I have found it very hard to condense my experiences in New Zealand into any clear and discernible patterns. Partly this is about scale – trying to articulate the trends that come out of an entire country is much more complex compared to a single city or a more specific region; not that there is any guaranteed accuracy in that approach either!
No, the main aspects that stands out to me as I depart New Zealand – and this is by no means exclusive to this country, is connected to the notion of choices: who has them, versus who doesn’t. And, who chooses to take the opportunities available to them, and who doesn’t.
In relation to the first, it was fascinating to learn about Maori and Pacifica culture and the heritage these communities bring to modern New Zealand; it is just so very different to anything we are exposed to back in the UK. It is hard though not to recognise the distinct disadvantage that many of these communities are faced with in modern New Zealand, in particular in relation to their educational opportunities.
In relation to the second, in an earlier article I highlighted that many New Zealanders take the opportunity to work or travel abroad, via an OE (Overseas Experience). It is a big part of the culture here and a situation that many families experience, with students or adults moving and living abroad for a number of years. Similarly, I met a large number of people who had chosen not to take up this opportunity, but to in fact stay in New Zealand. There is of course no right or wrong answer to this option, but it does appear a very distinct choice facing many kiwis as well as their families – and thus can have significant bearing on the trajectory their lives ultimately take.
Building on these general points it is impossible not to relate them directly to the specific situation facing the community of Christchurch.
Because there are people in that area who now have very few choices; they have lost their homes, or find themselves with land in an area that can no longer be built upon, giving them much less choice or autonomy in their future directions than they previously may have otherwise had. Equally, for those portions of the community that are not inhibited in this way, many have gone through a process of carefully considering their own options – and one of these decisions is whether to stay in the area, or whether to move away. And of course there is no right or wrong answer to this choice, only what is right for each individual; some choosing to leave because they feel they have to; some choosing to stay because they equally feel they must.
The final observation I would make about my time in New Zealand is the pride its residents so clearly have in their country. Sometimes in the UK we can be quick to be critical of aspects of our lives but this was rarely the case from my time in New Zealand; the people I met were proud of their country, its culture and in particular its achievements.
Perhaps this is partly about its size; New Zealand is a relatively small country but one that certainly achieves a great deal. During my time there I heard a handful of people referring to it ‘boxing above its weight’ and whether this is true I can’t be sure. But certainly though this success was evident during the short period of time I was there. The All Blacks finished the year undefeated, Eleanor Catton became the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize, and the singer Lorde won two Grammy Awards. With those kind of performances it’s fair to see why there was a feel-good factor amongst many of the residents, and that’s even without mentioning a certain film franchise…