Confessions of an American Expat

by Jebraun Clifford


In February 2003, my husband and I packed up all our household goods and our young family and moved halfway around the world to New Zealand.

We’ve lived here for almost fifteen years and it’s been an exciting adventure with both its triumphs and its challenges (as well as a whole lot of contradictions!). I thought it would be fun to share on Ralene’s ‘Confessions’ posts.


Confession #1 New Zealand is home.

Even though we came here to plant a church, we decided from the beginning to view ourselves as immigrants rather than missionaries. This place and its people are part of me now. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I get asked all the time here how often I ‘go back home.’ For me, the answer is always the same: New Zealand is home. When I go to the States, it’s only for a visit.


Confession #2 But I’ll never really belong here.

I’ve made some amazing friends and am fully immersed in New Zealand life (we even hold dual citizenship), but I still feel like an outsider sometimes.

For one thing, there’s my accent. Even though I’ve picked up a heap of new terminology (rubbish for trash, car boot for trunk, standing in a queue instead of standing in line) and now prefer British spelling (theatre, favourite, tyre), I’m unmistakably American as soon as I open my mouth. It makes for interesting conversation opportunities, though. People want to know what I’m doing here. Why would I leave California for New Zealand? When I say God led us here, they often want to hear more about our journey.

And there are the cultural differences, too. I naively thought that NZ would be just like America. We were both once British colonies, and we both speak English, right? How different can it be? The correct answer is way more reasons than I can mention, but I’ll share one I’ve noticed.

In my old mindset, to quote Benjamin Franklin, time is money. Which to me meant time was a precious commodity not to be wasted, so I’d better get things done quickly. In New Zealand, time is people. It’s much more important to build relationships than to tick off the to-do list. I’ve learned to appreciate having endless cups of tea with someone without really accomplishing anything other than solidifying a friendship.

Of course, every time I think I’ve finally cracked the code, I make a cultural faux pas. Thank goodness Kiwis are a gracious bunch.


Confession #3 There are some things about America that I don’t miss.

While we’re basically a two-party political system here, there doesn’t seem to be the same level of animosity toward opposing viewpoints. Oh, there’s debate and disagreement. But it doesn’t seem to be as mean-spirited and downright nasty as the last American presidential election.

And the amount of gun violence in America is also troubling. I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of the Second Amendment, but I’m thankful I live in a country where even the police don’t carry guns.

We’ve also got a pretty good health system here. Our taxes are higher, but you’re not going to get into thousands of dollars of debt because of a car accident.


Confession #4 But sometimes I miss friends and extended family so much it hurts.

Years ago, I was back in the States for a visit when I ran into an acquaintance. She made an off the cuff remark about how living in New Zealand was a cushy missionary job. I was too stunned at first to answer her properly, but, as soon as she walked away, I wanted to rage against her insensitivity. New Zealand is the most beautiful place on the planet (in my opinion), but it’s also all by its lonesome at the far edges of the Pacific Ocean.

I’m a twelve hour plane ride from some of the people I love the most. And with my daughter studying in California, it often feels like my heart is split in two. There’s really no way to make the distance smaller. Facebook, Viber, email, and Skype all help. But it’s not the same as physically being there.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood at my kitchen sink and cried because I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews grow up or because I missed celebrating another birthday, anniversary, major family holiday, or any other major milestone. God has always been faithful to comfort me during those times, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I have had to be able to go back to catch up with the people I love.

Thanks for joining me as I’ve shared my reflections as an expat. I’d love to answer any other questions that might be out there or hear about your experiences. Connect with me on social media or comment on this post.


About the Author:

Jebraun Clifford always wanted to step through a door into an imaginary kingdom, so it’s no surprise she now calls Middle Earth home. Too short to be an elf and too tall to be a Hobbit, she lives in a gorgeous town smack-dab in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island filled with thermal activity, stunning lakes, and enough Redwoods to make her Californian heart swoon. Her unpublished YA fantasy, The Two Queens of Kyrie, won both the American Christian Fiction Writer’s 2015 First Impressions contest and the 2016 Genesis contest. She loves coffee, tree ferns, dark chocolate, and Jesus, and harbours a secret penchant for British spelling.