One thing I find fascinating about our Aussie and Kiwi friends is that they have the travel bug built into their culture. It’s pretty likely that you’ve crossed paths with someone on their gap year, or overseas experience and most often they will be from one of those two countries. Linda Martin of The Indie Travel Podcast set out on her overseas experience (also known as OE) from New Zealand to Malta… and then just kind of kept going!
What was the catalyst for leaving New Zealand? Where were you living at the time and what were you doing?
Young New Zealanders tend to go on an OE (overseas experience) some time in their late teens or twenties; heading off for a year or two just seemed like a normal thing to do. My husband Craig and I decided to finish uni and save up a bit before starting our trip, so we were 23 and 24 when we left, and had been working as ESOL teachers for a year or two.
You’ve lived in many countries – England, Australia, Malta, Panama, and Spain. What sparked your interest in these countries?
We started our journey in Malta because we wanted to live somewhere with a different culture but no language barrier — and going to the US, the UK, Canada and Australia didn’t seem different enough. So when we found out the language school we worked at had a branch in Malta, it seemed perfect! I’m not sure how we always end up in England, but it might have something to do with friends and family being here! Right now we’re in a middle of a three-month house-sit in Suffolk. It was house-sitting that took us to Panama, too. We spent six months in Perth at the end of our first three-year stint away from New Zealand — we knew it was time to start heading home, but weren’t quite ready to commit to being back in our own country. Australia seemed like a good compromise. 🙂 And Spain, well… from the first time we visited Spain, we loved it. We just keep getting drawn back. We started learning Spanish, and that’s what led to me doing a master’s in Spanish language education in Alcalá de Henares.
How long have you been living as an expat? Are you currently abroad or back home in New Zealand?
We started travelling full-time in February 2006; we’re currently in England but will be back in New Zealand for Christmas and the southern summer.
Did you experience any culture shock? If yes, can you give an example. If not, what prepared you for the local culture?
We love experiencing new places, and while we’ve had some (pleasant and unpleasant) surprises, I don’t think I’d call it culture shock. We have, however, experienced re-entry shock, coming back to New Zealand. Notably, in a supermarket when we saw how expensive everything was!
Were your moves out of interest in the local experience or driven by an occupation?
It seems like every move has a different motivation! Sometimes we want to experience a place, sometimes we just have the opportunity to go somewhere, so we take it. We’ve travelled places specifically to do a job or study, and we’ve also travelled places just because they sounded great. Now that our work is location independent, we’re more likely to go somewhere to take up a housesitting assignment or to spend time with people.
What is your favourite thing about living in each country? Least favourite?
In Malta, I loved exploring the history but found the heat oppressive. Good excuse to go to the beach, though! In England, there’s also a great depth of history, but I enjoy the rhythm of life best. Some attitudes can be unpleasant, though, and I’m not happy about the way of thinking that’s led to Brexit. In Australia, the laid-back attitude made everyday life very pleasant, but it was hard to find short-term accommodation (and what we did find was very pricy). In Panama, we struggled to make friends, but we had a great outdoor lifestyle. And in Spain — well, the food is just amazing, but don’t get me started on the bureaucracy!
I have to admit I’m curious… Did you have a favourite country? What made it stand out among the rest?
People often think I’m mad when I say that New Zealand is the best country in the world — after all, I could live there, but I don’t. There’s just so much that’s awesome about it, not least the stunning scenery. However, Spain comes in a close second, which is why we’ve spent so much time there over the years. The food is obviously a major drawcard, but the history, architecture, culture and language are also amazing.
What do you miss most about New Zealand? Least?
I miss our friends and family, and hanging out at the beach. I don’t miss expensive accommodation and food prices!
Did you have any misconceptions about any of the countries you lived in that turned out to be untrue?
Of course! I thought that all Spanish people were extroverted, but they aren’t. I thought Panama was a bit unsafe, but it’s one of the safest countries in the continent.
You had the longest stint in Spain. What caused you to stay there longer? Would you move back there?
I was doing a master’s degree, so I had to stay in Alcalá for the duration of the programme; we’d also already spent four months in A Coruña and three months in Jerez, as well as about four months spread across other trips. I love it, and will definitely be back. It’s just about battling the bureaucracy to get a visa to make sure I can stay for longer than three months at a time.
How did these countries change you? Have you maintained any habits you formed while abroad?
Our eating habits have certainly changed as a result of our time in Spain — we eat dinner a lot later now!
How did you feel after leaving each country? Were you ready for the next adventure or reluctant?
I think it’s always a mix of both. Reluctant to leave the routine we’ve set up, and ready to try something new!
Any plans for moving abroad in the future?
We’ll certainly be living abroad in the future — I’d like to spend some more time in Asia, in Canada, and possibly in Argentina or Uruguay. And, of course, we’ll be back in Spain at some point.