Flying the Kiwi flag

Representing New Zealand overseas offers unique challenges and opportunities for personal and professional growth you just can’t get staying at home.

Briar Edmonds talked to two Kiwis who have embarked on overseas adventures to find out more about what it takes.

flagYvonne – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Yvonne Tukotahi is special advisor visits, Protocol Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), where she works on ministerial visits to the European Union and Australia. She’s based in Wellington now, but has two previous international postings under her belt.

Her first foray into representing New Zealand overseas was back in 2010, when she was posted in Jakarta as attaché in the New Zealand Embassy, where she stayed until 2012. She then returned to New Zealand before taking a new posting as second secretary administration manager and consul in Tarawa, Kiribati, where she remained for three years – returning to New Zealand earlier this year. 

“My role required I be a Jill of all trades in Kiribati,” says Yvonne, “You need to be when in this kind of role because you are usually part of a very small team, working together to manage all manner of situations such as broken generators and water pumps, visits from international dignitaries, emergency consular situations like helping out Kiwis who are in trouble, and lots more. That’s all on top of the everyday tasks of your role.”

“Being posted overseas also means you’re always on call. MFAT deals with international issues 24 / 7. So obviously that means you’re often required to work outside regular working hours.” A lot of the after-hours work is created by New Zealanders experiencing difficulties such as lost passports and medical events while travelling. Yvonne encourages all travellers to register their travel with Safe Travel. “If you do, the Ministry will look for you should a major event occur in a country that you might be travelling through.”

Yvonne is quick to add that although you work hard, the rewards are great and include the camaraderie with other ex-pats, the pride in representing New Zealand, and getting to enjoy and contribute to the good name of our country overseas:  “People really like the Kiwis!”

Yvonne also loved being immersed in other cultures and says she learnt an enormous amount about herself. “Overseas postings give you the opportunity to practice tolerance and patience, something I might have been lacking prior to overseas exposure. Sometimes little things like not being able to get the foods you’re used to can happen regularly, for example we didn’t see an egg or a potato in Kiribati for several months at one point. You learn to take these inconveniences in your stride.”

The toughest thing about being on a posting is loneliness. Yvonne says: “All Blacks’ games become really important! Anything that connects you back to home helps alleviate the lonely times. It can be hard not having your family or circle of friends around you and not necessarily speaking the language or understanding the culture of the place you’re in. But it’s definitely outweighed by the incredible experiences you get in return.”

Trevor – Department of Conservation

Trevor Huggins is a Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger based in Invercargill who has been involved in DOC’s rural firefighting programme. He’s represented New Zealand in overseas support missions helping fight fires in Australia.

While an injury has now forced Trevor to step back from firefighting overseas, throughout his career he has attended a range of fires in Australia. Each posting was usually three weeks at a stretch, in places like Victoria – known for its headline-making and deadly bushfires. 

Trevor also helped his Australian counterparts with other tasks like monitoring of fires and prescribed burning.

Trevor says he enjoyed the opportunity to help out in times of trouble and was able to develop knowledge and expertise in managing and fighting fires. “I got a good understanding of how fires work in Australia, which is quite different to how they work here in New Zealand due to the very different environments. This really deepened my understanding of how to deal with different types of fires.”

Trevor didn’t experience much downside being involved in overseas firefighting. “I was there to do a job, to help out, and I felt good that I could contribute.” He says the only thing he found difficult was seeing so much of the wildlife displaced from their habitat by fire: “That could be a bit upsetting at times,” he says.

One of the things Trevor says stood out about the experience was the antipodean bond between the Kiwis and Aussies. “The ANZAC mentality definitely exists – despite the banter between us; we share a lot in common, which translates into an ability to work really well together.”