New Zealand


I studied Anthropology as part of my medical degree a few years ago and part of our course looked at narratives in medicine. We often use military metaphors in the context of the illnesses and diseases that affect us: we ‘fight’ disease; our body has ‘defences’; when someone dies, especially after long illness, they have ‘lost their battle’. I find this stuff absolutely fascinating, and many authors more eloquent than I have written about it.

As part of my own story-telling, in the last couple of weeks, I viewed homesickness as something I had snap out of. Not a big deal, just like a cold – sit it out, plenty of fluids, analgesia and it will go. Except it didn’t: and the symptoms were getting worse. I would wake up feeling sad and despondent and in the same day I’d bounce back, enthusiastic and ready to take on the world, and that in itself was leaving me exhausted and emotional.

Waikiki beach, Hawaii 2009. I took this photo the day a huge wave of homesickness overcame me

I opened up to some of the people in my life and a very wise friend told me to think of homesickness as a chronic illness – it’s not something I can merely purge from my system, but something I must learn to manage. And she’s quite right. Homesickness can be debilitating; its unpredictable nature means I may wake up and have a good day or a bad day, or both. I cannot ‘help’ feeling the way I feel and there are triggers that will set it off. I may go years feeling fine, then an event may take me back to the early stages feeling vulnerable and desperately scrambling for the tools to deal with it.

There’s no easy solution. I can feel the strings of home tugging at me and with the lack of job security, I have to constantly re-evaluate my plans. But the place I call home is constantly changing, even as I speak (my mother is having the bathroom done) trinkets move, books get sold, furniture moves around, so the place I remember is not the same place I’d return to. At this stage, I still have time on my hands and I aim to have something to focus on each day, be it taking photographs, running, cooking or meditating. If circumstances force me out, then I’d like to look back knowing I soaked up every available opportunity in the place I attempted to call home.

I really enjoy keeping a blog and taking inspiration from the words, ideas and values of others who take the time to write about their passions. I have gained so much (including inches on my waistline, thanks food bloggers!) and one of my favourite aspects of jumping online is to go through my bookmarked folder of an ever-expanding list of people and their blogs, whose paths I may not ordinarily cross.

That said, the narratives we create online are not reflective of our lives behind the screen – but why should they be? I enjoy posting photos of my surroundings, I doubt anyone wants to see an unmade bed, a baking disaster or tears of frustration. I chose to start this blog because I wanted to write about my life as an expat, and I would be doing a disservice to myself if I wasn’t being honest about the realities of my situation. I’ll include some pretty pictures along the way.

The truth is: I am struggling. There have been days where I have sat with my credit card ready to book the next available flight back to the UK. There have been days where as a non-smoker, I have raided my friend’s emergency cigarette stash. And on some days ending in ‘y’ I have taken a leaf out of Radiohead’s book and asked, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’

My decision to come to New Zealand was a very hasty one – and I don’t necessarily think of that as a negative thing, but I became infatuated with the idea of moving abroad that so much so, everything, including my career became overlooked because of the overwhelming need to change my narrative: girl goes to medical school and grows to hate it. After crying in the toilets for the nth time, she decides to take a risk and book a ticket. Girl graduates safe in the knowledge that her fate is not sealed in an NHS hospital, finds a home in one of the most beautiful places in the world and everything comes up roses.

How things actually turn out is often different – not necessarily better or worse, just different. I fell into a trap of assuming my medical degree was a golden ticket – I had forever been told by my seniors and anyone else that as a doctor, I could go anywhere and do anything. This is not strictly true; in London, perhaps. In New Zealand: not really, and getting a job isn’t as straight forward as simply applying for one.

This leaves me in an interesting situation. I may actually have to use my medical degree as intended, if the medical council will let me work here. It’s not really what I want, but as time goes on, I cannot afford to be choosy and let’s face it, there are far bigger problems in the world than a white, middle-class, well-educated woman in a developed country having a mini career crisis, oh the horror(!)

So… I am going to bite the bullet, and try to get a house officer job out here. If I can’t, I will simply return to the UK for 12 months and complete my first Foundation Year and consider my options after that. Until then, I’m stuck, but stuck in a wonderful place.

Milo in Barcelona. Yay globalisation!

1. I can chop firewood. Just.

I have horrible visions of television dramas set around the Tudor period featuring novice executioners and the several swipes it took to remove a stubborn head. At least I only have wood to contend with. It took a few attempts, near misses and words of, ‘You need to shuffle back and move your feet away’ then success. If I had a photo of the piece, then I would have posted it up but it went straight into the fire. New Zealanders, I am told, do not like to stand on ceremony (and it’s freaking cold)

2. The Tim Tam Slam

Sweet antipodean mercy, why after 26 years, did I have absolutely no idea such a marvel existed? It’s the stop-gap between something warm and comforting, and child-like pleasure of trying to drop a water bomb on your uncle’s head.  You can’t tell, but I’m eyeing my Aussie and Kiwi friends with suspicion for holding out on me.

