Rochelle - Registered Nurse / Tapuhi Whai Rēhitatanga

I grew up during a time when people were quite conservative. Mum wasn’t married when she had me, what an outrage! The domestic purposes benefit had just been introduced so we lived off that. Fortunately for me, I got to stay in mum’s care. It was just me and her for my first four years. Then she married a police officer and had two more kids. My step dad’s job took me, mum, and my two brothers everywhere. We lived in all sorts of places, all over New Zealand. Little towns, big towns, the North Island and the South Island. I only remember the fun stuff, like being at the beach or the cool houses we lived in.

I have the most vivid memories of Greymouth and Cobden. They were beautiful. We were either playing in the bush or swimming in the river. Our family wasn’t rich or anything, but we never had to go far to find fun. My grandparents loved taking us fishing. I also got taught how to knit, crochet, sew, cook, all that traditional stuff. We learnt all the skills that our parents and our grandparents thought were important.

I went to ten different schools before the age of 13. Going to new schools was both nerve racking and exciting. At some schools, I looked really different from everyone else. I was dark, skinny and had a big afro, which made it hard to fit in. I was really good at sport though. If you were good at sport, you had an ‘in’. I had no choice but to quickly learn how to make new friends. I stayed at Burnside High School for the whole five years. It was a big school, but there was only six of us brownies. After all the moving around, I wasn’t used to the idea of maintaining long term friendships. Mum was divorced by that stage and we were surviving on the benefit and living in a state house. We didn’t have a lot. Mum worked hard for me and my two brothers. She had a veggie garden and a big lawn, which she maintained herself. She made every curtain in the house, all that sort of stuff. I remember her embroidering and sewing bean bag covers for extra money. She was staunch. We never went hungry, she made sure of it.


We had a diverse upbringing. I had cousins who were Samoan, Fijian, and Pakeha. No one believed me when I said my brothers were white with ginger hair. One side of the family belonged to the Bahá'í faith. It made us really open minded because through them we got to meet all sorts of people. One woman in particular stood out. She was just passing through Christchurch and we happened to be at the same Bahá'í event. We got on well for having just met each other. Her and I got chatting about what it was like not having heaps of money. She told me,

“If you want opportunities in life, you have to find them. I’m not saying it’s easy, but there are things out there. Have you thought about doing an student exchange program?”

“I don’t think we could afford it.” I replied

“There are scholarships available, it’s just a matter of applying.”

I was a bit young at the time, but I kept it at the back of my mind. A few years later, I started researching different countries that were on offer and how to apply for scholarships. I loved the idea of going overseas and exploring different countries. There was a huge process to be selected. It wasn’t just an interview, we had to do team building exercises and all sorts of other activities. One night, all the applicants had to get together. I guess they wanted to see how well we got on with strangers. After all those years of moving around, I had no trouble. I knew how to interact and get on with new people. I was in my element.

I got a letter in the mailbox one day which said I’d been accepted for a scholarship. We waited until they found me a home-stay family and I was off to Hong Kong for a year. I was so used to moving around by this stage, it was almost like I was living a gypsy lifestyle. Going overseas really sealed the deal. I felt like I could go anywhere and do anything. Over there I met a lot of amazing people who reinforced that idea in me. I figured out I could change my mind, too, and try new things. As a 16 year old, that really blew me away. The other great part about being overseas was that people didn’t look at me and see a brown girl with an afro. They saw me as a New Zealander. I felt free.

For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew what I enjoyed. That’s the most important thing, in my opinion. If you like to read, then read. If you like to sing, then sing! That’s where all your inspiration for other things will come from. If you know what you like and you make space in your life for those things, you will be happy.

Mum taught us to work hard and to get a job that pays the bills. She didn’t think much further than that, so the idea of a long term career path didn’t make sense to me. At high school, I was always thinking I’ve got to get a ‘real’ job. I’ve got to be a lawyer or something like that. In reality, I had no idea what that meant or what was involved. My family were never very academic. It never crossed my mind to go and do more study.

Anyway, after finishing year 13 at Burnside, my uncle invited me up to Auckland. I worked at an ice cream factory. You know, as you do at 17 years old! In Auckland I made my first, close friends. I’ll admit, it was sort of arranged for me. My uncle called this girl, Lia, up on the phone. “Would you please be my niece’s friend?” She was probably too scared of him to say no! Lia already had a best friend, Roya. Thankfully all got on well and became best mates in no time.

