People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live.“
– Brene Brown
In her earlier post, Dr. Dionne Mills-Sillik shared her reasons for deciding to move. Now she follows up and shares what life has been like after moving abroad!
Immigration is not just about what you’re leaving, it’s about what you’re moving toward. It’s not just about “anywhere but here”. At least it shouldn’t be.
Years ago, I’d already concluded that there was truly no safe place for Black people anywhere on this earth. This may seem fatalistic, but if you’ve been paying attention to the world, you would know that it is not an exaggeration.
Either we would have to accept a lower quality of life to be in a region with better representation, or be OK with always being the “only one” in order to still enjoy the nice accommodations that I worked hard to acquire in the US.
Questions I asked
Which country is steeped in political unrest?.
Which country is as committed to human rights violations as the one I want to flee?
Which country is full of Black and brown people but due to the legacy of colonialism, is entrenched in colorism that is just as systemic and virulent as the system of white supremacy in the US?
These are the questions I asked when determining where to go, to make sure that I wasn’t just jumping from one frying pan into another fire.
I reached out to family and friends who live in Rwanda, Australia, New Zealand, Barbados, Trinidad, Canada, England, and others. I began systematically crossing countries off our list.
So, why Aotearoa (New Zealand)?
There are so many reasons, so I bulleted them out. (This is a truncated list.)
- Their commitment to following science and protecting the environment
- Access to healthcare for everyone
- I can transfer my medical license over there, without having to retake any exams or training.
- A much less litigious society and a restorative approach to medical mistakes and patient complaints so no need for the oppressive high cost medical malpractice insurance
- A physician union
- Belief in a balance between work and life and support of the family from employers
- Less duty hours and protected administrative time, ample vacation time, paid sick leave, Continuing Medical Education allottments
- Some of the lowest maternal mortality rates amongst developed countries (at least a third lower than that of the US)
- Their history of pro-reproductive health policies
- First country to allow women the right to vote. Pro Choice policies. Allows ample maternity leave and family leave.
- Highly ranked education system
- No ubiquitous, poorly regulated access to firearms.
- Very low crime rate
New Zealand Culture:
- They have a track record of electing women to the highest government offices
- Pro LGBTQ+ policies
- Their willingness to be open and honest about their past relationship with their indigenous (Maori) population and their commitment in action not just word to decreasing health and wealth disparities between Maori and Pakeha (European Kiwi)
- English is spoken here. Although I am also fluent in Spanish, I wanted a place where my children and husband wouldn’t have to struggle with language on top of all the other acclimating. We have been working on learning Maori though.
- The definition of diversity is not reduced to the artificial caste construct of Whiteness and Blackness – What I have found is that people get to keep their ethnic and cultural identity without being lumped into boxes based on the color of their skin. A person from Sweden is seen as different from a person from the Netherlands instead of both of them just being seen as “White”. This is important, because in the US, no one cares if you are Trinidadian vs Jamaican vs Nigerian vs Ugandan. You are all thrown into the caste for Blacks. And treated accordingly.
- Diverse population- Europeans, people from various African countries, People from East Asia and of course the Maori and Pacifica communities are represented in this small country. Diversity is celebrated and indigenous customs and language are incorporated into every day practice in work and casual settings.
- A chance for me and our kids to be seen as an individual first, and not in the context of a society that is obsessed with race. I don’t want anyone to be color blind. What I also want is that my color is not automatically associated with a long list of lies and myths and negativity that precedes me and makes it hard for people to see me as I truly am.
- New Zealand is committed to protecting the country against climate change and helping with climate protections all over the world
- The country is filled with natural beauty that is accessible to all. The island girl in me needed a place where I could see the water easily and reconnect with nature. This has become a huge source of healing for me
I was not afraid to leave
I was not afraid to leave. I had a deep fear of the continued psychological damage that I was enduring by staying. I wanted more for me and my children. The conversations that we had to have with our multiracial children to help them be prepared for the world we had put them in became more frequent and more important as each new national conflict arose. It also became increasingly unbearable. I decided that we had one lifetime and that it was important to have peace, acceptance, security and joy now, not just in the afterlife.
I had been in contact with an OB/GYN friend who’d moved to NZ and then Australia many years prior. When we realized that through my profession, I could be granted a visa to enter NZ, we began to make the plans. From start to finish, we were in NZ a year after we committed to the move. This included the process of applying for jobs, getting visas, selling belongings, including our house, preparing ourselves and the children, and preparing our extended families for our departure.
My Life Now
On August 10th 2021, exactly twenty nine years after arriving to Arizona as new immigrants to the United States, I left Arizona in search of a better life for me and my family.
I found my job through STAT recruitment that Hippocratic Adventures had recommended.
Now, I work as a Senior Medical Officer in the public health system at the busiest hospital in the country. I work only 4 days a week, about 40hrs per week including 5-10hrs per week of Non Clinical Time. We take turns doing weekend days, weekend nights or week nights, but each of those are only every few months per person so I am usually off almost every weekend. My day off is Monday so I consistently get three-day weekends.
Each particular specialty has different additional compensations for after hours work etc, but regardless of specialty, all specialists are paid the same base salary, based on the number of years out of training, and our wage increases every year up to a cap.
