Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Working 9 to 5

I feel like time is quickly slipping by and I'm not keeping up. And then I have a day like today and I realize I haven't even been here for two months and I've accomplished quite a bit!  A few weeks ago I had an interview with Corporate Express (an international company recently purchased by Staples).  Two days after my first interview, I was called back in for a second interview.  By the following week I had a job offer and a start date of today (April 28).  The offer is a fixed term contract that will take me through to the end of my visa in March 2011.  I'm losing a bit of my ability to be carefree but in New Zealand employers are required to provide 4 weeks of vacation each year.  I think I'll adjust to this new schedule.  Not too bad for 7 weeks into my crazy adventure.

I'm working in the marketing department of the Auckland branch of Corporate Express.  I will be commuting to work each day - which doesn't require nearly as much as a commute in Chicago - but it can still take 25-45 minutes depending on the traffic. I'll be working with my manager and one other person (still to be hired) to build the marketing department into a much more developed program.  If our department is able to meet our goals, the potential is to hire more staff allowing me to gain managerial experience.  When I decided to come to New Zealand I planned on looking for a job in my field, however, I was sure that I would end up in an administrative role making enough to break even.  What I found is something that I may have been able to achieve had I stayed in the US, but was definitely not expecting when I moved half way around the world.

After day one - which involved meeting people and immediately forgetting names, reading company material, and setting up my desk - I think I'll like it.  After a few weeks, my rose colored glasses may come off, but for now I'm sticking with my typical optimistic outlook.

About the picture:  Included as a reminder as to how beautiful the scenery is this shot was taken overlooking Piha Beach, Northwest of Auckland.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Humble Abode

Three weeks ago I decided it was time to get serious about the apartment hunting.  Two weeks ago I set up an appointment to meet with potential flatmates and check out the space.  One week ago I moved in.  This weekend we had our housewarming party.

I found a furnished apartment just south of the downtown Auckland area.  It’s within walking distance of shops, a grocery store, a running path, and other great conveniences of the city.  I met with my potential flatmates after coming in from being on the boat.  I was soaking wet, wearing my swimsuit under my clothes, and instead of arriving late as I had feared, I arrived 15 minutes early.  Despite all of this, they still thought I would be worth keeping around. 

Originally I planned to move into a small bedroom (it literally only fits a twin bed and nightstand – no closet), however, my good sense won out over my tight budget.  Since I haven’t lived with anyone for over three years I decided some space might be nice.  My room is now on the lower level with a window that looks out onto our front entry way.  Now, after spending over $200 on bedding and other random things for the room, I am starting to feel like I have a home. 

My flatmates are from all over the world and so far we get along really well.  I live with a German girl, Indian guy, English girl, and another American girl.  It’s a four bedroom, two bathroom, three level town home in Parnell.

Next on the social calendar: my 30th birthday.  It has officially been decided we will have a fancy dress party (which you may have noticed is on my list of things to do while I’m here).  The question is, do I dress as a Cowgirl or an Indian?

About the photos: Front of town house; second level with an open floor plan (living room, dining room, kitchen, balcony); my bedroom on the day I moved in.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adjusting to Life in New Zealand

I have know been here for over one month.  I'm already starting to work on plans for my birthday celebration.  I thought this was an appropriate time to remind people (and myself) why I chose New Zealand in the first place. 

It's easy to say that the people make the difference. But New Zealand doesn't throw me into an entirely new culture and it doesn't offer as much bang for the American buck as other countries could....they even claim to speak English here.  Here are some fun facts (that may or may not be true - depending on the reliability of the Internet) about the country I'm now living in:
  • There are over 9 million beef and dairy cattle in NZ.  (There are only 4.3 million people.)  Actually, less than 5% of New Zealand's population is human - the rest are animals. This is one of the highest ratios of animals to humans in the world 
  • The world's first commercial bungy jump took place in Queenstown, NZ in 1988. (The city is now the self-professed "Adventure Capital of the World" due to the wide variety of crazy stuff they come up with to pass the time.)
  • At 41.2o South, Wellington is the most southerly capital city on the planet. Cities on similar latitudes in the Northern hemisphere are Barcelona, Istanbul and Chicago.
  • The last fatal earthquake in New Zealand was on the West Coast of the South Island in May 1968. Three deaths resulted. (However, smaller earthquakes hit the islands annually)
  • New Zealand gave its women the right to vote in 1893, a quarter century before Britain or the US.
  • New Zealand has 15,811 km (9,824 miles) of coastline, and no matter where you are in the country, you are never more than 128km (79.5 miles) from the ocean.
  • Auckland, the City of Sails, has more boats per capita than anywhere in the world with 80,000 privately-owned boats - one for every eight Aucklanders.
  • New Zealand was named after a group of Dutch islands called Zeeland, thanks to the Dutch cartographers that mapped the area.  "Zee Land" is loosely translated to "Sea Land."  (This is all assuming that Wikipedia is correct). 
And some random information about my own experiences:
  • I watch just as many (sometimes more) American television shows here than I did back home.
  • I occasionally catch what could be an American accent, and feel a rush of excitement when it turns out to be true.
  • I'm living in a big small town.  Everyone knows everyone within a few degrees and it only took one month to insert myself into this small world and start playing the game.
  • I love that the toilets have two flush options (a half flush and a full flush).
  • But clearly the flushing isn't about the environment, because all of the towel bars are heated so that you not only have a dry towel every time, it's also toasty warm.
  • Among other things I've discovered that Americans have a reputation of getting overly enthusiastic about things - Me, get excited about ridiculously small trivial things?  Never.
Things to be thankful for (more on all of these topics later):
- A new flat in a great location with fun new flatmates
- A job offer that should be coming this week
- 30th birthday plans that could include a "Cowboys and Indians" theme party

