Unexpected hobbies and a social, outdoor lifestyle have helped Morgane Le Brun and Etienne Buscarlet feel at home in Rotorua.
When Morgane Le Brun moved to Rotorua from Brittany, France, she made a conscious decision to live in a small city. “I was keen to have an experience with less people around, to share strong relationships with people,” she explains.
This wasn’t her first time in New Zealand – Morgane had completed a four-month internship in Taupō in 2008 as a geology student. After working for three years back in France, a permanent job came up here and she realised she wanted to come back. “It was a bit cold and there were lots of sandflies in some places, but there’s also some really nice people, amazing outdoors, and quite a balance between personal life and work life,” Morgane says.
When she got a job offer in September 2011, she had been with her partner Etienne Buscarlet for two years. He says she made the choice quite easy for him, saying, “Either stay lonely in France or come with me to New Zealand,’” he laughs. But he was excited about the move too.
Morgane arrived on a working visa in early 2012 and her employer hired a company to manage Etienne’s partner visa, which was granted after two months. They’re now both residents. Morgane works for electricity company Mighty River Power as a reservoir engineer in the geoscience division, monitoring geothermal resources deep underground that will produce electricity.
The company helped her settle in by arranging a rental car and accommodation for a month, and by providing a furniture allowance. Her new workmates were also welcoming. “People were used to having people from other parts of the world, so right away they included me in some activities, going for beer or coffee. And maybe it helps that we work in an open-plan environment,” she says.
Working in a different country is challenging when English is your second language. “I thought I could handle that by myself here, but now I realise having someone, my partner, to really talk to in your language is quite important,” Morgane explains. When he arrived, Etienne quickly realised he would have to improve his English – so he signed up for English lessons with an agency. “I think it helped me just to gain a little bit of confidence,” he says. “I was not afraid to speak or to say, ‘Could you repeat that?’, and slowly but surely it was okay.”
He’d been working as a groundwater scientist, managing water for drinking or agriculture, and eventually found permanent work at Mighty River Power. Part of Mighty River Power’s resettlement programme involves giving advice to migrants about combating isolation.
Someone advised Morgane, “If you feel homesick, just try and connect as much as you can with other people. Go out in the community.” It led Morgane to some unlikely new hobbies. She was curious about Māori culture, and a colleague introduced her to waka ama – where individuals or teams race in outrigger canoes.
Joining the waka ama club at Lake Rotoiti has been great for the couple’s fitness and social life. “You need to be all in time when you’re paddling, so it’s good to connect with people really strongly,” she says. “When there is a race, all the families come in and have a sausage sizzle, a laugh and share stories.”
Music is also important to Morgane, so she took up the bagpipes – a nod to both her Breton heritage and New Zealand’s links with Scotland. “I thought it would be in my blood, coming from Brittany, and I would just pick up the bagpipes like that, but it was a bit more hard work than what I expected,” she laughs. Now she travels with Rotorua’s bagpipe band to competitions, and practises in the band hall or in Whakarewarewa Forest, also known as the Redwoods. “There’s usually some mountain bikers or walkers passing through on the tracks, so they sometimes stop and listen, and clap at the end.”
Morgane finds Skype is vital for keeping up connections with family and friends in France. “If you are out of sight, people sometimes forget you a little bit, so it’s about letting go of some relationships because the distance is making that happen,” she says. France's lifestyle and its reputation for good food often prompts people to ask Etienne, “Why have you left? France is the perfect place to live.” But Etienne says they find very good food here, and this lifestyle suits him too. “We used to have long evenings with friends, eating and drinking, and slept in on the weekends. Here you go to bed early because you want to wake up the next day to enjoy the outdoors,” he says. “It’s just the question of perspective.”
Morgane and Etienne have been here for 3.5 years, longer than they’d planned, and they’re wondering what they’ll do next. Morgane still feels attached to Brittany, “though we feel quite at home here too. Your heart is in between two countries.” So what does she think they’ll do? “I think we are going to stay a bit longer in New Zealand."