A few months ago I was catching up with an old friend who had recently moved back to NZ after more than 15 years living in the UK. As we worked our way through the typical challenges of the transition – reverse culture shock, different schooling systems and adjusting to the small scale of NZ organisations – he revealed that the hardest part of all was finding a new rhythm to underscore his new life in NZ.
Intrigued I probed a little deeper to find out more. What was the rhythm he’d lost and why was that loss so difficult to replace here in NZ?
The rhythm, as it turns out was simply the predictability of his UK life. An annual calendar of events that meant he always had a reasonably accurate idea of what was going to happen next. Case in point, he said:
‘If we were still in the UK, this week we’d be at the Hay Festival, where we go every year and we’d be looking forward to our two weeks summer holiday which we take every year at more or less the same time’.
Now funnily enough, I had just come off the back of my favourite week of the year – the Auckland Writer’s Festival – and, was counting down to our annual two week jaunt to Europe to enjoy our annual ‘summer holiday’ (in the middle of the NZ winter), so I could totally relate. But it also got me thinking about the value of routine and predictability – even for a change junkie like me – and how we can establish these again when we start over back in NZ.
In this post I’m going to draw on my experiences as both, an expat and, a repat to share some of what’s worked for me in creating new rhythms in any new place.
Do your thing
Every person who plans to move around and live in more than one place should cultivate a thing that is purely their own – something you can do on your own and in any country. For me, that thing is yoga because I can go into any yoga studio, anywhere in the world, uncurl my mat and immediately feel at home. I don’t need someone to go with me, I don’t have to know the teacher and, I don’t even need the instructions to be given in English because it’s familiar enough for me to do my thing.
I have another friend whose thing is swimming – another solo pursuit where all you need is your swim suit and a pool. But it could be anything – whatever makes you feel like you and gives you a feeling of familiarity when everything else is anything but.
Drop your anchors
Anchoring activities are things you can schedule that provide a predictability to your week or month. They might be as simple as going to the supermarket at the same time every week (this was honestly our Saturday night outing for the first few months of our life in Rotterdam!) or doing a weekly beach walk.
Moving also provides an opportunity to create new rituals, which might be specific to this new place. Making Sunday morning a family brunch date or committing to a monthly meet-up can again provide a comforting predictability of routine that can serve you well through the early stages of transitioning to life in a new place.
Anchoring also creates a schedule around which you can plan other things. For many repats, in the early stages of transition, that fact that they have absolutely no demands on their time creates an overwhelming level of choice which, ironically, can lead to them doing nothing at all -because they can’t actually decide what they want to do.
For me, some key anchors have been: a weekly shift at Everybody Eats, Sunday afternoon Yin, fortnightly pub quiz and writing this blog.
Find a replacement
There’s an old saying ‘wherever you go, there you are’ and so it is with your return to NZ. Whatever activities you enjoyed in your overseas life, chances are you’ll enjoy them here in NZ. Do some research to see if there is a local equivalent and try it out to see if it will meet that need. It may not be that you can completely replicate your overseas life, but you might find that ‘near enough is good enough’ at least to get you through the early stages.
A good time to do this is when you are unsubscribing to your overseas life (see earlier post on Balancing Home & Away). As each email, or facebook, reminder comes through to tell you that the pub quiz night, comedy show, festival, travel sale is coming up in the place you just left, take a moment to (a) unsubscribe or unfollow and (b) do a quick google to see if you can find a local equivalent you can sign up to instead.
Create a calendar of highlights
While the idea of ‘when nothing is certain, anything is possible’ may hold enormous appeal, the reality of living with no routine or predictability can be quite unsettling – not ideal when you are trying to settle in a new place.
This is where being proactive and doing some forward planning for the year can really help provide both, a structure to your life through the early, unstructured phases and, something to look forward to. We’ve been back just over two years now and our annual calendar highlights have looked a little something like this.
January – Grey Lynn Music Festival, Music & Movies in Parks
February – weekend in Sydney for niece’s birthday
March – Titirangi Music Festival
April – annual birthday long weekend away
May – Auckland Arts Festival, Comedy Festival, Writers Festival
June – annual European ‘summer holiday’
July – Auckland International Film Festival
August – weekend in Sydney for other niece’s birthday
September – Go West Festival
October – spring holiday week away
November – counting down till Xmas hols! Other suggestions welcome 🙂
December – annual backyard cricket & hubby’s birthday party at our place
Others report taking an annual trip to the snow or booking into the same bach, to catch up with the same friends, each Xmas. It doesn’t really matter what activities are in your calendar as long as they represent a highlight to you.
March to the beat of your own drum
Now, it’s quite likely that you’re not looking to create a life that revolves around yoga, films & festivals but, you probably have a pretty clear idea of what things are important to you.
Use these as your starting point to prioritise and plan your new life in NZ. Sign up for a weekly class, join a sports club or, book a holiday to give you something to look forward to and anchor points to plan around. Proactively create regular rituals and routines to provide some predictability in the midst of uncertainty and, in time, these will roll up to create that much needed new rhythm which will underscore your new life in NZ.
For an excellent book on doing this within families which are multi-nationality, multi-cultural or multi-lingual check out This Messy Mobile Life: how a mola can help globally mobile families create a life by design.
While you’re here. Are you a NZ Citizen or Permanent Resident who has lived abroad and already returned to live in NZ? I’m trying to build up a picture the NZ Repatriate Community and have created a short survey to help with this. So, if you haven’t already, click through to read the introductory blog and find the link to the survey. It should take about 5-10 minutes to do both. Thanks! https://howtohaveahappyhomecoming.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/what-kind-of-repat-are-you/
About me & the blog
Originally from NZ, I spent 12 years living and working in the Netherlands, the UK and the US. In 2017, I returned to live in Auckland with my lovely husband and crazy cat. Inspired by the stories I had heard from those who had made the move before me, I started the blog to tell the stories of a diverse group of Kiwis who have lived abroad and returned to NZ. It’s a mix of interviews and insights, exploring the reasons so many Kiwis head off to see the world, their expectations and experiences and, ultimately, what brings them back.
Through these stories, I also explore the themes around what makes coming ‘home’ a really mixed bag of emotions and, pull out the key insights and tips on how to make this as happy an experience as it can be.
By sharing our stories we hope to help those Kiwis living abroad but thinking about moving back and those who have recently arrived. If you’ve got a question, a comment or a story you’d like to share, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.
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