By the time you read this, I will have achieved new status. Not that of bestselling author, award-winning tutor, or mum of the year (though any of those would be nice), but that of New Zealand citizen.
I've contemplated this title for years. Permanent residents here have nearly the same rights as citizens, except citizens can hold elected office, travel to and work in Australia without a visa and get a Kiwi passport. I'm especially keen on the last item.
Our family has lived in Aotearoa, in the Bay of Plenty, about eight years. I'd been here fewer than eight weeks on a visitor visa when I started to wonder how I'd ever extricate myself. We had lucked into the right combination of good schools, good climate and later down the track, good friends.
Time has provided perspective. Any illusions my adopted country was perfect shook loose two nights after we landed in Christchurch in January, 2011. That's when aftershocks rocked the region. A 6.3 earthquake the following month killed 185 people. The country saw its worst maritime environmental disaster with the wreck of the MV Rena and oil spill off Tauranga's coast in October. On a bright note, the All Blacks later that month defeated France to win the Rugby World Cup. Christchurch suffered more earthquakes at the end of December.
I'll never forget the icy wake-up call of our first Kiwi winter. After a lifetime of living with snow and central heating, we spent a weekend in one home where the only source of warmth was a gas fire in the lounge. We stripped to T-shirts while watching telly with bright red faces and slept in 10C bedrooms with electric blankets that pretended to ward off July's chill. I put my children to bed wearing knit caps. Today, we're thankful we live in a home with heat pumps.
Locally, much has changed in eight years - a once-predictable commute from Papamoa to Tauranga has become a game of guess-the-arrival-time.
A home that would've cost around $350,000 in 2011 would now fetch more than $600,000.
At least we have explanations for high housing costs, even if we're still outraged by the phenomenon.
Terrorism defies explanation. The Christchurch mosque shootings which claimed 51 lives in March were proof evil knows no bounds. Neither do generosity, resiliency and kindness.
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When you choose to live outside your home country, you realise paradise also has its lunatics, its monsoons, liquefaction, extortionate housing prices, high food costs and a tendency to be far from almost everywhere else…
But we also have community spirit, willingness to accept the newcomer, a mild climate, delicious dishes, a love for sport and reverence for the outdoors' outrageous beauty. For the first time in my life, I can walk to the ocean in ten minutes. On still nights, the sea's roar rises within earshot of my bedroom. The music of waves brings my formerly-landlocked ears to a new level of delirium.
Citizenship by birth happens by chance. Citizenship by application is a choice. For me, the latter phenomenon perpetuates a mental loop of wonder and gratitude. A common thread I've noticed among fellow migrants is we proudly take ownership of our new country because we chose it and it chose us. I'm in good company, as 25 per cent of people living in Aotearoa were born outside its borders, according to the 2013 census. That number may track higher when results of the 2018 census are finally released.
Beyond practicalities of citizenship versus permanent residency, there are larger issues to consider: In New Zealand, it's compulsory to be on the electoral roll, but voting is optional. I vote because I care about what happens here - how my tax money's used and who might do the best job of governing locally, regionally and nationally.
Does being a citizen mean blind allegiance to the current government and society, or does it mean speaking out against perceived ineptitude and injustice? The odd Kiwi or two has tried to tell me I'm not entitled to an opinion because I wasn't born here. Does citizenship validate my voice?
We will always live among people - here, in America, in Europe and throughout the world - who believe birthright trumps all. Viewing the newcomer as inferior is an increasingly tenuous position as the world's population becomes more mobile.
You aren't officially a citizen until you swear an oath or affirmation at a ceremony. I expect the Tauranga event will feature a microcosm of the community, with new citizens from India, Brazil, South Africa, the UK and many other countries. Though we come from different cultures, we're linked by love of our new home and a deep appreciation of people and opportunities it has brought us. Spoiler alert: I rarely make it through the New Zealand national anthem without crying.
There's a misconception Americans must renounce their citizenship to take on a new one. This is untrue (I looked it up on the US State Department website to be sure). Yet it's impossible not to take a backward glance, to compare old country versus new.
The US has been the 300kg gorilla in world economics and politics; it includes vast stretches of open space, mid-sized cities with affordable housing and cheap food. On the minus side, its leader displays less maturity and command of English than a 300kg gorilla while alienating allies and befriending dictators; mass shootings this year that have so far outpaced the number of days in 2019; the rate of violent gun deaths eclipses rates in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq; and two-thirds of people filing bankruptcy blame medical issues - high costs of care and time off work - for insolvency. Is it any wonder Americans are religious? Those who live there must pray not to get sick - or shot.
New Zealanders have true freedom of religion - not based on social, economic or political pressure to worship a Christian God, but rather the ability to choose any spiritual tradition or no spiritual tradition at all.
I suspect we who become new citizens this month take none of those privileges, benefits and freedoms for granted. We work for these assets, as well - in paid employment, volunteering, helping friends and neighbours and bearing witness to real life with its thrills and triumphs as well as its sicknesses, sorrows and separations. We support and comfort our friends. They, in turn, support and comfort us. And feed us sausage rolls and chocolate slice.
Around the world, tens of millions of people living as refugees will never get the chance to formally adopt a new home. Instead, many will die in squalid camps, detention centres or get sent back to dangerous countries. Newly-minted citizens are a blessed bunch.
Nothing lasts forever - no one knows whether they'll need to return (temporarily) to the old country to care for an ill or ageing relative or attend to another pressing matter. We don't plan such things. That's why I believe in celebrating positive milestones. Sometimes, an opportunity to declare your love and belongingness to a place and its people is too special to pass up.
Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She's a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her family, who are all freshly-sworn New Zealand citizens.