Veterinarian moves from USA to New Zealand

Janelle Wierenga knew very little about New Zealand before moving here from the United States of America, but found the Kiwi lifestyle suited her very well.
Vet from USA moves to New Zealand

Some migrants fall in love with New Zealand, then find a job that enables them to move here. Janelle Wierenga came to this country because of a professional opportunity – and discovered that New Zealand offers the kind of life she loves.

Born in the United States of America (America), Janelle lives in the small town of Feilding. She came here in 2013 for a job with Massey University, teaching veterinary students and running the emergency and critical-care department at the Pet Emergency Centre.

Janelle has a Master of Public Health and experience as a veterinary small-animal emergency and critical-care specialist, but realised she missed passing on her knowledge to others. The job also offered the chance to achieve tenure (guaranteed permanent employment) more quickly than it was possible to in the US.

As always, work is only part of the picture. Since moving here, she has discovered a love of triathlons (sporting events involving swimming, cycling and running), starting with an Ironman; she even represented New Zealand this year in the Cross and Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Canada.

“There are quite a few different places to train, and there are triathlon clubs here that you can join. It is really helpful to be able to train with other people who've been doing it for a while, and can give you tips,” says Janelle.

This possibility did not enter her mind when her parents came back from a holiday in New Zealand and told her she would enjoy the country’s outdoor lifestyle. She began looking for jobs here, and realised after getting an interview with Massey University that things were getting serious.

“Then I got offered the position and thought, ‘Now I really have to decide whether I actually move across the world, which seems like quite a big step!’ I had never lived outside of the US before this point,” she says.

“A lot of New Zealanders and Australians do an OE [overseas experience], so living in another country for a year or two isn’t something they would even think twice about. In America, we don't typically do that.”

Janelle decided she needed to visit New Zealand before accepting the job; Massey University could not pay for her flights, so she paid to fly here for a week, to ensure she was making the right decision.

“I realised I would be able to work very well with people here to accomplish something that would hopefully be hugely beneficial for the veterinary community.”

Janelle brought her two dogs and her belongings to New Zealand, and started work less than a week after arriving. Every day brings new situations and challenges: she teaches students in classrooms and the veterinary hospital.

“I teach the vet students on the clinic floor while dealing with real cases. This prepares them to go out and practise veterinary medicine,” she explains.

The hospital can deal with complex, challenging cases, which Janelle says is particularly useful for students. “They also get the opportunity to learn how to communicate with clients, who are making difficult decisions in real-life situations.”

She moved here just before Christmas 2013, which had its disadvantages. “Spending your first Christmas not really knowing many people makes it a little bit harder, and you get a little bit more homesick in those situations.”

But Kiwi hospitality helped: Janelle met her neighbours on December 23 when one of their animals ran onto her property, and they invited her to Christmas dinner at their house. “That was my first introduction to the Kiwi friendliness that I've found ever since then. It’s very friendly, very open – though getting to know people on a deeper level takes time.”

New Zealanders also tend to put less importance than many Americans on material goods, she says. “In America there's a lot of focus on what you have: the best car, the right clothes. Here it's more about what you need than necessarily what you want. I find myself only buying stuff I actually need.”

Janelle has bought a well-insulated house in Feilding (some houses can be very cold), and now it feels like home. “I love Fielding, it's a great little town. It has everything you need: it's small enough and quite friendly, and it’s easy enough to get up to Taupo or down to Wellington,” she says.

“It's quite rural, so you have to be used to a more laidback, quiet life, which doesn’t suit some people if they come from a more fast-paced region.”

As with any decision, it is important to understand the financial trade-offs. Janelle is earning half of what she would make from a similar job in America, but the cost of housing is much lower. Food is more expensive, but she has a better work-life balance.

“I work similar hours here, sometimes 12-16 hours when it gets really busy, but there is a better holiday allowance in New Zealand than in America. You just have to weigh up what is most important to you.”

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