A woman who grew up in rural North Otago has been appointed New Zealand’s Deputy High Commissioner to Canada.
Amy Tisdall is off to Ottawa for four years with husband Jeremy and children Harry (5) and Grace (4 months).
The couple started dating when they were pupils at Waitaki Girls’ and Waitaki Boys’, Mrs Tisdall travelling in from a Georgetown farm.
The Oamaru Mail caught up with them when they were staying with Mrs Tisdall’s parents, Kay and Steve Elvidge, before crossing the Pacific. She said it was great to celebrate Harry’s 5th birthday there, with his grandparents and great-grandparents.
Mrs Tisdall is the embodiment of working hard to achieve goals. The quietly-spoken 33-year-old said she had been “lucky” in her career, but also admitted to putting in plenty of toil.
After attending Waitaki Girls’, she earned double honours degrees in law and politics at the University of Otago. She wanted to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat), which is responsible for New Zealand’s 57 diplomatic bases around the world. They are called high commissions in Commonwealth countries and embassies in other countries.
Mrs Tisdall figured it would be “a longer-term prospect” to be employed by Mfat. However, she was accepted straight after university, despite competition from “lots of very impressive candidates” and the fact she did not speak a foreign language.
Mfat liked what it saw on her CV. Mrs Tisdall had worked as a summer clerk in an internship at law firm Bell Gully in Dunedin, was part of an organisation offering free legal advice, spent time with IHC clients as a “buddy”, and coached netball.
In her nine years with Mfat, Mrs Tisdall has worked in Canberra and Wellington. She has devoted “quite a bit of time” to trade and climate change.
That stood her in good stead for her time in Canada, she said. It and New Zealand had much in common and took very similar positions in the United Nations, championing peacekeeping, trade, and human rights.
Both countries also had indigenous peoples and could exchange information and experiences, Mrs Tisdall said.
All diplomatic work was conducted in English, so her lack of French would not be a problem. However, Harry would become bilingual by attending a French immersion school.
A house is provided for the Tisdalls to live in; they pay a contribution towards its upkeep. It is furnished in a way that would suit most people posted there, and has guest rooms where Mr and Mrs Elvidge will stay when they visit in September.
The Tisdalls will buy their own car and learn to drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Mrs Tisdall’s boss will be career diplomat Daniel Mellsop, who has been New Zealand High Commissioner in Ottawa for two years. Their overall goal is “to make New Zealanders safer and more prosperous”.
Mr Tisdall, a plumber by trade, will stay at home to look after baby Grace for some time. He had been in the workforce in Australia and would seek employment in Canada in the future.
“It’s a huge commitment for families,” Mrs Tisdall said of the Mfat overseas postings.
She took only a short maternity break when Harry was born, returning to work when he was 3-months-old. She has been home with Grace since she was born and will resume work with the Ottawa position.
Mfat offered flexible working hours, “but you still have to worked damned hard”, she said.
“It’s easier because I enjoy what I do.”
Mrs Tisdall will travel back to New Zealand for Mfat consultation twice during her Ottawa term.
Neither she nor her husband had been to Canada before, although her parents had – including in 2015 for Mr Elvidge’s 60th birthday. Mrs Elvidge’s brother, John McLeod, lives in Washington state, not far from the Canadian the border.
They said they were proud of their daughter’s accomplishments.
Mrs Tisdall has been invited back to Waitaki Girls’ High School to speak to pupils about setting and reaching goals. She advised them to keep their options and eyes open.
“I never knew about Mfat. There’s a huge world out there.
“Think about what interests you, and how to get it.”
Those who become Mfat staff can choose which postings to apply for. Mrs Tisdall chose the Canberra position, the climate change portfolio, and Canada.
She was “very likely to be back in Wellington” after the four years. She and her husband were keeping their house there while they were away.
Meeting heads of state was part of the job, Mrs Tisdall said. She has been on maternity leave since the change of government, so has not yet met Jacinda Ardern.
Harry was teething when he met then Prime Minister Sir John Key, and was putting everything in his mouth. He grabbled Sir John’s nose as if to do just that with it, Mrs Tisdall said. Sir John said he should take Harry on the campaign trail with him.