I figured I'd get plenty of responses when I invited comment on the Herald's expat story and the issues it raised - but I don't think I expected responses in such length and depth. It's a pleasure to share this, the first tranche of emails, in the order they arrived. They are only lightly edited and this post runs to more than 7000 words. There will be two or three more of these in the coming week. Cheers, RB.
From a letter written (last week) in response to a Melbourne-based friend who has become seriously estranged from his Canterbury, salt of the earth, National voting, Maori-bashing brethren. As a result, he has never returned even to visit, and sees NZ in 20 year-old terms - snap-frozen on Muldoon:
Since moving back to NZ late last year after a long time away, I have been asked by more than a few expat friends what we think of life back in Godzone. This has been my usual response:
New Zealand has changed a lot since we last lived here (15 years ago). Most of the changes in my eyes are cultural - there is now a much stronger emphasis on multi-culturalism (or multi-nationalism), which I think is a good and inevitable thing (even though the blue rinse brigade or conservative rural masses would prefer we still live in the 1950's).
At schools kids learn heaps about Maori culture, they sing the national anthem in Maori and English, newsreaders pronounce Maori names correctly and formally. NZ seems to be trying hard to overcome its isolation and 'plug' into the global culture - technology wise NZ has one of the highest take-ups of new technology in the world, and is used as a 'test' market by most of the big technology providers. There is an explosion of blogs in NZ - literally thousands.
Economically things are relatively sound - the painful market reforms of the 1980's from both National and Labour have largely paid off, and in many ways NZ is quite leading edge and innovative - there is obviously much less emphasis on the export of traditional industry such as agriculture and dairy products, and much more emphasis on information, innovation, creativity, and tourism. Interest rates are still higher than most other western countries, and most people still have way too much personal debt on the back of a property boom, but things are OK. Like Australia there is a major shift from the bush to the city and coast, and some smaller towns are dying.
People like Peter Jackson have taken the traditional kiwi character traits of 'give it a go' and shown that they can be as business oriented, uncompromising, inventive, ruthless and successful as anyone in the world without leaving home - to me this has had a huge impact on NZ.
But don't get me wrong. Its far from paradise, and there are more than their fair share of red-necks, bludgers, hypocrites, crooks, crims, liars, shonks, fantasists, wankers, crap reality show knock-offs, lazy journalists, dullards, and ignoramuses here in Godzone.
It's just that it's OUR fool's paradise, not anyone else's, and compared to Australia, it has fewer illusions about its place in the world. For want of a better generalisation, some of the old Presbyterian, conservative, puritanical, whiskey drinking, pessimistic and glum character traits of our forbearers still ring true along with the new Polynesian dynamic, but there is a recognition of national identity that it is far more preferable to be aware of who we are and celebrate our uniqueness than to be a cheap deputy sheriff USA knock-off, particularly when distance and common sense suggest that there are madmen on the loose in Washington (as well as the hills of Afghanistan).
Whilst we loved our 12 years in Australia (truly the lucky country in so many respects) I couldn't stand the cheap and immoral opportunism of Howard and his bloody 'wedge' politics. The Iraq fiasco aside, the one incident that really brought it home for me was a couple of years ago when the UN issued a report harshly critical of Australia for its detention of refugee children. Howard let that smirking buffoon Alexander Downer off his leash and he hit back at the UN basically claiming they were 'irrelevant' (except in those cases when their position supported Australians interests). Nelson Mandela then stepped in to support the UN as an institution. Downer then attacked Nelson Mandela - basically accusing him of being a UN lapdog and having no understanding of the issue, and also being 'irrelevant'.
The sheer irony and gall of a red cheeked, privileged, private school twat like Downer publicly lecturing Nelson Mandela on human rights, and no Australian media batting an eye, made me feel like a stranger in a strange land.
