Confession time: I’m not a sporty person. In New Zealand, that can be a hindrance when it comes to finding that one commonality with the locals – ’cause just about everyone is involved in some kind of sporting activity. It’s ingrained in Kiwi minds from a young age that getting active, and being part of a sports team, is very important. As the national sport, rugby is the favourite choice for many New Zealanders; though others like netball, soccer/football (FYI New Zealanders use the former), and cricket are quite popular too.
In many towns and cities, no one bats an eye if someone walks into a supermarket with no shoes on. I’ve also seen young kids walking to school barefoot (by choice, not because they didn’t have any shoes to begin with), and I know many school-age kids don’t wear any running shoes/sneakers during PE classes – not even in winter! Also, many New Zealanders will be offended if you don’t take your shoes off when you enter their house, and people are perfectly fine with sporting flip-flops (or ‘jandals’) as everyday wear.
I’m not just talking about the likes of Peter Jackson, Russell Crowe, Rachel Hunter, Lorde and Taika Waititi, to name a few of the Kiwi-born celebrities we know and adore. New Zealand has brought us quite a few world-changers too: like Nobel Prize winning physicist Ernest Rutherford and the first person to reach the summit of Mt Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary. The country is also known for its pioneering feats in women’s suffrage, peaceful resistance among various others historical milestones.
Coming from a place where there are lots of public holidays scattered throughout the year, New Zealand’s lack of national and religious days was rather hard to get used to. You’ve got New Year’s Day in January, Waitangi Day in February, a few regional anniversary days before Easter, ANZAC Day in April, Queens Birthday in June and Labour Day in October. That’s it. Although, to be fair, the bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington do have their fair share of festivals and events in winter to make up for the ‘holiday limbo’ leading up to Christmas.
You might have heard New Zealand’s ‘100% Pure’ tourism slogan before. While it doesn’t quite ring true, Kiwis do have a good thing going here. For instance, you can still drink water right out of the tap in most places. Not only that, but the beaches are world-class, the roads are quite scenic, nature is always well within reach and there’s a trove of lakes, rivers, waterfalls just waiting to take your breath away.
On reflection, I think most of my knowledge about New Zealand history came from personal research. While it’s true that the country doesn’t have the thousands of years of heritage that many European places do, New Zealand’s history is fascinating. If there are any Kiwis reading this, I strongly encourage you to revisit your roots – from pre-Maori history right through to colonisation and beyond. Looking into the evolution of local cuisine (like the hangi or the traditional ‘meat and three veg‘ dinner) is a good starting point; ditto for looking at the story behind the heritage buildings that are still part of our lives today.
To be fair, integrating into any society isn’t easy. Naturally there are some barriers all migrants face while they’re trying to find their place in New Zealand: employers are more likely to favour candidates with local experience; some towns and cities might appear quite cliquey at first; and Kiwis generally do take a little while to open up to strangers.
Don’t get me wrong, New Zealanders are an incredibly hospitable and friendly bunch. It’s just that deep down, they are also quite reserved too. My main piece advice for anyone trying to settle in is to find a common interest (like joining a sports team; we’ve come full circle!) and be patient as they lower their guard to get to know you. For some, this may be easier said than done – language students tend to struggle to connect with Kiwis at first because of the obvious communication barrier – but I promise everything will work out in the long run.