I fear that I’m going to get pressure of speech in explaining what exactly this is, but simply put: take a Tim Tam (biscuit like a UK Penguin bar, but better) bite the corner off opposite ends. Dunk it into a chocolate drink (Milo is the mix of choice here) and suck. When you can feel the liquid on your tongue, *very quickly* take the biscuit and put it in your mouth. There you will experience chocolate nirvana. The hot liquid gets sucked right into the biscuit and makes for a melting, warm, comforting sugar rush. I’m almost too scared to articulate how I feel about it in case it takes away the sacred fun element from the experience.

3. Kumara dip

Think hummus, but with sweet potato (Kiwi’s say kumara), cumin and pumpkin seeds thrown into the mix. It is awesome. O for awesome! I would have put up a picture of the tub, but I erm… ate it all. In my defence, I consumed it over a period of 3 days. Good with seeded bread and raw vegetables.

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The ratio of activity vs food consumption is quite telling. Perhaps I should get out more

Columns

Just over a year ago, I was revising for my paediatrics exams in the medical library which sits across the road from the main university quad. In the midst of revision, a variety of things can give distraction: frozen yogurt, water breaks and Hollywood film stars… yes.

A medic came running in and told us that Leonardo DiCaprio was filming in the main library. That was all the information we needed. A large handful of female doctors-to-be abandoned their textbooks in a frantic search for the actors. Standing the Jewish history section, looking out-of-place with our NHS ID tags jiggling around our necks, we tried to catch a glimpse of the filming. We left disappointed; there wasn’t much happening, but we had a chat with one of the film crew who explained to us what they were shooting and what the film was all about.

The plot centres around a person’s dream state, subconscious and how they can be manipulated. Last week, I was in a small cinema in rural New Zealand, taking in the sight of Michael Caine and Leo having a banter in the Gustave Tuck lecture theatre. I was last there for a revision course; it was stiflingly hot and no one had cleared away the leftover catering from another event, so the smell of stale BLT sandwiches and old coffee permeated its way through the heat. The seats were so uncomfortable and the course was so tedious that I left an hour early.

I thought it was a good movie. It resulted in a trippy experience: driving through the pitch black, I realised that UCL would be enjoying the afternoon sunshine and in the midst of romanticism, I felt a pang of longing for the place that provided me with a focal point for 6 years. But putting emotions aside, it’s a building; the people I connected with in and around it are ultimately the constant in which we evolved and nurtured one another: it’s a continual process regardless of circumstances and distance. I’m certain there are souls here I can connect and evolve with. If they can appreciate the need for frozen yogurt and chasing film stars to avoid working, I’ll apply for residency.

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Same picture, different camera

It has only been a couple of months since my exams finished, but I’m certain if I was to take my medical finals now, I’d fail them. New Zealand has provided a wonderful backdrop for what is known as the ‘post-finals brain drain’; if I’m going to lose my mind, then I’d rather it be somewhere beautiful.

I took the awesome shiny camera out for a walk around the lake. I wasn’t certain about the dials and I wanted to use it beyond the automatic settings, so after a couple of YouTube tutorials, I progressed to… creative auto!

Having spent my life in a gym on a treadmill, I never really understood the allure of outdoor running (well, you wouldn’t if your view was Brixton Prison) but I’ve taken to a spot of exercise outside since coming here. Pros: it’s very pretty and the endorphins. Cons: the exercising part




Moochin'

A very kind person trusted me with their beloved shiny: a Canon EOS 5D MK11. It tears strips off my own little camera, but it will take some getting used to. I went for a 3 hour walk around the lake yesterday; it was fairly overcast so the light wasn’t great. It is of course, easier to fault the weather when you’re an amateur using an alien camera.


A week has already passed, and in the emotional cycle of an expat, I’m in the ‘OMG everything is awesome!’ stage. I spent the first couple of days in Auckland, which I’m told is not strictly part of New Zealand, but for argument’s sake I’ll let it slide and tell you that having eggs Benedict and decent coffee for breakfast, followed by a visit to the bakers and walk along the beach does wonders for jet lag and the soul.

Having lived off a main road all my life, it was somewhat disconcerting coming to an area where birdsong is the main sound, and not police sirens. The pace has cranked right down compared with London, but it’s very easy to adjust to, if you let it. I’m a stone’s throw away from a lake which doesn’t get any tourists, which is nice (yes, I know I’m a foreigner complaining about foreigners) and while I can’t yet chop firewood, I do a good enough job of crunching up the newspaper, ready for lighting.

I’ve been asked if I want any creature comforts sent over, namely Marmite, but I couldn’t justify the carbon footprint, and I want to get to grips with New Zealand’s version of things. What is loooovely is walking through the fruit and veg section, and 99% of produce is local to the country. It’s winter so there are no red bags of water sold as strawberries. Deal with it and harden the f*** up.

Lake Tarawera

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‘Harden the fuck up’ is actually the product of an Australian comedian, not the Kiwis. Please don’t hurt me

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