Epic landscapes, incredible new friends, easy travel to Pacific islands: when people ask me about living and working in New Zealand, I love to focus on the most exciting parts of the experience.
But when Matt and I were sitting at our kitchen table in Chicago starting to talk seriously about the idea of moving here, our conversation tended toward questions that were a lot more mundane. What would our commutes be like? Is the coffee any good? Would we have time to see the country? Could we even afford it? And of course: was this idea totally crazy?
If you’re thinking about a working as a doctor in New Zealand, you’ve probably already checked out photos of its breathtaking natural beauty and heard about New Zealand’s friendly and down-to-earth culture. But what about the day-to-day stuff that really shapes our experiences?
With this post (and a few more on the way), I’m hoping to share the experiences -- both the boring ones and the amazing ones -- that Matt and I have had since we packed our suitcases and made the move from Chicago to Thames, a little town with a regional hospital on the Coromandel peninsula. Matt is working as an emergency physician in New Zealand and I’m working as a writer. I’m living the experience of adjusting to a totally different lifestyle here and also see how different Matt’s day-to-day life is, both professionally and outside of work. We now have lots of conversations around a new kitchen table on the other side of the world about the differences between working as a doctor in the U.S. and New Zealand.
Here are a few quick observations I wish I’d heard when we were back in Chicago trying to imagine the logistics of life in a different hemisphere:
Working as a doctor in New Zealand is a serious job, but Matt has a lot of free time to travel and enjoy life. Matt still works hard here but he has a reasonable schedule with a lot of long weekends, plus plenty of vacation and professional leave to attend conferences. He rarely works nights and is often home for dinner. It’s a bit of a cliche, but work-life balance seems very real here. He does work late from time to time, but for the most part is expected to go home on time, use his vacation days and take leave for professional development.
We really do get outside a lot. It’s ridiculously easy to access well-kept hiking tracks, running trails, cycle paths, swimming beaches and excellent picnic spots. I’m almost expecting to pick up surfing and diving skills by osmosis. Even if we only have an afternoon off, we can hike to a waterfall or go for a swim.
The commute can’t be beat. The town where we live, like a lot of small towns in New Zealand, is compact and walkable. Matt walks about three minutes to work, a stroll that includes passing a little stream and hearing native birds sing from their trees. If I have meetings in another town, I drive or hop on one of the buses that seem to connect every tiny town in New Zealand.
The technology is totally fine. My cousin who works in IT literally gasped when I told him I was moving to New Zealand. He said: “But they only have one internet cable!” I still hear from people back home who think we must be living in the technological dark ages. But rest assured: the internet connection is A-OK and everyone back home looks pretty good on Skype.
We can afford a good lifestyle in New Zealand and still pay our bills back home. If you’re considering work as a doctor in New Zealand, you’re probably already thinking about what it would mean financially. In our case, the reality is that we both make less here than we did in the U.S. But it’s more than enough to live very comfortably, save a little bit, travel a lot and still pay the bills (hi there, medical school loans!) back home. While some consumer goods like clothes and books have been more expensive here, the basics -- like good food and a nice place to live -- have been very affordable.
The culture really is warm and down-to-earth. Before Matt had even started his job, one of his colleagues had loaned us her beach house for the weekend. We’ve experienced amazing hospitality and the type of practical neighborly support that makes a difference no matter how far you’ve moved.
The coffee is excellent. So is the food, and so is the wine. We get great produce at the farmers’ market and fresh fish from the wharf. I spend a lot of time writing in coffee shops and am constantly tempted by warm scones.
Nobody here thinks we’re crazy for doing this. Spending a few years living and working in a different culture is almost a rite of passage for a lot of Kiwis. Plus, the medical community here is very international. When I talk to my neighbors or colleagues about what’s on my mind as I’m adjusting, a lot of them easily relate because their own life stories include a stint overseas.
When we started thinking about moving to New Zealand, there were moments when it seemed completely far-fetched. It took a lot of effort to uproot ourselves. But last weekend I was again struck by a thought that’s hit me every so often since we’ve moved. Sitting on a rock outcropping at the top of a gorgeous sea cliff after camping by the beach and walking through a field of little lambs, the effort and logistics seemed very small. I just thought: I can’t believe we ever considered not doing this.
Tara Kennon is an American writer living and working in New Zealand’s beautiful Coromandel peninsula. While she interviews macadamia farmers and attempts to learn proper British spelling, her partner Matt is learning the ins and outs of New Zealand’s healthcare system as an emergency physician in a regional rural hospital. This series shares an on-the-ground perspective of their journey from Chicago to this gorgeous little corner of the Southern Hemisphere.