The “Big OE” is our most famous rite of passage. We want to get out and explore the world – and with New Zealand so far from most places, it makes sense that when you leave, you leave for a while.
But now, with Brexit disrupting the U.K. market, tighter working holiday visa regulations in Canada and more, it doesn’t seem quite so easy to do the traditional OE that so many young Kiwis have done in the past – the “I’ll move then find a job when I get there, she’ll be right” version. Most people could tell you a story about a Kiwi arriving overseas, fresh-faced and bushy tailed, only to have trouble finding a job, perhaps even for a year or more.
Enter the new form of OE: New Zealanders who are older, with established careers, taking jobs overseas on skilled migrant or specialty occupation visas. They’re moving for their careers – not just a bit of fun and adventure. And many of them have jobs before they go. What are these people’s motivations for living away from New Zealand’s paradise? When are they coming back? They are coming back… right?
In the first of a two-part series, we asked Louise Chamberlain, 31, to shed some light on why she’s living in Doha, Qatar – in a culture notably restrictive, particularly for women – and why she’s not ready to go back to New Zealand… yet.
How long have you been living in Doha, what do you do there and what drove the move?
I’ve been living in Doha, Qatar for two years now. I work for a healthcare consulting firm as a Project Manager in primary healthcare.
I had been working in healthcare in Auckland and an opportunity came up with Qatar’s National Health Strategy programmes, with the bonus of being in a new and exciting place!
How did you make the decision to go, and what were your feelings about it?
I found the job advertisement when waiting at Auckland airport on Christmas Eve, and got that spark of excitement that comes with slightly random and scary ideas. I applied that night. It has always been my style to think of something a little bit outrageous, then make it work from that point.
It seems to be quite a Kiwi thing to do, to explore the world while staying safe in the knowledge that home will always be home.
Why do you prefer Doha over New Zealand at this time in your life?
The pace of change is much faster (than most places!), which gives rise to plenty of very interesting challenges, especially with a complex and active area like healthcare. The political, social, economic and scientific advances are felt more acutely in an area like this, where there is not the buffer of a well-established system like in New Zealand.
Are there any other advantages to living in Doha that you couldn’t get at home?
The travel opportunities are excellent, and allow short trips to really exotic places within just a few hours. Because the pay is better and there are more holidays, we make the most of getting out and about. I have been to some amazing places, like Sri Lanka, Jordan and Oman, that would otherwise be difficult to see.
The standard of housing is very good and the lifestyle is easy if you can cope with the restrictions. I love living in a high-rise building with beautiful views of the sea and desert. Even though it is incredibly hot outside, apartments are cool and spacious.
What do you see as the differences in the experiences that female expats have, compared to male expats, in Doha?
Qatar is a surprisingly matriarchal society, with a lot of very strong women in positions of power. I work for some brilliant women who are making big changes in healthcare, but there are still many areas of life where being female is less advantageous.
There are apparently eight men to every one woman in Qatar, so that makes for a little too much attention sometimes. It is very unusual for someone my age to still be unmarried, so there is often a bit of suspicion and curiosity as to why that is the case! We are expected to dress and behave modestly, which is not problematic if you follow the rules. I have heard of women being reprimanded by officials for having arms and legs uncovered, but it is all just normal now and I feel more comfortable being fully covered.
What do you miss most about living in New Zealand?
Where do I start?! Family, friends, my own community, fresh air and beautiful places, sensible institutions, having four seasons, and t-shirts! Dare I say it, I even miss rain a little bit.
There are certainly still inequalities in New Zealand society, but overall, I think that we are getting much better at facilitating opportunities and fairness. Seeing such a deeply divided and stratified society here where race, class, and tribe are deciding factors in life choices has deepened my resolve to support fair and just systems in New Zealand.
Do you see yourself staying in Doha for a while, and do you think you’ll ever head back to New Zealand?
I’ll be leaving Qatar in June, after Ramadan, and will probably be heading to the UK for a while. It’s a tough balance though, because I am very drawn to going home but know that it is not the right time for me just yet, career-wise. New Zealand is definitely home, and I am looking forward to coming home when the time is right. Perhaps some of us are hunter-gatherers of information and ideas to bring home…
Finally, what would you say to a New Zealander who was considering moving to Doha? Any advice?
It is definitely not a place that would suit everyone, being quite conservative, frustrating, chaotic and extremely hot (over 50 degrees in summer!), but if you are looking for a bit of adventure and a completely different pace of life, then give it a go. The advice I was given when I arrived was; expect to do every mundane task three or four times before anything happens, and if it happens before that, then celebrate!
Part two of the series: an interview with Emily Crutchley, a lawyer in Hong Kong, will be posted soon.