A Successful Psychology

For Clinical Psychologist Emma Lonsdale, moving to New Zealand has meant the chance to open a private practice.
A Successful Psychology

They’ve lived in Luxembourg, Pakistan and Morocco, and are no strangers to starting again. But Emma Lonsdale and her family are putting down roots in Cambridge, and loving their lives here..

Emma’s husband Jason had worked for Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which meant moving to a different country every few years. But eventually they decided to give priority to Emma’s career as a clinical psychologist.

The couple had visited New Zealand in 1999 on a six-week backpacking holiday, says Jason, and particularly loved tramping in the South Island. “We thought, ‘This is the sort of place we might want to move to in the future,’” he says.

We thought, 'This is the sort of place we might want to move to in the future'

Jason Lonsdale

Fast-forward 11 years – children Ronan and Ellie had joined the family, and Jason’s contract in Morocco was coming to an end. Emma says they wanted to settle down somewhere after doing three diplomatic postings in a row: “We were fed up with meeting really nice people and then having to say goodbye after two or three years,” she says.

So they began to plan a year before they arrived here, especially researching the most flexible visa options for their situation. Emma registered with the New Zealand Psychologists Board and began applying for jobs; she got one with Waikato District Health Board in Hamilton, then applied for a work-to-residency visa.

“Having the sort of visa that we had really, really paid off for us, because it meant that the timing was ours,” she says.

Emma’s team leader arranged motel accommodation in the nearby small town of Cambridge for two weeks as part of their resettlement package. They arrived on a Tuesday in August 2011, and the kids started school three days later. Ellie had only just turned five and was particularly keen to get going, explains Emma. “We had to go in on the Friday morning, buy the uniform, put her in it and put her in the class. She couldn’t wait,” she adds. “I think the structure of school actually helped them settle.”

Emma & Ellie Lonsdale

Ellie had only just turned five and was particularly keen to get to school

While Jason focused on childcare and doing contract work, Emma dived straight into working in mental health services for children and teenagers. She found it satisfying, but challenging. 

“There’s a hard work ethic in New Zealand. I’m used to, you know, going home at 4pm on a Friday in the UK, and there was a bit less of that over here. Plus there are always kids and families to be seen.”

When she worked in England, Emma received nearly eight weeks of paid annual leave a year, but standard New Zealand employment contracts only offer half that number. “To get here and have four weeks plus your public holidays, and kids at home – that was tight,” she says. 

After two-and-a-half years, she set up a private practice in Cambridge and she now sees clients four days a week, letting her spend more time with Ronan and Ellie. Jason initially struggled to find work, but now has a full-time job with the Department of Corrections (which manages New Zealand’s prisons).

Lonsdale family

The Lonsdales have kept a home in the UK but bought a house after just two weeks here. It’s a slice of paradise: there are approximately 25 hectares of land around the house, so they’ve put in an orchard, chickens and ducks, a garden, a tree house and a trampoline. Jason says that sort of space is unaffordable in England, and he can’t understand why people subdivide and sell off portions of land here.

“People from the UK come because they want bigger sections. It’s one of the reasons we bought this place,” he explains.

Going from Morocco’s dry landscape to the lush, green Waikato was quite a change for Ronan and Ellie. “In Morocco it was very hard to go outside for long periods of time in a day, because it was just so hot,” says Ronan. Here, there are more trees for him and his friends to climb, streams in which to swim, and space in the back yard to run around with water guns.

He’s found people are friendlier here, and he’s also glad to be in a smaller school with more interesting ways of teaching. “I think the schooling in New Zealand is definitely a lot better than the schooling I had in Morocco,” he says. “You enjoy the learning more.”

Ellie loves being able to walk, or ride her bicycle or scooter, to school. “Sometimes when it rains, I just use my umbrella and it’s see-through and it’s really nice to walk in the rain,” she says. “New Zealand’s really good points are the beaches and the fact that we found a lot of good places to stay for holidays.”

As a family, they enjoy going to the local farmers’ market, meeting friends or driving to the beach. Emma’s joined a book club, Jason acts in local theatre productions, and Ellie and Ronan go to Brownies and Scouts.

Emma and Jason are happy to have their children growing up Kiwi, in a more outdoors and relaxed culture. Summer rituals, such as going camping with friends, take priority over frequently renovating your home. “Kiwis understand that spending time with other people is what really makes life worthwhile,” says Emma. “I think the kids benefit from that.”

Emma Lonsdale

"Kiwis understand that spending time with other people is what really makes life worthwhile."

Emma Lonsdale

Ronan and Ellie are very settled now, but Emma says in some ways it was more difficult for Ronan. 

“What people might not realise about New Zealand, kids are doing regular sport from the age of five: rugby, hockey, netball. So when he arrived and wanted to give rugby a go, he was several years behind the boys already playing rugby,” she explains. “So I would say, come sooner rather than later.”

People from the UK often think New Zealand is “a bit like the UK was 50 years ago”, says Jason, but that isn’t the case. It’s also important to recognise that life isn’t perfect here, as New Zealand has its own issues around immigration and race relations, he adds. 

“One of the things I’ve noticed as an outsider is that there are some underlying tensions here between Māori and non-Māori that aren’t completely resolved yet,” he says.

Also, there are bigger cultural differences than most British people expect: the Māori culture is rich, and also the fact that Kiwis are a hardier bunch of people because of their pioneer history.

“Here, people enjoy fishing, tramping, hunting, but not in the same way as in the UK,” Jason explains. “It’s a bigger outdoors here, when you get into the outdoors. The fishing is a lot more serious: you go out and it’s sea fishing, catching big fish. Men are very serious about their fishing here.”

If you’re going to make the big move, Emma and Jason agree, give yourself a decent chance to settle in. “A year, in my experience, is never long enough. That’s the time when you are feeling at your lowest,” he says. “We’ve been here three years now; we’ve made friendships, we’ve settled into the community. This could be our home for the rest of our lives.”

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