I’ve lost count of how many people that have told me that New Zealand is one of the best places they’ve ever visited. Many have told me that it’s very similar to Wales and has the most amazing scenery. It’s certainly on my bucket list, but I want to learn more about it, so I organised an interview with an old school friend, Siwan Shaw who has made New Zeeland her home.
First of all Siwan, how on earth did you end up in New Zealand?!
Good question! I’m originally from the Machynlleth area in Mid Wales. I was raised on the family farm and I’ve always loved agriculture, so after leaving school I went on to study agriculture in Aberystwyth. After graduating, I was given the opportunity to spend 3 months on a farm in New Zealand, I had heard amazing things about the industry in NZ so I jumped at the chance. During my visit I met Greg, who is now my husband! Two years later I decided to return and make it my home and I’ve never looked back.
People tell me that New Zealand is similar to Wales. Is this true?
I agree that there are many similarities. Farming, rugby and the strong cultural influences are the most obvious similarities, but there are a few differences too. New Zealand is vast and the farms out here are much bigger, as are the distances between towns. The population in comparison to the size of New Zealand is much smaller than Wales, so it makes it feel like life is much slower and more carefree here in New Zealand.
What’s your day job?
I work as a Farm Manager for a business that runs and farms 22,000 hectares. I’m responsible for overseeing the business and 10 farms, ensuring that financial and corporate targets are met. I’ve been with the company for 6 years now and have worked my way up to this position. Before joining this company, I worked for 8 years with a company who was selling fertilizer.
Was it easy to find a job when you landed in New Zealand?
To be honest, it was relatively easy to find work in the agricultural industry as there are so many opportunities. It’s also easy to transfer your skills to meet the needs of the industry here in New Zealand. I’ve been really lucky in my career and I love my job.
You’ve previously mentioned Greg, tell us a bit about him and what he does?
My husband Greg is a Kiwi and he also works in the agricultural sector, as a farm manager. We live on the farm which is about half an hour away from the nearest town. He’s lucky that myself and the kids love farm life and being in the outdoors, and we’re also happy to travel in and out of the town every day for work and school.
How many children do you have?
We have three children. Jock is 11, Wil is 9 and Ffion is 6.
Do they speak Welsh?
When they were younger I used to speak Welsh to them at home. Jock knew more Welsh than English in the beginning and I remember having to explain to his nursery that ‘dwisho dŵr’ meant I want water! As they started nursery and school, English played more of a role and I found it hard to continue using the Welsh, especially as they speak English to each other. Every time we visit Wales they have the opportunity to practice and learn new words and they really enjoy it.
Is the education system similar to Wales?
They are very supportive of bilingualism and have many cultural opportunities. One major difference is the fact that they have ‘Farm Day’ on an annual basis, where the children can bring their lambs or a calf to school. They lead them around in a circle and they are judged on their leadership skills and how the animal is presented and their knowledge of the animal itself. They also have a competition where the sheep are all let loose and all the children have to call their animal! The aim is for the animal to return to the child, as you can imagine this day is both fun and it can also be complete chaos!
Your children are being raised on a farm as you did, is it a similar upbringing?
It’s not completely different. Like them, I was always in the outdoors and always out on the farm and like me, they also have so many cultural experiences as their school has a strong Maori influence, they have the “Kapa Haka” which reminds me of performing at the Eisteddfod.
The major difference is the fact that they have the opportunity to travel internationally, which I never did! I return home to Wales to see my family every year or two, and they come with me. Jock has just experienced his 6th trip to Wales! They are so lucky to have this experience at such a young age and they know exactly what to expect at the airport and know how to behave on the plane!
Do you miss Wales?
I have returned to Wales every 18 months – 2 years since I’ve been here and my parents or my brother and sister and their families visit us as often as they can. I speak to Mum every week and Facetime and Skype has made it so much easier to keep in contact. It’s brilliant that my kids can see our family in Wales on their computer screen or on the phone. Having said that there are times when I do miss home, especially when special events take place or recently when my gran passed away and I couldn’t be with my family during this tough time.
Are there any opportunities to socialise with other people from Wales in New Zealand?
It’s actually astonishing how often I come across Welsh people here in New Zealand, or people with a Welsh connection. In a rural community like ours, shearers from Wales visit on an annual basis, Greg’s aunt is also married to a Welshman from South Wales so having that Welsh connection in the family was really nice for me. I also keep in touch with a few Welsh people I’ve met since I came over, it’s always lovely to have the opportunity to speak Welsh.
What’s your favourite place in New Zealand and why?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel around this stunning country, when my family visit it’s a perfect excuse to explore it further. As a family, we take the kids camping to a different area every year and we love it!
Lake Taupo is one of my favourite places, we spend a lot of time there as it’s only two hours away, which is close by New Zeeland standards! We’ve recently bought a Summer House there and it’s the perfect place to go to escape from the farm and from work. We all love cycling, fishing, kayaking and swimming in the lake, it’s just perfect!
Wales International would like to thank Siwan for sharing her story and giving us an insight into family life in the great outdoors in New Zealand. It’s certainly gone up a notch on my bucket list and I hope I get the opportunity to swim in Lake Taupo in the near future!
By Heulwen Davies, Wales International.