Conquering Homesickness and Finding Community

Kia ora!

For most of my life up until three months ago, I lived in Māori Hill, Dunedin, New Zealand. I grew up in the manse next door to Māori Hill Presbyterian Church, went to kindy, primary and secondary school at the same school, just down the road and then to university not much further away. My parents’ divorce meant a bit of moving around, but when it was time to move into a home of my own, I ended up about 200 metres away from the house I’d grown up in. Even when I didn’t live in the area, my church, my friends, my friends’ parents, my teachers, were all in that small part of the world. Almost every single house and building around there had some kind of significance, first date, first sleepover, first time getting drunk (ok so that was the park not a building).

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Many young New Zealanders expect to spend some time overseas, to go on our ‘big OE’. My brother and sister both spent a year or two doing so, and at the time I was an awkward pre-teen, desperate to do the same. But when the time finally came, I was completely terrified. Most of me knew it was something I had to do, that we’d have a brilliant time and that I was incredibly lucky to get the whole thing funded. But part of me didn’t know how to live in a world I didn’t know every inch of by heart, where I would walk down the street and no one would know me. One of the biggest things for me was leaving my church. I’d been baptised and married in that parish and everything in between. Finding another one seemed inconceivable. How do you audition a church anyway? Like X-Factor but with hymns? Who can find the balance between dreary and overdone? It should probably be more substantial…

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Nothing can ever replace that. The feeling of being around people who have been on your side since the day you were born (or even before!) But there’s nothing like the excitement of a new place either, when every time you go out you see something you’ve never seen before, the freedom of anonymity and the way no one knows several embarrassing things about you.

Then gradually you get to know your new surroundings. There’s our working lives – the university for me and the Science Centre for Bernie, both places have shown us kindness and friendship.

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Then there’s the natural openness of Glaswegians which makes every visit to a shop a kind of speed date. Today alone I was invited to a concert, played a demo of a guy’s band, asked along to a wine night and invited to join a running club, That was all within an hour of shopping and all by complete strangers! The place where we live now is somewhere on the boundary between Kelvinside and Maryhill, on a street that branches off Queen Margaret Drive which has a vibrant array of shops. My favourite is the Yarn Cake which pretty much does what it says on the tin – you eat cake, you drink tea, you knit, and you hang out with whoever else is there.

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For myself, getting involved with some of the many branches of the campaign for Scottish independence: Women for Independence, Generation Yes, Yes Kelvin, provides a lot of interesting ways to meet people you share at least one thing with. Although I still get a bit of MUN-sickness (if you’ve had it you’ll know what it is) and miss my UN Youth family immensely – no volunteer work I ever do will replicate those 8 years that made me who I am. Sometimes if I’m missing some element of UN Youth or someone I met through that, I’ll treat myself to a caramel macchiato from Starbucks which I only ever had during Auckland-based national events. Silly, but effective.

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And then there’s church, because although we’ll never find anything quite like our church in Dunedin, which will probably always be a spiritual home, it turns out that just around the corner there’s somewhere where we fit in pretty well. It’s on Shakespeare Street, which has to be a good sign for a lit grad. When we first moved here Bernie didn’t think we had much chance of finding anywhere. “I haven’t seen a single sign for a Presbyterian church,” he said. But once I pointed out that Church of Scotland is just another way of saying Presbyterian, he realised that it was narrowing them down would be the issue. After going to a few places that were either miles away or completely the wrong demographic, we went to our old friend google. That’s how we found Ruichhill. I know I was joking before about the hymns, but it really is a big part of the equation for me, and when the first two hymns were the same two that were sung at our closest friends’ wedding, the day before we left Dunedin, I knew we had been lead to the right place. The third time we went we were invited to lunch by a lovely couple with three gorgeous children who had lived in New Zealand for a few years. Kiwi friends of theirs were staying, and we had an incredible three course New Zealand feast, with roast lamb (from grandad’s croft) and even a pavlova.

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So from Māori Hill to Maryhill, we’ve started to find our new community in Glasgow. It hasn’t at all been the slow and depressing process I imagined, full of homesickness and loneliness. A lot of this I imagine is down to the forthright friendliness so prevalent in Glasgow. But the reason these first few months haven’t been lonely or depressing is because the whole time we’ve had each other – our own Aotearoa embassy where everyone has a Kiwi accent – and because we’ve been supported by regular skype, email, facebook, snapchats and even old fashioned snail mail by our wonderful friends and family back home. Without that it would have been so much harder to get through these first weeks without a new support network. It makes me wonder how on earth people coped with leaving their friends, families and everything they knew when they made this journey in reverse in the early days of colonial New Zealand, in the days when each letter took three months to get anywhere.

Fortunately for us, we made the move in a world with all of these technologies available, and to a country with several old friends living only a few hours train journey away, Thanks so much for not forgetting about us, and for the communications which make us feel like we’re not really so far away. No matter what kind of community we find here in Glasgow, New Zealand will always be home, and our friends and family back there completely irreplaceable.

See you on Skype!

Sarah x

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