17 November 2023

My First Six Months in New Zealand: Daniela’s Story | Study With New Zealand

Daniela Castillo
Masters of Civil Engineering at the University of Canterbury

When Colombian student Daniela Castillo arrived in New Zealand to study her Master of Civil Engineering as a homestay student, she didn’t expect her first six months to go as smoothly as they did.

Living with a New Zealand family as a homestay student, Daniela's experience was so positive that she plans to continue living with them for the coming year as well.

“I feel like I am one more daughter in the family! We get home, we bring our dinners together, and we talk about what we did during the day. It feels like home.”

While some students might feel scared or nervous about settling in when they first arrive in New Zealand, her host family made her feel welcomed and included from early on.

“I feel like they were very open and honest with me. I asked a lot of questions, and they answered them all. They showed me where the supermarket is, they went with me to show me the bus routes and the map. It was really easy for me to get used to the city.”

Daniela’s first impressions of life in New Zealand were that so many Kiwis, like her host family, were kind, polite and respect personal boundaries.

“They are not getting into your life or trying to judge you.”

Being in a new environment has also given Daniela several opportunities to try lots of new experiences. Compared to Colombia and the Latin American foods available there, the range of different cuisines – especially those from Asia – were completely new to her.

“Indian, Indonesian, Vietnamese foods were all new to me. In Colombia, you just get Latin American foods like Mexican, Peruvian, or Argentinian, but you don’t have these Asian cuisines there.”

“So, this was a delicious discovery for me!”

Another New Zealand experience that Daniela tried for the first time was hiking, an activity that she didn’t have much previous experience with. Because New Zealand has so many hiking trails, hikers with little or no experience can find safe and short journeys to build their confidence on before trying something more challenging.

“It’s something to do with your friends, and it’s easy! You can go on a day hike or go for two days. You can go into a hut that’s free to use, with your sleeping bag!”

“This was new to me because you just need to get all the gear, the supplies and the food first.”

But her favourite new experience that she took part in was the Student Ambassador trip to Rotorua with several other international students.

“It was such a good experience. We went to these amazing experiences; and we were involved in Māori cultural ceremonies, and we shared a dinner with them. They explained each ingredient; where it came from, why they were using it, what it means for them”

“For me, that was absolutely stunning. It was very impressive to me.”

There were several parts of her new life in New Zealand that surprised Daniela, especially around how students tend to live and study more independently here than they do in Colombia.

“Some New Zealand students go back to school during their careers. They are not afraid to take their education slowly and go back during their careers.”

“They are not afraid to work at McDonalds and then come to class when they are done.”

Daniela also had some advice to any student about to arrive to New Zealand for the first time: be independent.

“You have to learn how to solve things on your own. In other parts of the world, all of your groups of friends and family are around you to help out and get things sorted, but here everything is on your own and you’ll have to do it yourself.”

“The culture is empowered – they’re able to do whatever they need, and don’t ask for any help.”

Settling into life in New Zealand can take different amounts of time for different people – there’s no right or wrong amount of time it’ll take to feel comfortable in a new country. However, there are several handy tips that new arrivals can follow to give them the best chance at settling down quickly and feeling great about the journey ahead.

Click here to read these tips, written by a former international student studying in New Zealand.

Share this story
About the contributors
Daniela Castillo
Masters of Civil Engineering at the University of Canterbury