Alyson Garrido moved to New Zealand from Los Angeles earlier in 2017. She shares some lessons she learnt along the way.
In March of this year, my husband asked me my thoughts on moving to New Zealand. ‘Sure, sounds good,’ I said. He figured I wasn’t taking the question seriously and followed up a few times, receiving the same response. My nonchalant attitude toward the potentially huge move from Los Angeles to Wellington, New Zealand was uncharacteristic and worried us both a little. I talked to family members, coaches and friends as we made the decision and the worry and over-analysis that I was anticipating never came. Turns out I wasn’t repressing anything, just intrigued by the possibilities.
I have my own business and knew I could serve my clients from anywhere in the world, so that was a potential weight lifted. I’d been in business for just under two years at the time and felt secure in the fundamentals of what I offer and what feels right to me as my business and I change and grow. My family was already a flight away, granted a shorter one, but it wasn’t like I saw them every day. Also, I knew that we could always come back. Why not go on this adventure?
So we did. My husband interviewed for his dream job in mid-March, signed on the dotted line on in early April and started in mid-May. It was a whirlwind two months from him accepting the offer until I joined him in Wellington during the first week of June. I’ve now been in my new home for 4 months and couldn’t love it more. Here are some of the lessons I learned over the past 6 months of planning the move and settling in halfway around the world.
When I learned that I had 6 weeks left in Los Angeles, my priorities became really clear. I had to fit in visits with close friends and colleagues and be sure I spent time with them one on one. My husband and I made a list of experiences we wanted to have before we left. It was nice to learn that there was nothing we had yet to do, only wonderful experiences to repeat. I cancelled plans that weren’t my top priority or 100% necessary. I invite you to consider what you would prioritize if you had to pick up and leave your home in 6 weeks. The answers may surprise you.
On Breaking the News
There were so many people to tell and I didn’t want those closest to me to hear my news through the grapevine. I was lucky enough to have a few events already scheduled where I could notify several people who were very important to me at one function. I knew that how I broke this news would set the stage for how and if I stayed in touch with many in my network. I did my absolute best to tell everyone I could in person. I didn’t share my new with them, however, until after I’d heard their updates. More than one person accused me of burying the lead, but as soon as you announce that you’re moving to New Zealand that tends to be the focus of the rest of the conversation. Everyone I told was excited for me and the possibilities the move would bring. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the people who initially gave me a bit of grief for leaving them and wondered aloud if we’d ever talk again. That stung. It was a great reminder to be prepared for anything and how much my support could mean to someone else embarking on a new adventure.
On Packing and Shipping
While my husband and I had been in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, I hadn’t fully absorbed that we had moved there in our early 20’s. This hit home when I realized we did not have any major pieces of furniture worth the cost or effort of moving. Our $100, 9-year-old Ikea bed was not making the trip! The things that bummed me out were small appliances we’d received as wedding gifts. Sure, it was just a blender, but it was the blender that my mother-in-law gave us as a wedding gift and I thought of her when I used it. Those appliances wouldn’t work in our new home, so they were left behind. We ended up shipping 26 boxes, which were mostly filled with clothes, photos, artwork/tchotchkes and kitchen supplies. We also travelled with two suitcases each. We were without the items we shipped for just over 2 months. The biggest lesson I learned on packing and shipping was that I would rather have had a nice knife or two than any of the 15 sweaters I packed. For someone who loves to cook and entertain, the ‘in transition’ feeling of using the same two dining sets for 10 weeks was a challenge.
On Learning a New Culture
It’s really easy to take for granted that English-speaking countries are very similar culturally. It would have been simple to dismiss our new home as ‘just like the U.S.’ or even ‘just like Australia.’ Neither is the case and I’m so glad we didn’t fall into that trap. Immigration New Zealand helped with general questions right off the bat. After receiving our visas, we started getting emails that covered topics including what we can bring through customs, working in New Zealand, healthcare intricacies and the influence of New Zealand’s Māori culture on day to day life. The emails and website were a wealth of knowledge. In addition to heaps of Googling, we also sought advice from former and current employees at my husband’s new company and met with friends of friends that were Kiwis (New Zealanders) living in the States. It helped us get an idea of how Americans were viewed and cultural differences that aren’t as easy to nail down, like the fact that two people’s 6 degrees of separation in the States is more like 2 degrees here or the dreaded tall poppy syndrome.
This research didn’t stop upon arrival. When getting used to our new home, I was very conscious that I was not from here and didn’t want to stick out as an outsider. I observed as much as I possibly could. I noticed how people reacted to different messages, the way groups interacted, how business was conducted and the ways that people spoke about different areas of the country and the world. I also spoke with people about cultural differences and chatted with other expats about their transition. One of the most useful exercises I did was to read ‘The Culture Map’ by Erin Meyer alongside a fellow career coach who was from NZ. We discussed exactly where New Zealanders fell on the map in their style of resolving conflict, working with others and relationships with authority among other work-related topics. It was tremendously valuable. The people here were willing to share so much with me, both verbally and nonverbally, as I worked through discussions of culture and how to fit into my new home.
