We’re really starting to unpack here – both literally and figuratively, as one hopes to do on a sabbatical year. It’s the end of Week 6 (yikes!) We are already seeing the kids picking up slang and sounding like Kiwis – just this week, Julien referred to a beer can on the beach as “rubbish”, and Lucas called our fish and chips dinner “mean”. I finally figured out how to order deli meat in grams and have gone a full week driving without turning on the windshield wipers – – – baby steps.

(Blood and guts is apparently their version of cheese fries, covered in tomato sauce. We passed.)

A fellow American ER doc who preceded me by a year out here told me that the greatest new commodity in Gisborne is time. Time to attend to one’s self, to unpack one’s own bags. This has been the case for me, and I’m trying hard to consciously make the most of this new commodity. That means physical therapy for my back. That means reading again.   I’ve begun to dabble in meditation. I’m making time for surfing, swimming, and going for walks (which will become runs when I get my back in order.) It means being present for the kids, helping out with math homework and teaching Julien how to read. I’ve unconsciously stopped watching TV and really haven’t missed it one iota. Unpacking myself.

Julien showing off his new ‘do and rugby pants.

I’m also finding pleasure in being around pleasant people.   Not that most Americans are unpleasant; its just that the stereotype is once again proving true – the Kiwis are a particularly kind and generous group. In the past two weeks, I’ve had two instances were I was called unexpectedly to meetings on behalf of my son Lucas – one with his homeroom teacher, the other with the director of his local tennis academy. Perhaps because of my leadership role as head firefighter the past two years at work, I was expecting to be either hit up for a favor or asked to help solve a problem with Lucas- why else would someone call you to a meeting?   Turns out both of these folks wanted to see how they could better help us in our transition. I was embarrassed when I realized how normal this should have been.

I’ve also noticed a much more universal sense of “fair play” here in NZ.   The youth soccer pitch sideline in Gisborne lacks the intensity of the American version that I’ve known in Washington D.C.   I saw this sign from the field hockey field in town (a co-ed sport here in New Zealand). It’s reflective of the culture here. I’ve signed similar statements in the past for our kids’ sports teams in D.C.; here it almost seems unnecessary.

I’ve yet to meet anyone that I would characterize as appearing rushed or busy. It’s bizarre actually.  I’m sure there are motivated, driven people here.  I’m sure many of my observations are due to seeing this place through the rose-colored glasses of a visitor, and things might look very different in a big NZ city such as Wellington or Auckland.  But it’s what it feels like now, and I’m enjoying it.

Just to be clear, not all is perfect here in Gisborne. The adage that you are only as happy as your most unhappy kid applies to everyone with children, including dads, and especially overseas.   But I survived my first string of night shifts, and I’m heading to Fiji tomorrow.

We’ll be packing light – I don’t want to undo progress.

Jesse Irwin

Jesse Irwin

It's Jesse. I'm an emergency physician and healthcare leader, a Navy veteran, a father of three children, and until recently a land-locked Washingtonian with dreams of living on the ocean. I'm also a Luddite and an unapologetic introvert. But I'm going to give you, my family and friends, and this blog my best attempt at sharing my experiences here in Gisborne.
Jesse Irwin

Latest posts by Jesse Irwin (see all)