You Get What You Give

Moving to a new city is always hard. I took a big risk but some would say I did something right. Below is a record of how all the hard work and support from others kept me here.

you are here nzThis was my second trip to New Zealand but my first time to Christchurch. Naturally, I did a lot of research before I arrived to the city and it’s history as well as it’s current position in time. I watched documentaries about the earthquakes, I mapped out where to live, eat, and play. I read MJ Kaplan’s Fullbright paper about social enterprise in NZ. I wrote down a list of all the people to contact. I knew I had 90 days (the max time for an American tourist visa) to make the most of my one chance to get a job. Getting a job offer from someone while still living overseas is nearly impossible. I had the advantage of a partner who was already here (he arrived two months before me) and could help me in terms of scoping areas of interest: bike shops, cafes, restaurants. He found an apartment and set up before I arrived, making my transition into Christchurch relatively simple. It was pretty much the easiest entry to a new country anyone could ask for. His support was invaluable (more on that later).

chch diggersI arrived December 15, 2014, one day after nearly everything in the city shut down for a proper holiday break. I arrived eager to meet and greet people for coffee and network the shit out of the city but no one was around to hang out. I was disappointed and sat staring at a city at it’s worst: empty of life. It looked like an scene from the apocalypse: a city mid-rebuild and rubble around every corner. When the overcast clouds painted the sky, I was really regretting my decision. So we did what everyone else did and took off. We hit up the other awesome cities in the South Island and enjoyed a short break. This was perfect for me because when I came to NZ the first time last year, I didn’t get the opportunity to travel this far south. I saw Mt. Cook/Aoraki, Queenstown, Dunedin and most of the other stops along the way. Then I came back to Christchurch for another kiwi Christmas. My partner introduced me to a fellow American, Camia Young from XCHC. You see, my partner is a hyper networker and taught me TONS about how to do it right. He frequently sends out an email to contacts to tell them what he’s up to in hopes they want to collaborate or can connect him with other collaborators. That email led me to her. Her connection led to Nic, Harry, Barnaby and Brie: core people that helped me connect in a new city.

new year 2015Then New Year’s came and things weren’t working out. My partner wasn’t excited about being here either and we seriously considered ending it all and leaving. I purchased tickets to Electric Avenue music festival in hopes I’d get to stay and see some of NZ’s most popular acts (it was my understanding lots of musical acts ignore Christchurch on their tours so I scooped up early tickets). I also began getting involved in Lazy Sunday Cycle and RAD Bikes. I started a bike club (CycleCHCH) to socially bring the riders together and go on fun bike rides. I wanted Christchurch to be like a little Portland, my favorite US city. I was hell-bent on this notion that I carried on with life as normal despite not knowing whether I truly wanted to stay.

constructionThe week of January 13, 2015 felt like the first time business was back to normal in Christchurch after the holiday break. I went to my first Coffee & Jam at EPIC and networked with tons of people at Ministry of Awesome’s event. My partner stood up to introduce himself and offer some parts and tech toys for use from CPIT’s studio upgrade. The MC made a last call for shoutouts and I raised my hand. I stood up and made something up on the spot. I introduced myself a “Storyteller for Social Enterprises” as if it was a legit job title, I made a joke about being fresh in town and asked for work. That moment changed the course of everything.

I began feeling better about settling in Christchurch and had high hopes because I was connecting to more and more people. Everyone was so willing to help and connect me to the next person. I said yes to every event I was invited to and continued to network. I did the meetup thing, I volunteered at RAD and Acropolis. I talked to the latest Enspiral peeps. By this point, it was late January and I was halfway through a tourist visa with no job offer in hand. I began reaching out to people in other cities just in case. I had one foot in Christchurch and one back in the States. Then I got an email from Erica at Ministry of Awesome asking if I wanted to present at Coffee and Jam. They had a slot open last minute. The presentation was a little over two weeks away and I agreed. I had no idea what I would talk about  but I said yes.

chch grillzSummer events were in full-swing and we went to them all. Being out and about, seeing people and saying hi was paying off. It also kept my mind busy so I didn’t spend too much time focusing on the fact that I still had no job offer. There was plenty of pro-bono work I did in good faith but nothing was paying the bills. My savings were running dry quickly.