One of the favourite whipping boys of the rednecks is the Maori trust. NZ has made some serious and genuine efforts to reconcile the Waitangi Treaty with modern NZ, and one of the outcomes of that process (I think) has been the development of Maori trusts. In essence my understanding is the government has said that Maori can look after and have ownership of their own destiny and have funded the setting up of trusts for each Maori tribe for independent management of their funds and assets.
Some of those assets have been traditional crown assets such as land, fishing rights etc etc which are related to the original treaty and ownership. This has been problematic for many white kiwis that can't understand why ownership of land or title or rights has been transferred from the crown to Maori trusts. In most cases absolutely nothing changes except the nature of the public ownership, but there are irrational fears amongst the white middle class that they will one day be told that they cannot go to or use what has been traditionally been considered 'their' public land or assets, like the local beach, because its owned by one of the tribes. So far there has been zero cases of this actually happening, (and who was to say that the Crown wouldn't have one day done the same) but that doesn't seem to stop the fear factor.
In fact there is clear evidence that the Maori trusts have become in many ways a key part of the new engine of the NZ economy ? OK granted there are examples of financial mismanagement just like all businesses and public departments - with an explosion of innovative and multi-cultural business ideas pouring out of the trusts.
On more prosaic matters - the weather ain't as nice, the beer is much much better (hundred of little boutique breweries as a result of easier licensing), the seafood isn't as varied, the wine is just as good, the petrol is more expensive, property is almost as expensive, TV is not as good (but not too far off it), media is just as good if not better, radio is much better, and Auckland has most of the social benefits of Sydney in terms of nightlife and entertainment, if a rather inflated opinion of itself in terms of its place in the country (much like Sydney) - a little too much style over substance. I love the fact that we can strike out in any direction and find a beautiful and remote weekend retreat.
It's interesting that the 'no-nukes' position of NZ is now more firmly entrenched than ever before - on all sides of the political and social spectrum it is seen as a vital celebration of our independence in the big bad world. The shame is that nuclear energy is now becoming more viable compared to other alternatives, and it will be decades before NZ attitudes to that change.
As an aside, I read some fascinating stuff about how the World Bank is basically raping third-word economies through massive interest repayments on their forced debt. For example, the billions of dollars that represents aid given by the western world to the Tsunami hit areas, only covers about 3 months worth of forced debt repayments from those very same countries - the western governments can afford to be so generous because the money will be coming straight back! Dunno how true that is.
On the political scene Helen rules with an iron fist with a centre-left government that steals all the best ideas from the minority parties.
MMP (proportional representation) has neutered the opposition more than the incumbents, because Labour (being more pragmatic, experienced and just better political managers at the moment) know how to negotiate, compromise and barter with the minority parties they need to govern, and the opposition doesn't.
Head of opposition is a neophyte politician (former reserve bank governor) who is a policy wonk that has some policy ideas (stolen from John Howard) that strike a nerve with red-necks the country over - such as attacking special funding for Maori issues (ignoring that Maori - like aboriginal - still die younger, earn less, and have less opportunity than white man, and that most civilised societies usually attempt to address societal imbalance amongst minorities - if they took out the word 'Maori' and replaced it with 'WW1 veteran' or 'disabled children' or even 'unhealthiest 10% of population' then most rednecks then wouldn't have a problem with special funding).
Similarly Brash has also tried to bash social welfare beneficiaries in a now infamous speech referred to as "the solo-mum speech" in which he floated a new policy that would refuse government aid to solo-mums who continue to have children. Unfortunately for Don he didn't actually clear the policy with his cabinet or even his Minister for Social Welfare, who promptly resigned on principle saying that you can't pick on the kids for the 'sins' of the parent, thus blowing a dirty big hole in the side of the Brash armada. He hasn't learnt the Clark (and Howard) political skill of keeping your cabinet in line.
