Thursday, January 11, 2018

Leaving America

When we first arrived in New Zealand, our intent was to stay for 9 months. A sabbatical spent enjoying new mountains, new adventures, in a country that neither me nor my Australian husband had ever lived in before.

That 9 months is almost up, and we've made a big decision: we are not going home. Or rather, New Zealand will become our new home. 

It hasn't been an easy choice. Staying here means giving up my job in the space industry, a job that I love and that pays better than any work I'm likely to find here. It means we'll be far from friends and from my family. It means we have to sell our car and our home and figure out what in the heck to do with all our stuff in storage back in Colorado. It means saying farewell to all the wilderness areas we loved so much while we lived in Boulder, from Rocky Mountain National Park to the rugged San Juans to the glorious desert canyons of southwest Utah.

But the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and I don't just mean because New Zealand's mountains and lakes and beaches are amazing. 

It's because I haven't yet talked to a single New Zealander who worries over medical bills or has had to declare medical bankruptcy. Because here innocent people don't have to fear getting shot by over-aggressive police. Because schools teach children the importance of caring for the earth and fighting climate change. Because even when NZ's political parties disagree sharply on issues, they still seem to agree on the importance of intelligence, reason, and respect. Because country over party is still the expected norm, not the other way around. 

You know the classic boiling frog analogy? I honestly did not realize just how crazy life in America has become until we moved here. Don't get me wrong, New Zealand is not a problem-free paradise. They're struggling with drug addiction and racism and pollution and inequality just like so many other countries. 

The difference lies in how New Zealand handles the struggle. Facts still matter here. So does integrity. I had not realized how deeply I missed that until I came here and saw truth and principles still in action. 

I grew up hearing the good old catchphrase of "America: love it or leave it." I still love America. I weep to think of my country falling ever further into greed and hypocrisy and corruption and lies. I honor everyone at home that is fighting for honesty and fairness and justice, the ideals that form the true American dream. I will do all I can to help that fight. 

But I want my son to grow up in a country where his medical issues will not mean that he struggles to get healthcare. Where he can have a childhood not steeped in a cultural miasma of tension and fear. (I remember the lockdown drills at his school where kids practice hiding from shooters. The letter we got from the school district discussing their policy on deportation. The little friend of my son's who said he hoped Trump would start a nuclear war, because then the school would get vaporized and nobody would have to do classwork ever again. Haha, kids are so funny, right? And yet, and yet. A thousand little things add together into an ever-rising water temperature, slowly boiling us until we accept all kinds of craziness as a regular part of life.)

So, like my own ancestors that came to America searching for a better life for their children, I, too, am emigrating with my family.

I know we are tremendously lucky to have emigration as an option. The "love it or leave it" crowd often ignores just how difficult gaining residency in a foreign country can be. It's a little easier if you're young. Many countries, New Zealand among them, offer "working holiday" visas for the under-30 crowd that allow you to live and work and seek an employer willing to sponsor you for a longer-term visa. The older you are, the more difficult it is to get approval in "skilled migration" categories. Plus you have to be able to pass the health exams. (That said, those with chronic conditions like diabetes often assume it's impossible to pass when it may be very possible. If your condition is well-managed, you have a chance.) 

In our case, I lucked into the easiest path by marrying an Australian, lo these many years ago. Aussies are allowed to live and work in New Zealand without visas, and after a certain period of time living in the country, apply for permanent residency. My husband is able to sponsor me for a partnership-based work visa and then for residency, although this is not cheap (the residency application fee is almost $2K). It also requires a mountain of documentation to prove that our relationship is real. Pictures, joint bank accounts, utility bills, cards, letters, text messages, proof of shared residence, etc. Doesn't matter how long you've been married (15 years, in our case). You still have to prove your relationship remains valid and stable. We went through this process once already, back when I was sponsoring my husband for US permanent residency, so we're familiar with the drill. (There's a certain symmetry in each of us taking our turn under the microscope of immigration. Except I'll say that so far INZ is far, FAR easier and more friendly to deal with than US immigration ever was, even 15 years ago in happier times.)

Just yesterday I read Kameron Hurley's powerful, moving post on her own decision to emigrate. The hope she talks about, the sheer relief of having hope, is what I've also experienced. Ripping out our roots and replanting them is a huge change. I've done plenty of agonizing over the decision. But when I recently opened the letter from NZ immigration that contained my brand-new 2-year work that moment, it felt like the best decision I've ever made. 


  1. I am delighted you have landed on your feet, and I envy you. I hope to see you down there again.

    1. Thanks, Paul. I certainly hope you get to come visit the South Island!

  2. You've made me cry Courtney! On ya!

    1. Thanks! If you ever come skating in Queenstown, let me know. :D

  3. Replies
    1. I'll certainly miss you & everyone at Ball! Obviously they need to open a Wanaka office.