Exploring new horizons
Sharath and his wife Sam moved to New Zealand - and found a relaxed, outdoor life that suits them perfectly.
When Sharath Prakash first came to New Zealand from India, it was by chance rather than choice – but his professional satisfaction and family life meant the choice to stay was easy.
He and wife Sam work as doctors: Sam is a house officer and Sharath is a radiologist. Sharath finished his basic medical training in Bangalore in 2007 and wanted to train abroad, so an uncle working as a GP in Auckland told him about New Zealand.
“New Zealand seemed so exotic,” says Sharath. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to find out how things were and then take it from there.”
He came here on a visitor’s visa with his sister and travelled around the North Island, then returned to Auckland to do a pre-arranged, 15-day observership at Middlemore Hospital. “You interact with the patients and doctors, you see how they perform their duties, and you see if you can fit in,” Sharath explains.
“It’s not just about the medicine: I could see what New Zealanders are all about. I could talk to the patients, get an idea of their sense of humour, their way of expressing things.”
Sharath enjoyed the experience so much he decided to take the NZREX exams (two written tests and one practical exam), in order to practise in New Zealand. After passing, he wrote to all the DHBs (District Health Boards) enquiring about work.
“Tauranga was the first hospital that wrote back and they said, ‘You can start next week.’ So I took a bus, came here for an interview, and that’s how I came to be in Tauranga,” he says.
On a holiday back to India in 2011, mutual friends introduced Sharath to Bangalore-born Sam. They kept in touch when he returned to New Zealand, and after approximately a year they decided to have a “semi-arranged marriage”. Sam knew she would need to move here, and luckily Sharath’s description of the outdoor lifestyle was attractive. “He told me what life will be like and he convinced me to come.”
Sam also took the NZREX exams so she could work here as a doctor. Once she passed, she also found a job at Tauranga Hospital. Her transition was quite smooth. “I did expect quite a big change, but things have been really great so far for us both, in terms of our career and family life,” Sam says. “At the hospital, people have been welcoming.”
Coming from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore (population around 10 million people), Sharath had to adjust to Tauranga’s relative quiet. “The shops would be dead by 6 o’clock here, which is when we would go out in India. Having said that, it was really calming and peaceful,” he says.
Instead, their evenings became filled with after-work drinks with colleagues, beach walks, and running or biking at the Mount (Mount Maunganui). “I would find it so amazing that you could finish work and go for a run or a nice swim in the sea. You could never imagine doing that in India, because you would get home only at 10pm after you finished work at about 8pm,” says Sharath.
Sam misses her friends in India, but has built up a social circle here – that often happens more quickly in small cities than in larger ones. “We go out for the night, or have pot-luck dinners [where everyone brings food to share] at home,” she explains. Being away from her parents was difficult, too. “But now our parents have come here and stayed with us for a few months, things have gotten easier. They understand more about our lifestyle,” says Sam.
Sam’s mother was present when the couple’s daughter Inara was born in October 2014, but there’s no extended family here to help with childcare. Sam has just gone back to work, and they’ve put Inara into day-care. “The teachers are all so friendly and Inara seems to love them as well. We want her to have the maximum interaction with other kids and I think that’s going to be a great thing for her,” says Sharath.
Sharath’s younger sister lives in the United States, so Sharath does think about who will take care of his parents when they get old. “But they just want us to be happy, and I have to think about my daughter now as well. I definitely think New Zealand is a better place for her to grow up than India at the moment,” he says.
Sam advises other medical professionals to do their research and be prepared for the exams if they want to work here. “Make sure there are job opportunities here for your skill. I highly recommend New Zealand to anyone – we absolutely love it here.” Sharath agrees, saying it’s easier to manage the stress of medicine when you have time to enjoy your family and hobbies. “In that way, Tauranga is amazing. You can have a stroll by the beach and feel like you’re on holiday while you’re still at work.”