Meanwhile, the Labour response is usually to wait and see the public reaction, and quietly patch up any policy holes exposed by the opposition while leaving the opposition to air their dirty laundry in public. In many ways Clark seems to socially align herself with Scandinavian countries - there is a little bit of social engineering going on, particularly in the education sector.
Making it worse for Brash is that, even though he is loved by the red-necks (for not being female, for not being Labour, for giving a voice to their propensity to moan about the status quo, and for shamelessly playing to their fears), he is a shite debater so he gets mauled by the government head-kickers every time he stands up in parliament. So he seems a bit desperate to me. All that said, NZ is ripe for a quality conservative politician to come through the ranks, it just hasn't happened yet.
By way of introduction, I'm a kiwi, married to an American living in Virginia. I'm just about to hit 30 and plan kids in the near future. The thing that I am finding most interesting at the moment is many many of my friends who have lived overseas for a decent period of time are essentially 'going home to breed'. This sounds a bit funny I guess, but on a recent three week trip home I was amazed at the number, all tertiary educated, who decided that's where they wanted to raise their children. I paid close attention to Helen Clark's comments about subsidized child care, something that is non existent in this part of the world, and will probably be an influencing factor if and when we move back.
I know there are a lot of factors keeping people overseas but I still see this as a big draw to go home, contrary to what that guy said about the path to mediocrity. I don't think the American education system is all that crash hot and I really, really hate the competitiveness to get into the "right" college. Absolutely reasons to come home. Even my husband who considered the lower wages in NZ a reason not to head back quite so soon, has not been able to stop raving about things like the better conditions for employees, the lifestyle and the climate since he has been back.
Expat? Used to be. Did 5 years in Australia. Never again. There's more to life than money, really. Yes, maybe some of those bleating expats are better off overseas. They seem to be unable to look past the tangibles (money) and see the intangibles (spirit, well being, freedom) that this country has in bucketloads.
On the morning that I returned, I remember driving back from the airport in my brother's Falcon ute. There was a small patch of moss on the inside corner of the windscreen. There were ferns growing out of the cracks on his driveway. The local indian dairy was selling taro. I don't think unique is a stong enough word. It's just ... ??
I think I fit the reverse expat role. I'm a foreigner that spends at least 6 months working away from NZ (I consult for UN, EU and ADB on Fisheries issues), and the rest of the time here doing research for government and industry. I've live here since 1995 and I love it.
Yes I agree, you'll never get rich by working for somebody in NZ, which is the main reason for me to spend time away from family and friends doing work overseas. But I believe is not a high price to pay for the benefits of living here. I see it as fair trade off, it is a good place to live.
Diverse, relaxed, fair. I have worked/lived in over 20 countries over many years in the Pacific, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And I'm always happy to come back home and keep my family here. Is one of the few countries where as long as you do your work, and do not do stupid things you go ahead in life.
I arrived here in a fishing boat with $300, a degree without knowing anyone in this country … and managed to build up a life without political connections, or knowing influential people to get ahead. I'm sure I could not have achieved that nowhere else I lived.
I managed to create myself a very cool group of people, get qualifications, teach at university, play music at bFM (hermano paco), KFM, learn to surf, get involved in Maori culture, have kids - name it. if you want to do so something, NZ is one the places where just can go and do it - there is no many people in between you, and what you want to do? that is priceless?
Yes, there are problems, some of them are the problems that you'll find anywhere else, but in much milder form and with a 20 year delay? so that give us an opportunity to learn by not repeating other countries mistakes. Other problems are completely self made and unique to NZ - and is our job to deal with them in our own way, after all this country was born by the consensus of two VERY different people, who still argue - so there are ways forward
We in NZ are very good at complaining - let's turn that one into a positive, by changing things, we don't like. As you said "I want to be part of the story here. The scale of things means it's possible to do that, to actually make a difference".
As a disclaimer, many of my nearest and dearest are currently expatting it, but. ..
