Sheeps, work and travel, expensive country, and kiwis are what comes to people’s minds when thinking of New Zealand. But is that really true?
I have asked Janina to tells us more about expat life in New Zealand including challenges, language, and cultural barriers, local dishes, costs of living, and much more. She also has a podcast (German only for now) where she shares stories about her life in New Zealand.
Hi Janina, tell us about yourself…
Hi everyone and thanks a lot to you, Sixtina, for interviewing me.
I’m a 28-year-old girl from a small village in Western Germany and accidentally moved to New Zealand over 3 years ago.
I’ve always loved traveling, especially with my family when I was a child. After finishing school, I planned my first big solo trip and moved to Australia for a year with my boyfriend at that time. Even though I loved it there, I was terribly homesick and convinced that I could never live far away from home. But life had other plans for me…
Apart from traveling, I love reading and writing which made me study literature, linguistics, and education at university after I came back from Australia.
In my free time, I love playing Volleyball with my team, taking photos, spending time in nature, and having cooking or game nights with my friends.
What was the main reason for moving to New Zealand?
As I mentioned before, I always say that I accidentally emigrated to New Zealand because I never had the intention to leave Germany and live here.
Since I had fallen in love with Australia, I wanted to travel to ‘that part of the world’ again after finishing university in 2017 and decided to go to New Zealand this time. I applied for a Work & Holiday visa and planned on traveling through New Zealand for 6 to 12 months.
The fact that I ended up staying, was simply because I met my boyfriend, a kiwi, after the first 3 months. I moved in with him and his dad right away and ended up living on top of an old movie theater close to Wellington for the first 2 years.
In 2019, I decided that I finally wanted to see more of New Zealand. My kiwi and I bought a camper van and lived and traveled in it for 6 months. Especially the landscape of the South Island was breathtaking.
At the moment, I live in a small village in the far North of the North Island, known as the “Winterless North”, which is quite nice since it’s the middle of winter right now.
Is it easy to connect with locals and make friends or are there any barriers?
Speaking to my German friend in Iceland today, made me realise how lucky I am that I didn’t have to learn a new language here in New Zealand. I do want to learn Maori though which is spoken by a small number of New Zealanders (50.000).
My English was always pretty good and even though the kiwis can have quite a strong accent, I never really struggled to talk to people. New Zealanders are super open and friendly as well which makes it easy to talk to people.
Sometimes, I find conversations a bit superficial and wish I had more people to talk to about personal problems, etc but apart from that, I’ve found it easy enough to connect with the kiwis.
How about the cost of living?
Unfortunately, New Zealand is a rather expensive country – especially when it comes to (good) food. Housing and clothing prices are similar to Europe but a visit to the supermarket often leaves tourists shocked. Fruit and veg are great and cheap when in season, but for the rest of the year, the imported kiwi fruit from New Zealand is cheaper in Europe than if you buy it here. I guess that’s typical for an isolated Island.
Fortunately, it’s easy to live a simple life and a lot of locals go hunting and gather their own food. Fish and seafood fresh out of the ocean is a real treat for most kiwis.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about living in New Zealand?
To start with the negative first, my least favorite aspect of living here is definitely being so away from my family and friends back home. There’s about 18.200 km between my two homes and traveling to Germany always involves a long plane trip of at least 26 hours, jetlag, advanced planning, and quite a bit of money. I often wish I could just go home for a spontaneous weekend trip. I’m really hoping Elon Musk will bring that hypersonic travel idea to life soon!
One of my favorite things about living here is that the ocean is never far away (unlike at home in Germany). For the last year, we’ve been living right on the beach which had always been my dream as a little girl. I also feel more connected to nature here, going for bushwalks and the occasional hunting or fishing trip.
In general, living away from home has made me grow as a person a lot which I’m really happy about.
What was the biggest culture shock for you?
