What are we thinking? Why are we doing this? These are not just rhetorical questions that I write in order to answer. They are questions I sincerely ask myself. They are shuffled through my mind on a regular basis, like the jokers in a deck of cards that I forgot to take out and jar me from my fantasies of an exciting and pain-free adventure of creating a new life from scratch on the other side of the planet.
So… what is this crazy plan we’ve got? The plan is for my husband to work as a physician in New Zealand, for him to make a 1-year commitment to fill an opening in a hospital there. (There is a need for skilled migrants in NZ, particularly for physicians who can move to the U.S., for example, work in a private practice, and earn many times over what they might make in NZ). And this is what I envision: upon arriving, we’ll travel different parts of both islands while attending World Cup Rugby games. (More about this later.) Over the first year, we’ll try to learn as much about the country as we can, and if we’re not enchanted by the location of where we first land, we’ll relocate within the country (my hope is that we’ll find our way north, closer to the warmer climates). Perhaps after a year of working, my husband will find a job up near Auckland, the largest city in the country and perhaps we’ll make a home there. Or perhaps we’ll find a different place, on the eastern coast where there are beautiful beaches, or inland on the northern island (where the Hobbit scenes of Lord of the Rings were filmed), or maybe in a charming university town like Dunedin on the southern island. Who knows. I don’t. The adventure is finding out.
Now some whys. Why are we doing this? I think the first answer would follow this last point above: adventure. My husband and I share a love of travel and we’ve been lucky to see some of the world together. And it was at some vague point in our past that we began to talk about moving abroad. Surely it began in a joking way, perhaps brought up regularly in the cold, dark, snowed-in months of the New England winter, less so in the warm, easy, albeit sweaty and sticky months of summer. It’s possible it was rarely, if ever, brought up in the glorious months of fall. But at some point, the jokes took on an air of inevitability. We were doing this; it just was a question of when. We were getting out of here; it just was a question of where. And so we began to talk about it, between the two of us, with our parents, with our friends. It just always seemed to come up. I don’t think anyone but the two of us knew how serious we were. It was just very easy to talk about the places we’ve been, to hear about the places where someone had just come from, and from there would begin the debates, the hypothetical questions: “But could you tolerate the ______?” In that blank, insert anything, the rain, the cold, the heat, the conservatism, the racism, the isolation, the extreme cost of living, etc. And from those conversations we began to whittle away at the planet, and we ended up with Australia. And we planned a two-week vacation there in May of 2010, mostly because we’d been hoping to see that part of the world, but partly to check it out, to try it on. Could we live there? Would we want to? We had great time. Sydney was wonderful. And we may find ourselves there one day. But it seemed expensive. Very expensive. And so the dream of expatriating kind of fizzled temporarily after we got back.
We readjusted to the eastern time zone, autopsied our bank account after the most expensive trip we’d ever taken, shared stories with friends, sent our daughter to school with pictures for show and tell, etc. But we didn’t move forward with the plan to move to Australia. And then, at some point the idea of moving to NZ was floated. Since 2007, when we traveled to France to see the Rugby World Cup, we’d been planning on traveling to NZ in 2011 for the next World Cup. So we were already planning on visiting. But one night, the idea of moving to NZ was introduced. I remember the night that the idea took hold, even if it’d been joked about or threatened prior to this. My husband and I were both in the kitchen. We’d put the kids to bed, and were finally putting our dinner together. And it’d been a particularly unsatisfying day for my husband at work. The day had been long. He’d had one too many patients crammed into his day (which, of course is unsatisfying for both patient and doctor). Something, although I can’t now remember what it was, had him pissed off. And as he vented, he started saying things like “I’m going to be 40. Part of me wants to be responsible and not leave my job and my benefits and my retirement savings. But another, bigger, part of me is screaming, ‘I’m going to be 40! I can’t sit around in a job that’s frustrating me, in a city I don’t love. Now’s our chance!'” And that’s when he said, “We’re going to NZ next fall anyway. What if we get all the loose ends tied up here and be done with it and move then. To New Zealand.” And my heart started to race. “You mean, buy one way tickets? Sell our house?” The house we’d been happy in for the last 3 years, that we just bought two years ago and refinanced last year, in the neighborhood we love, among a group of friends who we adore. My pulse was racing. But I wasn’t against the idea. I was looking at him and smiling. “Or,” he says, “instead of selling, we could probably rent the place, even furnished or partially furnished, to a visiting professor.” (We’re located in between tons of colleges and universities.) “Oh my god. I feel a little faint right now. But I like this idea.”
And we’ve been seriously pursuing the plan ever since. My husband talked to the one person he knows, a doctor a year behind him in his residency program, who went to NZ two years ago and is still there and loving her life there. She gave us the contacts for a recruiter for physicians looking to relocate to NZ and Australia. We remembered that when we were in NYC, we lived down the hall from a couple who up and moved to NZ. After a couple emails and phone calls we were able to get an email address and have been in contact with them. (They’ve been there 5 years, have two 5 year-olds, and love the life they’ve made for themselves.) It was through this couple that we were pointed to a few online forums for expats to NZ. And so we read those forums. We’re reading guide books. And talking to the recruiters. And waiting for January, when my husband will be able to realistically start the application process for work, (he’ll tell his current employer then, he’ll apply for job openings in NZ) and as a family, we’ll begin the immigration process.
And so in the mean time, we wait. We read up on NZ. We break the news to family. We tell friends who are excited for us but are sad that we are leaving them for so far away. We watch, in pained silence, as our 3 year-old daughter builds friendships that we will break. We get nostalgic for the things we’ve yet to lose. But we also feel the rush of excitement at the thought of our approaching adventure.