By Preston and Rebecca Gallwas
Other parts to this series
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Some of you reading this may have heard New Zealand either by Facebook post, word of mouth or in conversation, but may not know how serious we were… We have kept this close to our hearts. We have done so intentionally to avoid disappointment, temper expectations and to keep our sanity during what could be a drawn-out process.
The process is complex and attention to detail is a must. Until recently we did not know where we would go or even how we would get there. We needed a plan to accomplish the monumental task of uprooting a family of 5 along with our 3 furry companions. But the feeling of wanting change for our family begin to overflow our hearts. So, we started our plan… with that this serves has our announcement that the Gallwas family along with our 3 Siberian Huskies will be making the 12000 kilometer (7400 mile) journey to Christchurch, New Zealand by March 2019.
- We are moving to Christchurch, New Zealand, by March 2019
- The visa has been approved, all that remains is to sell our possessions or pack and ship what we are taking
- We are bringing the dogs
- More Family time (aka less traffic)
By far the most common question that has come up when
speaking about the idea of moving we get is “Why would you want to move?”,
followed by “Why not somewhere else in the US?”
The answer lies partially as the inverse, “Why would we not want to move to New Zealand?” Coupled with, “Have you seen what’s happening?” Allow me to explain a bit.
We live as a cohesive family unit that lives on a single income, the sort of “1950’s” nuclear family unit. By all accounts, I’ve achieved what can arguably be described as the American Dream – coming from a divorced single-mother, low-income household to a middle-class life in the suburbs. With that said, it was not without its challenge and hard work. I didn’t attend college or university as I had always felt a strong anxiety around debt and money since I knew it was a finite resource. Student loans, while available, looked insurmountable or just not worthwhile in my early estimation. Couple that with the very reality that I would be on my own to both work, go to school, and pay for it all myself, and the decision to begin working without school happened a bit by default. It wasn’t without a plan though, as I had already started working in IT on a career pathway that could lead to high paying jobs. Looking back, that’s certainly the case. IT is the great equalizer – the barrier to entry is low if you’re willing to learn you can go as far as you’re willing to invest in yourself. You’ll meet people in IT all the time that don’t have college or university degrees who operate at a level at or in some cases above those without. While the structured education may help open one’s mind to certain approaches or broaden their general worldview, when it comes to ‘getting the job done’ the simple fact is that much of the technology itself requires you to learn specifics that cannot be taught in class due to the speed at which things change in order to accomplish the day-to-day tasks in an IT job. With all that said, I’ve had great success in my career advancing to bigger and broader horizons year after year. My children face a similar challenge I will face, but to a greater degree – school will be inaccessible to them without absolutely crushing debt.
My current job with Right! Systems is one that I cherish for the challenges, friendships, and opportunities it has given me. The people are top notch and they really do deliver on exactly what I need out of a work relationship. As a consultant, though, it does require travel to various customers. Given the nature of IT, the customers are dotted throughout the Pacific Northwest, and that’s where our story takes a turn towards societal failings. Simply put, the Puget Sound region has no real way to dig itself out of the hole it is in regarding transit in the next fifty years. When one tells others that you cannot estimate arrival times based on distance but rather time of day, the system is completely broken.
Now, it is entirely possible that we could move closer to the bulk of my customers who would be in and around Seattle or Bellevue. However, going back to the earlier statement about how we’ve chosen to live our lives with Rebecca staying at home, financial reality sets in. If we could buy a house that was 2.1x more expensive than where we live now, I’d cut what is a 2.5 hour commute down to, on an average day without weather or wrecks, to about 1 hour 20 minutes – 1 hour 45 minutes. That’s still in crazy stupid levels of commuting, and we’d be “house poor”. I see hundreds or thousands of drivers each day, who are all in the same congestion that I’m in, and I can’t reconcile how they and their families don’t burn with a fire to find a solution to the infrastructure problems. The reality is, politically, it will likely be impossible due to the culture within Washington State that is vehemently against alternative revenue (tax) collection. 7 million people with a large majority voting against their own interest as they lose time with their loved ones or just plain lose their sanity. Likewise, economic development in other areas has sputtered and the Seattle area has boomed, a trend that is unlikely to change in the next decade (sorry Tacoma, you blew it. Somehow you managed to drive away Russell and State Farm – good luck attracting other large employers).
In addition to the infrastructure woes, the health care system in our nation gives me quite a bit of anxiety. Despite “doing everything we’re supposed to” we’re one bad illness or accident away from being financially ruined, likely for life. When things like a nurse administering a single Tylenol costs nearly $500 ($78 for the pill alone), its easy to hit all the right maximums and be left with huge deductible bills. The intent of the compulsory purchase of insurance was a good one – young people like my family subsidize the older, less healthy people – but that same voting block that gets the benefits also largely votes against such programs despite being the primary beneficiaries. To wit, the healthcare system is a cobbled together mess, with no one willing to step in and fix it, instead draining money from people while not having outcomes that are anywhere near the dollars spent. That’s a lot of high level policy type talk to say our health care premium is about $18,500 a year for the privilege of a $5000 individual deductible / $10000 family deductible. So, on any given year we can likely expect to pay somewhere in the range of $24,000-28,000 before insurance kicks in covering 80%. That’s pretty scary, considering when Elisabeth was born the total bills were nearly $40,000, so we could have looked at another $8,000 out of pocket.
Despite all the doom and gloom about the financial aspect, the thing that gnaws at me perhaps more is the fact that a lot of people have this idea that people aren’t entitled to live a healthy life. Whether it’s a view of, “Well if they can’t afford healthcare they shouldn’t get it!” or “I pay a lot for my insurance why should they get it free?!” I can certainly agree that the idea of it does sting a bit, especially given the financial bits I laid out above, I simply can’t agree that someone should be forced to decide between getting checked out by a doctor or a dentist or not. A few years ago a 20-something year old husband died because he had an abscess tooth; he couldn’t afford the dentist, or so he thought. It is tragic, and no one should be put in that situation. The declaration of independence states “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are unalienable rights. A life in danger because of lack of access to basic care is a life in bondage and not life at all.
In terms of safety, our relatively low-crime area is actually quite fraught with societal problems that pose a real risk. Despite claims to the contrary, there are in fact places where things like petty left, assault, and murder rates are actually low (on a per-capita basis). The culture of violence in the USA is certainly has complicated causes and history, but the fact that there is so much apathy towards solving it is quite worrisome. When it is viewed as just another day when 20 children get massacred at school, or there are a couple of drive by shootings at the Tacoma mall and it is simply accepted in defense of gun rights. The culture of gun worship is simply sickening, and it shows no signs of changing, despite mounting bodies.
We want to live in a place where there is public outrage when a shooting happens. we want to know that if I go to the mall the likelihood of a drive-by shooting nearly does not exist. Or that concerts or other crowded venues won’t be attractive targets. Rather, if something were to happen, I want to live in a place where people are moved by empathy for their fellow human beings to take action to help prevent it in the future. The thought of not getting shot shouldn’t be relegated to statistical probabilities – it should be instead thought of as unthinkable. More often, I hear rather normal people who own guns “for protection” – from what? Why are we living in a country that is so unsafe you feel the need to have a tool that who’s only purpose is to end life? Moreover, what is the calculation for the value of a human life, and why are we having to make it?