..because it can be harder than it sounds! So, we are still in Christchurch, New Zealand but will be moving along this weekend when the family we are housesitting for returns. It’s pretty wild because we’ve been here in this city for 5 weeks, with four of those weeks in this house, so we’ve begun to develop routines, learn how to get around, and make friends…just in time to leave. Ultimately that has been the goal all along, and something we probably didn’t do a good job of in Asia due to moving around so much. I want to do better from here on out. Since this year is not an extended vacation, but rather us moving our lives overseas, we still need to fall into a routine: getting a points card from a favorite grocery store, attending a local church and making sure we’re not anonymous there, meeting the neighbors, and attending community events. It’s difficult when you know you’re only going to be in one spot for a few weeks, so you have to dive right in. I think vacationing is one thing – if you’re only in a place for 2 weeks, and you’re escaping the insanity of work for a bit, then by all means lay out by the pool, be anonymous, splurge on fun things and enjoy yourself! But we can’t really afford to do that this year. It’d be too lonely if we just passed quietly through various countries, unknown to other people or only connecting for a brief few hours, and not really settling into a life and location enough to understand what it feels like to be a resident. Also, as much as I love my husband, we can’t spend 100% of our time solely in each other’s company. So we dove right into seeing life through a local’s eyes.
Church: we started attending Grace Presbyterian Church from the beginning. It’s a small congregation of less than 200 people, and from the very first time we walked in the door we felt like family. We’ve met two very dear friends there (the first two people who introduced themselves!): Aaron and Karla. Aaron is a Kiwi and Karla is from California, and they’ve had an epic dating relationship across three continents.
They invited us to join their Bible study, and the friends we’ve made through that have been very dear as well. They’ve included us on hangouts, dinners, rugby games and soccer games, given very helpful advice on where to find the cheapest winter clothes, and also debated and picked over our upcoming road trip until we were hitting all the right places. The church had a weekend retreat outside town and we attended a day of it, making even more friends as we played soccer together, ate lunch and carpooled to and from the camp. It’s really amazing how you can settle into a group of friends that make you feel like you’ve known them for so much longer than you have. Last night our Bible Study group got together for a going away dinner for us, which reminded me of the one we had in Kansas City back in December and made me so grateful for God’s provision of friends at just the right time. We’ll miss this community a lot!
Neighbors: since we live in a house here with the dogs that we are sitting for, we walk the dogs daily around the neighborhood.
Not only does having a routine like this make you feel more at home, it also makes you a familiar face to the neighbors. We had asked the people we are housesitting for to let their neighbors know we were here (so it didn’t look odd!) and that worked out in our favor as they have a tight knit little community. The couple just next door have provided helpful advice on trash pickup and holidays (they sort their trash here into food, recycling and rubbish and have different pickups for different types). As a thank you I baked them some blueberry muffins – which incidentally are courtesy of our own garden – and was subsequently invited over for afternoon tea where we got to hear the story of how they met and fell in love. They’re a sweet older couple who got married 6 years ago, both having been widows. They met in primary school and grew up down the street from each other but never really hit it off until a few years ago. Adorable, right?
Act like a local: someone in our Bible study told me about a concept here called urban foraging, where you can walk through the red zone (residential/commercial land that has been reclaimed and demolished after the earthquake due to foundational issues, and is being turned into parks) and use a Google map to track all of the fruit and nut trees in the area. No one lives there so the fruit is just sitting around, going to waste. We picked SO many pears and walnuts.
We also found apple, feijoa and mandarin trees, and in the summer they have plum, apricot and peach trees!
I made a pear, candied walnut and gorgonzola salad, maple walnut bread and a fruit crisp. And it was all free! Other websites like Meetup.com and local events calendars have provided insight into things to do around the city and fun ways to meet people. I didn’t get to do them, but from online events calendars I learned of free evening aerobics class in the park in Bangkok and a free weekly symphony rehearsal you can attend in Christchurch.
We also participated in a local film festival, a pub quiz night with friends, an IT meetup with local professionals, and have favorite cafes to camp out and drink coffee/work.
Another thing that has been invaluable was getting a local phone number. I’ll go more in detail in a future post, but we both have unlocked smart phones that allow us to get local SIM cards. We each have a NZ number from which we can call and text, which makes it really convenient to make plans to meet up with a friend or call and get a reservation somewhere.
Live like a local: I really can’t say enough good things about housesitting. It’s easiest if you like being around pets, but there are still house sits where people just need someone to water their plants and give the house a lived in look. In exchange for having a free home to stay in this month, we walk the dogs and play with them, pick raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and strawberries from the garden (they asked me to freeze some of it for them and eat the rest), weed, clean the house and lock the doors at night. It’s brilliant, and will be much, much cheaper and more authentic than living in a hostel. I’ll post more in detail someday as to how to find housesits, and other creative forms of housing.
Don’t neglect the community back home: Matt is really outgoing and that has been so helpful as we try to make friends and settle in quickly, but regardless of how enthusiastic you are, it gets lonely sometimes. You will not always have the same experiences everywhere you go, and even if you do, a friend you’ve known for a couple months will never match a friend that you’ve known for years. Both of us have people we text and Skype regularly to keep us grounded, encouraged, and reminded of all the good stuff we have back in KC. We’re not meant to live in isolation, and sometimes being away from friends and family can give you a new perspective and appreciation for the people you have in your life.
I hope this is encouraging for those of you who have mentioned to us that you’re inspired to do something like this. I’ll be posting this year about various topics that will detail how we’ve managed to plan and pull this off, from a financial, technological, and logistical perspective.
This weekend we head out for a two week long road trip around the South Island to see all the things we’ve wanted to see but haven’t been able to because of the dogs we’re caring for, and then we head up to the North Island for 6 weeks on an alpaca farm! Stay tuned!
Categories: New Zealand