It’s been six months since I moved home from New Zealand. This is what it was really like to live overseas – and to come back home.
1. New Zealand is unbelievably beautiful
So far, duh.
2. The UK is beautiful, too!
I live in Edinburgh now, but my parents and parents-in-law are in different parts of England. So every so often, we’ll do the multi-hour drive south to visit. It’s pretty easy to do these days – a seven-hour journey, even with a one-year-old in the car, is much easier than the at-least-24-hour flight combo we’d been used to. And all those hours in the car give us chance to see with fresh eyes the beauty of the changing scenery, from the boxed fields in the south of England to the wild hills of the Borders and Northumberland, and the Cumbrian valleys that stretch out for miles.
3. Your country looks different from the outside
I was in Wellington for the Brexit vote. The Kiwis think we’re absolutely nuts. … ok, that’s the same. But you definitely get a different perspective on your country when you see it through the prism of the news. And the truth is, the UK looks really stressful from the outside. The news isn’t often good.
But we also get a skewed picture of New Zealand. Before I moved there, it seemed like the only stories I ever saw were in the sports pages or when a sheep had walked along the motorway or something.
There will be sheep on the motorway sometimes. But New Zealand also has its own problems: issues with pollution in the dairy industry; a large number of people living in dangerously damp homes, or no home at all; a shockingly high youth suicide rate. I guess what I’m saying is a country’s ‘brand’ isn’t the whole story. You’ll only really learn the good and the bad of a place when you become a part of it for a while.
4. Some things about New Zealand properly suck
Cold houses, rubbish TV, tiny data plans, no decent tea – some things about New Zealand are rubbish. And then there’s the stuff that you just miss about being home when you’re not there. I never got used to summer Christmas – even if, as soon as it was Boxing Day, it was amazing to have a couple of weeks summer holiday stretching ahead!
Most of all, though, I don’t think you can fully appreciate the BBC until you’ve lived in a place that doesn’t have it. Not everywhere has the quality of programming that we enjoy in the UK. On behalf of British expats around the world, PLEASE, BBC, create an international subscription model for iPlayer! You would make so. much. money.
5. Wellington is what happens when a city starts with yes
On Wellington waterfront, there are a few parts of the walkway with access to the water; sort of manmade pools on the harbourside. There’s a small white building by one of these, which people used to jump off into the water. Most places would have a sign that says ‘no diving or swimming’. In Wellington, there’s now a dive platform so people can jump into the water safely. There’s an annual dive bomb competition. It’s kind of a rite of passage.
Wellington is as community-minded as it gets; from the city-wide festivals that seem to crop up every month, to the details planned into the city – water fountains, ramps and lifts, skateparks (plural) – that make life a little bit easier and much more enjoyable. Last year, Wellington City Council postponed the Matariki firework display by a week because a whale had made its home temporarily in the harbour and they didn’t want to freak it out.
Wellington is kind. It’s creative. And it’s all about community. I love that about the coolest little capital.
6. Scotland is awesome
Living in Scotland for the first time since 2011, I’m realising how much I missed the first time around. There’s so much history here; so many places to explore. So much to do and see and learn. I love the age and the stone and the weight of lives lived out over hundreds of years exactly where you’re standing. I love that every corner of this city seems to be somehow connected to Harry Potter. I love that maybe JK Rowling wrote a few lines in the same place I’m writing this now.
I just wish it wasn’t so freaking cold!
7. There are trade-offs with any adventure
Anything worth having in life is bittersweet. I was naive about the downside of living overseas: the weddings, funerals and Tuesdays we’d miss with people I love; the tension that crept across oceans and into relationships; how hard it would be to build a new community just to walk away from it; the challenges of readjusting to home. Even so, if you’re thinking about living overseas, or going on another type of adventure, it’s time to stop thinking and start doing! Because – even with the trade-offs – the new experiences, different culture and new friends made it completely worth it.
8. No guts, no glory
Being an expat changes you. You can’t just go with the flow in the same way anymore. When I moved to New Zealand, I stepped off the school-uni-work treadmill a little. Now I’m (slightly reluctantly) home, I want to keep making the big, scary choices that make life exciting. It’s kind of a compulsion, a need to put something new and exciting in the spaces in my life that were expat. If you’re moving home from overseas, the best advice I can give you is have a plan for your next adventure, because you’ll feel the loss of the excitement of waking up everyday far from home.
It’s hard to take risks, to have adventures. It’s much easier to give in to the fear of stepping outside your comfort zone. But the main thing I learnt in New Zealand was once you’ve take a big risk and done something impossible – like quitting your job to move to the other side of the world – you feel like you can do it again…!