There is an uneasy feeling we as people get during the period between making a decision and the point where we realise whether or not it was the right decision. This is a feeling that anyone who has moved countries, knows all too well. The limbo between deciding to move and the date of moving, the adjustment period, the settling in and the point of realisation – that it was the right, or wrong, thing to do. For some it can be weeks, for many it can be years and for others they live eternally in this limbo.
It’s a feeling I am in the midst of right now. After almost five years living in Auckland, New Zealand I returned to Belfast six weeks ago with my wife Carla and 9-month-old son Ollie. It was a decision that was two years in the making, a period of ‘will we, won’t we?’, but once the decision was made, it was executed in matter of months.
New Zealand had been a wonderful home for us, but after having our son in April last year, we felt the need closer to family, for support and for them to share in his upbringing. But it was a flying visit back to Belfast in August last year that made the decision final.
The city impressed me. I had seen it evolve in my time away, but being back in August the visible signs of investment and development and the vibrancy around town made it feel much different to the place I left. It impressed me so much I put my thoughts down in this Belfast Telegraph article and not long after returning to Auckland our flights were booked and we were homeward bound.
We have now been home almost six weeks, and we have enjoyed every minute. The welcome from family and friends was all we had hoped for and our first winter Christmas in five years even delivered a drop of snow give the ‘proper Christmas’ feel. We got even more into the mood with a visit to the Belfast Christmas market and soaking up the buzz around town over a couple of pints of Guinness.
Returning to work, in my new position with Baker Tilly Mooney Moore’s Economic Advisory team, in the depths of January was always going to be the true test. But thus far it has been all positive. A typical warm Belfast welcome from the firm has made we feel right at home and getting immersed in some interesting projects has allowed me to re-acquaint with the local economic and policy landscape.
Even my walk across town to the office gives me a little buzz. Appreciating the history of the city that surrounds us on a daily basis, a history that I previously largely took for granted. My walk takes me past City Hall, down High Street, past the Customs House and along the Lagan looking to Titanic Quarter. 200 years of history and city development in a two mile stretch.
From a practical perspective, we have had a few ups and down’s. It can be easy to assume that you just pick up where you left off, but technically you are a returning resident and there a few hurdles to overcome.
On the up side, I had employment lined up before returning, secured through keeping old networks here active. This is a big plus as returning without an income would mean an added financial pressure to the limbo period. My wife Carla has begun to look for employment opportunities, and in her field, financial services, there seems to be a range of options with a lot of the banks and advisory firms seeking to recruit. The job market appears much more buoyant than in 2013.
Returning with a child born overseas has proved more of a challenge. There is a lack of clarity around processes around registration with social security, doctors etc and a suspicion of any overseas passport has made this harder than it should be. Other hurdles include things like car insurance, with most local insurers not recognising overseas no claims bonuses, meaning I am now paying more for my car insurance than when I was 21! These are issues which can be overcome and it is well worth the time and effort to research before returning.
While part of the return journey, this administrative burden can be arduous and as such it’s great to initiatives like Belfast for Life emerge and begin to provide meaningful advice on returning to Belfast. It is having all the information you need that helps make the decision, smooths the process of retuning and reduces that feeling of unease.
For us, only time will tell but thus far we are loving being back home, and being able to say that in the cold and wet of January says a lot for Belfast!
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This post is proudly produced in partnership with John Lavery, a recent returner from New Zealand to Northern Ireland.