Shezelle and Dewald – Our Experience of New Zealand from March 2020 to April 2021

Articles > Shezelle and Dewald - Our Experience of New Zealand from March 2020 to April 2021

I’m sitting in my quarantine hotel in Auckland with my two kiddies reflecting on my journey to New Zealand. COVID, together with the South African and New Zealand lockdowns, have meant that my husband and I have been apart from 18th March 2020 until now (November 2020) but it’s only a week to go before we’ll finally be a family again and can begin our new life in New Zealand. Roll on next Saturday!

Dewald and I started talking about leaving South Africa and going to New Zealand back in 2016 as we knew that our children’s future happiness depended on it and the quality of life in New Zealand is so much better than South Africa. Our big problem was money; we simply didn’t have enough to get started. We kept putting it off and putting it off until one day we both decided that we would go ahead and, if we had some South African debt to clear once in New Zealand, it would be easy to repay once we were earning NZ dollars. Dewald decided that he would work as much he could, including weekends, so he could earn enough money to start the process. He did this for 12 months.

When it came to the immigration process, we hadn’t a clue where to start. We’d heard stories that visa applications can be refused by missing out just one tiny step or document, so we decided we needed professional help.

We scoured the internet for assistance and contacted many of the immigration companies online. Immigration Migration was the only company that contacted us after our initial assessment. They held our hands from day one, helping us move step by step through the process and assisting us with job hunting.

Nelson signed us up with IML in July 2019 and we were exceptionally happy with his service. He’s a great agent and it’s obvious he has his clients’ interests at heart. Whenever we emailed him about a problem, his answer was always ‘I’m on it’ and we knew that he would be. Herve was also awesome and helped us a lot with job hunting. He emailed us regularly with available positions and gave us lots of good advice.

Home Affairs
We had good experience with Home Affairs and got all our documentation through pretty quickly. A funny story: in the June after Dewald had arrived in the New Zealand I was transferring all our documents from one computer to another when I noticed that our marriage certificate was incorrect. It states that Dewald married Dewald, not me! Thankfully, even though SA was in lockdown, I managed to get hold of a Home Affairs employee through Facebook and she arranged to get the marriage certificate corrected and printed.

Dewald’s Look-See Visit
Dewald travelled to New Zealand to look for a job in February 2020. He’d organised two interviews before he left South Africa and was offered both jobs. Dewald chose the job that paid less because, after the initial three months probationary period, there were more perks, such as medical aid and pension. Both companies told Dewald that they wouldn’t have hired him had he not made the effort to travel to New Zealand. They said it showed dedication and determination.

On his return, we sold everything ready for our departure to New Zealand and planned to fly to our new home together because I really didn’t want to go on such a long journey on my own with two kids. Dewald had been back for a few weeks when we asked Fiona if he should fly to New Zealand now. Fiona felt it was the right thing to do but we still hesitated. However, on Tuesday Dewald said he felt he should fly straight away as he was sure they were going to close the New Zealand and South African borders and he’d be stuck in South Africa and perhaps lose his job in NZ.
Dewald flew the following day and, while he was en route from Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand closed its borders. Now the kids and I were stuck in South Africa and on 26th March 2020, SA went into lockdown. We’d sold everything, including our car, so we first stayed with my brother and then with my Mom. She was delighted to have some extra time with her daughter and grandchildren. However, we were desperate to get to New Zealand to join Dewald and become a family again.

I sent an Expression of Interest (Humanitarian) to New Zealand Immigration in July in the hope that they would let us enter the country. This was declined. I left it for a while and closely watched Facebook to see how other people were managing to get into New Zealand on humanitarian grounds. I asked these people questions about what they put in their letters etc and one lady actually sent me her letter to read. Her story was very similar to mine so her letter was very helpful.

In September, using the information from this kind lady’s letter, I put in another request to enter New Zealand on humanitarian grounds and, after a couple of weeks, I still hadn’t had a reply. Dewald phoned immigration and they wouldn’t give him any information saying that I must ring. I rang them and they said they’d sent an email. I told them I hadn’t received it and asked what it said and was told they couldn’t give that information over the phone. When I pressed the lady, she relented and told me that my application had been denied again. I burst into tears and sobbed like a baby. Two days later I received an email saying my request had been approved. What a lovely lady!

Quarantine in Auckland
Although quarantine isn’t fun, it’s one of the reasons why New Zealand has had such success in fighting COVID-19. We finally landed in Auckland and were escorted to our quarantine hotel. Everything was exceptionally well organised and we were made to feel welcome on arrival. It’s certainly not easy to be in a small hotel room with two children but we knew that it was worth it.