Those expat comments in yr post remind me of a nagging suspicion I've had since the whole Richard Poole/Brain Drain business a few years back ... a suspicion that, of the 24.something percent overseas, most are a) dicks; and b) young Nat/ACT types with a chip on their shoulder regarding "PC-ness", taxes, and anything that doesn't support their status- and money- driven world view.
They're cut from the same cloth as the Herald letter writers who threaten to emigrate to Australia because of the (yawn) Helengrad regime.
And National and ACT wonder why their support base has eroded ... it's because all their "bright young things" are overseas getting rich, dodging their student loan repayments and whining about home.
Maybe like Sargeson and Mason and co, if they don't like where New Zealand's headed, they should stay home and try and fix it.
As for me, instead of grumbling, I'm knuckling down, building a career at home and paying off the old student loan. It started at $42K - four times the median - yet I'm chipping away at it at a decent rate. I'm about to buy a house (note to scaremongers: Banks really don't care about student loans), and I've even started an education fund for my 1 year old. Can't find that much to whinge about really.
As a NZ boatbuilder I have worked for 2 different Americas Cup Challengers in the last 2 Cups. The comments about NZ schools from foreign parents working for these syndicates were overwhelmingly positive. Quite a few of these people have based themselves here now.
Hah, I was in Singapore for 10 years, pulled out to Aus because the Singaporean education system was destroying my kids.
Singapore wants to teach kids how to think in a very precise way with very precise methods - you can not do it that way.
Roll on the Australasian education system - you can't teach kids how to think with very precise questions and answers on paper. Where are the real challenges beyond rote for the little minds?
Robert den Hartog
I wish I'd seen the questions! I started writing a response in here, but it got too long, so I blogged about it instead. The full response lives here: http://thirtynotout.blogspot.com/2005/03/one-in-four.html
But in summary, some of us don't come home, or haven't come home because we have just got settled, and have found a community that allow us to make our own difference.
The world is a better place because folk like you and Graham plum for my town. Some day I'll be there too, cheering it on. At the moment, I'm afraid you'll have to settle for admiration from afar.
I'm an expatriate Australian living in Wellington and I find the whole media thing about expats not coming back to NZ, or NZers leaving NZ because of 'pc' and other policies of the current government ludicrous.
The vocal expats tend to be earning a lot more overseas and are often politically motivated (eg: the guy who went on Holmes) - typical right wing whingers. I think the majority of NZers have gone overseas to experience something they can't in NZ or just to try and pay off their student loans. The policies of the previous National government have far more to do with the diaspora than the current government's policies.
I'm still not quite sure why I'm still in NZ - its certainly not to do with wages or quality of life in normal terms (eg space etc) - but there are certainly a lot of things that I get from living in Wellington that I couldn't get anywhere else in the world.
In academia, as Che Tibby is living demonstration, you can't , or at least shouldn't, do the whole undergrad, post-grad, post-doc experience here. It's just too small.
But many of us who did go overseas to study or post-doc, do come back.
There's a lot of hysteria about people leaving, but check back in 10 years, and many of them while be back in NZ.
I'm a teacher in Hong Kong and read your entry on the Herald's expat survey. Although I haven't read the Herald piece, the tone you relate from it is consistent with the generally expat frame of mind - that 'we' are so much better off and so much the wiser for having had the gumption and ability to leave NZ. This is tempered, of course, with recollections of barbecues, lawn mowers and scrum-wide supermarket aisles.
It's part of living away from NZ, though, that you have to have justification for doing so. Like conscientious objectors and soccer players, expats feel the need to explain themselves. That pay packets in the places kiwis leave for are large provides a good deal of that justification.
I'd like to remove myself from this shallow picture of rationalising venality, but as a teacher, the benefits for me of leaving NZ were compelling enough, just like everyone else who leaves.
And the fellow you quote first in your article, Jamie someone, is probably attacking NZ's education system all the more because he is forced to endure the rationalisations of his colleagues/mates who are paying $1500 NZ a month for international schooling.
