‘I never thought we’d have to emigrate at this stage of our lives’
We’ve moved to New Zealand to settle a debt we could never have repaid otherwise
Robyn Cunningham: ‘I look at photos of myself from five years ago, with those lines of stress and fear etched forever on my face, and compare them to photos of me now, where my face is brown, and the worry furrows are fading.’
Our intention was to emigrate permanently, to leave the debt, frustration and constant rain and look for a better lifestyle in New Zealand. Following my husband’s job offer in February, we landed in September after a mammoth 33 hours’ travel. Initially, I think I was shocked. Seriously shocked. Four months of packing, recycling and binning had taken its toll, as had the month-long succession of goodbyes and constant tears.
But suddenly the weather was better. For the first time in weeks, I sat under a proper, blue azure sky. New Zealand is lovely. They allow themselves to be relaxed (sometimes a little too much so), to enjoy their lifestyles, to revel in strong community ties. And they don’t have the EU breathing down their necks. Self-sustainability is a big thing here in so many ways.
There is no Vincent Browne, no constant criticism of people in politics. Their ethos stems from strong Maori beliefs in family, community and helping each other out. It is so different from home. People are admired for their voluntary work. In fact, it is the cornerstone of many communities and in a way, their reliance on themselves rather than expecting the government to wade in at the drop of a hat is something to be admired.
I’m constantly amazed by the strong links between Ireland and New Zealand. So many people here claim Irish heritage.
I had already lost my 27- and 23-year-old daughters to Australia. We tried to emigrate there, but were unable to negotiate the visa quagmire. We moved here with our 12-year-old and seven-year-old because we thought that they deserved a better life than we could give them in Ireland. And we have been welcomed by everyone we have met.
Both of us were public sector workers, and we felt shafted by the recession. We naively believed the spin that was put out by the government of the day, the media and the auctioneers, and instead of selling our first house, we held onto it. Borrowing money on the equity and our salaries, we spent too much. We never thought that the equity would reduce by 50 per cent so suddenly, leaving us with a debt that combined with a dual pay cut, we would never be able to repay.
Six years later, here we are in New Zealand. I never thought we would have to emigrate at this stage of our lives. The sense of loss that I am struggling with every day, overwhelms me at times. Everything we had worked for now lies on the other side of the world. It is so much easier to do this in your 20s. You don’t have the same bonds of friendship built up, and your roots are not as deep. At our age, the move has been very challenging, but our friends and family have been very supportive. Often they are envious.
On the up side, the bank isn’t torturing me with incessant calls any more. I look at photos of myself from five years ago, with those lines of stress and fear etched forever on my face, and compare them to photos of me now, where my face is brown, and the worry furrows are fading. We brush our teeth in the morning and put on sunscreen. I am looking for a job and I am hoping that my skills and experience will be valued here.
With Skype, FaceTime and Viber, staying in contact with friends and family is so much easier now. I can remember going to London in the 80s, and one phone call a week was a treat. With Facebook, you can stay tuned in constantly to people and events back home. They can see what you are doing and conversation isn’t necessary. But the constant contact can also prevent you from settling, as you are still tuned into home.
I am terrified of settling though, and what it means. It is so far away from my old life, even with all the stress.
I know it will take time. I know I am lucky to have the support of great friends at home; maybe I didn’t value them enough until I left them behind.
It’s too early to say whether the move will be permanent. I aim to enjoy the fantastic opportunity that I have been given, but at heart I am an Irish woman and I do miss my home, friends and family in Galway. Time will tell how things will work out.