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Last modified: 29 Jul 2020 10:28am

Two smiling parents crouch in between two children on swings in a garden

Two strangers from Iceland and China, sat next to each other on a flight to New Zealand; 19 years later, they call New Zealand their home.

For Sam and Lillian Ragnarsson, living in different countries was the norm. At 23 years old, Sam left his birth place Iceland, and until he moved to Prebbleton six years ago, he had never stayed in one place for more than a year. Having lived in countries, including England, Australia, and China, he was very happy to gain New Zealand citizenship recently.

“For someone living in seven countries, five continents and moved this often since I left home at 17, to find a place and be accepted was really important.”

Likewise, Lillian grew up in China, later worked in Japan and went to America to learn English for a year. While it was a big milestone giving up her Chinese passport and visa, Lillian says gaining citizenship made her feel a part of New Zealand.

“I am ready to fight for New Zealand, that’s how I feel.”

The couple have always had a connection to New Zealand. They first met in 2000 at Melbourne airport and by coincidence had the seat next to each other on the same flight to Auckland. They got talking again several years later over the internet and got married in 2008 in China.

After living together for a year each in Japan, the USA and China, the two project managers sat down with an Excel Spreadsheet to make an important decision about where to settle down. They listed everything they wanted from a country and New Zealand came out on top.

“We always laugh that we met on the way to New Zealand and then we ended up in New Zealand, so many years later.” Sam says.

They chose Christchurch to help out with the post-earthquake rebuild and were surprised how friendly everyone was.

“When you walk on the street, people say hello, give a smile, that’s something that never happened to me when I lived in Tokyo.” says Lillian.

In the first year, Sam studied Software and Information Technology at Lincoln University and would travel into town passing through Prebbleton. “I remember the day that I first drove past Prebbleton, we came in and I just saw the trees and I was like wait a minute, we’ve just come out of the city. We just see for miles; mountains, cows and horses and it’s like wow, this is where I want to live.”

Now having lived in Prebbleton for over six years, the pair enjoy the peace and quiet and have finally found their feet. Sam owns a slice of Iceland at restaurant The Kiwi Viking in Christchurch and volunteers as the Emergency response street coordinator in Prebbleton and runs two Prebbleton Facebook community groups. Lillian supports Chinese residents who do not have access to the Facebook group on We Chat. Sam says there’s now even an Icelandic flag flying at Prebbleton School where his girls attend.

The pair considered leaving Prebbleton and buying a lifestyle block, but their girls Nicole and Caitlin turned to them and said, we love this house, we love this place, why should we leave?

“And it made us think, they’re right, why would we leave?”

For more stories about the many faces of our district visit our Faces of Selwyn project