My son was kept busy with South African Grade 6 school exams while we were in quarantine. This meant I’ve being ‘playing’ teacher all day, trying to teach him and keep my little one occupied in one small hotel room. It wasn’t easy. On top of that, I developed some possible COVID-19 symptoms – blocked nose and headache – so we were put into room isolation and weren’t allowed to go outside without an escort. Every time we wanted a breath of breath air, I had to phone down to reception, someone would come up and fetch us and then take us outside, wait with us and then bring us back to our rooms. Thankfully, that was a short-lived scare and we were allowed to move around the hotel and outside more freely once it was ascertained that I didn’t have COVID-19.

Food was left outside the door. The staff knock, you acknowledge you’ve heard them and after they’ve moved away from the door, you open the door and take in your food tray. I joked with my son that it’s a bit like prison, except with decent food, plus continuous TV and wi-fi. I think this experience has ensured he won’t turn to a life of crime!

The staff in the hotel were great. Nothing was too much trouble and there was always someone available if you had a problem. I’m really grateful for their attentiveness.

Out of Quarantine and a Family Again
On our final day in quarantine, Dewald flew to Auckland and hired a car so we could drive back to Wellington. He met us outside the hotel in Auckland and there was a great family reunion. We drove to our new home in Wellington and started to live as a family in New Zealand.

Our daughter is now in day care; in fact, it’s a farm pre-school with donkeys, rabbits, chickens, a goat and horses and, once she settles in, I know she’ll love it. Our son has just started Year 8 and, like all 11-year-olds, he doesn’t tell us much about his day but we can see that he’s starting to settle and make friends.

Even though the kids haven’t been at school in New Zealand for very long we can see that the education here is better suited to them than in South Africa. The South African education system is very academic with exams whereas here there’s a balance between practical work – woodwork, baking, building robots etc – and academic work. The system tries to prepare children to go into whatever field they want to.

My Full Time Job
Dewald and I decided that, in order to give us the best possible start in New Zealand, I should get a full time job.

My problem with getting a job in New Zealand was interviews. I’m just not very good at them and go blank when I’m asked a question. I’m the sort of person who finds it difficult to tell people what I’m capable of; I’m much better at showing people my capabilities. So, I had a few interviews; some went badly because I didn’t know how to answer their questions. I was much better at the casual interviews I had, both of which were in the blue collar sector. It’s an environment in which I’ve always worked so I was more comfortable.

Three weeks ago I landed a full time job as an Operations Administrator with a company in Wellington. I got the job through a recruitment agency as I was told by many people that, doing what I do, it would be easier than getting a job on my own. So I work for the recruitment agency and they invoice my company monthly and then pay me after taking their commission. Many companies around the world use recruitment agencies as they can take on temporary employees and then hand them back to the recruitment agencies if things don’t work out, without having to give notice etc.

As I’ve only been in New Zealand for a few months, I’m still getting used to the different Kiwi accents and the slang Kiwis use, which is an issue for me as I have to take minutes at meetings. I record the meetings and then spend hours listening and relistening to the recording so I can decipher the words. Dewald doesn’t seem to have a problem with this but he’s been here for over a year, so there’s hope for me!

The first time I took the minutes of a meeting I typed them verbatim. What I didn’t realise was that some of the words used were slang words and definitely not suitable for putting into records of meetings. My efforts definitely made my manager smile.
The people where I work were very welcoming and made a big effort to help me settle in quickly. Kiwis care about your welfare and are constantly complementing you on a job well done. The company Dewald works for is also very caring and ensures that their workplace is an environment which promotes mental wellbeing.

One problem with working full time is school holidays. My son is only 12 so he’s not allowed to stay home on his own but I’ve enrolled him in a holiday programme for the next two weeks. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it but it’s expensive – $55 per day. (Minimum wage is now $20 an hour)

As mentioned earlier, Dewald arrived in New Zealand in March 2020 and the kids and I only managed to get into the country in November 2020. Even though that was tough at the time, we are now grateful the kids and I arrived so much later. The main reason being that although we costed everything, such as accommodation, transport, food, school fees etc before we came, we didn’t add in the cost of Dewald’s studies in New Zealand which were necessary for him to obtain his full licence. If the kids and I had arrived with Dewald in March 2020, we would have been living off his salary and he would still be studying for his NZ licence now, due to lack of money. So it was a blessing in disguise.

One thing we know for certain – even though COVID-19 forced us apart from March 2020 until November 2020, our new life in New Zealand has made up for it. We love it here and it’s the best decision we ever made.