GREAT COLUMN!!! Thank you very much, I was furious when I read the Herald piece, so much bloody negativity and just plain nonsense (your man and the 3rd world schooling!) that I agree with you, they can come back if they leave the chips behind - excellent response - be very keen to see how your expat readers react. FYI - We live in a house 15 minutes walk from the Wellington waterfront, dead centre of town and all affordable on double incomes - not the case if it was London, New York or even Sydney.
I can add a little bit to the arguments as I am a recently returned ex-pat (well to be honest I've been back for 3 years now, so not so recent).
Firstly with regard to tax rates. Things are often not as they seem. I had the good fortune to work for over a year in Dubai, which is tax free. While I admit that this was financially rewarding for myself and my partner, I did notice that the absence of income tax did not mean the absence of revenue gathering on the part of the Dubai government.
The most obvious revenue gathering schemes involved the prices charged for essential utility services, which are all government owned. For example, our water and power bill for a mid-sized three bedroom house, came in at NZ $3000 per month! (local Emiraties are subsidised and pay only a fraction of that amount). Admittedly, in New Zealand you don't have to run an air conditioner the size of a pool table, but boy that's still expensive.
Countries with lower tax rates lack the very things provided for by our taxes. In Dubai there would be no free education for our children (if we had had our wee Charlotte while we were there). There are no free hospitals, no unemployment benefit (indeed if you have no job, as a foreigner you are required to leave the country within two months - no such thing as unemployment in Dubai!) and of course no superannuation etc. So all the Dubai government really needs to fork out for is police, defence and roading.
Basically, as a nation, we have decided to put aside a portion of what we earn for education, health and social welfare, and equally as a nation we could decide not to, and thus pay less in tax. I would imagine that most of us don't wish to forgo these publicly provided services, so all we can really do, is collect and disburse tax as efficiently as possible, and concentrate on getting the biggest bang for our hard earned tax dollar. So until we decide to cut back on what our taxes provide, we'll need to keep gathering tax revenue at a similar rate (ignoring current government surpluses). Of course we'll tinker with who pays what (i.e. tax brackets/rates), but the money has to come from somewhere.
Education now; you can bet your last dollar that I'd not have got my nice job in Dubai if it weren't for my Bachelors degree in Engineering from Auckland University - paid for by the New Zealand tax payer. How thankful am I! I would urge expatriates bemoaning New Zealand's education system to be mindful that their successes overseas owe everything to the level of free education provided to all New Zealanders. As my child has only just started walking, I have no knowledge of NCEA so I have nothing (knowledgeable) to add here on that over-reported subject. But my overall faith in the NZ education system remains.
So, although my OE did me very well, I am also pleased to be back in New Zealand, and I am gladly paying tax, mindful of the opportunities it provides for the next batch of Kiwis.
I am an expat living in St. Louis, MO, USA. If I could transport my job and my daughter's school to Auckland I would move in a heartbeat. I am a US business school professor. However, it is not clear to me that not having me is a great loss either.
Let me explain why my job isn't in NZ. First, there's pay (isn't there always?). US universities pay very differently between the fields. I therefore make at least three times what someone of my rank in history (say) at my university makes. At last calculation taking the exchange rate into account (which isn't quite fair) I would divide my salary by about five to move to NZ. This is one reason I'm not sure I'm a great loss to NZ - that would be a relatively big expenditure. Also, does is make sense to pay differently among the different fields, is it "fair"? I don't have the answers.
However, I try to convince myself its not really only about the money and there is definitely an argument on job quality loss. I am at a research university where research is highly valued, teaching loads are kept manageable, and there are plenty of resources (Ph.D. students, conference travel money, etc.) to make sure I am research productive. I have colleagues to work with who have the same research values and interests that I have. It is not clear that I would get similar in NZ. However, is NZ big enough to support a top tier research university (as opposed to a solid one) - its not so clear.
