights of the First World people or how much land they had. Manifest Destiny all up in this. Trail of Tears much? “You can have Oklahoma. Yeah, you can have that state…or part of it at least. Okay, actually, you can have a camp on it. Oh, and most of you will die walking all the way there.” I also see a culture ingrained in this country that is dripping with history, traditions, and custom. It’s a beautiful thing when the language, food, and dance are preserved out of an importance and recognition of respect. It’s about preserving a people’s inheritance and way of life, and it is incredibly humbling to see how well they do it compared to U.S.A.

I am proud to be living in a country that, to certain extents, has lived with intention regarding the people that first lived here. I know that I am speaking in broad generalizations and am not covering all the injustices done to the Maori people. I am sorry if this offended you.

If you want to know more about Waitangi Day and the Treaty, go to these links below.

Treaty Explained—-History of the Treaty—-Treaty Explained by Maori Leader—-Short Brief of the Treaty

What I’ve Been Doing for the Past 6 Months

Convicted murderer, high gang affiliations, addiction, domestic violence charges, and theft. I have to admit, I was quite nervous. Still, Te Whakaora Tangata wanted me to interview some people who attend their organization. I had never conducted interviews before, let alone talked for an hour at length with Maori people. What could I say? What couldn’t I say? What would be taboo for me to bring up? Will I insult them? What do I need to know before going into this? These questions and about thirty more were cycling through my head.

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For those who didn’t know, for the past 6 months I have been living in New Zealand, working with Maxim Institute. Maxim Institute is not the think tank where they come up with a bunch of ideas for a dirty magazine (sorry if that joke flew over your head), but rather a political think tank where we discuss policy and inform the leaders of the nation about issues that matter. Yeah, it’s been an interesting time. And for those who know me and are like, “Eric? You? Working at a political think tank? Yeah, okay. So what are you actually doing in NZ, common, you can tell me.” Ummm, I don’t know what to tell you. I have been.

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I graduate on Thursday and reflecting on what I’ve done here has been bitter/sweet. The beginning of this post was describing the project that I have been working on for the past 4 months. Basically Maxim and Te Whakaora Tangata (an organization that works on the Marae (a sacred meeting place for Maori (the native people of NZ))) have partnered to bring their first placement together in the internships history. Mainly to best take advantage of my specific skills as a Social Worker. What can I say? I’m kindof a big deal.

The day that I applied to the Maxim Institute, they asked me what I was passionate about. I told them that I loved being on the ground floor, helping people in their place of need. TW saw this as an opportunity to do something that they have been meaning to do for some time. They asked me if I could go to the Marae and interview people who have used their services. The object was to hear them out. The opportunity to be heard is a very powerful thing. To be noticed, to feel loved, cared for, and heard…can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, as an organization, it is important to know that you are serving the people in the most effective and efficient way possible. This is done by the very popular and arduous process of research. I was to ask specific, and yet representative people questions about their past, present, and projected future through the work that TW has been doing in their lives. I was beyond excited. This was an opportunity for me to do what I have always wanted to do.

With my mentor Luke helping me through the process, I felt much more confident, as he has done this very thing in Germany 4 years ago. I knew from the start that the interviews would be incredibly helpful for the organization and for myself. I would gain knowledge and understanding about the people and culture, and TW would understand what they are doing well and maybe not so well.

Looking back on the experience now, I could not have been set up with a more perfect fit for my placement. This is Social Work. Helping people where they are at. Not in a cold office with a fluorescent light beating down on you, but on the streets, in their meeting places, in their homes, with their families, seeing the problems they’re facing, understanding their stories, and doing something about it. Social Work requires action, and I feel that my placement allowed me to know more about what that looks like. Now I am left with the question: “So what? What will you do about it?” Honestly, I can’t wait to answer that call, and this placement has given me the confidence to act.

This project was my baby, and tomorrow I present it to the organization, Maxim as well as the Lion Trust. I am excited and hopeful that the results will spur further action to aid the people in the Manurewa area. From here, I go on to bigger and more challenging opportunities in Social Work.

I will continue to live in the Maxim Intern Residence that I’ve been living in, until November, when the new batch of interns move in. There I will be living with the guys that I will be flatting with for the coming years in NZ. I have to say that I am excited for the changes ahead. Change, historically for me, Eric Peterson, doesn’t usually hit me until about 1-2 weeks later. At least not the sad things. So whatever comes, let it come. I’m ready for you.