Sunday, February 20, 2011

Being an Immigrant

[Chest x-ray required from Immigration NZ]

It dawned on me early this month that I am an immigrant and have been for 2 years. It might seem a little strange that it has taken me this long to realize it, but there is a difference between coming to a new country as a visitor with plans on when you will be leaving and coming for the next step along your life with no real idea of where you will go afterwards. And, coming up to my last year here in my PhD, I am realizing that we have very little idea of where we would like to go after I finish. This has led us to apply for residency here in New Zealand and brought about the realization of being an immigrant.

Growing up in Canada of course, I am descended from immigrants. Some quite recent, as my mom was born in Scotland and moved to Canada when she was 6 years old. But I never really thought about it because I had grown up there and I felt I belonged. No one identified me outright as being different for it, in fact, I was among the majority, as a descendant of European heritage. My friends and I would talk about where our parents, or grandparents had grown up and laugh about how certain stereotypes of that heritage we thought as evident (or funny) in each others personalities, and then we would turn to more interesting and pressing matters, like school and boys and what we should do now.

New Zealand feels much different. Although we look the same as the majority of people here in Christchurch, our accents identify us as being different. We are called "the Canadians", not Erin or Stephen. And in the summer months, we are often asked by store owners "Where are you from?", "How are you liking New Zealand?". These are all small things, but they get at you. They put you in a box and that box is labeled "Other". It is a surprisingly different feeling than I have ever experienced - not belonging. Sometimes it's neat to be unique, but a lot of the time, it is lonely and hard to be identified on the sole basis of the place you were born or grew up in.

We have decided to take on the challenge of becoming residents here in New Zealand. Spending hours filling out online forms, searching the dark recesses of our desks and bookshelves for every scrap of paperwork that proves we are who we say we are, and waiting endlessly for any sign of acknowledgement. It certainly makes you question who you think you are. And reminds you how comfortable it is to belong, how at the bottom of everything, that is what we really, really want. To be seen for who we are as individuals and accepted as belonging for just that - ourself.


  1. 4 March 2011 will be my four-year Expat-iversary of living in Christchurch -- I can't believe it. Best of luck with your residency application. :-)

  2. Erin,

    It would be superbly interesting, to me, to read more about your application to residency in NZ. Are you open to writing more about your experience with your EOI for residency status in NZ?

    I'm not looking for immgration advice; that would be illegal. I am highly curious, however, in up-to-date immigration experiences specifically in NZ.

    I understand if you don't really want to focus more energy on the subject than you currently are. I just thought it would be worth asking if you're willing.