Seeing our very first visitor since we moved to New Zealand is truly a reason for excitement as well as reflectivity.
Whilst I type this, my mother is flying thousands of feet in the air, on the verge of her descent into London Heathrow, after almost 28 hours of flying from Christchurch, where we waved goodbye to her through tear-filled eyes.
We emigrated in November and mother was officially our very first visitor.
We have all fully enjoyed showing her the beautiful sights of New Zealand and all of us taking a mini holiday. Not only am I thankful for seeing mum physically and being able to hug her (which you become numb to when you now live across the world), but I’m also thankful for the perspective she has left with us. To be honest, I was just about ready to throw the towel in on the whole lot.
I've heard from a number of expats that it is surprisingly common for expats to go through this phase at some point or another. Generally, it happens somewhere between the 3-6 month stint and it is an amalgamation of aggravations from the stress of finding work, having a tough time meeting friends to culture shock, sprinkled with a bit of homesickness.
I've never thought of myself as being homesick as I don't greatly yearn to move back to London as such. It wasn't the easiest place to raise my family. It is crowded, expensive, and not easy to bag that great career because of the amount of competition, house prices are extortionate just to name a few...
However, you do come to miss it and the people. I'm starting to think it's a great deal to do with moving to an English speaking country as opposed to somewhere totally foreign. You just expect great similarities, but it is so completely different.
If there is one thing us Brits are great at, it’s the banter. But in New Zealand, nobody will banter with you unless they know you; you can't expect a light hearted bit of fun with the owner of your local shop. They are extremely friendly, but more so "Hi, how are you? Have a nice day...". Getting to properly know people that are naturally more private and laid back can be quite tricky, particularly for somebody who works from home - like me.
I do miss a great therapeutic MOAN. We Londoners love a good moan, whether it is about the traffic congestion, the bad weather, our politicians, and the list is endless. We're not miserable people; it is mainly light hearted and quite often a great conversation starter. We don't take ourselves so seriously and our frustrations are eradicated through venting to the person next to us at the bus stop.
However on this side of the water, I get the impression that being a moaner is on par with being a criminal! Being called a moan is about the worst insult you can receive and quite frankly, us Brits are called it quite often. Attempting to halt 32 years of moaning isn't an easy task!
I'm not anticipating many people reading this from in the UK will have much sympathy for me. You will all be seeing the sea, sunshine and scenery and will be thinking I’m living the DREAM. You quickly become accustomed to the weather. For the first time in my life, I had a permanent and impressive tan that didn't come from a bottle of St Tropez.
BUT, like most expats, I can't sit on the beach all day, I have to work. Therefore my tan came from sitting at a table in my garden, working on my laptop, which I had to do fully clothe thanks to 'inquisitive' neighbours and low fencing. I wasn't floating in the sea all day, sipping cocktails, in a bikini. Three days had passed where I hadn't left the house for anything other than taking the kids to school and almost two whole weeks without so much as seeing the beach, even though it is at the bottom of my street. I know, I know, POOR ME.
Permanently residing in the sun and holidaying in the sun are totally and completely two different scenarios, which we are often told but never believe it until we experience it ourselves.
My mum's visit to us was genuinely the first time I was able to take some time off work and both explore and show off my new home city. Dunedin in the South Island is a truly spectacular place, filled with green hills, crystal clear seas and ice blue skies. We thought it would be fun to go on the "Small City Big Walls," which is a tour of the local street art, which is funny since in London, there is nothing we love more than coming across new and interesting street art that really adds something to the quirkiness of London.
Prior to mum leaving, we discussed life in New Zealand and how we all - mum included - believed it was the best move for my eight year old son who is thriving in school, spending time in the great outdoors and learning about so many new and different cultures. New Zealand school is far more laid back than in the UK. Here, children are set one homework each Monday and have a week to complete it, as opposed to the work he got pretty much every night in England, which left him stressed, tired, confined to his room of a weeknight and quite frankly - disliking school!
They have outdoor playtime three times a day, which aren't usually a washout and there is a strong emphasis on non-academic pursuits. The children school or cycle to school, there is no need for electronic doors to permit entry as though you are entering a prison and most importantly, peer pressure is non-existent. The Kiwis are, to put it nicely, very thrifty! You are praised for handling your money well as opposed to lavishly spending on designer goods to impress others. Hand-me-downs are the norm, brand names are totally not important and Santa lists are kept to a realistic minimum.
Honestly, I could give you a million reasons as to why New Zealand is such a fantastic place to move to, for kids and adults that have grown up in the hustle and bustle of London or other hectic and superficial cities. Before my first year has even come to an end, I already know that I seriously do not want to move back to the UK.
I think the reason you get so stressed as a new expat is the pressure to make your new like a success. You need the good job, sufficient savings, finding a family home, bond friendships. You're no longer a Londoner but not quite a Kiwi yet. Not forgetting the small fact that you are permanently a very long way away from your family. My family life will never be how it was before, but until we die, we will has as many FaceTime or Skype conversations as physically possible, not forgetting annual visits.
If those visits are not going to be filled with fun, exciting and breath-taking quality time in stunning surroundings, then I believe it is an exchange that is well worth making.