Martina tells her migrant story

Martina's migrant Interview

Migration to New Zealand in 1994

When did you first visit New Zealand?

I first came to New Zealand in 1985 to get some overseas experience as a junior lawyer. Because I was a fan of the Scandinavian countries, I thought Canada, especially Vancouver, would be a really nice place to go to, but then I heard about New Zealand and I thought, why not go as far away as possible and make the most of my time abroad. So that’s how I decided to go to New Zealand. I found a fantastic law firm in Nelson and they were prepared to take me on for three months.

Tell me about your first trip to NZ

I didn’t know that much about New Zealand then, I think New Zealand was generally quite an unknown territory in Europe at that time, but when I landed in Auckland I thought straight away that this was a very beautiful country.

First I travelled the North Island and then arrived in Nelson at the beginning of January, the best time to arrive in Nelson, because it is summer and Nelson is just the best place to be in summer.
We found a really nice cottage to stay, right by Tahunanui Beach and bought an old car that months later broke down in the Homer Tunnel near the Milford Sound.
On the weekends we explored the Nelson Lakes, the Abel Tasman National Park, the Marlborough Sounds and Golden Bay, all magical places near Nelson.

What were the first two or three things you noticed when you came to New Zealand?

The first thing I noticed when I landed in Auckland was that the sky was very blue and the air was very clean and clear.

The second thing I noticed was the New Zealand accent. That was when we went through customs and I could not understand at all what they were asking me.  Prior to that I had always thought my English was o.k., but I soon realised that I could hardly understand the Kiwi accent.  It sounded very different to the English I had learnt at school. On my first day at the law office, it was quite daunting when I met my new bosses. I was so nervous. While everyone at the office was extremely welcoming and  friendly, I found it very stressful not to be able to communicate as well as I would have liked, let alone on a professional level. That improved very fast though and I had a fantastic and very memorable time.

The third thing I noticed immediately was that New Zealanders were extremely friendly and so much more relaxed than what I was used to from Europe. They were always interested to hear where I came from and what I was doing in New Zealand and also always extremely helpful whenever I needed help.   

What do you think about your work/life balance in New Zealand compared with Germany?

I can't really tell because it has been twenty years since I worked in Germany and things may have changed in the meantime.

Many people  think that the stress levels are much higher in Germany and some people even seem to think that New Zealanders are constantly on holidays, just because they are so relaxed,  but the reality is that New Zealanders work very hard.

However, all in all I am very happy with my work/life balance, as I really enjoy my work and on weekends it is so easy to make the most of the Great Outdoors and go tramping or to one of the many beaches and spend time with family and friends. 

Were there any cultural differences you noticed between New Zealand and Germany?

I think that New Zealand is very much an outdoor country, so people spend a lot of time outdoors. In Germany we used to spend a lot of time indoors, maybe due to the bad weather. As a result our social life was different in Germany. We used to have friends come to our house and spend time sitting together, talking and sometimes playing board games. Here it is more about going outdoors, to the beach or the mountains, having picnics with family and friends and being generally more active. 
While I really appreciate the outdoor lifestyle, I sometimes miss the more homely aspect of my life in Germany. But then again I find it very enriching to mix both cultures and pick and choose and create my own balance of both. 

So you immigrated with your family when you came back in 1994?

Yes, my children were six and a half and nearly four years old when we arrived in 1994.

How did they react to your decision to move to New Zealand? 

I don’t think that they really understood the whole impact of what we were doing, but we came here for a visit a year before we moved and I observed how they reacted about being in New Zealand and I think they felt very free. They obviously enjoyed being able to just run outside wearing shorts and T shirts, with bare feet.
When we moved here I observed the same again, they were just very happy to be outside, running around and spending much more time outdoors than they were able to in Germany.

How did they cope with the language barrier?

One of my main concerns about moving to New Zealand was that my children would not be able to communicate easily and might therefore have difficulties relating to other children and being integrated at school.  They didn’t speak a word of English when we arrived, obviously. But that concern soon went away when I saw how other children invited them to play and none of the children seemed to even notice the differences. I don’t think they actually really noticed a language barrier. We continued speaking German at home and when they were with their friends or at school/kindergarten they just spoke English, so they were bilingual right from the start. It just happened.

And then you founded New Zealand Immigration Concepts?

Well, when we decided that we didn’t want to work as lawyers in Germany anymore because we didn’t think it was an ideal lifestyle for a family, we had to think about what we would be able to do in terms of earning a living for the family in New Zealand.

Because we had spent a really long time getting our qualifications in Germany we didn’t want to go through the process of becoming registered lawyers in New Zealand.  So we thought that advising other migrants with their immigration to New Zealand would be an area where we could use our legal skills and at the same time implement our experience with advising people and dealing with authorities when representing our client´s interests. So we decided to start an immigration advisory business.

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

I really enjoy the fact that I meet people from all over the world every day and I know I would not have this opportunity if I was still working in a law office in Germany.

I also like the fact that I can develop our business, introduce new services and extend our immigration network. For example, a few years ago we decided that, apart from giving immigration advice, we also wanted to assist people with finding jobs, so that’s how we started jobs4migrants and we find that it works really well. 

When you go back to Germany what do you notice?

Well, I notice that Germany is a very nice place to go to on a holiday. A lot of things still feel very familiar and I notice that my German roots are still very strong. I really like that. And of course I love meeting my friends and it never seems like a long time since I last saw them. 

What were the low points of moving to New Zealand?

There were actually not many low points. I used to really miss my good friends. A low point is definitely that it is not possible to go and visit them for an evening or a weekend. That would be nice. 
On the other hand communication technology has improved so much over the last 20 years. It is now possible to have a relaxed chat with a friend at the other side of the world for an hour without it costing much at all. That has definitely made the distance a lot less obvious. 

If you could do something differently in the whole process of immigrating what would it be?

I think I underestimated how hard it would be to start a business in New Zealand. I am not sure what I would actually do differently, but I would be much more prepared, mentally, to work a lot harder than I thought I would have to. While there is far less bureaucracy in New Zealand than in Germany, it takes some time to gain the local knowledge necessary to run a business and to fully understand the business culture.

Have you got any advice for people immigrating?

Before I migrated to New Zealand I tried to find information that would give me some insight into migrants experiences, but I could not find any sources.  So I recommend to read through the migrant interviews on our website because they really give quite an honest and realistic picture of what to expect.
Having realistic expectations and a well thought through plan is probably the most important factor in making sure that the migration process can be successful and an overall happy experience. 

Find out what other migrants have experienced.  


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