This open letter was posted on the What’s On Invers facebook page.
An open letter to the people of Southland, New Zealand
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to move from Albuquerque, NM in the USA to Invercargill, New Zealand with our two sons. We had been discussing an international move for quite some time.
We knew very little about New Zealand, but realized that no one we spoke to who had been there ever had a negative thing to say about it. After a little outreach, my wife was able to find employment in Invercargill, and away we went. Invercargill has been our home for the last two and half years.
As we now find ourselves moving back to America, I wanted to take the time to reflect and share my family’s experience here.
When we first arrived in Invers, it was the first time we had ever been to the southern hemisphere, let alone New Zealand. In many ways, we could not have chosen a more distant place from Albuquerque.
Not only the sheer mileage, but cars were driving on the wrong side of the road, it was autumn instead of spring, and light switches turned off instead of on when flipped up. The climate was much different from the sunny, arid, hot place we had just come from.
Even the sounds the crosswalk signals made were disorienting. The only thing that could have made our heads spin any more would have been if the locals were speaking a different language. And I must admit, it did seem like they were at times.
But there was one thing we all noticed very quickly – the people here were really nice. Not just polite, but genuinely nice. The realtor who showed us around, my wife’s co-workers, shopkeepers, librarians; nearly everyone we spoke with was friendly and engaging.
We may have felt out of place, but we never once felt unwelcome. Our first landlords realized we didn’t know a soul in town, and invited our whole family to their young son’s birthday party. Our neighbors stopped by and introduced themselves, and offered help if we needed it.
Our neighbor next door in particular took it upon himself to make sure we were well-versed in Kiwi culture, providing us with books, magazines, & film recommendations, updates on the sporting events, and rhubarb from his garden.
Once our children were enrolled in school, and we all met new people and felt more and more settled, we really started to get a sense of the community. And we realized very quickly what a strong community it is.
There is a sense of pride here, and one that’s well-earned. Southland has much to offer, and people can discuss the pros and cons of living here as much as they like. You can debate the quality of Southland’s weather or nightlife, but the one thing that is indisputable is the character of its inhabitants. On the whole, Southlanders are some of the finest people I’ve ever met.
In a very short time, we were made to feel a part of this tightly-knit community, and we fully embraced it back. We cheered for the Stags and Sharks. We swam in the ocean and tramped in the bush. We learned about cricket, rugby, and netball. We joined clubs. We took road trips to the fiords, mountains, Dunedin, and Queenstown. We found ourselves feeling very much at home, and not just foreigners. And that is all due to the kindness of the people we met throughout our time here.
Now that we find ourselves moving back to America, it is not without a good deal of sadness to be leaving Southland, and more importantly, Southlanders. We would like to thank you for accepting us and making our time here so positive and memorable. We are better for having lived here, and hope to take some of the lessons we’ve learned here back to the States with us. I hope that you will continue to do your part to maintain the things that keep Southland and New Zealand the special places that they are. Stay humble. Stay accepting. Stay independent. Stay respectful of the environment. Stay proud. Stay barefoot. Stay welcoming. Stay nice.
And don’t be surprised if you see us back here someday.
Ngā mihi nui,
The Zsemlye family
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