As the deep midwinter of 2020 settled onto the Waikato Plains, and the winds blew in the news that the country’s borders would be tightly closed for the foreseeable future, my immigrant visa lost its golden tinge. I began to question our choices as a family about emigrating to this supposedly beautiful, fair and kind country called Aotearoa. My beautiful, fair and kind daughters were being discriminated against, even though we had done everything correctly. I had handed in the reams and reams of forms and documents to Immigration without an error in sight. I had paid the requisite fees and consulted the relevant experts on getting Residency.

So what has this got to do with the NZIBS course, you may ask? My story goes a little further back.

Born and brought up in South Africa, I played Scrabble with my parents from when I could first read and that is where I found my love of etymology and the English language. We used to play “Dictionary” with friends too, which involved one player choosing an interesting word out of the thick Oxford tome and all the others making up a definition. These were then read out by the “chooser” and voted upon. The winner was whomever got the most votes for their definition, not necessarily the correct one. My father was a relentless competitor in all board games and left no room for age differences. If I lost, I lost fair and square. No tears allowed, I was just sent away to read and learn some more vocabulary until the next time.

Achieving an “A” grade for English at school and qualifying as a librarian with distinction at university were also building blocks in my journey. I inevitably joined the grammar police and have endeavoured to help people ever since. Working as a school librarian led to me proofreading all school reports that teachers had written, as well as editing the school magazine. I have never claimed to be perfect but I try my best, keenly feeling my mortification if errors slip past me unnoticed. My reputation as “Mrs Sharp Eyes” has saved many a teacher over the years. After almost two decades of working like this, the big leap came.

January 2020 saw my husband and me boarding the plane and leaving our brave daughters behind as we emigrated to New Zealand. My heart could hardly take the strain that day at the airport but deep in my soul I knew we were doing the right thing for our family. We would see them soon, we promised! Our eldest stayed behind to finish her teaching degree in Pretoria and the youngest came to New Zealand on a separate visa a month later to work at a school five hours away from us. Empty nest syndrome was a real and present danger.

Adventures abounded from the moment we landed – the fresh air invigorated us; we explored mountains and beaches; camped with borrowed items in our rental home while waiting for our container of goods to arrive from our former home; reconnected with old friends who had immigrated before us; made new Kiwi mates. All was well in this empty nest.

Then the dreaded “C” word hit: Covid-19, Coronavirus, Contagion, Caution, Community, Concern, Crisis.

Lockdown followed. The borders closed. Tightly. My daughter was on the other side. Winter had arrived.

And so another “C” word crawled its way into my cold collapsing consciousness: Cope.

But how? “Keep busy to get your mind off things” the self-help gurus cry. “Do what you love” they say. “Follow your passion” they entreat. As I trawled the internet night after night reading the bad news, the NZIBS Proofreading and Editing course kept making its way into my feed. Finally, it hooked me. Well done, Google filter bubbles, you did your job!

In July, my husband and I had saved up enough of our meagre dollars for me to enrol in this course. I was confident I could do it, as NZ and SA English language are both based on British Colonial history (there are many commonalities with both countries, not just nuances of language, but that’s a story in the making all by itself).

I devoured the tutorials and could not wait to get to the assignments. They were challenging but I succeeded, and I learnt so much along the way. Brushing up on my grammar rules was the least of it; learning about the New Zealand publishing industry was fascinating, especially for an immigrant. Getting stuck into the markups with a real red pen fuelled my determination and kept my attention.

Working at my part-time job during the day then wrapping up warmly at home, being fed tea and chocolate by my incredibly supportive husband, helped me get through those winter nights: reading and researching, annotating and editing, finalising assignments and pressing “upload”. Waiting with bated breath for results: smiles of joy when they met my exacting standards, and tears of frustration when I used too many commas and over-edited (sorry, Val!). These milestones took my mind off things.

Things like my amazingly brave daughter soldiering through South Africa’s endless lockdown and being unable to return to university physically for the remainder of 2020. And the unbelievable realisation that she would not be able to visit us as promised. And that my other adventurous daughter’s working gap year was being ruined with no chance of touring Australia as planned. And that she could not enrol at university for 2021. It distracted me from searching the sky for aeroplanes that were not ever going to deliver visitors from a Covid-broken world. New Zealand Residency for our precious family was still nowhere in sight.

Eventually Winter turned into Spring and I realised I could finish the Diploma by the end of the year if I really put my mind to it. But another glitch in our lives saw September being the hardest month of this immigration journey so far and I had to hang up my proofreading boots for a bit. Focus shifted fully onto family and let’s just say that breakdowns eventually led to breakthroughs. A while later I forced myself into those boots again, finishing the assignments with rigour once more and planning my little business with guidance from the ever-patient NZIBS tutor. The end of January 2021 saw me finishing the final assignment (which fondly became known as “Ass” 12 in my family as I toiled and fretted) and handing in my business plans and strategies. Finishing with an “Excellence” and graduating with “Merit” overall has certainly boosted my confidence.

My story does not end there but probably should. I want to see my “PUP – the Pop Up Proofreader” business go from strength to strength. My email and website are set up and now the marketing must begin. Call the PUP and she will be there!

And what of my family? Although there is heartbreak, there will always be hope. Perhaps I will write part two of this story next year? I love this country and want to make a difference by working hard and sharing my skills for the greater good, whilst exploring the beauty and wonder of Aotearoa. Even if it is just by helping people spell better: won gramatickle misteak @ a thyme.

marion kroukam

Graduate of the Proofreading & Editing course.

Our last family-of-four holiday on the South African coast in December 2019

Chins up while exploring New Zealand 2020

Admiring the Christmas lights with my younger daughter here in New Zealand December 2020

I can still feel the last time that I hugged my daughter in South Africa – airport January 2020

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