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Creating a second family

Video
Building up a solid network of friends can make all the difference to how quickly you feel settled, as Irish-born Sarah-Jane Lye found.
Creating a second family
3:07

A large part of feeling at home in another country is building up an adopted ‘family’ around you. Sarah-Jane Lye has acquired the nickname ‘Aunty Irish’ from two former flatmates, who are now married with a baby, because “I'm over at their place all the time”, she laughs.

It seems Sarah-Jane has fallen on her feet (been lucky) in that respect. Four weeks after she arrived from Ireland, she moved into a flat with three Kiwis who were all friends, and had lived in the United Kingdom while on their OE (overseas experience).

“I felt like they understood where I came from, because they'd been on that side of the world. We just gelled so well. I ended up finding what I call my Kiwi family, and I'm now friends with all their friends,” she says.

She has also made many friends within the community of Irish people living here, and the warmth of the welcome she received was quite a contrast to some of the actual temperatures she experienced. “I expected the weather to be so much hotter, like Australia. The sun shines more here than in Ireland, but otherwise it's actually really like home: when it rains, it pours, and when it's cold, it's freezing.”

Sarah-Jane was also surprised at how cold and damp many Auckland houses are. “It's something I wish I'd been warned about before I moved here. Double glazing does not very often exist. There are a lot of villa-style houses and many are draughty, and don't have insulation. I've had to pay a lot more money in rent, but it's worth it to have an insulated, double-glazed house.”

Currently working for Fisher and Paykel Healthcare as a product manager, she originally studied pharmaceutical and forensic science, and ended up working within the medical-device industry in Ireland by chance. A recruitment agent, working for Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, contacted her about applying for a job.

Once Sarah-Jane had secured a job offer, the company offered guidance on the process of getting a talent visa (she now has permanent residency). “They also helped organise my flights, hotel accommodation for the first few weeks, and I was given a car to get to and from work, until I figured out exactly where I wanted to live and what I wanted to buy.”

When she arrived in mid-2014, work colleagues gave her advice on where to buy a cheap car, and where to live. “Fisher & Paykel have such a good ‘Buddy system’. It helps make that adjustment easier when you land. Even though I did find it scary and I was lonely for the first few weeks, I had that support from a work environment, which made it just easier to settle in.”

A typical work day, after a 20-30 minute commute and a compulsory coffee, involves looking after particular products in different areas of the world. Sarah-Jane’s focus is on countries in Western Europe: releasing new products, improving current products, and supporting their overseas offices. She frequently travels for work, and is often lucky enough to see her parents during a trip.

Southern Auckland has several riding schools, and it has helped Sarah-Jane reignite her passion for horse riding, which she did from a young age until she went to university. Every week, she goes out to RideSmart Equestrian Centre for lessons.

“I love it, just being out in the countryside and enjoying riding again. I've done some show-jumping competitions with the tutor Angelina, at her equestrian centre and elsewhere. Maybe one day I'll own my own horse,” she says.

Skiing, touch rugby, running and tramping are other outdoor activities she has picked up. “During the summer, groups of us take off for the weekend, whether it's to Raglan or on a girls weekend down to the Coromandel. Maybe we'll find a mountain that we want to hike up.”

For all their charm, Kiwis also have certain surprising quirks. “I saw it on my first day: so many people walking around barefoot. I don't understand that, why wouldn't you wear shoes? It's not that people can't afford them, they just choose not to wear them,” she says.

Even with a good group of friends, settling in takes time. Far away from her family, Sarah-Jane could not talk to her close friends as often because of the time difference.

“My first six months were quite tough, and I did worry that I wouldn't last. But I hit that turning point at six months and thought, ‘I've made friends, I'm starting to get a life here, I'm really enjoying it.’”

She advises newcomers to join an expat community, or investigate joining local groups on Meetup.com. “In these groups, you meet such amazing, supportive people. When I first arrived, I made the decision to try everything, make an effort to get to know people, and build a life for myself.” It seems to have worked just fine.

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