Finally, there's my daughter's school. She is in a Montessori school - NZ has no Monetessori primary schools as far as I can tell. One reason we chose this type of school is that students work at their own pace. My daughter is clearly "gifted" (as my husband and I both have Ph.D.s from Stanford this is not a big surprise). Montessori is not targeted for the gifted but works well across abilities. (Australia by the way has a number of Montessori schools.)
Further, I fear my daughter is "profoundly gifted". Why do I say fear? Because I am not of the opinion that brighter is always better - I want my daughter to have a happy life and excess intelligence does seem to complicate this. I would count myself on the border line between gifted and profoundly gifted and I was profoundly bored in NZ schools - I also learned to "play dumb." Hopefully things have improved but I have seen little evidence. Further, if someone is profoundly gifted then I think mainstreaming is very unlikely to work - it doesn't seem like NZ education has realized this. See:
For a local (to me) story on this issue. What I want for my daughter is that she not be frequently bored, not lose her love of learning, and not be teased for her intelligence. I believe that Montessori eduation has the highest chance of this of any currently available to us. I would want clear proof of something comparible before I moved her.
I can't help but think the Herald only published the worst of its ex-pat survey respondents. Where were the responses that reflect my experience of a few years ago and those of virtually everyone I know who has spent some time living overseas?
That experience being a pleasant and rewarding time enjoying a different lifestyle and culture, while gaining a lot of useful knowledge not available here. All the time knowing that ultimately we would probably return, put that experience to good use and raise a family in a more familiar and secure environment. And, yes, we pay less tax here and enjoy an excellent education system.
Now I work with several ex-pats here; American, Australian and English. No doubt most of them will also return to their home countries eventually, but at the moment they are all enjoying what New Zealand has to offer. Not only a great lifestyle, but also a smaller, more nimble business environment which allows them to see their ideas through to fruition without the cumbersome management hierarchy that is prevalent in those big overseas markets.
Obviously there are some people (and I very nearly became one) who have found living overseas so much to their taste that they have decided to make it permanent. But it is sad to see some of them believing all this media hysteria about New Zealand and quoting it to justify their decision.
So the "brain drain" story has been brought out for circulation again? I saw the story online in the Herald on Saturday too. I have been an expat for more than six and a half years and so I thought I might respond to your invitation with my own story.
After leaving school I worked in Welly at Radio NZ?s Broadcasting House, which was a job I loved but after a couple of years I just needed to go to varsity and do some more learning. I began my tertiary education at the age of 21 and stayed for 5 years, racking up a small student loan.
Even back then I felt that I would have to do something unconventional to "catch up" with the money making; working at RNZ hadn't been well-paid, and I had indulged my interests at both varsity and polytech (politics and electronics ? go figure!), so by the time I was ready to start full-time work again I had few possessions to my name.
Luckily I got into the cellular telecommunications business at the right time and this eventually gave me my passport to expat employment. After four years work in NZ I got a job in Beijing, China, and moved there in mid 1998; my partner followed me 6 months later and we ended up staying there for five and a half years. About this time last year we transferred to Taipei, Taiwan.
I don't want to simplify the reasons why I became an expat nor why we have stayed away so long. There was always a financial incentive, but my partner and I also always wanted to travel. Furthermore, we wanted our travel to consist of living somewhere and not just passing through for a few weeks or months. I never chose China - it was the first place that offered me a job. We ended up staying there for such a long time because it was such an interesting place to live - a real challenge and a place that is changing so rapidly. I know other friends who ended up working in Western Europe and they all went home much sooner - life in Europe wasn't that different to life in NZ.
Being expats has meant we haven't had to worry much about money, though with the declining US dollar my salary is probably little different to what I would now be paid in NZ (when I first began in China I was probably being paid twice what I could get at home).