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spinning Me Right Round

Apparently I took one or two things for granted while I lived in Chicago. Not a complete surprise, but the one that stands out recently is my lost sense of direction.  In Chicago, the water was to the East and everything was mapped on a grid.  I knew that 8 city blocks was a mile and I could determine how far something was just by using street addresses.  Well, I was spoiled and became weak...very weak.  Now, the water isn't always to the East, it isn't even always to the's every where you turn!  And turn you do, because the streets aren't straight and they change names mid-turn.  Things are measured in kilometres rather than miles.  I'm constantly turned around, mostly trying to figure out which way I've actually come from, let alone which way I need to go.

But it's not just my sense of direction that is being tested.  As I'm searching for a new car, I find myself getting quite frustrated.  For starters, I haven't actually had to search for a car since 1999.  I realise that this is an incredible feat for most people but in my defense I kept my first car for 9 years and then I went without for the last two (Note: My fantastic '94 Subaru Legacy is still plugging along from what I understand).

If I were faced with the task of buying a car at home I would relish the opportunity to test drive, visit dealers, and all the other fun stuff that goes along with buying.  But here, I won't be buying from a dealer so finding one place to go with all of the cars I'm interested in is nearly impossible.  Most of my research is being done online instead. Although the major car companies are nearly the same, everything is imported from some place else and the reputations are different.  Not to mention the models themselves are often called by different names.  The fuel economy is measured in kilometres/litre neither of these measurements are easily converted in my head.

What I can say is that I am fortunate that there is an abundance of cheap cars from the backpackers that come, drive them, and leave.  I just need to choose one. Do I get the Ford?  What about a Citroen or Holden?  Or I could go all out and get a cheap BMW.  And what is an Opel???  How about this 1977 mini for $3250 NZD ($2300 USD)?

So, I'm off to find a car.  I need to make sure it's something I enjoy driving, reasonably priced, and is economical.  All very important because if I buy a car, I'll consider myself fortunate if I can navigate my way back home again in a reasonable amount of time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What a Difference a Week Makes

Job...check (even if it is temporary); Job Prospects...check (second interview planned, more recruiting agencies in the waiting); Apartment...check.   This week I am working at a temp job, I have an apartment, I have an interview with a company regarding a more permanent position, and I've decided to buy a car - a big change from just one week ago.

Working 9 to 5:
Over the last few weeks, I have been contacting recruiting companies in order to find some temp work.  I met with one particular agency about two weeks ago, when they had me come in for an "interview."  I arrived, filled out piles of paperwork, and then they set me in front of a computer for testing.  What I thought would be a few brief tests turned into 2 1/2 hours of mind numbing delirium.  First came the Word and Excel tests.  These tests were based on Word and Excel circa 1957 and only allowed 2 tries before assuming you were a moron and wouldn't get the answer.  Keyboard shortcuts were only partially working and descriptions of icons didn't show up when hovering with the mouse - I was crippled.  (Sample question:  Move to page 8 of this document without using the page down key or scrolling.  Seriously?)  I would like to know who scrolls using the "Go to" function.  Clearly, the creators of the tests aren't users of the software itself. 

I managed through the software testing and typing test (over 70 wpm - I can't believe that was my only B in highschool).  And then they set up three more tests - verbal, math, and analytical.  Despite having regular flashbacks to the GRE, I managed to pull through and score pretty well.  (1 of 30 verbal questions:  Which one does not belong:  Sister, Daughter, Mother, Man, Child, Husband).  At the end of the tests, I met with not one but three lovely ladies who were in charge of the recruiting.

