Trailblazing in New Zealand: Empowerment for Young International Students | Study With New Zealand
Quality education lays a solid academic foundation in us as scholars, and multiculturalism exposes us to the diverse cultural tapestry that helps us navigate the interconnectedness of today’s globalised world.
However, it is the multitude of opportunities available to young international students like myself that enable us to translate these perspectives and insights into tangible actions.
I believe that New Zealand is a country that places young people at the centre of a society's values, policies, and practices, and prioritises their needs, aspirations, and perspectives. Whether it be an abundance of pre-professional programmes for young people or the inclusion of youth voices in governance and policymaking, New Zealand genuinely gives opportunities to the future pillar of society.
One organisation I crossed paths with multiple times was GirlBoss New Zealand, whose mission is to close the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, Leadership & Entrepreneurship.
I came across the organisation first through the ‘We the Women’ Hackfest in July 2022, an in-person hackathon that took place in the PwC tower in Auckland. It was a transformative two days.
Not only did I hear from GirlBoss founder Alexia Hilbertidou and ‘Girls That Invest’ founder Simran Kaur, but I also had the chance to work alongside bright young women on a technological initiative to tackle gender inequality under the guidance of highly influential individuals in the STEM and business field.
Our project ended up getting selected as one of the finalists, which made me realise my potential in business, and it sparked my interest in exploring the intersection between entrepreneurship and technology.
The second time I crossed paths with the organisation was in September 2022, when I was notified that I won the GirlBoss Award, celebrating trailblazing young women who defy stereotypes and create change in their communities.
I still remember vividly how elated I felt as I opened my email and saw the subject line "🎉Congratulations, you are a 2022 GIRLBOSS AWARD WINNER! 🎉.” The joy of winning a national award grew as I learnt about the selectivity of the award: “The GirlBoss Awards is the most competitive awards scheme in the country, with more than 450 applicants and an acceptance rate of 2%.”
It was the most prestigious award I have yet won, and its significance was heightened by the fact that I earned this recognition in a foreign country far away from home.
The award ceremony took place in Auckland on September 28th. My mum arrived in New Zealand just in time to accompany me with a paid-for plane ticket and accommodation. The event started off with a winner’s lunch where I had a lovely meal with nine other bright community youth leaders, including student activists, non-profit founders, and sport and art champions.
As the evening rolled on, the awards sponsors, including representatives from PwC New Zealand, Spark, and ANZ, began to arrive. I was a bit star-struck; standing among all these influential individuals, but I still took the courage to navigate through the crowd and network with many of them. It warmed my heart how eager they were to learn about my initiative and journey, as well as offer advice to help our organisation grow.
The night will always be a core memory for me. I was told by Vicky Crawford, the facilitator of the GirlBoss award, that I was the first international student to ever receive the award.
She added that what stood out to her in my application was when I mentioned that I was trying to rewrite the label of ‘international students’ from self-conscious ‘foreigners’ to brave, independent, curious world travellers who come to another continent on their own and share new perspectives and cultures.
That night, I also connected with my award sponsor, Serato, a pioneering international DJ and music production software company based in New Zealand. It eventually led me to a junior software engineer internship at Serato the summer after graduating from high school.
I also contributed to the Serato Visualiser application, a built-in feature that provides real-time visualisations that synchronise with the audio being played by DJs.
Despite being the youngest intern, I felt treated as an equal during my time at Serato. As a prospective software engineer who has been mesmerised by the cutting edge in Silicon Valley, this internship made me “zoom out” and recognise the immense potential and exciting opportunities that lie within New Zealand's own thriving tech ecosystem.
New Zealand offers a multitude of opportunities for young students, many of which are also international student inclusive. GirlBoss is just one of the many initiatives in the country that facilitates award schemes and mentorship programmes.
For example, the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) is an experiential programme for students to set up and run a real business, while the Wellington Youth Council serves as an advisory group actively engaged in civic participation, community development, and governance.
As someone who grew up within an intergenerational hierarchy, I feel acknowledged and empowered as a young person in New Zealand, and this has played a pivotal role in fostering my continued personal growth.
In closing, New Zealand is a meritocratic and egalitarian country, where the recognition of hard work, innovation, and community leadership knows no bounds of ethnicity, sexuality, or gender. I never once felt deprived of opportunities because of my international student status.
If anything, our accomplishments are met with even greater applause, acknowledging the hurdles we overcome as young individuals venturing into a foreign land, far from the comfort of our home.
If I could offer advice to prospective international students in New Zealand, it’d be that your experience studying abroad is what you make of it. Like anywhere else in the world, you need to be proactive and resourceful to stand out and succeed.
There is no one idyllic destination that would offer the “perfect” study abroad experience. However, if such a place existed, New Zealand, with its commitment to progressive education, cultural diversity, and a youth-centric approach, would come pretty close!
About the contributors
Born in Hong Kong, polished in New Zealand, Jasmine is an innovator, avid learner, adrenaline junkie, and woman in STEM. Follow her journey as she pursues a Computer Science education with the vision to solve tomorrow's problems through technology.