The dear, lonely life of the global gypsy

This week, I've just returned from Sydney. I know, I seem to have more trips than Suzy Aitken, or even Alan Whicker at his prime.

This week, I’ve just returned from Sydney. I know, I seem to have more trips than Suzy Aitken, or even Alan Whicker at his prime. Buried among the Olympic hype, one newspaper reported that without post-war mass immigration, the “Lucky Country’s” population would be just 12.2 million, not the 19.2 million and growing that it is today. It came in a week when Britain eased its work permit laws, the US Senate backed plans to issue 600,000 green cards and our own immigration minister, Lianne Dalziel, raised the prospect of easing eligibility rules here to boost our immigrant numbers. The report added that with the worldwide IT skills shortage, countries are set to increasingly ease restrictions and people working overseas will be more commonplace. Globalisation affects not just raw materials and manufactures, but the labour force as well. Wellington or Auckland won’t anymore be the goal for Canterbury or Northland’s brightest, perhaps not even Sydney. It will be London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, California – the world will be their oyster. We might call them "citizens of the world economy" or perhaps even "corporate global gypsies". We have heard plenty about the drift to the cities, the seemingly ceaseless decline in agriculture and the related running down of our country towns. Some have even raised the spectre of a large-scale population loss for the entire country. One article I read over the New Year spoke of New Zealand simply becoming one huge “lifestyle block” and, by 2030 or so, having just over 2 million people as our youth vanish overseas. Of course, we hear how they go overseas for the better opportunities and higher wages, but does it always benefit the migrant? Are they really better off in the end? Those thinking of going overseas might want to look at some of the costs, financial as well as emotional. When I was back in the UK some weeks ago, I called to see some of my old school friends. They were pretty settled and while their lives might have seemed dull, they appeared content and prosperous, despite often earning even lower wages than I. I had done the university thing, built up some debt (and in an age of student grants!) and on graduation worked away from home, paying rent and supporting myself. They started work straight after school, did not initially have the fanciest jobs, so worked locally and lived with their parents, paying a fraction of the real cost of living. Consequently, as I struggled with rent and other costs, they salted away thousands in their bank accounts, which in time they used to buy their own houses, especially if joined by a wife/partner, who was also working. You might say I should buy a house; well, even if I could afford it, would it be worthwhile? Many say that with the associated legal and other costs, it is not worth buying a place unless you intend staying there for over two years. But given the flexible, specialist nature of my career, I have moved around a bit – a "journo gypsy", you might say. So, instead of paying my own mortgage, I am paying someone else’s. A home would also make the ideal pension fund, so when those Retirement Commission ads come on the telly, it can be a worry. For our corporate global gypsies, the argument runs along the same lines. If they are shifting from place to place; they, too, will never have a place of their own. They will be paying rent on some city apartment, lining someone else’s pockets. But, of course, if they work all hours and get the best paid of jobs, then they could save enough for their own place on their return. For those with their own place, going overseas still has its problems. There are risks in renting their property, along with selling-up. Everyone knows how expensive London is. But Sydney is no bargain hunters’ paradise either. The average home price there is around $A350,000, typically for a two-bedroom unit, while a house with garden is $A500,000 or more. No wonder Kiwis typically head for cheaper Queensland. One friend I saw last week says wages are a little more in dollar terms than he received here and you have to forget about the exchange rate. An Aussie dollar in Australia buys pretty much the same as a kiwi dollar in New Zealand. The differences in living standards are not so great, he says. And he and his family are now in a unit instead of their wooden bungalow with garden in Auckland. I don’t recall what rent he paid, but other friends are paying $A250 a week for their unit near Manly. Both the men liked the Aussie lifestyle, were loving their work, their sports, going to the pub and beach; but their women-folk were sick for home, be it London or New Zealand. Perhaps this is the blessing for me being single – I don’t have a woman wanting to take me back "home", so where I go will be my choice. But who wants to be alone/independen, forever and always shifting is not conducive to good, long-term relationships, marriage, or otherwise, as I know from my own experience. When pondering that shift overseas, look at the whole picture, the family/friends/emotional side as well as all the financial apsects.

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