When I was in 2nd grade our teacher gave us the typical elementary school writing assignment: what do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t remember much about my writing journey in primary school, but that assignment was particularly memorable. Here are the three things that I wrote that I would do or be when I was an adult:
- Single (ha!)
- An author (maybe a little closer?)
- Living in London
Now where I got the idea that I’d live in London, I have no idea. Regardless, I know it’s been a long-time dream of mine to live abroad. And when we hugged my parents goodbye in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airpot a year ago, I had no way of imagining what my life would be like after a year living my childhood dream. Now that we’re on the other side of the year, I find myself meditating on how incredibly thankful I am to the Lord for bringing us here. He has been so good to us! I’ve been challenged, refined, and made into a better person than when I left US soil.
This doesn’t mean everything has been been perfect. In fact– it’s been far from it! There have been hard times when I have longed for my family and friends back home; missed the familiarity of Target, Amazon and my favourite stores or just simply wanted to know where to go to buy Q-Tipps, bobby pins that weren’t black, or art supplies. Kent can attest that there have been quite a few tearful nights and passionate pleas to move back to America.
Much to my surprise, as I drove to work this morning I found myself unexpectedly in tears over how simply grateful I am for this year. So in celebration of making it through my first year living abroad, I thought I would write a post outlining my five favourite things from this year. Some are big and some are, well, not so big. Either way, it’s safe to say that this year has been my favourite one yet.
Paying off Debt
A little background– Those of you who know us well know that we have been on a financial journey for a few years. In January 2016, we read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. In April of that year, we cut up our credit card and committed to not get one again. When I finished graduate school that November, we began working to pay off all of our debt. At that time, we had a new-ish (2012) car and a pretty hefty student loan balance. Yuck!
From November 2016 until June 2018, we worked on paying off my car. We then promptly sold it so that we could move overseas. Since getting to New Zealand we have been aggressively attacking our last remaining debt: my student loan. A year in, we’ve paid off over $24,000 USD (or $36,000 NZD), and we’re on track to have the final $10,000 USD paid off by October.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a massive shout out to my in-laws who have graciously let us live with them for the last year. A big part of moving overseas for us was knowing that we could both get paid a lot more than if we remained in America. Living with them has allowed us to minimise our expenses and funnel a large portion of our income to paying off debt. So, if you’re reading, thanks R+H!
This year has been a big year for travel! At first, coming to New Zealand in general felt like travel… and I guess it kind of is in a way. It’s still a new place for me and there’s so much I still want to see.
I’ve been really fortunate to have quite a few visitors since moving. My sister and her boyfriend came in October for a week on my first school holiday. It was the perfect way to cap off our first three months living overseas! We took a quick road trip to Rotorua and Taupo, two places I had never been before.
In early January, my best friend came to visit me for two weeks. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was a few weeks into the summer holidays and beginning to get into this funk I get every time I have extended time off. In addition, I was feeling especially homesick after Christmas without my family and our many traditions. I cried on the way to the airport to get her… and then cried more after she came through the gate. After I composed myself, we spent some time in the sunshine. We spent a few days at our family beach house, then flew down to the South Island for a long road trip around the highlights of the South Island. Our trip took us to Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass, Hokitika, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, Wanaka (my new favourite place) and Queenstown. We capped off the trip paragliding, something I thought I would never do.
My last big trip was back to the Motherland for my dear friend’s wedding. It was the most fun two weekend with lots of celebrating, dancing, shopping and reuniting with good friends. After the wedding, I flew down to North Carolina to surprise our church small group, spend time with my sister, and catch up with my Sigma Alpha Iota sisters. I capped off the two weeks by spending Easter with my family in Atlanta. Thanks for getting married so that I could come back to visit, Mack!
We capped off the year with a Queen’s Birthday weekend in Dunedin. While it was winter and may have rained most of the weekend, we really enjoyed getting to see a new city. It has a rich Scottish heritage and amazing landscape. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be making the journey down there again someday… just maybe when it’s summertime.
Aside from that, we have gone on lots of little holidays to our family bach at Langs Beach and we went to Raglan for the New Years holiday. We’ve taken day trips to Shakespear park (where we also, coincidentally, had school camp this year), Piha and have enjoyed many beautiful days in Auckland. I’m so thankful!
Being Auntie and Uncle
One of the things we missed the most while in America was getting to be Auntie Bethany and Uncle Kent to our sweet niece, April. When we visited New Zealand in August 2016 Kent’s twin brother and his wife announced they were pregnant. So exciting!
I’m the oldest in my family and none of my siblings are married yet, so there aren’t any nieces or nephews on my side of the family. Seeing photos and videos of our sweet niece made it really hard to stay put in America and the desire to be a present Auntie and Uncle was definitely part of why we came. Recently a nephew was added to the mix.
I know being apart from my family when my siblings start having kids will be really difficult, but right now I’m excited that we get to spend so much time with our niece and nephew over here.
When I decided to come to New Zealand I worked with Education Personnel, a recruitment agency to help teachers find jobs in New Zealand. Thankfully, I entered the job market in a massive teacher shortage so I knew finding a job would be no problem. Knowing little about the city, I easily could’ve ended up anywhere. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to end up at my school!
By far, this has been the most FUN I have had as a teacher. I came in assuming New Zealand schools would be pretty similar to American schools, but that’s been far from the truth! Thankfully, the way New Zealand schools run and what they value is very in-line with what I value as a teacher. We play games, our timetable is flexible, and testing is kept to a minimum. All great things in my book!
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the staff I work with. They’ve been so helpful with my adjustment to New Zealand and are truly the most fun to work with. My year level team is innovative, social and always willing to lend a helping hand or collaborate.
One thing Kent and I have discussed at length since our move to New Zealand is the difference in lifestyle. We feel that in New Zealand, it’s much easier to be healthy. In Auckland it’s easy to walk to your nearest supermarket or to the local shops and we often take walks along Milford Beach after dinner. I’m also quite fortunate that I can walk home from work. My work is a little over 3 miles away from our house, so it takes around an hour and 10 minutes for me to walk home.
We’ve also both found gyms we love! I attend a dance studio for barre classes and bootcamp and Kent attends a gym right down the road (also within walking distance). While they’re more expensive than the $10/month Planet Fitness, we’re both really pleased with our choices. It seemed outrageously expensive at first ($90/month for Kent and $165/month for me), but for something that is truly a hobby of ours we feel that it’s worth it for our present enjoyment and future physical abilities!
Another area of health we’ve discussed at length is the food. While our cooking at home hasn’t changed much since coming, we do feel that the food is fresher here in New Zealand. There are fruit and vege shops with New Zealand grown produce and meat and dairy is usually from New Zealand. It may seem like a small thing on paper, but I think the difference is quite noticeable!
I started this blog as a way of helping other teachers find ways to endure throughout their career, and, although this space hasn’t existed for long, I think it has also started to serve as a way for me to chronicle my own personal ways I have endured. When I think of the word “endure,” it’s often associated with things that are difficult. And while that may be the case sometimes, I think that building a life that lasts and is joyful throughout the highs and lows is a truer, better example of what it looks like to endure well. I’m thankful that I’ve endured through the last year and have come out as a better, stronger person than I was before.