Why I Left a Life I Loved to Move to New Zealand

When I told friends and family (and blog readers, and bartenders, and strangers on the street) that I was moving to New Zealand, I was met with a number of politely bewildered looks.

“Oh! Are you a huge Lord of the Rings fan…?”

Nope.

“Right, so you must be into hiking? You should definitely check out –“

Noooope.

“Ummm….you like sheep?”

(Well yes, but I could’ve stayed in Ireland if I just wanted to be around sheep.)

Whatever a “New Zealand person” looks like, I clearly don’t fall into that category. So before I start writing about my experiences this year in Wellington, I thought I’d set the stage and answer the burning question:

Why New Zealand?

The reasons were two-fold.

EXPAT LIFE: CHAPTER 3

My first few years abroad, my elevator pitch was that I moved every year and a half; “as soon as I get comfortable, I leave.” I took so much pride in that statement, I may as well have had it tattooed on my chest, Memento-style.

And the thing is, it’s still true. 

But um, I got too comfortable in Europe in my mid-20s. And forgot.

Friends tell me that I light up when I talk about Paris; that it’s so evidently clear that Europe is home. And it is! Paris (or London) is where I hope to eventually return and settle down, one day.

But what I realized in my teens, and has always pushed me to continue moving since, is:

Cities will always be there. My 20s will not.

I’ve left good jobs, incredible friends, and solid relationships — the expat trifecta, right? — multiple times to ensure I never became too entrenched in comfort. To attack the unknown, even at the chance of losing everything and everyone I loved.

Because you can do that easily in your 20s: rebuild and reset and bounce back from trying a thousand different things. I had set aside a decade to live as many lives as I could. 

So I recognized that as content as I was in Europe, I was in a feedback loop and it was time to uproot everything again.

The timing would be perfect. 18-22 would be my Asia Years, 22-27 my (mostly) Europe Years. The third chapter of my 20s would be a totally new region: Oceania.

PURSUING A PASSION

There was also a far simpler reason I moved to New Zealand.

I wanted to become a bartender.

*cue bewildered looks again*

“But…you have your dream career…so…bartending?”

Some people go back to school for a masters, some take photography or pastry courses on the side. In the same vein, I wanted to pursue an outside interest: cocktails.

Since the summer of 2013 I’d become entrenched in bar scenes around Europe and Asia, becoming friends with world-class bartenders and developing my palate and knowledge of spirits and classic cocktails (ok fine: I became a booze snob).

I considered bars a second home, and had been industry-adjacent long enough that I wanted to dive into the deep end and learn what life was like on the other side of the bar.

“But…couldn’t you just learn under your friends in Paris or Shanghai?”

Yes, the booze game is strong in those cities — and that’s precisely why I wanted to avoid them.

For one, I wanted a small pond where I could actually learn behind the bar. Going into the big leagues like Paris or Shanghai with zero experience, I would’ve easily spent a year just polishing glassware as a barback — and I simply didn’t have that kind of time.

For another, you know how you should never teach loved ones how to drive a car or play the piano? Same deal. I wanted to come out of bartending with all my friendships intact.

“This still doesn’t explain New Zealand??”

Right. So practically, to accomplish this, I needed a working holiday visa (as I’m unaware of any country offering a Wannabe Bartender Visa). This left me with Australia or New Zealand, and the latter is only good until you’re 30.

With my 30th birthday only a couple of years away and 2017 being a non-sports dominant year, it was the perfect — and perhaps only — chance to take a sabbatical and fulfill my somewhat peculiar dream of being a bartender.

***

So now that the New Zealand experiment is nearly over, and hasn’t quite panned out as hoped, the question is: was it really a new chapter, or just a slight deviation in the book? Will this ultimately be just a footnote in the greater story of how I eventually end up back in Europe?

It’s hard to determine in the moment.

But if I had the chance to go back in time, knowing this year would be filled with heaps of uncertainty, drama, and not a small amount of unhappiness — would I still make the move?

Would I break my own heart again in the name of travel, exploration, and smashing out of my comfort zone?

Oh mate. You betcha.

Do you have any questions about my time in New Zealand, or living in Wellington in general? Leave a comment and I’ll address them in an upcoming post!

Photos of me bartending by Ryan McKenna

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Comments

  1. I love the idea of living as many lives possible. In total agreement with that – and you’ve already done so much! Keep on goin’, girl!
    I’d love to read about some of your daily life triumphs and struggles living in Wellington… what a bartender’s life in NZ was like and why you jived with it (or didn’t) in the end.

    • Thanks girl! And yep I’ll definitely be covering both what went well and what went really, really wrong…

  2. Can’t wait to hear your real feelings about NZ! I got the working holiday visa because I figured I’d run out of money while traveling and have to get a job in hospitality (which I’ve loved in the past for meeting new people). But I ended up living the freelancing-housesitting life all over the north and south islands. After 5 months, I’d have to say that NZ isn’t truly my cup of tea, but I totally get why people love it! I’m jealous of your friendships and community in Wellington. Definitely one of my favorite cities there – that’s where I would’ve picked to stop and settle down.

    • I totally understand — it’s a great place to visit and I get the attraction, but it never quite felt like “home”. Wellington is definitely small enough to form a solid community! (which has both its positive and drawbacks, of course.)

  3. New Zealand is my favourite country in the world so it’s upsetting that it didn’t pan out for you the way you hoped. I always find it difficult hearing when others didn’t enjoy the country as much as myself!! So I’m wondering what it was that you didn’t enjoy or like, what turned you off…. was it the difficult circumstances you’ve alluded to or did you never really feel an affinity with the country, or a bit of both?

    I hope your next adventures go well!! Really enjoy your blog so I’m glad you’re back writing again!!

    • Totally understand the feeling! I wanted to love it so much, I really did try. And I can also see why so many people love it. But it was definitely both the circumstances and a lack of affinity overall, reasons for which I’ll blog about in more detail. Thank you for the kind words though, it feels good to be blogging again!

  4. ‘Sounds like a great plan. Good for you Edna!

  5. Awesome story Edna.
    I can relate to the breaking my heart in the name of travel part. I have done that over and over and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
    Question; did you know anybody before you moved there?

    Also Europe would be lucky to have you!

    • Thank you! I cannot wait to be back. Maybe see you somewhere in Paris or London again?

      And nope, didn’t know anyone before I moved here, just like all my previous moves :)

  6. I’m looking forward to your future posts about New Zealand. I have a few questions about your time there. Did you encounter tall poppy syndrome when you lived in NZ? I found that I didn’t really encounter it too much in Wellington but when I went outside major cities that it was issue whenever I explained where I came from and how I ended up in New Zealand.

    Other questions: Which part of Wellington is your favorite? Did you ever feel disconnected from the world because NZ is so geographically isolated? What surprised you the most about living in NZ? Sorry I bombarded you with questions but I haven’t met many other people who have lived in NZ temporarily so I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Good luck in your 2018 travels!

  7. What I’d love to know is; how do you make friends in a city where you know no one? How do you get yourself involved in the community even if it is an english speaking community, with no friends or family to start with? You seem to meet people so easily and I am so curious as to how! By the way I have been following you on snapchat for ages and love your snaps and now follow you on insta! Love watching your travels. Have you found NZ more difficult to meet random people than other countries and where is the most welcoming natives (not other tourists) to travellers? So interested to read your blogs too.