In our regular series following the lives of expats, we find out what it’s like to raise a family in another country. This season: New Zealand.
Catherine Leech moved across the world to New Zealand with her Kiwi partner, Barnaby, when she was six and a half months pregnant with their first child.
“We were both living in Reading when we met, but Barn told me from the outset that he didn’t intend to settle permanently in the UK. So I knew that if we were going to be together in the long-term it was a question of when, rather than if, we would move to NZ.”
Catherine and Barn spent a few years together in the UK before deciding to make the move to Wellington in 2008. “I guess it seemed like the right time to take the big leap,” says Catherine. “We’d been to NZ several times to visit Barn’s family and friends, so it wasn’t difficult in that respect – I knew where I was going, and I knew that we would have people around us. The difficult part was coming to terms with leaving my own family and friends behind.”
To add an extra dimension to the practicalities of the long-distance move, during the visa application process Catherine discovered, to her surprise, that she was pregnant. “Starting a family wasn’t really on the agenda at that point, and it wasn’t really a conscious decision! It was probably the best way for it to happen, though, because with everything else going on it could have been a while before we felt ready.”
Catherine and Barn ended up moving over 10,000 miles in the third trimester of Catherine’s pregnancy – which meant that it was a tight squeeze for them to get everything sorted before their son arrived. “After we got there we had to wait three months for our belongings to arrive. We’d rented a house and got all the baby things sorted, but our bed was in the shipping container along with the sofa, the fridge and the washing machine, so we couldn’t really move in. We finally had a date for delivery which was ten days before my due date, but we then had a call to say that the truck had broken down on its way from Auckland and wouldn’t arrive until the next day. I think the stress of that sent me in to labour!” Baby Ryan was born the next morning, while the removal men unpacked the family’s belongings into their new house.
Getting settled into their Kiwi home might have been a bit of a last minute rush, but, happily, Catherine didn’t find any other aspects of settling into a new country too challenging. “New Zealanders are really friendly and welcoming and even though it’s on the other side of the world the culture isn’t too dissimilar from home. I already knew the city pretty well, and I did a lot of reading on the EmigrateNZ site (www.enz.org). Having Barn’s family here really helped, too, and we lived with his sister and her husband until our belongings arrived, which made the transition a pleasant one.”
Giving birth so soon after arriving also helped Catherine to settle into local life and make friends. “It was an immediate way to meet people – antenatal classes, mum and baby coffee groups, playgroups – you just can’t help meeting people and making new friends when you have a baby!”
Five and a half years on, and the family has grown to include twin girls, Kaira and Mia. After a few years as a stay-at-home mum, Catherine is now working part-time, and she and Barn run a children’s t-shirt company, www.teapottees.com, together. According to Catherine, there are plenty of local childcare options to choose from, which makes life as a working parent easier. “Children are entitled to 20 hours of government funded Early Childhood Education from their third birthday. We chose a kindergarten, which was a fairly standard option, but there are also créches and daycare centres that are either privately managed, or parent-led co-operatives; there are playcentres, and Steiner and Montessori style pre-schools. In-home childcare is also very popular – either taking the children to a carer’s house or having a carer come to your house.”
Ryan, now five, has just started school, and Catherine is also very happy with the New Zealand state school system. “He’s at the junior school just up the road from us, and loving it. It’s quite a small school – only about 100 on the roster – and it’s very friendly and welcoming. The standards of schooling here are very high, so I’m confident that my children will get a great education.”
With Ryan, Kaira and Mia so well catered for, Catherine and Barn can relax and enjoy the benefits of living in such a scenic, nature-loving country. “New Zealanders love the outdoors, and on sunny days the city is buzzing with people walking around the waterfront, and spending time at the beaches and in the parks. When the children are older we’re looking forward to having lots of holidays exploring the amazing range of landscapes in the country.”
It’s a good thing that there’s lots to do in New Zealand because, as Catherine points out, it’s a very long way from anywhere else. “It’s not just that it’s far from the UK, it’s that you have to spend hours on a plane to any other country at all. In the UK, Europe is on your doorstep.”
And the distance does mean that Catherine misses her family. “Having Skype is amazing – I don’t ever feel as though I haven’t ‘seen’ them for long, but it’s not quite the same as popping round for a cup of tea and a chat.”
Nevertheless, Catherine and her family are now very much established in their new home town. “Wellington has a relaxed arty, café vibe. It certainly doesn’t feel like you’re in a foreign place. This is probably the first time that I’ve felt settled anywhere since I left home to go to university. There are a few Kiwiisms that you have to get used to but generally it’s an easy place to move to from the UK. We have no plans to go anywhere else.”
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