Expat Tales: “It’s easier to have the finer things in life” in the US

Expat Tales is a Things Travel a series featuring Kiwis who have made new lives for themselves overseas. If you want to take part, email us at [email protected]

What inspired your move and how long have you been there?

My wife, Michelle – aka “Shelly” – is from the States. We met when I was doing my OE in Europe in 1997. We remained friends until the early 2000s when things got more serious. After doing long distance work for a while, she moved to New Zealand and we got married in 2005. I sold my hospitality business and we moved to the US as my wife was homesick.

Did it take a long time to settle in?

It took longer than I thought. I jumped headfirst into a new business that I started with two new business partners, so it took me a long time. It also got me exposed so it fast tracked me into adapting. I found it a real culture shock for about three to four years, but the people here are really friendly and in most cases very welcoming and accepting. Although the “Are you from Australia?” question gets old after a while.

What are you doing there?

When I came here in 2005, I helped start a hair transplant and restoration company, We Grow Hair Indy, with my wife’s cousin and another business partner.

What are the biggest advantages of living there?

Standard of living and access to services. Things are much cheaper and everything is at your fingertips. Housing, food and gas are much more affordable. From a business perspective, there are many more opportunities due to economies of scale. We live in a really business-friendly country, so that helps us move forward.

Darren and Michelle regularly vacation in places like Florida, North Carolina, and Chicago.


Darren and Michelle regularly vacation in places like Florida, North Carolina, and Chicago.

Any downsides?

1. Being so far away from family. I was lucky that my parents, pre-Covid, were able to visit me almost every year, but it’s a long way from New Zealand, so getting back there is a challenge. 2. Winters – they can be really brutal. 3. I love my Kiwi sports so I try to watch as much rugby and cricket as I can but it’s not the same as being in New Zealand.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand?

Much cheaper, although things have become more expensive post-Covid. It’s much easier to have some of the finer things in life here compared to New Zealand. Vehicles, travel, groceries – most things are cheaper. Except for the red meat which seems at least on par with New Zealand – maybe more expensive.

How do you spend your free time?

Traditionally, I would work a lot so I wouldn’t have a lot of free time, but in the last year I’ve cut it back a bit. I love working in the garden and on my lawns. We have two sons, so they keep us busy following their sports and events.

We’ll take a few vacations each year and go to places like Florida beaches or North Carolina where my wife’s family lives. Chicago is only three hours away, so we go there periodically.

Darren misses the more relaxed lifestyle in New Zealand, saying there is more pressure to get ahead in the US.


Darren misses the more relaxed lifestyle in New Zealand, saying there is more pressure to get ahead in the US.

What is the local delicacy and would you recommend it?

Corn is huge here, being the Midwest. Fresh Indiana corn is hard to beat. Sugar cream pie is the national dish. There is a rare type of mushroom called smurcula that you can only get for a short time each year. Fried in a little butter, they’re amazing and people go crazy for them here (think Bluff oysters).

The easiest way to get around?

Driving locally. Petrol is still cheap compared to New Zealand at US$3.50 (NZ$8) per gallon (3.8 litres). Americans love to drive and it’s super efficient. An eight hour drive on the freeway is nothing here. It’s a far cry from growing up and driving three hours from the coast to Christchurch via Arthur Pass – it felt like 10 hours! For longer distances, flying is efficient and it’s easy to go to places like Europe.

Best thing to do after a night out?

Attending any sporting events. No one cares about sports fans like Americans do. I picked up college basketball and I love those games. As for the NBA, we have the Pacers, while in the NFL, we have the Colts. There are often concerts as well since Indianapolis is a bigger city.

Best time of year to visit?

Definitely from spring to fall. Stay away from winters, which can be brutal with consecutive months of freezing weather and snow that can stay on the ground for weeks or months.

What are the top three things you recommend visitors look at?

Every sporting event here is an experience, but the Indy 500 is certainly a bucket list event. Try to visit during the 4th of July because the patriotism and celebration is something to witness.

We have great museums here, including an art museum in a 162-acre city park with art exhibits throughout. The children’s museum is one of the best in the country, there is also a living history museum. White River State Park and the downtown Indianapolis canal make the city worth a visit.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

I miss the sport and the food (whitebait, good coffee, pies…) and the more relaxed lifestyle. Americans work very hard and here there is more pressure to get ahead. I didn’t feel that in New Zealand to the same extent.

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