Breaking new ground

A move to Nelson has opened up unexpected opportunities for Philippines-born Mylene Mera.
Breaking new ground

A move to Nelson has opened up unexpected opportunities for Philippines-born Mylene Mera.

There are certain things Mylene Mera just didn’t do while she was living in Southeast Asia: learning to drive, and – unsurprisingly – building a snowman. Now she’s living in Nelson, she can do both.

Born in the Philippines, Mylene had never seen snow before setting foot in New Zealand. For the past two winters she’s visited Saint Arnaud, a village in the mountains south-west of Nelson,  to get her hands on something she’d only seen in books and movies.

“We made a snowman – a skinny snowman, because we went there towards the end of winter so there was not much snow,” she laughs.

Nelson was also a great place to get behind the wheel. Living in major Asian cities, Mylene could rely on public transport instead of driving through very congested traffic. When she arrived in Auckland from Malaysia in August 2012, Mylene started taking driving lessons – but regular practice in Nelson helped build up her confidence until she got her restricted licence.

“When I came to Nelson (in July 2013), a work colleague would sit with me during lunchtime  and supervise me while I drove around town,” Mylene says.

If you buy a New Zealand King Salmon (NZKS) product from the supermarket, there’s a chance Mylene worked on it. She’s a product development technologist: this involves developing new food products, improving existing ones, reducing waste, packaging technical artwork, and testing a food’s physical and chemical properties.

Mylene’s qualifcation – a bachelor of science in food technology, gained in the Philippines – and work experience for large international companies meant she was in demand here. After hearing about New Zealand from friends, she submitted an Expression of Interest through the Immigration New Zealand website (, and around a month later, she was invited to apply for a skilled migrant visa.

She says often other migrants don’t need to use an agency to help with their application. “It is very expensive and also you will be providing the same requirements or documentation as if you’re applying on your own,” she says.

Mylene says online forums, such as Yahoo! Groups, are a good place to learn about the experiences of other migrants, and you can always ask a question through the Immigration New Zealand website. 

It took Mylene just three days to find a temporary job in her field when she first arrived in Auckland, thanks to a friend already here. Personal teasing is a big part of “Filipino-style” humour, she explains, and she’s had to adapt that to fit in with local workplaces. “You have to know the boundaries. But Kiwis are very, very friendly.”

The move to Nelson nearly a year later was a bit more difficult to adjust to, though. “When I first arrived in Nelson, I was freezing, although I checked the temperature and saw it was the same as in Auckland,” she laughs. “During that winter, I was wearing five layers. Now, I’m proud to say I’m just wearing three layers!”

She talks to her mother online almost every day, and has had to get to know her nephew through Skype rather than in person. “I miss the milestones, the birthdays and family get-togethers,” she says.

“Sometimes I get homesick, so I don’t talk to them when I am homesick because I don’t want to cry.” 

There’s less pressure at work, which is a welcome change. “Overseas the pace is very fast, people are expected to work hard. When I was in Singapore, I was working until 4am, 5am sometimes if I really needed to finish off a report, and then I still had to work weekends. Here the work-life balance is really observed, so I have a very relaxed life in New Zealand.”

You wouldn’t think it, to look at a typical weekly schedule. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, Mylene studies: she’s doing a master of professional studies in food safety, online through the University of Auckland. Tuesday brings sewing class, and on Thursday she has dinner with her boyfriend Jeff, who she met at work. The weekend could involve church, shopping at a local market, or going tramping  (also known as hiking) with Jeff.

“What is good with Nelson is that if I want to be in the mountains, I just go to the Grampians or the Centre of New Zealand walk; but if I want to be by the water, I go to Tahuna Beach,” she explains.

“I get to have the time to do everything I want to do. Comparing Nelson to the Philippines, traffic in Nelson is like 10 cars in a queue; traffic in the Philippines is up to 10 kilometres bumper to bumper.

“What I like most about New Zealand is that the environment is very pristine and the air you breathe is less polluted compared to Manila. It feels very safe as well.”

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