To New Zealand, and a quieter life

When terrorists flew two airplanes right into the place where she'd been working as a business consultant for months, Sandra "Sam" Gershenfeld made plans to head straight for the safest place she could think of: New Zealand.

"I'd been traveling to New York every week [from my home in San Diego] on an airplane for business," says Ms. Gershenfeld, who was not in Manhattan last Sept. 11. "I just couldn't do it anymore. I'd had nine years of constant travel."

Devastated by the loss of colleagues, as well as staff members at the Marriott Hotel, where she stayed regularly, she told her husband she wanted to move to New Zealand.

The couple – he runs a performing arts center in southern California – had vacationed there several times in their travels around the world, which included visits to 70 countries.

They knew they wanted to live there at some point. For Gershenfeld, that moment arrived on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The US had just become so unsafe and scary," she says.

The couple flew to New Zealand as soon as her husband could take time off, last October, and bought a house north of Auckland within four days – before they even knew whether they would successfully navigate New Zealand's incredibly daunting thicket of requirements for gaining permanent residency status.

"Our applications filled a three-ring notebook," says Gershenfeld.

In addition to taking an exhaustive physical exam and submitting to a police check, she and her husband had to provide a paper trail of documents – everything from income and job history verification to school records, including proof that they had been schooled in the English language.

"They're tough," she says. "They're very, very strict about who they let in here. But in a way, that's kind of nice."

Gershenfeld and her husband were both given permanent residency status earlier this year, although he will continue to live and work in the United States for a few more years, saving some of his salary as Gershenfeld sets up home and a new life in New Zealand, with its lower cost of living.

Although she has yet to start working again – preferring instead to take her time adjusting to a new culture – Gershenfeld says the move to New Zealand poses no challenges for her in her work.

"I've telecommuted for so long," she says, "it doesn't matter where I work."

In the meantime, she is savoring her new lifestyle in a country where residents don't lock their back doors. (Her real estate broker, she notes, has lived in the same house for 18 years and doesn't know where his keys are.)

Neighbors – and New Zealanders in general – have been welcoming and kind.

With the exception of missing Target and Taco Bell, Gershenfeld says she is so happy in New Zealand that she will never move back to the United States.

"I'm so incredibly grateful to be here," she says. "If I had to describe this experience in one sentence, it's this: I found peace."

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