I guess the laid back attitude of the kiwis was and is what I struggle with the most. As a cliche German, I like being on time and spoken agreements mean a lot to me. Here in New Zealand, it is not rare for people to be late or not show up at all. I had friends tell me they’d come over for a drink tomorrow night so I got my snacks ready and was patiently waiting at home, but no one ever showed up. The next day, they told me “Oh sorry, I was a bit tired and had an early one!”
Can you share any typical traditions from New Zealand?
Christmas on the beach is one that I had to get used to first, growing up with traditional German Christmas, snow, Christmas markets and mulled wine.
Kiwis will leave the cities around Christmas time and meet up with family and friends in their batches by the beach. Going for swims in the ocean and having barbecues under the bright red flowering Pōhutukawa trees (also known as NZ Christmas tree) is definitely not bad though!
One other impressive New Zealand tradition is the Haka, a ceremonial Maori (war) dance that is performed on special occasions. Most New Zealanders and people around the world know the ‘Ka Mate’ Haka that the famous New Zealand Rugby Team ‘The Allblacks’ perform before their games.
What is a stereotype about New Zealand that you found out to be true?
I guess what comes to mind when thinking of New Zealand for most people is millions of sheep – and that’s definitely true! With a human population of 5 million, New Zealand has over 5 times as many sheep. About 27 million actually and you can tell when you drive through the countryside. There’s sheep grazing on green hills everywhere and a roadblock caused by animals on the road is not uncommon either.
When I first came to New Zealand, I helped out on a big sheep farm for a few weeks and was amazed by the size of it: That family-owned station was bigger than my whole village back home!
What is your favorite local food?
The kiwi cuisine is inspired by the British a lot which means, people, drink tea all day long, have cooked breakfasts with eggs, bacon & beans, and love fish & chips for lunch.
The only special New Zealand meal I can think of – that also tastes very delicious – is a Maori “Hāngi”. For special occasions, Maoris slow-cook fish, meat, kumara (NZ sweet potatoes), and other root vegetables on hot rocks in the ground, covered with earth.
What is your favorite thing to do that people should do if they visit?
If you want to get away from the tourist masses and get a real New Zealand experience, go and talk to the locals. Kiwis are so outgoing and friendly and often happy to help and show foreigners a good time.
Go find the local fisherman or a farmer in a small village and see if they take you out on their boat or tractor. Maybe even offer to help out for the day and I’m sure you won’t regret it. Going on little adventures with kiwis is definitely my favorite thing to do.
What is a fact about New Zealand most people don’t know about?
People that have done a bit of research will know, but a lot of people think that New Zealand is very similar to its big brother Australia and ask me about poisonous spiders and snakes.
In contrast to Aussie, New Zealand doesn’t have any snakes or other dangerous animals though and you can happily walk through fields or forest without the fear of something jumping out of the bushes.
What would be your top advice for people who are thinking to move to New Zealand?
I got a good advice from my friend Klaus once: He said if you’re thinking of moving anywhere in the world, go find the local newspaper of the place online and read it. It’ll tell you a lot about what’s going on in a country, events, social issues, and the political & economical situation.
It’s easy to look at pretty pictures or go for a holiday somewhere, fall in love with the place and think you want to live there, but making sure you’d feel comfortable with the everyday-life situation is definitely a good idea. Life in New Zealand is not always as idyllic as it appears on the postcards.
What is the biggest difference between your home country Germany and New Zealand?
As much as I love Germans and Germany, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure put on people, making them feel like they have to work hard and function at all times. New Zealand on the other hand feels a lot more relaxed and laid back.
What I also love about New Zealand, in contrast to Germany, is that people will give you more opportunities and let you try things whereas back home, you’re often reminded what could go wrong or why you shouldn’t try something new. Kiwis have handed me chainsaws or put me on a tractor, quickly explained to me how it works, and then let me do it.
Even jobs, I often got hired without special qualifications or prior experience. Paperwork doesn’t seem as important as making a good personal impression here.
This is definitely a great thing for curious people that want to learn new things and broaden their horizon and has made me grown a lot since I’ve come here!
You can connect with Janina on Instagram if you want to know more about life in New Zealand.
You can find more expat stories on my blog.