Sara Windle of Colorado | My First Year in Tauranga
It was love that brought Sara Windle to Tauranga.
Having spent 20 years living next to the snowy mountains of Colorado, leaving the United States was not on her radar. That was until she reconnected with Andy Windle, a Kiwi man she had dated in the early 2000s. Their relationship was re-kindled and Sara and Andy were married in Colorado in May 2018.
While they initially planned to split their time between the United States and New Zealand, events conspired to lead them to start their new life together in Andy’s hometown of Tauranga. In May 2018, Sara began a one-year fixed-term contract at Ballance Agri-Nutrients as People & Capability Analyst. After a whirlwind of a year, Sara is taking time to reflect on the big changes in her life.
Sara, can you tell us your career story?
I have been a business analyst for most of my career, using data to tell compelling stories in a number of different companies – mostly in the craft beer industry. I recently finished law school in the States and planned on pursuing a career in business law but those plans have been put on hold since moving to New Zealand. My ultimate goal is to work at a company where I can use my critical thinking/legal analysis skills in either a commercial or strategy position – ideally in a company that also does business in the US.
How did New Zealand end up on your radar?
I first dated my now husband, Andy, about 16 or 17 years ago when he was living in the States. For a number of reasons we split up and he came back to New Zealand and I carried on with my life in the US. Several years later we caught up over email and eventually met up for coffee while he was visiting the US. It was as if no time had passed. He was the same amazing person I knew way back in the early days. I was smitten (as was he!). It took a while for the timing to be right but it was well worth the wait.
We were working on getting his green card in the US but the paperwork and wait times were horrendous. I visited Tauranga to see if it was a place I could live and applied for a work visa thinking it would also take ages. In fact, it was approved quickly, and soon after, Andy found his dream job in Tauranga. It seemed the universe was pushing us to the Southern Hemisphere!
What was your impression of Tauranga?
Andy has lived here for 15 years and has always said the Bay of Plenty is the best place to be for outdoor activities. We are close to world-class whitewater kayaking, sailing, mountain biking, surfing…all the sports we love, as well as an airport so it’s very easy to travel.
I knew I would be happy here from a relationship and hobby standpoint. Personally, I also felt like I was ready for a new life challenge and moving to a new country, and effectively starting overfit the bill.
Can you describe your experience of looking for work?
I initially thought it would be easy to find very similar work back home, given that Tauranga has about the same population size as the city I left. The reality was a little more challenging than that. I have a longer-term goal of finding a role that integrates my legal experience, but initially, my priority was to find a role I could excel at with my business analyst skills. That way I could focus on learning what the business environment is like here in Tauranga. It’s important to learn the cultural norms of a new place and that takes time.
I found my current role at Ballance Agri-Nutrients through Paula Baker at Right Click. I feel like she really took me under her wing and gave me some great advice navigating the job search.
What does your role as People & Capability Analyst at Ballance Agri-Nutrients involve?
I am responsible for the standard monthly reporting for the People & Capability and Safety, Health, Environment, and Quality teams – and I have pushed to enhance and automate these processes. I have also worked closely with the Quality Manager to develop, maintain and improve the reporting of quality issues to the wider business. I provided analytic support for the remuneration and bonus process and have worked on other miscellaneous projects such as revising the General Terms of Employment, supporting the employee engagement process and reporting the results.
How would you describe what Ballance Agri-Nutrients does?
Ballance Agri-Nutrients is a farmer-owned cooperative that helps its customers to farm more productively, profitably, and sustainably. Their core business is the manufacturing, supply, and sales of fertilizer. They also offer a full range of science-backed nutrient products and services to help farmers optimize soil and animal nutrition and productivity with a minimal environmental footprint.
What’s your take on the business sector in Tauranga?
I have been pleasantly surprised at the work-life balance that people enjoy. It seems that Tauranga is a place where people are efficient and hardworking when they are at work, but they also value life outside of work as well. I get a sense that there are a lot of highly qualified people here so the job market is competitive, but that if you are talented and willing to wait for the right opportunity, things will eventually work out and you’ll find something that suits your skillset and career goals
What has it been like for you settling into Tauranga?
It has been a bit of a whirlwind and I’m surprised I have been here almost a year already! I have certainly had my ups and downs but I’ve realized that the parts of life that bring me the most joy – being in the same country as my husband and spending time together pursuing our hobbies – are where I ‘ground’ myself. They help me to cope with the challenges of building a career and social network in a new country.
Making new friends didn’t happen as naturally as I expected. I realized that I was likely to make friends with people who enjoy the same activities as me, so I joined the local F45 gym and have become a regular. I still remember the first day I walked in and someone said, “Hi Sara!” and waved me over. They made me feel so welcome I could have cried!
I also recently started training with the Masters Surf Lifesaving club at the Mount and they have welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to join the Masters swim club at Omanu. This is something I did back in the States and I just needed a nudge from someone to join a squad here. So the last two months have been a big turnaround for me in terms of feeling connected and settled into my new home.
What do you love about working in Tauranga?
I love that Tauranga is such a bike-friendly city for commuters. I started out with a goal of riding my bike to work every day and there have only been two instances where I got a ride home due to torrential rain. The conditions here are much more manageable than the icy, snowy roads that were common in US winters. As far as the work environment itself, I am pleased that this is not a workaholic type of city and that having a life outside of work is not a detriment to success.
What do you love about living in Tauranga?
I’ve never lived near a beach before and I will never get tired of looking out over the water. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation. Although I love to travel, there are so many things to do in the Bay of Plenty I haven’t visited as much of New Zealand as I thought I would. We keep talking about taking our campervan out on a big trip but it’s really easy to have fun in our own backyard.
What do you do to have fun/relax here?
My husband and I love to mountain bike, and whitewater kayak – which is fun and also terrifying for me at times! I’m learning to surf on my SUP board. We also have a little sailboat and I love to read while Andy tries to catch fish. Of course, I love spending time hiking up the Mount and grabbing a coffee with friends too.
What has surprised you about Tauranga?
There are so many immigrants and other new people to Tauranga, I was not expecting that. And feijoas, I’d never had them before and now I love them!