Second time lucky

Migrant stories

If your first choice of a New Zealand settlement destination doesn’t work out, don’t be scared to try another one, as this motivated Italian family did.

Renata and Lapo Ancillotti moved here nine years ago from Italy.

"I could never have done in Europe what I have done here".

Lapo Ancilotti

Renata and Lapo Ancillotti moved here nine years ago from Italy. After deciding to leave their first New Zealand destination they shifted south to Wellington, where they found the smaller scale city and vibrant cultural life much more to their liking.

While it was a bit of a gamble shifting to a city where they knew nobody, Renata says it paid off. “When we arrived we had a couple of phone numbers from Auckland friends, but because of the size and nature of Wellington it was much easier to settle. We’d go to dinner and we’d meet people who invited us to dinner. People participate more in cultural life here so it’s easy to go to film festivals, exhibition openings and floor talks at the museum and see people you’d met at previous events.”

Inspired by the innovative New Zealand approach to yacht design, Lapo sold his boat building business in Italy to set up a company here project managing the building of high tech racing yachts. He went on to found BTBoats, a New Zealand company making 40 foot ocean racers, largely for export. “I could never have done in Europe what I have done here. I would have needed more money more staff and it would have been much more complicated.”

But he says the decision to move to New Zealand was less about the business, and more about undertaking a new challenge as a family.

Renata jumped at the chance to change direction in her midforties. “Everything was settled, the children were growing, the career was done, we had enough money, so there was no adventure anymore.”

Migrating also brought the family closer together. “You are a team because at the beginning you are the only certainty for each other. For Lapo and I as a couple it gave us a huge motivation… there was a sense of discovering something new together.” However there was the odd hiccup along the way. Having holidayed regularly in New Zealand, the family knew the country well, but son Duccio, who was aged 13 when they made the move permanently in 2002, really struggled to fit in at a large Auckland state school and only began to settle after moving to a smaller private school in Wellington.

Seeing her son so depressed, there were times Renata wondered if they had done the right thing in leaving Italy. She says the onset of adolescence can be a difficult time to be uprooted from your peer group, and in hindsight she wishes they had shifted a year or so earlier as younger daughter Francesca had no trouble adjusting.

Now though, Lapo says Duccio is the “most kiwi” member of the family and his son is pleased he stuck out those difficult first two years. “He’s proud he made it.”

Lapo faced his own challenges and language was a bit of an issue to begin with especially when it came to understanding kiwi slang. “I didn’t know a word (of English) until I was over 30 when I did a one week full immersion course. The New Zealand accent is much harder to understand than British or American.”

In Italy Renata’s family owned a publishing company, and although she spoke fluent English she soon realised her writing skills would not allow her to work here as a journalist. Instead she opted to do a degree in anthropology at Victoria University where the student centre offered invaluable support with academic English.

The advantage of studying Māori and Pacific culture was that she saw a part of New Zealand society she would never have otherwise experienced. “Things like sleeping on a marae or being the only white person participating in a Tongan 21st birthday with 400 people.”

In terms of personal relationships, Renata says New Zealanders can be quite reserved and she found it took quite a while to make close female friends. “Having said that, the moment in which I clicked was when I knew I could lift the phone and say ‘help, I had a big argument with Lapo last yesterday, I need to talk to you.’”

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