Reader: After reading your post about religious and political differences and raising children, I was wondering what you thought about cultural differences and being from different countries. How did you and Jennifer decide where to live and have children? Would you ever go back to New Zealand?
Athol: Well we did have a plan at the time we got married. Being structural thinkers even then, we realized that the exchange rate between New Zealand and America was very much in America’s favor. So we figured if we ever had to switch countries it was going to be much easier to move from America to New Zealand, rather than from New Zealand to America. As things have turned out, the exchange rates have stabilized somewhat and housing in New Zealand is more expensive than America and any advantage we imagined is gone. Oh well, it was a best guess anyway.
We also figured Jennifer was going to struggle a great deal without her family around, while I’m fairly resilient in that aspect. If we moved now, she’d be fine though. We’re family now. Overall, it’s worked out very well for us. We moved to a middle sized town in Connecticut and then have moved twice within that town since then. So I’ve lived in New Zealand until I was 24, then in America for 18 years .
The good points are that people are the same where ever you go. New Zealand and America are English speaking, Western, democratic, capitalist countries, and there are more differences inside the countries, than between them. If you have money and a job you’re okay, if you’re broke and uneducated you’re not having a good time. So moving here was fairly easy for me.
There’s always a nice little edge to things between you when you’re from different countries. You’re always just a little bit unknown to each other, though the longer we’re married the less those little moments happen. We don’t hear each others accents anymore. It’s kinda fun to be from different countries.
Both kids love New Zealand… though they’ve only been on vacation, so it’s not a true understanding of the culture. They like that they have a mixed heritage. Also they have both been very healthy kids. Cross breeding for the win. I’m totally serious on that point. I think the separate countries deal plays a role in still being attracted to each other.
It also makes for a great destination for a major family trip. There’s a natural drama and excitement to see the other half of the family and you get an insider’s vacation experience rather than a touristy one. The kids get to play with their cousins and meet aunts and uncles and whatnot. It’s a BIG trip. Very memorable. Photos and albums and whatnot. I think it rounds the kids out more.
The bad things creep up on you slowly. We only have one set of grandparents close by for babysitting and visiting. When something bad happens in New Zealand… I can’t really do anything but know about it. I basically lost contact with everyone I knew there for ages upon ages until finding people on Facebook a couple years back. I didn’t realize how losing my entire social network was going to affect me. Looking back I realized dad could have probably made a few phone calls and seriously helped get me a pretty decent starting position somewhere. For a long time I was behind Jennifer in earnings and that was just weird to me.
The most important thing you can do is make a decision to be in one country or the other and just stick with it. There’s good and bad in every country, you’re just picking your poison. If you try and ping-pong between the two places it’s hugely expensive and unless you’re moving for a juicy promotion, you’re hurting your career advancement. Plus moving really screws with the kids.
The separate country marriage is a double or nothing gambit. If it’s good, it’s really good. If it’s bad, it’s really bad.
In-laws are critical. We both have understanding and good parents. I think if either set was nutty it would be vastly harder.
Being similar to each other is important. Aside from the differences in country, Jennifer and I are quite similar. It’s not good to be exactly the same as each other, but some differences are fun and create a little friction that keeps things fresh. But too much different and you run out of common ground and stop relating to each other.
In terms of going back to New Zealand… maybe. I’ve been back three times now and it’s always a really good, but slightly odd experience for me. Like I stumbled into Narnia by accident or something. We might retire there or something. We’ll see. We’re actually looking at a potential move to Dallas in about 2018 when the girls are in college.
Anyway… as long as we go together… we’ll always be home. (Jennifer: happy mushy sigh…)
Jennifer: The girls are minor celebrities at school every time they go on a trip to New Zealand. They have a wider appreciation for the world, and understand that not everyone lives the same way. It’s the little things that they pick up on too…like loving being somewhere where they could walk to town to go to a restaurant or shopping (the whole cafe culture thing…love it!), and the fact that their cousins could go to school with no shoes on and not get in trouble for it!
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