On a weekly basis, people ask me whether we would want to stay in New Zealand permanently. Or they ask whether we wish we’d come for longer than a year. Or they wonder how we will ever go back to living in the United States after having lived here.
It is a valid question. Life here is—in my opinion—better quality than the life we have in Washington, DC. The stress is low. The cost of living is low. The quality of public education is very good. The access to nature and clean air is incredible. Traffic is nonexistent. People are kind. Politics are sane. In general, people are not angry or seemingly constantly on the verge of anger. And, of course, in New Zealand you can feel safe—safe from gun violence (with the exception of Christchurch, of course), safe even from dangerous predators.
Jesse and I talked about this question at length this spring, especially when our friends would visit and ask why we would ever want to go back.
But it is also a difficult question. This is a decision that involves the lives of five people—and what is best for each of those five people is not always what is best for the whole.
When I thought about this decision, I considered what I believe to be my two main jobs (among many responsibilities) as a parent:
- to provide a safe and happy childhood for my children; and
- to provide the best possible future and opportunities for my children.
As for job number one, there is not a doubt in my mind that living in New Zealand in 2019 is the better choice in order to provide a safe and happy childhood for my (or any) child. The issue of gun violence alone in the United States makes this one a simple answer as far as I’m concerned. Tack on the fact that education is all encompassing (they’re taught subjects other than just math, science, English, and history); that athletics are integrated everywhere; that they grow up feeling safe and unstressed (there is no homework until high school); and that children are taught the importance of being kind, respectful, and caring for their environment … well, it makes for a pretty idyllic childhood.
But where we ran into trouble was with job number two.
Although an adult may find New Zealand to be utopia, from what I have learned, many children who grow up here at some point choose to go live abroad (even if ultimately many of them return). They go live in Europe, the United States, and lots of other countries. And so, as a parent, you have to ask yourself: In order to get ahead or make a career in those countries, would a university degree from New Zealand be recognized? Would it get you in the door? Would that university’s network help you build a career?
It’s such a hard thing to even bring up, because to so many people the answer is yes, of course, the New Zealand university system is very good and Kiwis are known as hard workers. But having grown up in the United States—and despite the mess that is the American education system and its corrupt and expensive current situation—it remains in my mind the gold standard for higher education. A degree from an American university is widely recognized in other countries and, at a minimum, can provide you with a professional network to help you get jobs and start careers in many places.
What I am really trying to answer is this:
If I were to move my family here permanently, and if I encouraged my children to attend a New Zealand university (and, frankly, the older two are almost certainly going to want to attend an American university), and if they then wanted to move back to the United States or to Europe … would that degree from a New Zealand university get them what they need? Could I say with complete confidence that I had done my job to “provide the best possible future and opportunities for my children”?
I’m just not sure about that.
It is complicated. And it comes with further questions about how one decision can possibly (in the future) split a family across multiple hemispheres and continents. Some of which is out of your control, but some of which you have to take responsibility for influencing.
At the end of the day, and as some of you already know, our decision is to come back to Washington, DC, and to resume our lives there. That was always the plan, and we are excited to come home and see our friends and family.
But … if we come home and look around and realize that the state of affairs in the United States is such that we no longer believe we can live there and provide a safe and happy childhood for our children? Well, then the discussion is back on the table.
** Please note: The thoughts and opinions in this blog are mine alone and are based on discussions with fellow parents, some of whom have come to New Zealand and moved back, some of whom have moved their families here permanently, and some of whom are raising children here with the intention of sending them back to the United States for college. But still, it remains a small sample and is not inclusive of all the data one could collect to make an informed decision. I am simply trying to shed some light into my personal thought process behind a very complicated (while seemingly simple) question. **