Annelise Diamond was leading the Kiwi OE dream working at Walt Disney World until earlier this month. Photo supplied.Ashburton’s Annelise Diamond is playing a waiting game in America as she works out when she might be able to get home.
The 21-year-old was caught out this month as countries around the world rapidly responded to Covid-19 erupting into a deadly pandemic.
Diamond had been living the Kiwi OE dream, working as a character performer in the entertainment department at Walt Disney World, Florida.
It was a job she loved, getting to hang out with the likes of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, making the dreams of children and adults alike come true as they interacted with the characters they idolised.
That was until March 14, when she and fellow workers got an email saying the parks were closing.
There had been whispers just an hour or so prior, but Diamond was not sure whether to believe them.
She was among about 8000 workers from overseas and interstate on an internship-style “college programme” who got the email, giving them just two days’ notice. They would then have a further two days to get out of their accommodation complexes provided as part of the programme.
“My whole world came crashing down,” she said.
Diamond considered coming home, but with not enough funds to immediately book an airfare and a fear she could somehow have picked up the virus from her job and then be a risk to others, she decided to stay put for at least a few days.
But then New Zealand shut its borders, making Diamond one of what is believed to be thousands of Kiwis sheltering overseas.
She plans to come home as soon as she can, but in the meantime she is grateful to be staying with boyfriend James and his family in Kentucky.
She has study planned for the University of Canterbury beginning in July, undertaking a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Music and Maori and minoring in history.
If she cannot get back prior to that, she hopes she can study long-distance.
Diamond is in America on a J1 cultural exchange visa, which means she can work while reporting on a cultural activity she undertakes.
But losing her job means she has lost her J1 status, and legally she shoud only be in the country for 30 days from when she was last working.
She has been in touch with consulate and immigration departments and is in the process of applying for an extension to her visa, knowing she will not be able to leave the country even if she doesn’t get it.
James is also planning on studying in New Zealand, and the couple hope they can somehow get back here by July.
“Once we get into New Zealand we are a hell of a lot safer than we are here,” Diamond said.
She said it was frustrating in America where the country had not taken the strong leadership which had been shown in New Zealand.
The way president Donald Trump had handled the pandemic crisis made her feel unsafe, although the states, of which Kentucky was one of the better ones, were doing what they could.
The advice was to stay at home if you can and practise social distancing.
“Which nobody is doing,” she said.
She had recently gone to the hardware store to buy paint brushes for painting a room. However, only a handful of people there in the checkout queue were obeying signs to stand two metres apart.
The tough lockdown procedures introduced in New Zealand were a far more effective way to deal with it.
“It’s made me so proud to be where I’m from,” she said.
By Susan Sandys © The Ashburton Guardian - 31 March 2020