Drawn by the distance

Anouk Jansen had a six-month taste of faraway New Zealand life as a Masters student, before deciding to move here from Europe.
Drawn by the distance

New Zealand looked to be as far away from Switzerland as possible, but there wasn’t a very large cultural gap: the conditions were perfect for French-born Anouk Jansen’s first visit, and she liked it so much she came back to stay.

The half-French, half-Dutch woman first arrived as a student in late 2012 to work on a project as part of completing her Masters studies in mechanical engineering. She was studying in Lausanne, Switzerland, and could choose any project in the world “as long as one of the professors agreed to it”, she says.

“I was quite interested in New Zealand, probably because it’s on the other side of the world,” laughs Anouk. “The language was also a big part of it. I wasn’t very keen on going to a country where I didn’t speak the language at all.”

Anouk found an interesting project at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, and came here on a student visa. After working for four months and travelling around the country for two, she returned to Europe and decided she would try to move back here.

In May 2013, she had a working holiday visa and was back on New Zealand soil. Then she began applying for jobs – and showed how keen she was.

“In my CV, I mentioned that right now I only had a working holiday visa, but if I found something interesting I would be interested in applying for the skilled migrant category, and in theory I should be able to get a visa with a job offer,” she explains.

Enztec was the only company Anouk found that did orthopaedic-related engineering, so she sent them her CV. After a Skype interview, she flew from Auckland to Christchurch to spend a day at the company. A job offer soon followed.

Anouk began working at Enztec on a fixed-term contract, because of her working holiday visa. But she quickly applied for a regular work visa, while beginning the longer process of applying for residency under the skilled migrant category. She’s now a resident.

Though she began learning English when she was 13, adjusting to a new job while speaking a second language was challenging – especially as Kiwis tend to talk quite quickly. “The first few weeks, it does get really tiring. It’s always focusing that extra little bit more than usual to communicate,” Anouk says.

She’s been impressed by her friendly workmates, and her flexible working hours. “Our managers are quite relaxed about when we come and when we go. Obviously some of them have families; it’s always fine when somebody needs to go pick up their kids. They’ll just come back and do their hours and it’ll be fine.”

Going flatting helped Anouk meet people, as most of her original workmates were often busy with their children. She’s also made good friends through doing aerial silks, a type of acrobatics in which people perform tricks while hanging from a long length of fabric. Two or three times a week, she heads to the studio to practise her moves.

“It’s a good upper-body and core workout, because you use your arms and your abs a lot from just inverting [turning upside down] all the time,” she explains.

Walking her small, “super cute” dog Rav’n each day also takes up much of Anouk’s spare time. She got the dog when she was flatting, “even though it is difficult to find places where you’re allowed dogs”. (She now lives with her Kiwi partner.) “I take her out for walks daily, and on weekends I like to go on slightly larger walks. There are quite a few nice tracks up the hills.”

Fewer people and more open spaces illustrate the biggest difference between New Zealand and Europe. “It’s very weird, you can just drive for, like, 10 minutes and you’re out in the middle of nowhere,” she laughs. “There are barely any apartment buildings outside central Auckland.”

Anouk finds it difficult to live so far away from her family, and even considered moving back home at the beginning of 2015, when she wasn’t so happy at work. She gave herself two months to make a decision, and eventually decided to stay.

“I had already made all this effort to move here and to adapt to Christchurch life, and I also had a good chat with my boss about my role and there were possibilities for change.”

Come for a visit first, she advises, before deciding if living in New Zealand is right for you. “If you’re from a big city, just keep in mind that it’s going to be quite different here. I know some people who really miss the big-city lifestyle that you won’t find in Christchurch, and don’t really find in Auckland either,” she adds.

“But if you’ve already decided that that’s where you want to live, then just go for it.”

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