With currency conversion, I am paid less in NZ than I would be paid in the US, but I am also working much less with bonus pay for everything over any 8am-5pm work, with much more vacation time, so in many ways, it’s pretty even. I have less bills here because so many of the things I paid for in the US are considered basic public services here.
My disability policy here pays out more than my policy in the US did and I pay a fraction of what I paid in the US. I have a yearly indemnity policy that is literally under $2000.00 NZD (reimbursed by employer) whereas medical malpractice is over $100,000 a year in most of the US.
I am a high earner by NZ standards. My tax rate is almost the same as it was in the US, but I see sooooo much better, where it goes in a tangible way in my life and the lives of my family. Children see doctors for free, including dental care and prescription medications.
Money is Not Part of the Conversation
My husband recently underwent a $10,000 surgical procedure completely for free, my daughter has had an ED visit (nothing major) where I never opened my wallet or received a bill and the repair of the tooth she damaged was paid for through a system of providing care for accidents that floors me every time I see it in action.
It took me a little while to do unit conversions in my head and remember a new list of meds on the formulary, and acclimate to some differences in surgical instruments, but I don’t feel like I have had to compromise very much. I wish some wait times for surgeries for our patients were shorter, but I love that everyone gets care, and that money is not a part of the conversation when giving medical recommendations in the way that it pervaded the entire conversation before.
Thriving in New Zealand
I enjoy my work environment and the people I work with. I feel professionally stimulated and invigorated, and, since I actually get to rest on a regular basis, I am able to love my demanding profession again. I don’t experience burnout, because I have more autonomy, and my time is respected.
Our kids are thriving. They love school and get to learn alongside children who are also well traveled and come from diverse backgrounds. The activities (weekly swim class on primary school campus during regular school hours, Mindfulness, STEAM and food science, camps to beautiful locations) that they get to do at school were not available to them back in our public school in Arizona, and they no longer have to do active shooter drills. Their lives are safer here, and I am able to allow them to participate in activities that I would not have allowed back in the States – things like going to the park on their own.
I’m starting to release my tight grip and allow them to explore their world. While I still pay close attention to every adult in their space, I don’t have as much of the burden of having to vet for deep seated racist ideations in the parents of prospective play dates. Plus, they have an ocean view from their classrooms. What more could any parent ask for for their child?
I have no regrets and no desire to move back to the US! I talk with my family via video chat and they are making plans to come visit. With every new breaking news story, they express increasing understanding of my move and peace of mind that I and my family are no longer there. This coming from people who sacrificed so much to make it in America for their children says a lot!
We left the United States with the resolve that if New Zealand didn’t work out, we would look to one of the other 193 countries before ever moving back there.
Some may say that it is crazy to move to a different country before ever visiting it first, but those who say that are almost 100% not people who have had to immigrate before. My family made the big move to America with much less resources than my husband and I had for our move to New Zealand.
We knew so much more about New Zealand than my parents knew about America. They were ill equipped to prepare us for the psychological trauma of moving into a country like the United States, and they were also not fully prepared themselves. My husband and I thought of what we wished our parents had been able to do for us and we did better for our children, and they are thriving because of it.
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t do anything differently. While typing this, I asked my husband, and he said that same thing.
Bandwidth, for my interests
It is about the lack of things as much as the addition. I have added beach time and forest walks and more time for sleep and self-reflection. I have been able to have the time and energy to resume swimming, and latin dancing and singing in a choir.
But it’s also the lack of microaggressions, existential dread, having to defend your humanity, yelling at board meetings etc etc etc that has brought peace and joy into my life. So many of the conversations that we had to have with the kids are simply unnecessary now.
We still work to help them see the world as it is and we do not hide hard truths from them, but I have reclaimed some of the innocence that was being stolen from them by being school children in America. I can focus more on working to improve providing women’s health here at my institution because my bandwidth is no longer overwhelmed by all of the other social justice issues I was busy fighting for.
An Immigrant Twice Over
This is my story. Everyone’s process is different.
As an immigrant twice over, I encourage everyone to remember that the world is vast, and the United States is not the center of the universe. Money means nothing without peace. I am thankful that I am able to find the sweet spot between financial success and personal fulfillment.
Recently, my medical license has been converted to one without restrictions, and I was just granted elevation to their college so now I am able to add FRANZCOG to my FACOG title. I am now able to do private practice work and locums work to make more money if I wanted to, and I can practice in New Zealand and Australia.
Also, my family now has New Zealand residency.
Feel free to follow my blog called Going Where We’re Valued. There, I reflect on all the big and little things that remind me of my “Why” for moving and validate our decision to move. I have documented and continue to document my journey from contemplation through preparation, completion of the journey and how my family is doing now.
For more on what made Dr. Dionne Mills-Sillik move in the first place, check out this post!
Now, we want to hear from you!
- Have you moved abroad? How has life changed for you?
- If you’re thinking about moving abroad, what kind of lifestyle are you looking for?
Let us know in the comments below!
👉 Want to start your adventure? Grab your free e-book here and crush the 3 steps to kickstart your adventure!
Dr. Dionne Mills-Sillik is a board-certified Obstetrician Gynecologist. She completed her training 10 years ago. She’s married to a wonderful stay at home dad and professional Chef, and they have three amazing kids- a 13yr old son, 10yr old daughter and 7year old son. You can also find her blogging at Going Where We’re Valued.