25 September 2023

Beyond Borders: Forging International Friendships and Celebrating Cultural Diversity | Study With New Zealand

Jasmine Yip

While studying is undeniably the primary focus of any study abroad journey, the cultural aspect is equally significant to the overall experience.

New Zealand not only showcases deep respect for its indigenous (Māori) heritage and customs, but it has also become a magnet for individuals around the world, each contributing their own unique perspectives and traditions to the rich tapestry of this land. These elements add much depth and breadth to my study abroad experience in New Zealand, which I wouldn’t have experienced back home.

Transferring from a relatively homogeneous high school to an ethnically diverse one widened my eyes to the importance of recognising multiculturalism. Even though “blending in” with the local students may initially seem like the fastest way to immerse oneself in a new culture, it became evident to me that embracing the multicultural fabric of the community is an equally integral part of appreciating the broader cultural landscape of New Zealand.

When I first transferred to Wellington Girls’ College, I had difficulties making local friends, primarily due to language and cultural barriers. Yet, I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone and get involved. I joined many clubs at school, trialled for the netball team, and went on field trips. While I crossed paths with many lovely locals, forging deep connections with them proved elusive.

In late February, during my first year, I stumbled upon a poster for an intercollegiate sports day organised by the Wellington International Students’ Association (WISA) at school. So, I signed up and went with a few of my international student friends.

After an intensive afternoon of football games and tug-of-war, a group of us gathered in the field, each holding a hotdog in hand, and just randomly started talking about how we pronounced the word “sauce” in our languages. We each came from a different country – Korea, Brazil, Japan, Vietnam, Portugal, and Germany – yet we resonated with each other through our shared experiences: being away from home, adjusting to a new culture, and grappling with language barriers. That evening, I went out for sushi with the group. Later that week, a few girls and I went on to a slumber party at one of the girls’ host family, where we made pizza and watched movies. 

With my new friends at the Wellington International Students’ Association Sports Day.

These unforgettable moments wouldn't have happened if it wasn’t for a community like the Wellington International Students’ Association (WISA). I appreciated the safe space provided to me and wanted to support it for incoming international students coming after me. Therefore, as the election season kicked off, I decided to run for a leadership position. Fortunately, I was elected as the Vice President and became the President the following year.

During my presidency, our executive team launched new initiatives to elevate our influence, to not only help international students connect with each other, but with their domestic counterparts, as well as promote cultural exchange. 

With the reopening of borders in July 2022, after a two-year-long closure, a wave of international students flocked to New Zealand. It was during this time that Mr. Mike Ellett, our teacher advisor, conceived the idea of a combined orientation day, bringing together students from high schools across the city.

The two-day event proved to be an astounding success, welcoming over 140 students from 14 schools and 8 countries. We took them on informative and immersive tours of Te Papa Museum and Wellington Museum, alongside various sightseeing activities around the city. 

The WISA executive team and volunteers after facilitating the two-day orientation for new international students

In August, we partnered with two local high schools to orchestrate our grandest event to date – Unity Night – a multicultural fundraising showcase celebrating cultural diversity. The concept took shape as we reflected upon the year thus far, marred by political conflicts, pandemic disruptions, and instances of racism.

On that unforgettable night, we revelled in the performances of Kapa Haka and Chinese Lion Dancing, while savouring delectable culinary delights such as Murtabak, Karipap, and Sushi. The event drew a full house at the Wellington College school hall. It was a resounding success.

In conclusion, my experience of working among a mix of international and domestic students at WISA has exposed me to a broad spectrum of cultures, languages, customs, and perspectives. I gained first-hand insights into different ways of life, developing cultural competence and adaptability which are essential assets in today’s globalised and interconnected world.

We look forward to welcoming new international students to Wellington in the years to come.

As we “hand the lights on” to the new WISA executive team, we look forward to new projects they will spearhead which further promote awareness of international culture within our vibrant Wellington community and assist new students to integrate into this cosmopolitan community. 

A New Zealand education is where I am welcomed, guided, supported, and cared for with Manaakitanga, therefore I feel safe, and I flourish.

When you study in New Zealand you will feel welcome, safe and supported. You can flourish when you feel like this.

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About the contributors
Jasmine Yip

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.