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After living abroad for an extended period of time, coming home to New Zealand can be daunting. We spoke to World Class New Zealand award winner Dr Delwyn Moller about her time in the States, which included working at NASA, having twins and flying helicopters, and how she transitioned her lifestyle to settle down in Wanaka 26 years later.

Delwyn in Alexandra

Delwyn in Alexandra 
What made you move to the States?
I wanted to travel. Going in to do a PhD was a way to get a student visa and go live in another country for a few years, so it was as practical as that. My intention was to keep travelling afterwards and go into Europe, but then I met my husband and ended up getting married and stayed in the States. My advisor was pretty well connected, so I applied to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). I was at JPL for 11 years, and then moved on to a small contracting company, and continued to do my NASA work but with a bit more job flexibility.

What did you like about living in Massachusetts, and then California?
In Massachusetts, I was living in a small college town. It was a really good programme, which I credit for getting me into earth science. There was lots of field work, which was quite unique at that time. The whole programme itself was really cool and a fabulous opportunity.

The town I was living in had five colleges, so it really was a fun place to go to school. New England is so quaint, and the architecture is gorgeous so it was a nice place to live. But like anything else, you graduate so it was kinda time to move. I moved to LA because I got the job with JPL. At the time, I was skeptical because I’ve never been a city girl, but JPL itself is up in the foothills by the San Gabriel mountains where there is easy access to nature, so it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Did you still think of New Zealand as home?
Yes absolutely. And especially once you have children it kind of brings those ties in a lot closer.

What did you miss the most while you were away?
The first thing I missed was the Kiwi sense of humour. Coming back, I’m really enjoying reengaging with that because people get me. You often don’t appreciate things really until you leave, and so the green open spaces and the natural environment was another. New Zealand is still by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

What prompted you to move home and how did you manage the transition?
My children would probably be the big one. They were getting to an age where I wanted them to think of New Zealand as home also. It’s one thing to visit places and it’s another to be able to live there and be part of society. They were in middle school when we moved down, and that seemed about the latest age which we could move them without it being traumatic.

The deal was to go for a couple of years and try it out, knowing that we could always come back. Now, the two years is up and well before that, about six months in, we all knew we wanted to stay. The freedom that we can give them at the age that they are is really good for them, lifestyle wise. Kind of how most of us grew up, we don’t need to worry about them here.

The transition itself was very abrupt. One piece of advice we were given when we were about to go, as the kids were just about to start middle school, was make sure you’re there for the beginning of the school year. That really put us on an accelerated timeline. Packing up 26 years is a lot of work, but we ended up doing it in about a month. That was the right thing to do in terms of the kids and integrating them into school, but in terms of friends and family it was pretty tough.

Now that you’re back, have you noticed a big change in your lifestyle?
I drive a lot less which is nice. I’m working remotely in Wanaka so on a day to day basis my professional interactions are a lot less. It almost feels a bit isolated working remotely that way. That’s by choice, but it changes the pace of the day I think.

Because it’s a small town, accessibility to stuff is a lot less, so you have to plan. Things aren’t just there 24/7 like they are in LA and that’s a good and a bad thing. You just get used to things not being as readily accessible. I started cooking, which I never bothered to do in the States. In terms of home and family, it’s a much more healthy lifestyle.

As a family we’ve become a lot more engaged in being healthy and being mindful of our consumption. I drive an electric vehicle, we have a vegetable garden and chickens. Being closer to our natural environment and being able to live this way has been really good for the family, and has made me a lot more conscious of what we consume and how we consume it. People do have a social and environmental conscience in the community we’re in, which contrasts to living in a large urban area in the States.

Do you believe there are increasing opportunities in New Zealand to produce a career such as yours?
I hope so. I hope to be part of the efforts that are going in that direction. Honestly, that was one of the things that encouraged me to look at coming down here, that being RocketLab. It was the realisation that these things are going on and knowing there was the potential to expand on these which peaked my interest in coming back home.

What’s one piece of advice you wish you had been given prior to your move back home?
I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. It’s a different question if it’s just yourself. Being a parent, you’re always making sure your kids needs come first, and then your needs come second to that. Things have changed in New Zealand, and even though I’d visited, it’s different to living somewhere. Preparing for that change of pace is one thing I’ve had to do, and the thing I’ve found the hardest. I’m a pretty high-paced person and now I’m living in a pretty sleepy town, there have been times on the weekend when I’ve found there is just no hustle and bustle around me. I don’t know if I could have prepared for that, even if I had been given the advice.

Are you a Kiwi building a business overseas? Kea can help. We can provide personalised introductions to industry leaders for insights and advice. For more information, check out our Kea Connect service.
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Part 12