Alumni Spotlight on Carolyn Ross: Why Working in New Zealand is About International Life Experiences Rather than a Career
Greenheart Travel recently caught up with Carolyn Ross, who is currently work and traveling in New Zealand, to hear what inspired her to work abroad, learn a few of her tips for finding a job in another country and advice she would give to anyone considering taking a break from the 9-5 to work and travel abroad.
Q: What inspired you to work and travel in New Zealand?
I decided in the late fall of last year that I needed some life changes. I left my job and career that I had been in for the past four years in September 2016, and looked at pursuing my masters degree starting in fall of 2017. I have always had a strong foundation in volunteerism and had spent my career in non-profit, so I started exploring different programs that I could do during the interim time before starting school.
A friend recommended Greenheart Travel to me and there I came across the work abroad in New Zealand and Australian visas, where I could be gone for an extended period of time. This allowed me to do one program for my time rather than trying to find two or three different places.
Between New Zealand and Australia, New Zealand was the slightly cheaper and less conventional choice so I went with that. I am also looking to do my master’s in international studies, so living abroad for a time helps me to prepare for careers in that field.
Short answer: I had six months to kill and I figured why not spend it in a foreign county?
I have been frequently moving around the United States for my entire adult life and so my friends and family are used to my sometimes less than conventional life choices as well as my moving, so this did not come as a too big surprise to them. I also have a few close friends who are very supportive of me doing whatever I think is best and enjoying opportunities and new life experiences when they arise so this was just one of those opportunities.
Q: Can you share a bit about how you researched and landed your job in New Zealand and any tips you wish you would have known?
I started doing research into jobs as soon as I decided to join the program several months before arriving. The issue I ran into is that most places and sites I looked at were posting jobs for immediate hire, and this meant I could not apply until arrival or very shortly before. This research though, did give me a general idea of what the job market was like. So while I did not apply to anything until the week before arriving, I continued to follow the job market for several months in advance to get a good idea of what types of opportunities were likely to be available.
As soon as I arrived in the county, and even a few days before I left, I hit the job market fairly hard and fortunately lucked out with getting an interview my second day in the county. I was offered a position at a temp agency, and while I initially had deemed it an instantaneous but temporary solution, I have found it offers great flexibility in being able to travel but still make some money.
My advise would be to know yourself and your priorities before you arrive. Some people focus on accommodation first and then worry about a job, or hop straight into travel. I preferred to find the job first and then let the rest follow, but that strategy does not work for everyone. Know what your general priorities are before arriving and then build your job requirements and expectations around that.
Q: Where are you working now and do you have plans to move around or stay in one location for the moment?
I am working intermittently at the moment. I have maintained my position with the hospitality temp agency, Providore , who offers serving jobs around Auckland. I have also done some traveling around the North Island with different positions on HelpX where I work with a local family or business in exchange for food and accommodation. I have decided that I have plenty of time left in life to work and my main focus of this trip will be to enjoy the “local experience” as much as possible and making an income will be secondary to that.
The temp agency is a nice safety net in that I can always come back to Auckland for work, but I am mainly focused on traveling around and interacting with locals Kiwis. I will be starting a nanny position on Waiheke Island through HelpX this week and just came from a HelpX position at a small farm outside Oropi.
Q: What are a few of your favorite experiences so far since you have arrived in New Zealand?
My favorite experiences in general have been the days that I have gone out on my own and gone hiking or out in nature. I have hiked up a number of different volcanoes (which are all over the place!) and the personal feeling of achievement I feel when reaching the top is yet to be beat. My favorite view so far has been from the top of Mount Maunganui. I accidentally hiked all the way around the base of the Mount before going to the top of it, so it ended up taking me an entire morning when I had only planned on a hour or two but it was well worth it!
Q: Has this experience changed any of your personal and professional priorities or goals since you have arrived?
So far, I would say not really. I honestly had very few concrete goals going into this trip as I was intentionally trying to keep a very open mind and embrace new experiences. I had been very focused and almost pigeon holed in my previous career, so I was seeking to just take it all in with this trip and go with the flow, so to speak, as much as possible. I have pushed work to the background a bit more than I think I had planned initially, but I am really seeking to gain life experience, not work experience, from this trip and that so far is going exceedingly well.
Q: What have been the biggest cultural differences you have noticed during your time in New Zealand?
The biggest challenge with cultures differences, especially when first arriving in Auckland, is that you are facing cultures from all over the world. I have so far met very few people actually from New Zealand originally but have met travelers and residents from all over the world: Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, India, England, Germany, the list goes on and on. So you are not only dealing with New Zealand culture, you are interacting with all of the different cultures that people bring with them.
It is the little things that I think tend to build up and can lead to someone getting frustrated.
- They do not seem to be big on napkins here unless you are out in in restaurant.
- None of the locals like to have a beverage with their meal.
- It has been driving me crazy that no one has said “bless you” when I sneeze.
I can say bless you in about 4 different languages, but I went though the mental battle of “well, if you do not say it to me, I will not say it back to you.” An absolutely silly thing to get worked up about but that’s what has stood out to me. There are endless little details that are different and so try not to get frustrated about it.
Simply ask questions if you do not understand something. I have not found a single person from any culture who has been mad or exasperated when I have asked what something meant or questioned what they were doing. A lot of people are here to learn just as much as I am, so embrace that and say “Hey, thanks for sharing that with me. I am glad I could learn something new today.”
Q: If you were talking with someone that wasn’t sure about working abroad because they were worried about their career, what would you say to persuade them to go for it?
With this visa geared towards people under the age of 30, I would say enjoy life while you are young. You have your entire life to work and be dedicated to your career and there is more to life than just work.
For people over 30, it is exceedingly challenging to get a work visa to New Zealand and so embrace the opportunities that come with being young. I have also learned from being in the working field full time for the past almost decade, that your career and success comes from being more than just a hard worker or good at your job. You will achieve greater success and will hopefully be happier if you are a more well rounded person who can talk to co-workers during lunch break about more than the PowerPoint presentation you were working on that morning.
Go get something to talk about. Use your life experiences and cultured-ness to be a more open and understanding person. Those are transferable skills that will serve you no matter where you go in your career.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you to get out of your comfort zone that helped you during your travels?
Stolen from one of my friends it would probably be ” You do you, boo.” So do what works best for you personally and embrace that your goals and experiences may not line up with your friends or the people you meet.
So if you want to do something, just go do it regardless of if it is what everyone else is doing. It is your life and live it the way you want. While others may certainly be impacted by the choices you make, no one has to live with your life decisions but you, so do the best you can for yourself and make sure when you look back on your experiences, you can say “Yes, I am pleased with what I did and where I am now.”
Q: Any other additional thoughts or tips you have for anyone wanting to travel and work in New Zealand?
Just be open and embrace the experience. Take an opportunity to really enjoy your time and do something that you cannot do any place else or would not be brave enough to do at home. The biggest balance I have struggled with is trying to remain present in my New Zealand life, but then still maintain my friendships and life necessities associated with my U.S. life.
For some people they may be at a point in life where they can just travel for a year with no worries at home and they can really let go of all that. However, I have car payments that still need to be made each month. I am attending graduate school in the fall so I have had to select a school while I am here, which has been challenging. So just think about how much of your U.S. life you can let go of or put on hold while away and what will still have to get done while traveling and how you will be able to accomplish those things from a distance.