Today marks 15 years since I landed at Heathrow for what I assumed would be a short stay in London. Um oops? Got that prediction really, really wrong.
I cannot believe how quickly my 15 years here have flown by. There have been so many adventures, the meeting of some of the best friends I could ever ask for, and the fact that my kiwi lingo has mostly long gone, saying things like ‘flip flops’ and not ‘jandals’, ‘clingfilm’, not ‘glad wrap’, and the list goes on! And there is certainly no trace of adding that popular Kiwi habit of saying ‘aye’ to the end of my sentences, that’s been replaced by the British equivalent of ‘yeah’.
So you may be asking yourself if I even feel like a Kiwi at all anymore? It’s such a strange situation to be in, being away for so long. You eventually feel that you don’t truly belong anywhere, and that’s a very confusing headspace to be in. I feel like a foreigner when I’m in NZ on vacation, I find myself staring at Kiwis, really hearing that strong accent of theirs, observing them in the way a tourist would, and then questioning myself ‘Do I belong here?’. And yet, I don’t feel like a Brit either. Thankfully in London, it’s so international that you don’t really feel too much like a foreigner, because most people living here are from somewhere else.
As time goes by, and the longer I’m here in London, and the more my friends leave, I question myself where I really belong. I didn’t give a moments thought to leaving London through my twenties or even my early thirties, and I never felt homesick for NZ. I was much, much too busy having the time of my life. And I did. I would never, ever change that for anything. I still strongly maintain that living your twenties in London is the best decision anyone can ever make. But now I’m no longer in my twenties, hell I’m no longer in my early thirties (gulp!), and surprising as it is, your priorities do change with time.
I started to feel very disconnected from NZ around a year ago, and I didn’t like that feeling one bit. That led me to jumping on Google to see if there might be some London based Kiwi groups that I could join, to try and reconnect with ‘home’. Two weeks after that Google search, I went to my first meeting run by The New Zealand Business Women’s Network. These monthly meetings are held in a Kiwi owned cafe (obvs!), and as I sat down and looked around the group, it was apparent there were Kiwi women of all ages, some young twenty somethings fresh off a plane, and others that have lived here for 20+ years raising their families in London. It was fascinating, and so comforting to meet these women. It felt like a security blanket, something I could cling on to, so I didn’t feel so far from home.
Soon after joining I became the voluntary Social Media Manager for the network, an amazing opportunity that allowed me to truly reconnect with my homeland. It quickly became apparent how little I knew about all the wonderful goings on there, and the talented people emerging from this tiny country at the bottom of the world. My social media team grew, and I now have the pleasure of connecting with 9 other fabulous Kiwi gals, who help me run the social media, but more than that, they provide me with a feeling of connection to NZ, and reassurance that I’m not so alone in London after all. Through the network, in less than a year I have been to some of the most inspiring events, I’ve also helped with the organisation of these. I have the amazing opportunity of regular catch-up meetings with the networks owner, who is truly one of the most inspiring women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and who constantly boosts me to believe in my own potential, and to make me feel grounded when my head is having a moment of ‘I miss home’/’I don’t know what I’m doing with my life’ and various other moments of crisis. I’ve also met women that are no longer fellow network members, they are now friends. Some of these ladies astound me with their talent, creating successful empires for themselves here in London. These Kiwi women are a bunch of kick arse go-getter’s, that have made my reconnection with New Zealand so great.
I’m about to start a new job in April, it’s a contract, but I haven’t been this excited about a job in a long, long time. I would never have had access to this opportunity had it not been for this NZ network I belong to. And what’s even more exciting? My colleagues are Kiwis too. And what’s even more exciting? I’m working on a tv series about amazing Kiwis in the UK. It’s a case of being careful what you wish for, and I’d wished for a closer connection to home (as well as working in tv, how weird is that?!), and I’ve certainly had my wish granted.
I’m so grateful for this connection, whilst I still live in London. Had you asked me 10 years ago if I’d be interested in all this association with my homeland, I’d have said ‘No way! Not at all! Zero interest!’. But with time, comes change, what makes you happy changes, and reconnecting with home has made me so much happier. Would I want to live back in New Zealand again? I don’t even have to consider this question. The answer is yes, very much so. No country is perfect, there are flaws in all places, but I see NZ as a beautiful, laid-back place to reside. I’m very aware that it might not be right for me longterm, I’ve no way to know having been gone for so long. As they say, the grass always seems greener on the other side!
I always wonder what type of person I would be if I’d never left the shores of NZ. I’ll never know. Though I have an inkling that my UK experience has made me a stronger, wiser and more independent woman than I would have been had I stayed living in the safety net of Auckland. I’m so, so grateful for my 15 years in London, I wouldn’t change a second of it. I love the lessons that London has taught me, it’s a city that keeps you on your toes, all day everyday, and to reside here provides you with the most amazing stories that I will certainly be sharing for years to come.