What it’s like to work in New Zealand: "Far less stigma around parental leave"

In this brand-new series, we explore what it’s like to be a Canadian working overseas

Work-life balance, parental leave, office culture—those are important considerations when you’re starting a new gig anywhere, but they’re especially significant if you cool new job happens to be located in a totally different country. In this new series, we’ll look at what it’s really like to be a Canadian ex-pat. First up, an Edmonton-born academic who lives in New Zealand.

Name: Melanie Beres
Age: 42
Industry: Higher Education
Occupation: Senior Lecturer (in Canada this would be called a professor)
Hometown: Edmonton
Current Location: Dunedin, New Zealand
Years Working Abroad: 11 years

How did you end up living and working abroad?

When I finished my PhD, I was looking for opportunities to do a post-doctoral fellowship. I had a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) fellowship that allowed me to travel to do research, and there was a scholar in New Zealand that I wanted to work with and learn from. I thought it would be a fun place to live for a couple of years and experience living in another country. After living here for a few years and seeing the culture within the universities, alongside great outdoor opportunities and a slower pace of life, I decided to stay indefinitely.

How does your income compare to a similar job in Canada?

It is similar to what I would make it Canada.

How would you describe the cost of living?

The cost of living is higher here, particularly for food.

What is the office culture like?

It is pretty relaxed. There is a lot of understanding and acceptance of family life. The attitude to work-life balance is like Canada, although I find there’s greater acceptance of the need to prioritize family life.

How do your benefits compare to the benefits you’d be entitled to at a similar job in Canada?

In New Zealand, the minimum vacation entitlement is four weeks. In my role I get five weeks, so like what I would be entitled to in Canada. There are fewer health care benefits, so those are costs we have to factor in as a family.

However, other workplace benefits are really good compared to universities in Canada. I have good funding for sabbaticals and conference leave. There is a recognition that New Zealand is far away from many places and that we need to travel to connect with other scholars, our university funds us accordingly. I work at a research-intensive university and there is far less pressure in terms of both how much I teach as well as publishing expectations.

What kind of parental leave are you entitled to?

We are entitled to 22 weeks of paid leave with a total of 52 weeks of leave. My employer follows the government guidelines. I had a child a year after I moved here. There was far less stigma around parental leave and parenting. At the time, we were only entitled to 16 weeks of paid leave, with up to 52 weeks of leave. In Canada, there were many discussions about when to have kids in relation to career planning, but I have heard far fewer of those conversations here.  Everyone assumes having kids is something that many people do, and work life just continues. Many women take a year of leave. I didn’t, but that also seemed quite acceptable.

What is job-hunting like?

There are only eight universities in New Zealand, so the job market is quite different compared with Canada. But academics often consider the international job market anyway—the jobs can be quite specific, so many academics look internationally.

What are the best parts of working internationally?

I like the lifestyle in New Zealand—it’s a slower pace than Canada. It’s a great place to raise my daughter. The school system if fantastic at working with kids’ individual needs and helicopter parenting is not nearly as prevalent, so my daughter can experience a range of independence I’m not sure she’d have in Canada (depending on where we were living). Family time is strongly valued. Many smaller stores are not open on Sunday and stores close between 5pm and 6pm. I also appreciate that we can go to the beach year-round and spend a lot of time outside.

What are the challenges?

Being far away from family and friends. It’s expensive and takes a long time to travel to Canada. I keep wishing that I could just move New Zealand a few thousand kilometers north, so it would be just off the west coast of Canada!

Would you ever move back to Canada?

Not in the foreseeable future, but I wouldn’t rule it out. In my line of work, it’s hard to pick a city to live in—many of us expect to travel to where the jobs are. If I were to move back to Canada it would be unlikely that I could move to Calgary, where my family now lives. So, depending on where I lived in Canada, it might make little difference to how often I could see them. And I think it would also be difficult for me to find a university with similar teaching loads, publication expectations and research support.