It is still attractive to be here because we have no accommodation nor utilities costs. We have been able to start a family over the last 4 years and my partner has been able to stay at home full time, which is something that she wanted to do. Returning to NZ will be a bit problematic because I'm not sure I will be able to do the same type of work. We hope we can stay out long enough to accumulate enough cash to give us options when we eventually return home. Secondary education for our boys will probably set the limit on our time abroad - we want our boys to grow up with a Kiwi cultural identity.
You won't find us slagging NZ, though from time to time we do come across expat NZers who do - race relations seems to be a common theme, but then I generally find such types to be ill-informed. We miss NZ - friends, family and Kiwi humour (we have just started watching Bro Town) - but not desperately.
We get back about every two years, and though not a lot changes, the food is damn good, as is the wine, etc, etc. We get to see Super 12 and the Tri Nations rugby on TV here and George and bFM are always available to stream. Actually, that is one thing that would put me off a return to NZ right now - since our time in Beijing we have had access to pretty cheap, limitless, broadband. We'll stream NZ radio all day long without a thought of how much data we are downloading. We pay a fixed monthly fee and that's all. It seems that kind of broadband access isn't really available yet in NZ.
Living in Asia may be interesting, but one day we get to go home, and whether or not we are fooling ourselves, we do feel rather smug about that.
Thanks for making me feel more guilty! I grew up in Taranaki, and have a B.Sc (Hons), in Geology from VUW. I currently live in Raleigh, NC, USA, with my husband and two daughters, born in Colorado. I did not ever plan to live here, but am happy currently. We are constantly debating whether or not to return to New Zealand. The main reason that we haven't yet is that all of my husband's family are here, and less able to travel than my own. My parents reside in the Bay of Islands, and between our three visits to NZ, and their visits here, we've seen each other almost once a year in the 12 years that I've lived here.
(logistics such as taxes etc. would also be a nightmare.)
I have no doubt that our children would receive a fine education in NZ. I believe that parental involvement is key to success. I am Secretary of our elementary/primary school PTA here, and would expect to be involved to some extent if we were to move to NZ.
Income, of course, is a factor, and mine is certainly more than I would earn in NZ, if I could even find a similar job. I work as a Geographic Information Systems Analyst for an Engineering Consulting firm.
I do not want my children to grow up with only a US view of the world, and am doing my best to educate them with a wider world view.
I did not leave with the intention of working here. I have friends that left and returned. This has been more difficult for some than others.
I feel guilty for not being in NZ, but find it hard to leave here, strange as that may sound!
NZ: the countries great, the big problem is some of the people, and because it is small its hard to escape them.
I was working in the TV industry. And wanted to move up the ladder.
1 The ladder doesnt really exist. Its more a wall of pidgeon holes and you stay where you are put.
2 There is a log jam of dead wood upstream.
As an English person who chose to come to NZ 11 years ago I totally agree with your view of NZ, but don't find the attitudes of some of the (moaning) expats you quoted from the Herald surprising (more on this below).
I work in the CompSci dept at Waikato (which is where I came when I moved here, from the University of London) and, being still (having to be, for work) very internationally connected (and travelling back to Europe very frequently) I know just how badly paid we are (even relative to living costs)---and the lifestyle is becoming increasingly like it was in Europe, so the feeling we've traded income for a quieter life is becoming harder to sustain. However, it's certainly true that you can make a mark here which almost none of us would do "back home"---it's just too big, and climbing to a place where you can make an impression takes too long unless you're already some way "up" there.
The people quoted are suffering from "justification" syndrome---a set of attitudes which one takes on to justify to oneself (and others) leaving your home country. Partly guilt and partly wanting to convince yourself you've made the right decision in totally turning your life upside down---so don't be too hard on them. Imagine if the only way you found out about a country was through a largely useless and biased media! Not much chance of talking through any orifice but your arse (along with that very media!) then, I think :-)
We're on the way home after 5 years in Berlin, where, with fellow NZer Ken Gorbey, I led the development of the Jewish Museum Berlin. I was offered a permanent position here, but we're NZers - have never thought of ourselves as anything but, and we just got too homesick. Yes, I'm being very well paid here and it may be tricky to re-establish ourselves, but in the end it'll work out. The problem with living here is, you're not really here - can't vote, don't really belong. The Germans are perfectly welcoming, but you're a curiosity, a guest; you don't really count. In the end it's a superficial life.
