Year 2 of living abroad – in a year like no other

2020 wasn’t only my second year living in New Zealand but also the weirdest year of my life. As for all of us probably.

Last year, I wrote about my first year living abroad and the ups and downs of it. I want to do the same this year.

How year 2 was different, how it was better, how it was worse.

First, I would like to write about one very specific thing that influenced my second year in New Zealand. You probably guessed…

Living abroad during the COVID-19 crisis

Down: Lockdown

In March 2020, shit hit the fan.

The notorious Coronavirus spread the world – New Zealand included. We went into lockdown at the end of March all the way through to the end of April.

Those were a tough few weeks full of their very own – daily – ups and downs.

Thinking back, the lockdown was only the first shock, where a lot of the implications of the virus weren’t clear to me yet.

I tried to see the positive at first:

Up: Exploring New Zealand without anyone around

Spending 2020 in New Zealand was like winning the jackpot.

With New Zealand being an island, it was much easier here to keep COVID-19 out of the country. The government shut down the borders completely, so that only permanent residents and citizens could enter the country.

These rules still apply and, so far (as of 24th January 2021), this has kept the virus out. This meant that we have been able to live a fairly “normal life” since mid-2020. I wrote a piece about what it feels like living in New Zealand right now where I describe the situation in more detail.

All in all, I felt pretty lucky to spend this damn year in New Zealand. We had the time and money (luckily we were able to keep our jobs unlike a lot of other people in the country) to explore New Zealand at a time when it wasn’t crowded with tourists.

We went to Arthur’s Pass for a weekend, to the Tasman region for a week and down to Tekapo to our family bach (holiday home) – all with clear roads and deserted spots!

Down: Not being able to see friends & family overseas

For most of New Zealand winter (May – August), I felt torn between two poles inside of me. I was happy in my job and grateful for being able to go out, travel and meet friends.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was a deep dread and hopelessness. I think we have all felt this way at some stage in 2020.

On dark days, I was sure I was never going to see my family again. What if this is the end? What if this virus never goes away?

My family, my friends, my home in Germany seemed further away than it ever had.

I had just been home on Christmas and New Year’s 2019 but I missed everyone so much. And knowing you won’t be able to see them anytime soon made things worse.

I tried to shut out these thoughts for the most part but the cold, grey, relentless winter months in Christchurch didn’t make it easy.

People say the homesickness will ease up in your second year of living abroad. And I think that would have been the case for me – if there was some ray of hope of being able to go to Germany some time soon.

But unfortunately, there wasn’t. There still isn’t.

Year 2 of living abroad

Up: Settling in

In January, when the world was about to be turned upside down, I started a new job here in Christchurch.

I work at a digital agency and a lot of our clients are smaller-to-medium sized New Zealand businesses. Working with local SMBs made me feel a lot more connected to the Christchurch and New Zealand community. (I worked for a company before that marketed their product in the US primarily – that often made me feel disconnected!)

My new job has most certainly contributed to me feeling more at home in Christchurch. I can only recommend looking for jobs within the local community if you’re thinking of moving abroad. I know it’s a trend now to be a “digital nomad” but there is something so satisfying in being a part of something local.

In general, I feel more settled now. I have friends, a great team at work, a job that I love. I also know the city a lot better! Not being smug here but I can find places without Google Maps now.

Down: Restless

What I’ve noticed in myself a lot more this year was restlessness.

Something I asked myself a lot was – “What’s next?”. Which is kinda weird because I just wrote that I felt more settled.

I do. I just think when you come out of that first year of living abroad – a whirlwind – and everything settles, and the ups and downs might not be as crass anymore, then you ask yourself: “Is this it? Do I want to stay here forever?”

Every expat must come to this one point where they have to decide if they want to stay or move back home or go somewhere completely different. I haven’t been able to make that decision yet.

So for the first time in my life, I don’t have a plan. I don’t know where I want to be in a year, three years, ten years. And that’s making me a bit nervous.

I have to come to terms with that in a world where everyone has dreams and goals and journals.

Sand dune at Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand

Down: Bored

Maybe “bored” is a little crass. What I mean here is that, in my second year in New Zealand, everything didn’t feel as exhilarating anymore as it once did. You settle into a routine.

Plus – with the borders closed, this was the first year (probably in my life actually) that I haven’t been in another country from the one I live in. (Man, how blessed we are in Europe.)

I feel like I would be ready to see something new again – preferably a country I’ve never been to. That damned virus.

Up: More familiar with culture & language

On the other hand, the lack of constant exhilaration and “newness” brings familiarity. In last year’s article, I said I often felt like an outsider and that I was quite anxious in social situations.

This is still not entirely gone but it’s gotten a lot better. I’m more familiar with the Kiwi slang now, with the work culture, with how things run.

I know how to cook a proper Kiwi roast, how to make “Kiwi dip” (you wouldn’t want to know what’s in it) and what to order at KFC.

I have mastered small talk on the phone.

I know the names of all the regions in the country (and where they are).

I know the names of (nearly) all the All Blacks players.

I say hello to everyone I come across on a walk/hike.

Only thing is – I still have to gag at the smell/taste of Marmite. But that is never going to change.

To sum it up…

…my second year in New Zealand had fewer ups and downs. There was a lot more steadiness.

I hope this proves reassuring for someone who might not feel like ‘steady’ is a thing at the moment. I never thought it would be either. (Hang in there!)

And even if the road ahead isn’t quite visible yet, maybe it’s just fine cruising along and enjoying the ride.

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