Worst part of return
Giving up an expat lifestyle with all of the perks that come with it.
Must share piece of advice
If you’re not happy where you are, don’t expect to be happy here. You have to make yourself happy. It will take you a good year to settle in. It won’t all be smooth sailing. When you first get back there is a honeymoon period when you’re like ‘yay, I can get pineapple lumps at the shop’ and then you feel really down and wonder what you’ve done and then it slowly becomes normal and you stop craving your old life and start to find new routines. It takes a good chunk of time to do that and you have to go through the process and settle in and see what living here is really like before you make any decisions about what to do next.
What made you decide to leave NZ?
I left in 2003 when I was 19. I met my husband when he was here on contract and then, when that ended, I decided to follow him back to the UK. I was at a loose end and thought it would be fun. I wasn’t banking on the relationship but just wanted to go and see what happened. I was young and had no ties so I thought ‘why not’.
I originally thought I would be away for one or two years but we ended up staying in the UK for four years and then moving to Japan. We decided to make that move because we wanted to be closer to NZ. My husband, Mike, has a son from a previous relationship in Wellington and we wanted to be closer to him and make it easier to come back to visit.
I also had a history with Japan. I studied Japanese up until 7th form and had done an exchange there when I was fifteen so I was keen to get back. Again, we thought it would be a fun thing to do for a few years. We thought we’d make some money to bring back to NZ but we ended up loving it and stayed for 10 years.
What were you hoping to get out of your overseas experience?
I wasn’t really expecting anything. I was young and free and I just wanted to take the opportunity and see what happened. The motivation to move to Japan was similar but also to be closer to NZ and because we knew we could make some good money there.
What made you decide to come back to NZ?
We had two children and wanted to come back before they were too settled into the Japanese lifestyle. Japan is a great place to have children but we knew we didn’t want to stay long term so we wanted to come back while they were young enough to grow up in NZ, rather than in those difficult teenage years when it would be more difficult.
We decided to move to the place I grew up, Ahuroa, just outside Warkworth so the kids could be close to their grandparents. We actually started planning the move several years before we left and, subdivided off my parent’s property to build our own house so that we could have a base back in NZ. In Japan our accommodation was provided by Mike’s employer so it was really important for us to create that base for Mike’s son to come and for us to stay in when we came back on holiday.
It probably took us two or three years between deciding we wanted to come back and actually make the move. We really loved the lifestyle in Japan and it was hard to give that up. Life in Japan was really fun and easy but we knew we just had to do it.
I was more the driving force because I had grown up in one place with lifelong friendships and I wanted that for my kids, whereas Mike had moved around a lot when he was growing up. We actually started looking for jobs then, gave up for six months and then, started looking again once we’d made the commitment to making the move. Then it took about six months to find a job, work out Mike’s notice and make the move.
What were you expecting your return to NZ to be like?
I was expecting it to be pretty rough. We’d come back and forth over the years, staying two or three months at a time, but moving back to live is different. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and the first year was pretty rough. A lot of things had changed and Mike was away a lot for his job.
Financially it was difficult because we couldn’t have the same lifestyle that we’d had in Japan. And it was really different to being here on holiday. Then you’re here for two months of fun at a time. You see lots of people, you do lots of fun stuff but, when you move back, people have got their own lives and you have to fit in with school schedules and stuff so you fall into more of a routine.
I did think it would be more difficult financially but we have really had to tighten our belts. NZ is more expensive in terms of food and electricity and we just can’t do the travelling and eating out that we were used to in Okinawa so it does feel like we have less freedom to do the things that we want.
What has been most surprising about the return?
For a long time I wanted to return to NZ because I had expectations about what it would be like but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to give up the lifestyle we had. I was really surprised by the cost of living in NZ and how that’s impacted our lifestyle. I feel like we haven’t got as much freedom to do what we want.
What has brought you the most joy?
Seeing the kids running around outside with bare feet – having that kind of freedom. I wasn’t really happy with the school my son went to in Japan. It was really rigid and strict and that wasn’t the upbringing I wanted him to have. Plus I was in an apartment so I’d have to take the kids to the park for hours if I wanted to get them out of the house but now, they are at the local country school and they can just run around outside whenever they want.
How has your personal or professional situation changed since you moved back to NZ?
I have started working part-time again. When I was first in Japan I worked as an English teacher but I stopped that after I had my son. We didn’t have any family support to help with childcare and, it was difficult, as a Kiwi to find casual jobs.
Now that the kids are older I have started working for myself, doing eyelash extensions, which is something I learned in Japan.
Have your priorities changed since you moved back to NZ?
No, not really. Family has always been our first priority and it still is. We actually had more time to do family activities when we were in Japan because Mike was home more often and we didn’t have anything to do on the house. Now, he’s only home 10 days a month and we always have a huge of list of things to do around the house but we still prioritise spending time as a family.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I don’t think there is anything we could have done differently. Maybe have more savings to come back with but, I loved our lifestyle in Japan, so I don’t regret spending that money for a moment.
We didn’t move on the spur of the moment. We took our time and moved for the right reasons. I think we made a good choice and did what was right for us.
How do you feel about living in NZ today?
I like it. I still have moments when I wonder why we gave all that up but 90% of the time I feel like we made the right choice. It also helps knowing that, with Mike’s job, we could move again tomorrow if we wanted to. It’s good to have that back up even if we don’t ever do it.
The social side of life has been easy here. I’ve reconnected with old friends who have had kids so we have that in common now. Living in a small community, we know everyone and I’ve made lots of new friends through school and the mums so I never feel lonely.
What were the best tips you received about moving back to NZ?
I didn’t get any. I didn’t know anyone who had done it so I just followed Mike’s lead because he had moved around all his life so he knew what to do. He found the job and everything followed from that.
What do you see unfolding in your future in relation to NZ?
I don’t feel like we will live in NZ forever but whether we’re here for two years or fifteen before we go again, I can’t say. My husband loves living in different countries and so do I now that I’ve done it. It’s a hard lifestyle to give up so I’m sure we will go again, I’m just not sure when.
What is your ‘must share’ advice for anyone contemplating a move back to NZ?
If you’re not happy where you are, don’t expect to be happy here. You have to make yourself happy. It will take you a good year to settle in. It won’t all be smooth sailing. When you first get back there is a honeymoon period when you’re like ‘yay, I can get pineapple lumps at the shop’ and then you feel really down and wonder what you’ve done and then it slowly becomes normal and you stop craving your old life and start to find new routines. It takes a good chunk time to do that and you have to go through the process and settle in and see what living here is really like before you make any decisions about what to do next.