It all paid off when I received a call for a job from one of them last Thursday.  I was enjoying my day exploring the zoo with a friend and her kids (I can now mark "see a kiwi" off of my list).  I started working at the Museum of Transportation and Technology (MOTAT), on the following day.  My role has been working with the Director of Operations to update the budget and prepare the presentation for the board. It's quite interesting stuff considering I'm just a 2 week temp.  Trolleys drive by my office occasionally as they move around the facility and I get to enjoy planes, trains and automobiles during my lunch break. (Pictured: A view of a portion of the campus, courtesy of the MOTAT website)

And, in the meantime, through a friend I heard about a position that had recently opened in the marketing department of an international company with an office in Auckland.  Although they were looking for a permanent hire, they agreed to look at my resume.  I sent it in on Tuesday.  By Friday, I had spoken with the HR department in Sydney and agreed to apply officially online.  I did on Saturday afternoon.  On Monday morning I received a call from Sydney again, this time to set up an interview for the position on Wednesday.  Immediately after the interview on Wednesday they called to set up a second meeting on Friday morning.  Things certainly move quickly.

Off the Streets of Auckland:
While trying to find work, I've also managed to find an apartment in Auckland.  As of this week, I will be moving into a townhouse in Parnell (a nice area downtown just south of the CBD). I have a tiny room (somehow I found something even smaller than my studio apartment in Chicago) but the three levels I share with flatmates more than make up for it.  Unfortunately, you'll have to use your imagination to determine its greatness until I can properly post some photos and details.

Things to be thankful for:
- Networking: still the best way to find a job hands down
- Sea fishing trips, even if everything I caught had to be thrown back, I still count it
- Things falling into place at just the right time

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter is Like a Box of Chocolates

Easter in New Zealand is celebrated by giving everyone in the country both Friday and Monday off, which means there are a lot of people that escape for the long weekend. Although I have nothing to escape from, I went along with a group out of Auckland to Rotorua. Having previously been to Rotorua when I was here in December, this wasn’t a new location for me but I still didn't know what to expect... 

I was there with a group of 11 adults and 4 children. Rotorua is on the Western side of the North island of New Zealand (Southwest of Auckland). It’s a geothermal area so very similar to Yellowstone in the United States. The options were endless and we took advantage of a lot of them. Here’s the way the weekend played out:

Thursday: Head out on the town in Auckland for a few drinks. The bars and everything else were required to close at midnight on Thursday in order to observe the national holiday on Friday.

Friday: Drive to Rotorua. Traffic was horrendous so we got there late in the afternoon. We spent the day hanging out at the hotel at the hot sulphur pool, and sitting around the picnic tables. The rest of the evening was spent hanging out, drinking, and playing games in the room.

Saturday: Head to The Buried Village for a tour and to check out the Green and Blue lakes. Our tour guide took us around the Maori village that was buried when a volcano erupted in the late 1800s burying the village and everything around it in ash. It destroyed the pink and white silica terraces that were one of the biggest draws to New Zealand at the time. Many visitors (mostly British) would travel for months just to reach them.

After our tour, we took a short walk to a waterfall nearby and then rushed back to the hotel for a quick lunch. That afternoon we met up with some of the others from the group for mountain biking. This was by far one of my favourite experiences while I was there. Seven of us rented bikes and went on some fantastic trails through the forest. After biking we relaxed in the warm pool at the hotel and headed into town to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. That night we played Catch Phrase (a big hit with the kiwi crowd – even with the odd American phrases), and other games while we hung out in the room.

Sunday: Wake up and realize I just gained an hour and I can sleep a bit longer. (Unlike in the US, it’s “Fall Back” here – which means I’ve had two Daylight Savings in a row that I’ve gained an hour – awesome!) Enjoy some luging which is similar to the alpine sleds in Colorado except you aren’t on a track like a luge, it’s closer to paved roads down the mountain. It involves sitting on a small cart and shooting down the hill on a twisty road with a few hills that you can actually get some air on if you are moving quick enough. The best part is racing people down the hill.

After luging, a few of the guys wanted to do some more racing. Drift cars here we come! Apparently there are very few drift car tracks in the world, one of the fastest is in Rotorua. Basically, they are go karts that have completely bald tires and they run on a slippery concrete course so when you go around a corner you are actually drifting sideways to get around it. If you accelerate too quickly while turning, the car can do a complete 360.

Sunday night we had a great discussion about politics and the world’s problems. It’s still amazing to me how much people know about the United States outside of our country and how little we know about others. In the meantime, if any of the world leaders need advice, now you know who to contact.

Monday: We spent the morning walking by Lake Rotorua, hitting balls at the driving range and batting cages, spending some more time at the drift car track – this was all before 11am. After lunch we drove back to the city, making it back in record time with very little traffic. That evening I was treated to an awesome home made dinner of fish, salad, and potatoes, followed by ice cream and chocolate cake for dessert. The Easter bunny even brought me a chocolate egg. So overall, it was just an average Easter holiday in New Zealand. I loved every minute of it.

Things to be thankful for:
- Visiting a black sand beach, mountain biking, drinking games, and seeing a kiwi band play at a pub – all of which have now been crossed off my list
- The American dollar which slightly further in New Zealand, making these things feel a bit more affordable
- Kiwis who are amazing at coming up with fun things to do anywhere, any time