Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

What two families really thought of life in the sun

Many fantasise about a new life abroad but would the reality live up to the dream? Kerry McKittrick and Una Brankin talk to two families who upped sticks for a BBC show starting today

The Schnell family, Cushendall
The Schnell family, Auckland
The Savage family, Perth

With the weather playing havoc at the moment, and the economy still largely stuck in doldrums, how many of us have turned our thoughts to what life might be like elsewhere?

The lure of a better life and a better climate is one that has been drawing emigrants from these shores for many years now, but with air travel now a realistic option and the chance of a steady job, upping sticks to the other side of the world has probably never seemed so appealing.

For some, though, the upheaval of moving to such far-flung locations as Australia or New Zealand can bring about mixed emotions, involving as it does leaving family and friends behind, as well as all the stress of a big move.

It's these experiences which form the basis for the latest series of the BBC's Wanted Down Under programme, starting today, which gives UK families the opportunity to see just what life would be like before they take the final plunge and move.

Instead of packing up for a holiday each family were brought to their choice of New Zealand or Australia and given a taste of what life would really be like in the new world.

We spoke to two Northern Ireland families who took part in the show to see just what they thought of their experience.

The Savage family

Belfast-born nurse Helen Savage (38) lives in Toomebridge with her children Nicola (18), Tiernan (14), and Erin (8). Tragically, her husband Paul, a retail manager, took his own life four years ago, at the age of 37. Helen works in at a local GP surgery and in a nursing home in Kells. She says:

Paul had talked about moving abroad. I'd watched the Wanted Down Under show regularly and a while after Paul died I decided to apply online. I had no response for ages and thought we hadn't got through. When they first contacted me I didn't tell the children too much in case it didn't work out. Then when they rang to confirm it last year I was shocked and delighted at the same time.

It was the chance of a lifetime and I never thought it would happen to us. The kids were excited but they had mixed emotions, like me. They Googled various places in Australia – the programme-makers wouldn't tell us where we were going so we wouldn't have a head-start. It was all a big secret.

Just before we got on the plane we were eventually told we were going to Perth. There was only us on board, ordinary class, but it was grand. It was a bit scary flying over places like Dubai. We were filmed going through arrivals and to the hire car – and everyone was looking!

We were brought to a nice town-house for a week but then we rented an apartment on the other side of Perth and went sightseeing and to the beach every day. When we were having barbeques we'd be saying 'This would be right up daddy's street'.

Other than that I never really thought about Paul not being there. You just get on with it. I only felt homesick when we saw videos from the family at home.

They filmed it from all different angles and I got a bit emotional watching it.

The kids settled in well. Their appetites were better and they didn't fight – they got on far better. I don't know if it was a healing experience or not, but it was a big change for us. It was so nice to see a part of the world that Paul had wanted to visit.

I took my CV to a nursing home over there and because of my experience they were very keen to employ me. There aren't as many nurses to go round there.

Nurses here do far more than they do there in a day.

They only do eight hour days – I do 13-hour days at home.

I thought I'd be bored, as working here you're so busy or stressed that the time flies, but it was great.

The money was triple what you get here: $75,000 a year. They value nursing and care staff in Australia – I wish they would realise the value of what we do here.

The weather was lovely – all that sunshine puts you in good form.

It's a healthier lifestyle but the food is expensive. The good thing is that the fuel's really cheap, and we were out driving all the time.

We were there for three weeks. I'd love to go back on a holiday, but I don't know if it would be to live. I'd be afraid of it not working out, and having nothing.

But doing the programme was the opportunity of a lifetime, to go and see what it would be like, all expenses paid."

The Schnell family

Katrina Schnell (41) is a sales manager who is married to Andrew, a business manager. They live in Cushendall with their children, Hannah (12) and Josh (9). She says:

I met Andrew in 1995 when I was backpacking in Australia and he followed me home. He's originally from New Zealand and we were married in 1997.

We settled in Northern Ireland because of circumstances more than anything else. Andrew obviously liked it over here.

We actually moved to Australia for a year when we were just married but it was Andrew who wanted to come back to Northern Ireland.

The people and community created a massive pull for him – Australia isn't his home any more than it was mine.

Truthfully it was always the elephant in the room about whether or not we would move to New Zealand at some point. It was there in the background but there was no push factor for us to move.

The life we have here is brilliant and we love it. We always talked about it but we put it to bed quite quickly as it always resulted in one or other of us getting upset.

Then the kids came along and I as have a close-knit family which gave us a strong support network, we decided to stay where we were.

One night with a laptop and a bottle of red wine we started Googling life down under. That opened up a can of worms.

It made us confront the option of moving out there and the more we explored it the more we realised it was a viable option. That's how we ended up taking part in the programme.

Throughout most of the process of making the programme I was terribly against the idea – my own feelings were secondary because of the impact that it would have on my family – my mum, my sisters and, more importantly, Hannah and Josh.

Hannah was adamant at the beginning that we weren't going anywhere. In fact, telling her we were thinking about moving was a terrible experience as she got hysterical. She has a pony here and is very close to my parents.

She thought we were ruining her life.

Then the dust settled and people began to get a bit more rational. Hannah approached me and told me that she would go with whatever we decided – if we decided it was the best for the family. That was the turning point for me. When they started filming us in Cushendall I was very anti-moving. By the time we went out to New Zealand I had softened to the idea.

We've been to New Zealand before as a family to visit Andrew's family but this visit was different.

It was a fairly intense process that began the moment we got off the plane and were met by the camera crew and all of Andrew's family. Next, we were brought to rented accommodation that was quite close to the kind of house that Andrew and I had said we wanted to live in – they did a lot of research into the kind of lifestyle we wanted to live out there and tried to match it.

It was a four-day process. One day they spent with me, when I went to a recruitment agency in Auckland to discuss my job prospects and prospective salary.

The next day Andrew went to visit a wine company – that's what he does here for a career.

We discovered that our financial prospects at least were much better in New Zealand – between us we could bring in £1,700 more a month.

Then we spent time doing recreational pursuits with the kids. We went horse-riding with Hannah, and Andrew and Josh went to a driving range.

We're very glad we took part in the programme because we fully investigated our options and ultimately we did make our decision on camera.

Since we have come home both Andrew's career and mine have changed – Andrew got a massive promotion and any job available to him in New Zealand would leave him two or three steps down the job ladder.

It might be something we revisit in a couple of years time, but we're quite happy with our final decision.

The big turn-on

Starting today, Wanted Down Under can be seen on BBC One on weekdays, at 9.15am. With 20 new episodes and 10 update programmes, it's a massive new production for BBC Northern Ireland involving 113 contributors and 1.5m miles of travel.

Belfast-based teams are also producing Real Lives Reunited, a 10-part series that puts disaster survivors back in touch with the heroes who saved them. It starts on the same day and on the same channel at 11.45am.

This represents a total of 27.5 hours of locally produced daytime content for BBC network television.

Also in the New Year, the thriller The Fall begins filming its second series for BBC Two.

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