A few years later, Roya got engaged. Her wedding was to be in England, so Lia and I jumped in a plane and took off. I had 13 pounds in my pocket when we got into the airport, that was it. We quickly ran out of money and didn’t even make it to their wedding! I can’t remember where we stayed, or how we got by for the next month or so. Eventually, we rocked up at the newly wed’s house. We couldn’t afford a ticket back home, so they let us move in because. Can you imagine that, two of your best friends coming to live with you just after your wedding? We stayed for months. Lia and I had a great time, although I’m not sure what Roya and her husband thought of it all!

I met my own man in England. He ran a business in Argentina, so I moved over there with him. At 23 I had Te Aroha, my daughter. For the first five years, I looked after her full time. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. Waking up every morning and running around the house in your pajamas, eating breakfast together, all those little moments were so special. It was definitely a lot of work, doing all the cooking and cleaning, not to mention the fact you’ve got a young’un to bring up. We lived in the middle of nowhere, too. I couldn’t just pop down to the shop to get bread or anything. I had to make everything from scratch. It took a while to get used to it, but after a while I found a rhythm in life. I was satisfied.
We moved back to New Zealand when Te Aroha was five. We bought a cafe to try and immerse ourselves back into kiwi culture. I don’t think we realised how much work would be involved. Every morning we would get up early, drop Te Aroha at school, go to work, pick her up from the after school program, have dinner and totally crash. It didn’t feel like we spent much quality time with her because we were always so tired. I learnt that I needed to make space for kids. Something might be weighing on their mind but you have to wait for them to be ready. You can’t be ready if you’re dead asleep in bed because you’ve got work at six o’clock the next morning!

After a year of solid hard work, we sold the cafe and I worked in various government jobs after that. IRD, immigration, tertiary education commission and internal affairs. It was interesting and I gained a lot of insight into how our government functions. I also got to do a number of university papers. They would pay for me to study which was great. Sure, it wasn’t cash in the hand, it was all that learning I missed out on as a young adult.

When I got made redundant I was forced to pause and think about what to do next. I was looking at how my co-workers reacted and what they went and did. One woman from my office started training to be a nurse. Her and I kept in touch and one day she said to me, “Hey, you’d love being a nurse. You should look into it.” I thought about it and it made sense. I didn't like being stuck behind a desk, I wanted to be out and about, talking to people.

Whenever I saw a nurse in uniform, whether it was on the street or on the bus, I would talk to them. “I’m looking at being a nurse, what do ya reckon? What’s it like?” I asked everyone what they thought. On the whole, they told me to go for it. They told about all the different departments. You can work with babies, kids, cancer patients, the elderly. The variety is huge. I thought perfect, that sounds like me.
I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, so I was pretty nervous about going back to study. A 40 year old amongst all these gorgeous, young people fresh out of high school. Turns out we all struggled through it together. There were some moments where I wondered what I was doing?! It wasn’t all roses, unicorns and rainbows! Every day I had to get myself in the mode to go to school and study. I had to learn who I could rely on for support and advice during those three years. My sister in law is a nurse and she always had the right thing to say when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t at her house every day or anything, but she backed me up 100% whenever I needed it.

I’ve been a nurse for five months, although I don’t look that new to the job. When I think of a new nurse, I picture a nice young thing, you know what I mean? Often I have to point out to doctors that the young nurse beside me has been working much longer than I have. There’s a bit of negotiation, but everyone at work is great. We have a huge team of nurses and they’re all lovely. I work with a lot of women and we all bring something different to the table. It’s definitely my cup of tea, being surrounded by so many different people with different experiences. I love it. I love the patients, whether they’re sick, sad, happy, poor, rich. There’s nothing about the job I don’t like. Yet. Even if there’s something I have to do that most people would be repulsed by, like cleaning up vomit, I don’t mind. It’s no big deal to me. The place I work for, Pegasus, they are really progressive in terms of their goals and the way they want to function as a workplace. Their aspiration is to be the best. I feed off that, it gives me purpose to be the best I can be. I always want to get better, even if there is still tons of learning I still have to do.

How do I get into this career?

To be registered nurse you have to study for a while:

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about being an electrician. Their 'How to enter the job' section has a lot of really good info.

- You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting tertiary providers and asking them more about their courses.