Historical events change people’s lives in all sorts of ways. For Oswald and Tania Kilian, one event prompted them to move from South Africa to
They were living in Johannesburg near the Marikana platinum mine when, in August 2012, 44 striking miners, police officers and security guards were killed in a week of conflict. Tania says, “We were sitting there after seeing another
report on television and I thought ‘I can't let my kids live here.’” They started investigating their options, and in December they put in an Expression of Interest to New Zealand.
They considered moving to Canada, but Oswald had always been interested in New Zealand. Working as a process engineer in the oil and gas industry, Oswald says New Plymouth is the best Kiwi city for job opportunities in his field.
There were no objections from Tania. She’d been doing her own research and decided New Plymouth ticked all the right boxes. The area’s natural beauty helped.
“I was going through the internet one day and I saw this beautiful mountain [Mt Taranaki],” she says. “That evening when Oswald came home, I said ‘I want to live in New Plymouth because there's a mountain there that looks really cool.’”
It took around a year to get Oswald’s qualifications recognised and secure a visa, which suited them, as they’d decided to wait until Tania’s daughter Letrisha finished high school (younger children Melissa and Liam weren’t yet in school).
Oswald’s in-demand skills meant he soon found a job with international company WorleyParsons – and this made it quicker to get his visa approved. Packing up their possessions took a lot of effort, says Oswald. “We brought across a lot of our personal belongings, basically a full 20-foot container, and we didn't quite realise what an exercise that would be. You need to label and list everything in each box for insurance purposes and custom controls,” he recalls.
They arrived in New Zealand on December 20, 2013, and spent Christmas Day at the beach. “Living in Johannesburg it's eight hours drive to get to the nearest beach, so having a beach right on our doorstep was pretty neat. It still is,” Oswald says.
WorleyParsons put a lot of care into their relocation: they paid for the container, flights and fully furnished accommodation for the first month, and a relocation support officer made sure they had everything they needed. Tania says, “If it wasn't for WorleyParsons holding our hands those first few days, it would have probably been a lot more difficult.”
Sorting out bank accounts and other paperwork was much easier than in South Africa, says Oswald – they expected this, but were still surprised by just how much better it was. “People really go the extra mile to help you and to sort out your stuff for you.”
As with any migration, there have been some challenges. Oswald and Tania’s daughter Melissa, 6, missed her friends from South Africa and had trouble settling in at her new school. Currently Tania home-schools Melissa (teaches her at home), and it seems to be working.
“She makes a lot of friends with the home educators group, so she's not solitary. She does dancing and swimming and gymnastics,” Tania explains. “Eventually she'll get to a point where she's more confident.”
When Tania’s daughter Letrisha, 19, arrived, she had just finished high school. All her friends were going their separate ways anyway, so Letrisha saw the move as a “new start”. She started studying photography online in February, “but I started getting bored at home and I needed a job”, she says. Now she balances her study with a part-time job as a technical library assistant, also at WorleyParsons.
She misses her best friends and her father in South Africa, but she keeps in touch with them using Skype, and has made friends here too.
“Once I spent two or three months here, this felt more like home than South Africa did. I became more comfortable here, I became more like myself here,” she explains. “It just seems like a better future for me here.”
Oswald and Tania feel the same. The cost of living is higher, health and education systems are better, and so is personal safety.
“You don't have to be afraid where you drive, and no-one has eight-foot fences and barbed wire around their homes. That's a huge relief,” says Oswald. “All the paperwork, all the hassle, packing your container, it's all worth it. Just do it.”
Living here has made Tania appreciate the natural environment. “We recycle and I use environmentally friendly products. I've realised, for the first time, how important it is to look after the environment, because it's such a small country,” she says.
“Sometimes I drive home and I look at the mountain and I get tears in my eyes. It's like all my life I needed to come here and now I'm here.” ▪