I only met Courtney Linnecar a week ago but I already feel like we are friends.
After being introduced by a mutual connection we arranged to meet for coffee at Elizabeth Cafe.
She smiled as she rose to meet me extending her hand and introducing me to her gorgeous blue-eyed baby boy, Noah.
Amidst the chattering din of lunch service we settled in for a chat about her experience of moving home to New Zealand five months ago after living in London and Madrid for eight years.
Courtney is in her early 30’s, has beach-loved blonde hair and a petite frame which belies her strong convictions, dynamic energy and big ideas.
She exudes a contagious happiness and has an ‘eyes lit up’ view of the world, and especially of the new life she and her husband are creating for themselves here in Tauranga.
“We are blown away with the life here,” says Courtney. “Especially for people like us who love being in the outdoors and enjoy a real sense of community. There are also plenty of people around with a fantastic can-do attitude.”
She lives by the beliefs that we should collect experiences not things, and that that volunteering and giving create a more meangingful life.
She loves this little city of ours and believes that if you don’t find what you want in Tauranga, you should think outside the square and create it yourself.
All of these strands are being woven into an app Courtney is developing, called HappyLocal – a community engagement app which seeks to get more people happily connected in their local community.
Tauranga is lucky to be the first city which the app will serve when it’s released later this year, but you can bet your favourite pair of sunnies it will go global before long!
But enough from me. Let’s hear from Courtney herself. ~ Kathryn Overall
Courtney, when did you first venture overseas to live?
I’ve been ‘overseas’ to live twice. Once when I was 16, when I skipped 6th form to do a language exchange for a year in Berlin. The other in 2005, when I went to live in Madrid and London for a total of 8 years.
How would you summarise those eight years in a nut-shell?
Living overseas was meant to be about endless travel, fun experiences and learning languages.
But it wasn’t always that way with the financial crisis hitting and the challenges associated with the old highly skilled visa rules.
The best thing to come out of my time away was meeting my British husband Matthew and finding out my true passions in life, which are Volunteering and Social Enterprise.
When did you first start thinking about moving home?
A while ago! I have always wanted to own my own Ecotourism operation and planned to come home a few years back to do just that. Then love changed the timeframes on that one!
I ended up staying in London five years longer, as Matthew was just starting his own Social Enterprise, Gnewt Cargo, which is now the largest electric vehicle based logistics company in the world.
What was the catalyst for your move home?
Missing family and friends, the need to start my own ventures in my home country and the desire to raise children somewhere more relaxed and spacious than in London. Noah was born soon after we arrived home. It was important for us to take advantage of the midwife lead care here and also heard about the fantastic Bethlehem Birthing Centre.
Experiencing parenthood here has been wonderful as being near the water has meant loads of relaxing preparation.
I am part of a Space parents group and attend classes like Mainly Music – all of which has made it really easy to meet new parents and share experiences.
Why did you decide to settle in Tauranga?
My father had recently built in Omokoroa and we thought it was a great central location for many outdoor activities we are interested in. We were also keen to explore the emerging Tech Start-up scene here.
We had actually never been here before moving here! Before we arrived we had a perception of Tauranga being a warm and growing city.
This has proved to be true, but Tauranga has ended up being so much more. We are blown away by the life here.
What has it been like to be a Kiwi in New Zealand again?
It’s been great having a community again where it is easy to get in front of people you need to for business or to make new friends based on your interests.
And I love getting in the clean surf regularly again!
I think New Zealand is paradise in so many ways; we are so blessed to have this as our home. However, I feel we should be protecting it more (i.e. the environment) and I am a little concerned about some apathetic attitudes towards world issues and volunteering in our lives.
What has been challenging about the transition?
There are quite a few people who have lived abroad and understand that going from a place with an excess of entertainment, culture and diversity to something quite different can be challenging.
But these experiences have simply made us strive to create those opportunities here for others to experience who may not have been able to get away.
Instead of dwelling on what is not here, we are a network seeking to create and innovate from what we have learnt, seen and enjoyed elsewhere. It has been great to get to know others through these challenges.
What advice would you give to returning Kiwi expats?
Create your own story. Thanks to internet a lot of standard ways of doing things are on the way out. Think outside the box. Discover where your true passions lie and innovate something around that. Thread what you love in with what you do.
My husband runs his London-based business, Gnewt Cargo, from our Tauranga home.
I have just started a community engagement app company called Happylocal, which seeks to get more people participating in local experiences under the categories of work, play, give.
Use the internet to teach yourself whatever skills you need to l earn, utilise tech, volunteer to add variety, make community connections and gain real-life experience.