On Meeting New People
Before I left for NZ, I reached out to a few Kiwi coaches on a professional Facebook group. They were willing to say hi and connect, so I made a point to tell them when I was arriving and that I’d love to connect when I touched down. In ‘friending’ one of those Facebook contacts, I learned about an upcoming women’s conference in Wellington. I signed up weeks before I left and attended the conference a month after arriving. It was so helpful to have that event to look forward to.
For better or worse, when I arrived here I hit the ground running. With my husband already working and client calls the day after I arrived, I was forced to find my rhythm and settle in right away. I discovered a co-working space on my first day wandering around the city and started working there 1 week after my arrival. The first person I met there introduced me to someone in my field and we schedule a coffee catch up. I learned quickly that a lot of business is done over coffee here. I set out to meet as many people as I could and learn as much as possible. If I was drawn to someone, I’d reach out. One woman, in particular, was a recruiter featured in a newspaper article posted at the co-working space. I found her on LinkedIn and shared that I was new in Wellington and wanted to learn about recruiting here. Guess what? She wrote back! We met a few days later and she gave me the names of organizations and people with whom I should connect. This was the start of the snowball. One meeting led to another, then another. People were exceptionally generous with time, resources and introductions. I met with people not knowing if we’d never talk again or if they’d become a friend, client, colleague, mentor or employer. All of those relationships formed.
Over my first two months, my top priority was learning. I still had clients in the States and abroad, so there wasn’t a ton of pressure on business building here and the time difference meant that my client calls were done by 2pm most days. Plus, I wanted to be sure I had a firm grasp of the ins and outs of life here before touting myself as an expert in anything. Within two months of my first meeting at the co-working space, I’d had individual meetings with nearly 50 people. I’d also attended over 20 networking events and two conferences. While I probably should have been exhausted, I was exhilarated by the city and the inspiring people who live here.
On Keeping in Touch
I wasn’t typically one for video calls. I talk with my clients over the phone and usually saved video calls for connecting with family. Not so anymore! I have stayed in touch via regular video calls with colleagues and friends across the U.S. and I love it. On Fridays, I’ll typically catch up with one or two of my colleagues and Sundays are reserved for friend chats when my husband can join. One colleague commented that she wasn’t so keen to connect via Skype. After all ‘I know what you look like,’ she mentioned, but admitted during the call that catching up this way really was so similar to actually being together. It has helped me to maintain close connections with those I can’t meet in person. I can stay up to date with their businesses and lives even from over 6,000 miles away and we maintain a close bond. Hopefully one or two will come through on promises to visit.
On Staying True to Myself
Early on in my coaching business, I made some commitments and joined a few groups against my better judgment. I let my head win over my gut and it burned me every time. You see, once I commit to something, I’m in. For better or worse, I’ll see it through. As I start my new life here, I have been hyper tuned in to my gut/heart/intuition – whatever you want to call it. If I’m attracted to something or someone, I’ll reach out. This has helped me make friends and find opportunities for collaboration here and in Los Angeles. On the flip side, if something doesn’t feel right or I’m seeing red flags, I politely decline. I have done my absolute best to tactfully remove myself from commitments, people, and organizations that just don’t feel right and so far it’s served me well. When I’m hemming and hawing about an opportunity, my husband always reminds me to trust my gut and the answer is right there.
On Being Nice to Myself
‘Wellington is a village,’ everyone said. I heard, ‘If you do something wrong, your life will be ruined.’ I have very high standards for others and myself, so at first, the idea that everyone was watching and talking about me scared the life out of me. At one point I sent a panic-stricken email to a Kiwi friend in the States asking her what kinds of things people had done to ruin their reputations here and what types of behaviors I should avoid. Clearly, this was an overreaction and far from a good use of my time. A close friend reminded me that I’m authentic, kind and driven to help people. If I stay true to myself and those characteristics, how could I offend someone or mess this up? She was right, of course, and I have to remind myself of that regularly. I have to trust that my intentions will come through, because they are true to me and how I conduct myself in personal and professional interactions. It’s highly likely that I’ll make a misstep, and maybe people will talk about it, but it will not ruin my life or cause me to be expelled from these wonderful islands – at least I hope not.
On Staying Patient
I really wish I could hit the fast-forward button sometimes. I’d like to get to know people faster. I’d like for my business to grow right away. I want to have as many speaking engagements and run as many workshops as I did in Los Angeles. I want to visit every inch of this beautiful place. It’s all going to happen in its own way and in its own time. I’m going to type that again, because I don’t always listen the first time – it’s all going to happen in its own way and in its own time. Patience is a huge part of a move across the world and I am so excited to see how things will unfold. I’ve done a lot and there will always be more to do. I’ll never feel caught up, so I might as well give myself a break and appreciate the miles I already have under my belt.
On Life in the Future
I like to joke that I’m reporting from the future. New Zealand is one of the first places to see a new day, which is pretty amazing. I often wish I could see the future to know how this is all going to turn out, but my crystal ball is on backorder. For now, I’m going to keep meeting lots of amazing people, saying yes to opportunities that feel right, and enjoying every minute in my new home.
By Alyson Garrido
Alyson is passionate about helping people advance their careers and find jobs they will enjoy. As a career coach, she partners with her clients to identify their strengths and create a path toward a more fulfilling career.
Alyson also provides support for interview preparation, salary negotiations, and performance reviews, ensuring her clients present themselves and their goals in the best possible light. Learn more at www.alysongarrido.com.