Hooked on Christchurch

A working holiday has turned into an extended adventure for Czech Republic-born Lukas
Hooked on Christchurch

He came here expecting to stay for approximately five months – but four-and-a-half years later, Lukas Pohl is still in love with Christchurch’s charms.

Lukas had finished his university studies and was working full time when three friends decided to come to New Zealand on a working holiday. The time was right, he felt, for a bit of adventure.

“I remember when I was a kid, I was playing with a globe, studying where the Czech Republic is and wondering on what’s on the other side of the planet. I turned it around and saw New Zealand. I always wanted to visit that place since I was a kid,” says Lukas.

“I wasn’t really planning to settle here. My intention was to come here with my backpack, pick some fruit, do a little bit of travelling, and five months later I’ll be back in Czech Republic.”

Lukas joined his friends, arriving in Auckland in December 2011. Experienced in outdoor activities, he was soon offered a job in Nelson as a kite-surfing instructor, so said goodbye to his friends and moved south – but that didn’t work out, as the company needed someone with a teaching licence.

So he headed to Christchurch in February 2012, sent his CV to local companies and within two weeks started working at Telogis. Now he’s a senior software engineer for the company, which develops technology to help companies manage their vehicle fleet and navigation resources.

Lukas quickly settled into work, thanks to welcoming workmates and a more “chilled” work environment compared to Europe.

“I loved the work culture,” he says. “Because I’ve been under constant stress, and if you feel under constant pressure, it’s not really good for your lifestyle.”

Easy access to outdoor activities was another reason he loved Christchurch. “Basically every weekend we go somewhere: surf trips, kite surfing trips, in the winter we go snowboarding, and a lot of exploration,” Lukas adds. “Christchurch is the best place for me to live – you know, it’s close to the ocean and close to the mountains.

Lukas had never surfed before moving to New Zealand, but now he goes to Bali every year for a two-week surfing holiday.

“It’s really intense surfing, all day long pretty much. So I’m really glad to be back at the office and get some rest finally,” he laughs.

After six months here, he applied for a work-to-residence visa and now has residency. “A few of my friends, they hired lawyers, but I don’t think it’s necessary for simple cases.”

Getting used to driving on the left side of the road was a “nightmare”, Lukas laughs, but there’s more space here: “In Europe and especially in Czech Republic, you’ve got a village every five kilometres, so you could imagine all the infrastructure, all the roads…”

He certainly wasn’t prepared for the best kind of culture shock, though: how friendly and open Kiwis are compared to Czechs, who lived under Communist rule for 41 years.

“When you’re at the counter in a supermarket, the shop assistant just asks you how was your day: this is just unthinkable for us. I never ever experienced something like that in Czech Republic,” he explains.

“I know for you, it’s daily routine, you don’t even think about it. But in Czech Republic, during Communism, you didn’t know who was a spy, so it’s in people’s minds and they’re still a little bit cautious about talking to other people.”

Lukas does feel the pull of his homeland through his stomach: “Ohhh, I do miss my Czech food though, I have to say: gravies and dumplings and of course, Czech beer.”

Christmas doesn’t make him homesick for friends and family, as the weather is warm and everyone is on holiday. “Birthdays and weddings and funerals, that’s the most difficult part for me,” he says. “I do have a lot of Czech friends here and we all have the same problems. So we just support each other. It’s really important for us.”

The future is wide open for Lukas. “It’s hard to plan for 10 years’ time because I don’t have any major commitments here so far. I don’t have any mortgage, any kids, any wife,” he says. “Christchurch is going to be rebuilt, you know, it’s going to be a full, shiny city in 10 years. So that’s really good. I’m happy to be there and experience that.”

For those thinking about moving here, his advice is simple. “First I would get a proper big Czech meal with a big beer on the side. Then I would do a lot of internet research, because you do want to know what you’re going into.”

But Lukas has one note of caution. “You better be careful about moving to New Zealand, because you might never come back!” he laughs. “It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.”

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