I ask what the motivation was to move to New Zealand. “We actually came because of my husband’s job,” Elsa tells me. “He got a job here and had been travelling for many years before that. We both had really busy hectic jobs back home. New Zealand came up and it’s a beautiful place. It’s somewhere I always wanted to go for a holiday but never had a chance to. It’s one of those unattainable holidays. Firstly it’s quite expensive from Singapore to come here, but then this opportunity came and then we just took it. We just made a decision, for our kids and for our family. We took the leap basically and never looked back. It’s home now. We’ve been here almost ten years. It’s so beautiful. My kids have grown up here. Jerome was almost seven when we came, Kyle was three. Now they’re both at Francis Douglas (Memorial College) and now they are sixteen and the other one is twelve, going on thirteen. This is home.”
She continues: “I think the reason why we chose to leave home is because we wanted a different pace of life. Life is really hectic back home as you know with all megacities. There’s no real time to stop and actually be present in life. Once we had kids we felt that was really important because you can’t go back on your kid’s childhood. You’ve only got one chance to get it right. We just love the pace of life here. We’ve done all the hectic stuff in our younger days and we just want to appreciate life and each other as a family. New Zealand was a perfect country to do that. We came directly to New Plymouth. We’ve never moved once. It was so easy to integrate into the city. New Plymouth is getting more and more diverse. I think it’s because a lot of the oil families are here as well, and different sorts of businesses. So it’s getting more and more international as we stay. Which is actually really nice. And New Plymouth has everything you need. We’re not lacking anything here. It didn’t take us long to feel that we were home. People were really nice and really welcoming. The schools were really welcoming to the kids, and it just made the integration really smooth. Obviously, English is our first language back home. So it wasn’t difficult for them. We’re quite grateful for that. We were looking for simplicity and slowing down the pace of life and that’s exactly what we got. You just need to have that pause sometimes in life. Especially when you have kids. You just need to be present a bit more and you’re not whizzing by every day not knowing what you’re doing and you wake up ten years later and you think: ‘What have I achieved?’”
Elsa tells me that the children are doing very well at school. “They’re getting there,” she says. “I think with Singapore, there’s one thing for sure: our standard of education is really high. So when you integrate into another country it’s quite seamless in that sense. Here the education is not bad, so in that sense we were quite lucky that the integration was quite easy for them.” I wonder if, with the difference in education, Elsa thinks it might hold her children back or if it’s better now they are here. “I think that there are two sides to that. As a mother, I want them to have a holistic well rounded education. We don’t have that in Singapore just yet. It’s all academic. And anything that you do extracurricular, is almost always indoors. I think if you are well educated but you don’t have a good social background, like you don’t know how to integrate into society, it would be a huge downfall for a person. We wanted them to be holistically educated. Anyone can be bright. But if you don’t have that social skill, you will also find it difficult in life.”
“Do you think they would get fewer social skills if they grew up in Singapore?” I ask.
“Yes, absolutely and it’s only because of the lifestyle there. It’s not all bad because we are who we are because of our strong educational system. However, these days I think parents are wanting their children to have more of a balance in life. They are understanding that the early years are so crucial to character formation and what more, the career opportunities our kids have now are limitless. In our time, we could not even imagine that such jobs could exist! Here in New Zealand, we are more conscious of the outdoors. There are things to do outside. Whereas in Singapore we don’t have that. Everything is expensive. We have to pay for it. You almost have no choice but to stay at home and be on the games, or in front of a screen, or go to all these extracurricular classes your parents are forcing you to do. My kids would be very different kids if we hadn’t left home ten years ago. Very different.”
“Do you think they are a lot more physical here? In terms of using their body physically,” I want to know. “Yes definitely. They are actively involved in sports, active with their friends socially, and I can see the difference. Every time we go home and I see their cousins, they are miles apart. Not that their cousins are bad but it’s just the environment they’re in. By miles apart I mean physically, but even more socially. Children at home find it hard to have conversations. If you put them in a room they are more comfortable looking at a screen than interacting with the person in front of them. And that’s not a good thing. So definitely we see a great difference in our kids and their cousins back home. It is so positive and it just reassures us as parents that we have done the right thing because you always question as a parent: ‘Am I doing enough?’ You always second doubt yourself. But these are the little things that make you say that ‘hey, you’re OK’.” She laughs. “I don’t want my kids to be Einstein, to be honest. I want them to be good, kind, considerate, compassionate people. To me, that’s more important. Far more important. I’ve made some good friends and my kids have grown up to be good people and that’s all I can ask for as a mum. That’s my focus. That’s where it’s been for a while now.
In Singapore for all boys there’s compulsory military training for two years when they turn eighteen. But we want them to do their uni here first and then have a degree and then go back. But then they will see as well, when they go back, that difference of actually living there versus here. They may like it, because they will be at their prime, in their early twenties. But it will be vastly different. But you gotta let them go through that and experience that.” She laughs.