Imagine dropping the life you’ve come to know, leaving all cultural expectations behind, and hopping on a plane to go and live in a foreign land for a year, all on a couple of weeks’ notice. That’s exactly what a quirky California native with her signature red hat did. Meet Jamie Baywood. She left her cow-town home, Petaluma, in search of something new. She found a whole lot of new and wrote a book about it, called Getting Rooted in New Zealand.
Jamie says that she felt claustrophobic with the many life expectations that were being thrust upon her. At 26, all of her friends were getting married. “I didn’t want to get in line to become the next bride,” says Baywood.
Priming her for departure was a series of unfortunate relationships. Baywood’s high school sweetheart, whom she had expected to marry, didn’t work out. She’d had enough when her last Californian boyfriend made a trip to rehab. “He’d been taking twenty Vicodins a day. I had no idea that he was always pale and tired because he was suffering from withdrawal. I just kept offering him multivitamins.”
She got her working visa on a whim and flew to New Zealand with no previous travel experience. “I decided I needed some ‘me time,’ and I’ve always wanted to live abroad. New Zealand looked so beautiful.” She thought “me time” would come easily in New Zealand, where there were reportedly 100 000 fewer men than women.
Baywood interrupts a question about any regrets she may have had with “no.” “This was the biggest and best decision I’ve ever made,” says Baywood. “As soon as I got there I felt a palpable sense of safety. I walked by a construction site and just stared at the men working like they were animals in a zoo. No catcalls, whistling, or anything. They were just working like civilized people.”
Baywood adjusted to Kiwi culture while working a host of odd jobs. Data entry in a council building was a favourite. She also constructed cardboard forts at a bureaucratic office job. After that, she was fired from her receptionist position working with ex-cons. She was happy to leave that job though, and especially happy when they gave her beer as severance.
Her interactions with people she met were hilarious. She worked with a self-proclaimed mime that never stopped talking, and a fanatical woman who claimed that natural disasters were caused by the sins of America. “I didn’t really know how to respond to that,” says Baywood. She also discovered that “getting rooted” means “getting fucked” in New Zealand slang, during a hilarious mix-up with a flatmate.
Baywood has a habit of getting herself into bizarre situations, and she has a talent for retelling those situations in a very funny way. With a Fine Arts degree, she considers herself an accidental author. “Funny things just kept happening and I had to write them down,” she says. She drew on contents of diary entries, text messages, and emails to friends and family to write the memoir. In fact, she’s gotten pretty good at writing stories to people back home—she’s been abroad for three and half years now.
Regardless of New Zealand’s gender discrepancy, and despite Baywood’s insistence on ‘me time,’ she still became that bride. Baywood now lives in the UK with her Scottish husband, whom she met in New Zealand. Baywood has plans to release her second work soon, which will most likely be about settling and getting rooted in Scotland.