| January 16, 2019
Part 4 - The Journey Begins – Wellington
During my stay in Wellington, I stayed in Karori in an AirBnB with a host by the name of Ken. I also met Michael, who was a kiwi from Auckland in Wellington looking for work for just under a week. Ken was a paragon of his community, having been an employee of Zealandia, involved in local community activism, volunteering his time and giving of himself to make the community a better place for all. Michael was a facilities manager for a school for many years, but unfortunately needed to exit his job due to the growing pressures and demands placed on him. He came to Wellington to get away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland.
In addition to Ken and Michael, a woman named Barbara visited from the South Island for a couple of nights. She worked for Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), which is like Workers Comp and needed to be in Wellington for the next several months a few days a week. The four of us had several lovely conversations about life in New Zealand as well as life in the United States. We discussed facets of life down to mundane details, and they seemed quite taken aback by some of the very basic necessities of life that put a rather large stress on me.
My first week in Wellington I aggressively was applying for jobs, hoping to land interviews while I was in town. To that end, I met with a recruiter. He seemed optimistic that I’d be able to find some employment in New Zealand and during my stay sent over a few opportunities that weren’t quite a match. We talked about why I wanted to move, my urgency, and my skills and work history.
Later in the week I met a man who I had connected with via Reddit. He was from the Seattle area and had recently emigrated with his family about 9 months previous. A programmer, he now works at a mobile application development company in user experience design. His children are age 11 (boy) and 6 (twin girls). I told him what my primary aims were, my current life situation then sat back and let him talk. He hit practically every single point motivating us to consider moving – the business of Seattle, the culture of pressure in the US, guns, violence, schools, societal dysfunction…he said that since moving his children, who were in ‘very nice’ schools previously are actually thriving in New Zealand schools. He was nearly brought to tears when he described how his son came to him, after moving, and said he didn’t feel safe because they did not spend time practicing shooter drills (Michael later clarified that lockdown drills are practiced, but school shootings are basically unheard of in New Zealand).
After my meeting, I walked over to take the parliament tour. I had some time to pass before the next tour began, so, seeing an embassy across the street, I decided to go see what the US embassy looked like – the Thai Embassy looked nice enough and I just wanted to have a peek at ours. Luckily, it was only a few blocks away. I approached, staring at my phone, wondering if I was in the right spot, checking the pointer on Google maps. I couldn’t see any signage and the building was drab. As I looked up, I saw the words “Embassy of the United States of America” and before I could even sigh in disappointment at how ugly it was, someone said from the other said of the fence: “Move along or face arrest.” I was quite offended to be threatened with arrest for walking on the streets (which, by the way, were in New Zealand territory, and in my head, I thought to myself, “Yeah, come at me buddy”) but instead I said to him only, “I am a US citizen.”, then went back towards the Parliament building. I crossed the street, and someone came out of a different building and said, “Better stay away from there mate, we call it the prison.” I laughed a bit, let him know what they said and expressed my disappointment.
The Parliament tour provided an overview of how the government is structured and how policies and laws are passed. New Zealand’s government operates with a single house of parliament in an adversarial system, with the coalition government on one side and the opposition on the other. We were also taken around the grounds themselves to see the various rooms and buildings that make up Parliament.
After the parliament tour, which lasted one hour, I headed over Lambdon Quay to meet a Polish woman that I had connected with via the “Moving to New Zealand Facebook” group. We shared stories over drinks for three hours. Our conversation was extremely informative on details about the immigration process, difficulties in moving, and just general questions about the process. I was thrilled to sit and meet another person who had emigrated and wanted to soak up the advice.
On Friday, my fifth day in Wellington, I spent time working on changes to my LinkedIn profile, applying for more jobs and connecting with additional recruiters recommended to me from my meetings the few days previous. After having lunch in the CBD, I met up with Ken who gave a private tour of Zealandia, which was simply incredible. His knowledge of the area is fantastic, and I feel better about people in the world knowing there are such selfless individuals out there.
After Zealandia he drove me to the gun mounts of Karori which provided a wonderful view of all of Wellington. We drove back down to the CBD and had dinner on the waterfront alone at St Johns where they had some live music. Although it was a bit windy and a admittedly a bit pricy, it was nice to just people watch and see how people spent their evenings in the city enjoying what Wellington has to offer.
On Sunday, after a wet and rainy Saturday spent indoors, I went down to the CBD to have lunch with someone else I had connected with. We talked of many things and it was very enlightening to hear more stories of how kiwis spend their time and live their lives. I heard more stories of volunteering, which had been a recurring theme to this point. After lunch, I set out walking a bit but only made it about 10 KM with a pretty gnarly blister building up. I got back on reddit and posted to see if anyone wanted to get together to meet up and almost immediately a couple from Austin, Texas reached out. Back to Macs Brewery (what can I say, this place was awesome) where spent several hours talking about our motivations for wanting to move and where we were at in life. They have four kids in the suburbs of Austin and, again, echoed many of the same reasons for wanting to move (general craziness of the US, and Texas). They are fortunate in that they qualify for a visa without needing a job offer.
Leaving Wellington was a bittersweet experience, as I had become quite fond of the city. I was initially skeptical of the title “Coolest Little Capitol in the World”, but honestly, I think it is appropriate. I am absolutely impressed with the public transport and general vibe of how people get-on throughout the city. There is, however, the risk of the earthquakes as with most of the country. Wellington has New Zealand’s highest earthquake risk in fact, due to a fault that runs directly beneath the central business district. I took the Interislander Ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton where I stayed for the night. The views on the way were absolutely to die for.