I'm living in Sydney at the moment, having expatted myself to do a PhD somewhere with more choice and funding, and I think you're quite right about the wage issue. I was getting more money lifting bricks on a building site here last summer than I did writing scientific reports in NZ. I've talked to a couple of Kiwi students who came over here just for the summer to work.
This isn't going to stop me coming back to NZ in a couple of years though. I think perhaps it's easier for some expats (especially those with established jobs, houses, family etc) to talk down their country of birth than admit anything wrong with their adopted country. The Maori guy who thinks he'd be in prison in NZ should look at what happens to Aboriginal people in Oz...
It is with interest that I read yesterdays post. The previous evening I was sitting and talking to an established and respected academic, who asked with some (mildly inebriated) puzzlement "what the hell are you here for? You come from one the most progressive and liberal democratic countries in the world", followed by the common refrain "and the most beautiful".
He was referring to why I had left New Zealand to study in Australia and the answer I gave was straight to the point. I explained that I was in studying in Australia for a couple of reasons, one being that as a PhD student I don't have to pay student fees and the employment prospects being what they are I can enjoy a high standard of living while I study. In addition I seem to be surrounded by a community of active and formidable minds. I attribute this community to the difficulty of achieving higher standards than others. Competition it seems is the primary attracting factor that influenced my decision to come to Australia, and this is attributable to one reason, population. The lifestyle, learning, and employment opportunities (especially for someone with an interest in a somewhat niche field) seem to be greater when there is a greater population present.
Consequently I expect that once I have finished studying here I will move on again, most likely to Europe or Asia, where again the population is greater. The chance to excel in niche fields is greater and at the same time more of a challenge due to the competition.
If some people read that last paragraph and thought, "well, he thinks he is pretty good". Perhaps that is indicative of the comments of Leslie Lipson about creating a conscious "restraint on talent".
While writing this, on my desktop I have a picture of the Coromandel that I took last Christmas. The sky is grey, and the clouds are threatening, the land has hunks gashed from its surface. On the left is a lone pohutukawa tree, it has been twisted and knotted by age and wind.
New Zealand has gifted me with an education second to none, an understanding and respect of cultures that drives away the fear of the unknown, and a sense of adventure that enables move comfortably in unfamiliar environments. Sounds cheesy I know, but I know a few expat Kiwis and they tend agree. While some of the expats I know may never return to New Zealand they eagerly keep up to date with the NZ news and still think of the long days hanging around their various bachess shaded by the pohutukawas.
The jingoism that surrounds New Zealanders recurrent fear of their young leaving their shores is ill founded and speaks more of New Zealanders sense of inferiority in the world. I often wonder when NZ will stop worrying about the 'exodus' and start embracing the bright and talented immigrants that arrive each day to NZ's shores. If those who leave are as smart and talented that everyone says they are then they will venture out into the world learn, develop, and possibly return. If they don't and they/we are as wonderful as the Herald suggested (NZ's brightest) then New Zealand stands to gain a great deal of attention and respect on the world stage as a country that produces young people of talent and ability.
I hope to return one day, and return with what skills I gained from my travels, then not only I but the community I live in may be the better for it. Although I did not see the New Zealand Herald article I was not surprised that NZ Herald would consider this news worthy. Get over it New Zealand, and get on with what you are, one of the most open, progressive and liberal democracies on the face of this shrinking planet. Be proud that as a country you can send talented and adventurous young people out into the world and know that their doing so is a benefit and a credit to the country.