Slovenes abroad: Janez, Auckland (New Zealand)

Janez greets me with “Kia Ora”, which means hello in local Maori language. He is a 28 old structural engineer living in Auckland, New Zealand. He moved there back in November 2014 to broaden his horizon and get experience in earthquake engineering. At the same time he was looking for a country with a good balance of lifestyle and career opportunities. New Zealand was apparently a place to be.

Kia Ora, Janez, why New Zealand?
Something in the back of my mind was telling me that New Zealand would fit my character best. After living here for the past couple of years I realized that I pulled a right decision. I had some positions lined back home, however I really didn’t want to regret not trying abroad first. As a structural engineer you take a lot of responsibility, so working for a minimum wage in Slovenia was a no go. Studying for so long makes you feel even worse. At the same time I wanted to go somewhere where I would have to start from scratch without knowing anyone there. You know, just to try and see if you will make it or fail badly.

Was the decision about moving to New Zealand hard to take?
Not really, because initially I thought I would be back in one year. Now it has been the third year running already. It is crazy how time flies. I wish I could have done it sooner, but it was not possible due to my study and running the Student Organization at the faculty. So I was on a flight to Auckland just a week after finishing my degree. And I literally packed just a couple hours before my flight 🙂

How did your parents accept it?
Well, they were a bit upset in the beginning, saying “Why the hell do you need to go to the end of the world, can’t you find anything closer?” Eventually they accepted it. They are kind of used to my crazy ideas all the time. But I have to admit it was much harder to say goodbye after I came home just for holiday a year later. Going abroad so far is a bit selfish decision and sometimes hard to face.

Is it true that you literally got a job the moment you stepped of the plane?
Well, almost – I landed on Friday and printed a couple of CV’s. On Monday I took the first one to the company which was nearest to my hostel. And their manager came along right at the moment when I was handling my CV over to the secretary. I got an interview right away and the rest is history – I am still working for the same company (KCL Engineering Services). It is kind of challenging going to work literally the next day, without even having a car or a place of your own. It is really hard to settle down if you have to work from Monday till Friday, especially as a beginner. So for about a month and a half I was living in a hostel because finding a room in a flat was a complete nightmare.

What was your backup plan?
I never really had a backup plan. I got a job so fast I didn’t even have time to be stressed. My savings would have probably lasted for a few months before I’d have to go back.

What was your first impression when you moved to Auckland?
Auckland is actually not the best place to live in New Zealand. I would prefer living somewhere out of town. On the other hand if you want to have a decent job with a decent salary, Auckland is the best option. But since you can’t have it all, Auckland is an acceptable choice when it comes to life style, outdoor activities and career opportunities.

Have you faced any negative experience, being a foreigner in New Zealand?
No, never! Kiwis are really friendly 🙂 They are used to tourists and backpackers travelling in New Zealand all year long. I actually met quite a few who knew about Slovenia, been there or have plans to go for a visit. Which is really nice to hear!

So what are Kiwis like?
They are much more chilled than any other European nation. People here don’t care about unimportant things. They consider their jobs to be “something what paying the bills” – they are not carier oriented like us. Maybe because the population of New Zealand is only around 4 million and the market is relatively closed since they don’t have any neighbours. And the foreign workflow is strictly regulated by issuing visas. 

Can you have a decent life with an average Kiwi salary?
Depends where you live. I have to say that living costs here are extremely high. If you want to have a decent house (like in Slovenia) it costs millions. Houses are typically built in timber and quality of construction is not as good as in Slovenia. For 700,000 NZD (around 400,000€) you only get a small tiny 2-bedroom house in Auckland. I really don’t know how people with an average salary and a few kids handle this. Luckily salaries in engineering are quite good at the moment and I can afford more than I could back home.

How do you spend your free time?
Weekends I spend with my friends travelling around New Zealand. We mostly travel around North Island seeking for some waves. I have probably visited more places in the North Island than an average Kiwi. I am away literally all the time. You know how long it took us to finish this interview 🙂

When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
Auckland is known to have 4 seasons in one day. The best time for tourism is summer, which is from mid-December all the way to Easter. Summers are usually really nice (not too hot) however winters are completely opposite and depressive. Everyone wants to escape winters here unless you live in the South Island where you get some snow. You also get burned easily. You can only get sunblock 30+ in the supermarkets. I never got burned in Croatian coast while here my nose looks like reindeer Rudolph all the time.

Let’s say I have 14 days to spend there – how should I organize?
You definitely have to fly to Queenstown which reminds a lot of lake Bled. Small town next to the lake with heaps of tourist and lots of adrenaline attractions around. Unfortunately all the main attractions are spread all over New Zealand so 14 days is never enough. Usually backpackers take 1 month for each island and it’s still tight. The most common way of travelling around New Zealand is with a campervan which is also a unique experience for exploring the new country.

What are top 5 things to see in Auckland?
Auckland by itself is nothing special. Most of the cool things can be found outside the Central Business Distrct, at least an hour drive away. I would recommend Piha beach, wine tour in Waiheke Island, Sky Tower, Mount Eden volcano and beaches on the east coast (Tawharanui, Forestry, …)

How often do you return home?
I would like to go back home on a more regular basis but unfortunately it takes you two days to get one way. Luckily this year a few friends are coming over as well as my sister. After going to South America in July I might stop in Slovenia for few days. It’s a long way and it’s a bit of a hassle spending your annual leave to visit Slovenia while there are still so many place to see.

What do you miss the most?
I don’t want to sound cheeky but Slovenian girls and my grandma’s cuisine are the things I miss the most 🙂

Typical food is kiwifruit, right? 😀
Hm… All the Kiwis would probably struggle with this question as well. They claim fish’n’chips to be their traditional food, although it is nothing spectacular… just fried fish fillet and some potato chips. One thing Kiwis like to do is having a barbecue at any time at any place. I dig that! Oh, and their Pavlova cake is pretty good.

Are there any Slovenians living near you, do you hang out?
Yeah, there are quite a few Slovenians living in Auckland. The community is so small that everyone knows everyone. I’m pretty lucky that I’ve met a few with the same mentality, which means that we often go away for the weekends together. I must admit I would be struggling pretty hard without having so many good friends here.

What do Slovene friends usually ask you about New Zealand? Are they jealous?
They often ask me about the living standards and how much can you afford with an average salary. Like you 🙂 Everything else can be seen through my blog, Instagram or Twitter profile. I often hear how awesome my life is. Well… I just go out and do things. From the end of November and all the way to June I barely spend a weekend at home. I bet you don’t know many freaks who are willing to drive one hour before work to get to the beach, surf for couple hours, and then drive back to the city. And repeat it after work. No one in Slovenia would ever do that… because it’s “too far” 🙂

Do you see yourself turning into a Kiwi or are your plans to return to Slovenia one day?
My heart will always belong to Šentjernej. Slovenia is a beautiful place to live and raise your family and people simply don’t appreciate that enough. They take everything for granted and you only notice that once you start travelling the world. At the same time I reckon Slovenia is one of the safest countries in the world. Unfortunately, career opportunities in structural engineering are reasonably limited. At the moment I’m really enjoying New Zealand however you never know what might happen. Will see… Ka kite!

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