In case you’ve missed any of the growing number of posts on this blog, you can check out the Contents post to find them in some sort of order or chronology and/or organisation by topic or location.
So what’s the story? What is wrong with Expat Kiwi?
I was born in New Zealand and lived there until 1997. I’ve lived for most of the last 20 years in the UK, with occasional forays into other countries such as Italy, India and Thailand. I recently decided to write about my life and travels abroad, hoping that my insights and experiences might be interesting or helpful to other people, whether from New Zealand or other countries, but I guess that I hope to have a connection with other expat Kiwis.
Oh, did I mention that I consider myself an expat Kiwi too?
To me this term works very well, it’s short, it’s snappy, it’s accurate! I’m also a little bit homesick for New Zealand, but I don’t know if I will ever live there again, my life is now in Greece, with my wife and two cats.
I recently posted in r/NewZealand on Reddit looking for other expat Kiwis who might like to write for my Medium publication Homesick Kiwis. I was surprised by the response from some members on there, that they had an issue with the word ‘expat’. Several people were wondering what I meant, whether I meant Migrant New Zealanders, Kiwis who had left New Zealand, or I guess immigrant New Zealanders. Which doesn’t make any sense to me because then they would have emigrated from somewhere else and wouldn’t be New Zealanders… Unless things have changed that much since I left where anyone who lives in New Zealand now considers themselves a Kiwi?
I tried to explain what I meant, but I was also rate-limited (I couldn’t post freely, I had to wait for 2, 8 or sometimes 14 minutes before I could post) which made it difficult to have a conversation about what the issue was.
Over time, quite a long time, it became clear that the language was the issue, the word expat versus the words migrant/immigrant… Expat seemed to have a strong negative connotation of rich, old white folk
“free to traipse the world living high-quality, guilt-free international lifestyles – but these are ‘expats’, not filthy ‘immigrants’ ” (quoted from u/Mob_King)
But it’s ok for an actual Expat Kiwi…
The complaints seemed to only come from people actually living in New Zealand. Because meanwhile, some actual expats Kiwi contributed wondering what the problem was, stating that they call themselves Kiwi expats all the time.
While I understand the issue that Mob_King raised it did seem kinda dumb that there was such an issue with the use of the word. I do agree that it is mostly higher-skilled white-skinned people that are called, or call themselves, expats, while it is mostly lower-skilled brown-skinned people who are stuck with the label of ‘migrant workers’.
But by the same token, I guess I am a higher-skilled white-skinned person… So the label fits, even though I didn’t make the label.
And do I need to point out that I would not exclude a New Zealander who was lower-skilled, no matter what their skin colour was, that wanted to write for the publication. And I would perhaps even encourage them to call themselves an expat to take the power back!
I am presuming, from some of the comments on the thread that the terms have been misused by New Zealand media and politicians to differential the two groups, causing some discomfort in the general population.
I am only guessing because the more I undertake this process and journey of blogging about my EXPAT life (using the word consciously and forcefully now) I am realising more and more that I am SOOO out of touch with New Zealand as a country.
I left when I was 19 years old. I have only spent a few months back ‘home’ in the intervening 23 years, I have a very outdated idea of the country. I feel like it’s still my country, I feel like that’s where my heart lives, I’m always so happy to return ‘home’ but I only see a few friends and my family, so my actual experience of the country is limited in both time and scope.
Joining a couple of New Zealand based Reddit groups has helped me understand the country a little bit more. I understand that housing prices are ridiculous for the average Kiwi, but I’ve lived in London for such a long time that it’s basically the Norm for me anyway, and even at 43 years of age I still feel miles away from owning my own property, in New Zealand or anywhere else for that matter.
Over the intervening years I feel like I’ve stayed in touch with the country through the music of such bands as Salmonella Dub, before they broke up, then Fat Freddy’s Drop and when I want to rock out, The Datsuns, as well as Kiwi actors like Temuera Morrison, Karl Urban and Martin Henderson (probably no relation) and the output of creatives such as Peter Jackson and more recently Taika Waititi, no list of Kiwi talent is complete without Bret and Jermaine of Flight of the Conchords! All of whom I recommend checking out! (links are for the benefit of those Non-New Zealander readers and the lazy)
But all of this is no substitute for actually living in a country and experiencing the change over 20+ years.
Mob_King from Reddit did like my idea that I could write a blog post about the expat/migrant issue, but I don’t know if he (or she? I guess a Mob King should be a he, right?) would be happy with the way it turned out. However, Mob_King was helpful and mentioned the Coming Home Podcast on The Spin-off which deals with some of the same issues we discussed, but from a quick squizz seems to be largely about the reverse Brain-Drain, that is being called the Brain-Gain. As yet I haven’t had time to listen to it, but I’ve included the link in case your interested.
On a final note, I have an English friend called Nada, (I hope that she won’t mind me using her name) that I met at a Telesales job in Brighton, UK. Nada actually encouraged me to become an English teacher a long time ago!
Anyway, her dream was to live in New Zealand, and she achieved this dream, with her husband and son, living outside of Christchurch, they even bought their dream house.
But they left, for a number of reasons, and I’m inadvertently part of the cause.
The Brain-Drain… Not that I’m so smart or valuable to any country, I’m not a brain surgeon, a rocket scientist or even a computer programmer. I’m an English teacher, and that’s mostly because I was lucky enough to be born in a country where the language is spoken natively with a cute accent.
But I digress.
Her strong impression, I would say conviction, and something that at least partially ruined the dream for her was the general consensus held (not sure by whom, can’t be everybody? Perhaps among older New Zealanders) that, and I quote ‘All of the Good [young] New Zealanders leave, and only the shit ones remain’
Ok, so I might have paraphrased a little bit, but that was the general feeling that she conveyed to me when we caught up in a London pub during one of her brief visits to the UK maybe 10 years ago.
Nada has a tendency not to sugar coat things, she’s pretty blunt in fact, so I don’t know how overt this feeling is in a certain New Zealand population but I can understand how the young Kiwis who chose to stay in their beloved homelands might feel about that extremely unfair label.
As to my reasons for leaving and staying away, I think that deserves a post of its own, which is coming soon!
The next instalment of the Thoughts of an Expat Kiwi is coming soon!
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