My partner found solace in his own personal projects at kiteboarding and windsurfing events while I was busy planning my bike club rides and networking. His family came to visit for two weeks. It was so nice to have family around. I missed my family dearly and his parents have always been supporters of what I did, as vague or bizarre as it seemed. As I prepped for my Coffee & Jam talk, his dad sat to listen to my pitch and give me feedback.

Electric Avenue music festival came around and we rocked out. Time was flying and I decided if something didn’t happen in the next week, after my presentation, then I was leaving. I would pack my things and never look back. I felt I’d given it my all. I met with EVERYONE, some twice, and I flat out asked for paid work. I value my time and I wasn’t being picky but I needed something that week. I spent Monday, February 9 perfecting my talk and presented the following day to a pretty big crowd at Coffee and Jam, including a huge group of UC students from the Christchurch 101 class. People asked great questions and set me up for success. I wasn’t expecting the amazing reception but it felt good. Afterwards, I took a deep breath and rode my bike home in tears. I had an interview the next day but I felt that I was as good as gone. I wanted to leave on top and not have another interview with someone who couldn’t pay me for valuable work.

I went to a Pecha Kucha event in Lyttelton and was inspired beyond belief. No one knew I was considering leaving Christchurch and their talks sparked another urge to stay. I went to the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup and loved being around hundreds of people celebrating a lively city. It was a memorable night of performances. While I was enjoying these events, my inbox was blowing up with offers, meeting requests, and collaboration ideas. People had seen my talk (thanks to my partner for the YouTube post) and wanted to discuss jobs. Discussing jobs and getting an offer were two totally different things so I met with everyone and went in for the hard asks. I said if I didn’t have an offer within the week, I was forced to leave. At the end of the week, I had three.

I ended up taking a full-time position at the Ministry of Awesome and am thrilled to be settling here quite nicely. I felt an enormous amount of anxiety in the last three months, coming up with the decision to stay or go. Without the support of friends and family, I don’t think I could have ended up on top.

IMG_20150309_201404This was actually a very difficult post to write (and share). I’ve relived a hard time in my life. There were literally times when I didn’t want to be here anymore, when I couldn’t take it anymore, and when I had to pretend like everything was alright. It was ugly but I find it funny that just when you are ready to give up, something brings you back. And above everything else, I’ve had an incredible partner who came out of that dark place with me holding my hand. His partnership is also what’s helping me obtain a work visa to stay in Christchurch and fulfill my dream of doing meaningful work. But above all else, he hasn’t given up either and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. It’s incredibly hard when the both of us were down but a true partnership doesn’t let you down in those hard times.

So I’m here. Let’s get to work!

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9 Comments

  1. Hi Catarina! Congratulations for the new job. I didn’t know your visa situation, but it is great to know you are staying! =) I haven’t had a chance to go to the Ministry of Awesome again, but I’ve been trying every week and hope to be able to show up there again soon. Love the idea of the bike club, where can I know more about what you are doing?

    Reply

    1. Hi! Thanks for your interest. I hope to see you at another event soon. There’s lots happening. Perhaps we should connect on Facebook? I’ve sprinkled in some links in the post too. 🙂

      Reply

  2. Thanks for writing Catarina. I admire you’re tenacity and willingness to put yourself out there – I know it’s not an easy task in a new place, especially when dealing with immigration woes. You’ve inspired me from the moment I met you, and I’m excited that you’re sticking around to help change this city, this country, and people like me for the better!

    Reply

  3. Hi Catarina, love your blog post. You went through the wave of emotions I have been going through over the past 14 months, its so refreshing to know there are other people in the same situation. Good to meet you at c&j today.

    Reply

  4. Awesome sauce my lady!!! Sounds like things are going very well and I’m extremely proud of your for your perseverance in times when things look a little strange. Love you dearly!!!

    Reply

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