Moving from the US to New Zealand during COVID brought our American family unique challenges and also the unique perspective of experiencing the pandemic in both places. Now that we’ve relocated to New Zealand it feels as if our life has returned to normality and safety, even though we are still in some ways expats in a new country.
But back in early 2020, like most people in the US, COVID had transformed our lives into something we hardly recognized over the span of a few short weeks. We didn’t have the luxury of grieving those changes; rather, we quickly learned to adjust and move on.
Extreme Family Bonding
With schools and offices closed, our whole family spent seven days a week under the same roof.
My husband tucked away to take work meetings and manage his now-remote team while our three children frequently appeared on his calls. Our 7-year-old went from having almost no computer experience to spending most of her school day on her laptop. Meanwhile, I attempted to recreate our 5-year-old’s Montessori kindergarten curriculum, get him over the hump with his reading progress, and keep tabs on our toddler, who was delighted to have everyone home.
Meeting our basic needs became complicated.
With any shopping trip carrying significant exposure risk, we began ordering all of our groceries and household staples for delivery…often booked when delivery slots opened in the wee hours of the morning. Particularly in the early days, my closest friends and I checked with each other before so we could share sourcing of prized items like toilet paper, flour, vitamins, and sugar.
Walking in Circles
With playgrounds closed and entry to public spaces periodically prohibited to deter mass gatherings, we had to get creative to exercise and expend the kids’ energy. We became experts at walking around our neighborhood and luring our kids out the door with promises of treasure hunts or races or anything other than “another boring walk.”
When we most needed emotional support, our social lives ground to a halt.
We stayed connected to local friends by dropping treats and essentials at each other’s doorstep or having the occasional video chat. As we got more comfortable wearing masks and closer to our moving date, we did see a limited number of friends in person — but always outside, in masks, with as much awkward space between us as possible.
The Silver Lining
Living this COVID reality made it easier for us to leave the place we’d called home for 15 years, and go to New Zealand. In fact, our kids came to see the relocation not as moving from familiar to unfamiliar, rather as moving from COVID to normal.
Return to ‘Normal’
Aside from our time in MIQ and the recent relatively brief Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, our lives in New Zealand have been delightfully ordinary since we arrived over three months ago.
With the expert help of our relocation specialist, we secured a rental house and enrolled our kids in school and daycare within a week of leaving managed isolation. That laid the groundwork for getting into our new routine and back to a regular life complete with things like the morning rush out the door, haircuts, and family gatherings.
My kids’ school and daycare looks remarkably normal these days. The primary school has kept the water fountains turned off, so kids take their own drink bottles to limit sharing germs. And they’re washing and sanitizing hands frequently at school and daycare. Otherwise, kids are mingling on the playground, gathering in the classroom, and attending school functions in a pre-COVID way.
New Zealand is open for business with most shops returning to standard hours and operations. Post-lockdown New Zealand seems to have more shopping options with online shopping, grocery delivery, and click-and-collect gaining popularity.
I don’t take lightly the privileges we enjoy in our social lives: hugging friends and family, hosting gatherings in our home, attending concerts, having our regular date nights, enjoying meals in crowded restaurants, letting our kids run amok with their cousins. These are some of the things that have the greatest impact on our quality of life and have the fewest safe alternatives when COVID is present.
What New Zealand is Doing to Keep us Safe
While we have few reminders of COVID in our daily lives, these remaining precautions allow us to carry on at Alert Level 1.
#1 The public facilitates robust contact tracing.
I call Alert Level 1 “In Contact Tracing We Trust” because it relies heavily on everyone in New Zealand tracking their movements on a government app through a system of QR codes displayed at every business, building, and location (even taxis!) in the country. So, yes, I may go into my kids’ school campus to pick them up, but I must first log the visit on the app. By doing this, people who may have been exposed can be notified almost immediately in the event of a community case.
#2 COVID testing is widespread, rapid, and socially encouraged.
At the first sign of any COVID symptom, we’re instructed to self-isolate and get tested. We recently experienced this when two of our children developed a spring runny nose. The minor inconvenience of a test and a day or two of isolation means that cases can be caught early, and we can be confident that we’re not spreading the virus with a seemingly harmless symptom.
#3 Communication about COVID in New Zealand is clear.
There’s a 1pm daily streaming briefing or press release that keeps us all updated on the state of cases in the community and managed isolation. When the alert level changes, a review date is typically given at the on-set as well.
Adversity has a way of leading to gratitude. I know first hand that living in the US during COVID is heavy and hard. That experience makes me deeply grateful for the ordinary. When we’re in the thick of the morning rush or trying to motivate kids on the uphill walk home from school, I try to remind myself that the very mundane is a privilege that most of the world doesn’t get to enjoy right now.
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Amanda (email@example.com) is a former US immigration attorney who moved to NZ with her Kiwi partner and three young children during COVID. She enjoys making the journey easier for those following a similar path.