New Zealand beck­ons

Those of you look­ing to move abroad post-elec­tion should con­sider the land of Ki­wis

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jules Older Jules Older now lives in San Francisco; his email is jules@julesol­ That first book he wrote was “The Pakeha Pa­pers.” His new­est ebooks are “Death by Tar­tar Sauce” and “Take Me Home.”

In the 24 hours af­ter the elec­tion, Im­mi­gra­tion New Zealand’s web­site had more than 56,000 views from the U.S. From the daily av­er­age, that’s a 2,500 per­cent jump.

So, be­cause of an elec­tion, ev­ery­body wants to move to New Zealand. We did. It was 1972, and we fore­saw a Nixo­nian Amer­ica. Com­bine that with twin ba­bies in NewYork and our shared love of ad­ven­ture, and we pulled out the atlas and chose where we wanted to live.

Canada? Don’t tell ’em we said this, but too much like us. Eng­land? Smog and no ski­ing. Aus­tralia? In 1972, Aus­tralia wouldn’t let in Chi­nese, so no thanks. South Africa? Puh-leaze. Switzer­land, Swe­den, Slove­nia, et al? We make our liv­ings in the only lan­guage we speak.

That pretty much left New Zealand, a place we vaguely knew was near Aus­tralia and was re­puted to be peace­ful, en­vi­ron­men­tally aware and un­big­oted. And ski­able.

I ap­plied for a job. Got it. We sold or gave away nearly ev­ery­thing, and twin daugh­ters in tow, off we went. Promised our par­ents it would be for only a year.

We stayed 14. The whole fam­ily — now, three gen­er­a­tions of us — be­came dual ci­ti­zens. Week­days, I taught at the world’s south­ern­most med­i­cal school; week­ends, in the guise of Amer­i­can Pie, mor­phed into an un­der­groundish disc jockey. My wife Ef­fin be­came the only Amer­i­can ac­cent on New Zealand TV, co-host­ing the Kiwi equiv­a­lent of “This Old House.” Her photo graced the cover of the coun­try’s lead­ing na­tional mag­a­zine.

Here are the take­aways from our elec- tion-based de­ci­sion, start­ing with three caveats:

First, don’t go expecting per­fec­tion. It doesn’t exist in New Zealand or any­where else on planet Earth. Aotearoa (the orig­i­nal Maori word for New Zealand) has its own prob­lems and id­iots. We pre­fer to be­lieve both are fewer and more man­age­able there.

Se­cond, if job se­cu­rity and mak­ing big money are is­sues, don’t go. I gave up ten­ure and took a two-thirds cut in pay to make the move. Never once re­gret­ted ei­ther, but you very well may.

Third, if you can’t live with­out grand opera or world-fa­mous bal­let or foot­ball or the Ori­oles, stay home. You’ll need to find dif­fer­ent plea­sures in this young Pa­cific na­tion. Among them: the most glo­ri­ous moun­tains and beau­ti­ful beaches in the world, rugby, net­ball (an ac­quired taste, I ad­mit), lo­cal theater and sheep-shear­ing con­tests. Plus, out­stand­ing wine and cof­fee, fish and short­bread.

That said, here’s what, in ad­di­tion to those moun­tains and beaches, New Zealand gave us.

It’s a won­der­ful place to raise a fam­ily. Though not nearly so slow now as in 1972, ev­ery­thing moves at a more mea­sured pace. Chil­dren are grate­ful to par­ents, schools are well ahead of their U.S. coun­ter­parts, ed­u­ca­tion is free and med­i­cal care is af­ford­able.

Maori in Aotearoa are the most invit­ing, most ac­ces­si­ble in­dige­nous peo­ple I know. We took part in hui (gath­er­ings), tangi (fu­ner­als), hangi (feasts) and protests at marae (Maori gath­er­ing places), and are much the richer for it. I’ve lec­tured about the Maori way of death at Har­vard; my first book was about the need for more Maori in the pro­fes­sions.

What’s the great­est gift New Zealand of­fered us? Ex­pan­sion. Our minds ex­panded. Our cul­tural per­spec­tives ex­panded. The range of our friend­ships — now­in­clud­ing Ki­wis, Aussies, In­di­ans, Brits and Poly­ne­sians of many stripes — ex­panded.

And what we did with our lives ex­panded. When you go to a place where you don’t know the rules, you aren’t so lim­ited by them. I wrote in med­i­cal jour­nals about psy­chosurgery, some­thing I’d never have done in New York since I wasn’t a brain sur­geon or even a medic. Ef­fin got a job on na­tional tele­vi­sion, some­thing she’d never have con­sid­ered in New York since she’d never once set foot in a TV stu­dio. Our daugh­ters learned Maori hakas and how to run re­lay. I’d never have spo­ken at Har­vard nor pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine but for New Zealand.

(As a bonus, so I could see how pro­grams were made, I au­di­tioned to be a walk-on for a tele­vi­sion docu­d­rama, and walked off with the ti­tle role. This had lit­tle to do with my act­ing abil­ity — I had, let’s see, zero ex­pe­ri­ence — and ev­ery­thing to do with my ac­cent. The last crim­i­nal hung in New Zealand was, yes, an Amer­i­can.)

One of our daugh­ters has moved back to New Zealand; af­ter the elec­tion, the other cast long­ing eyes south. Ef­fin and I spend con­sid­er­able time there each year.

So, do I rec­om­mend you pack up and go? If those three caveats don’t de­ter you, yes. Very much yes. Mov­ing to New Zealand was one of the best de­ci­sions of our lives.


New Zealand scenery may look pretty good com­pared to a Trump ad­min­stra­tion. Shown here is its high­est moun­tain, Mount Cook, also known by its Maori name of Ao­raki.

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