17 July 2019

An international student in New Zealand: Arina’s story

Arina Aizal
Malaysian undergraduate student

Choosing to study overseas after high school was a hard step to make. I was 17. Was I ready? Could I survive on my own in a different country?

All relevant questions going around my head, but the wonderful memory I have of being a primary school student in New Zealand was the most important, and here I am today as a Malaysian student at the University of Otago.

Primary school student in New Zealand

In 2009 when my dad decided to study for his postgraduate degree in International Studies, my whole family moved to Dunedin. That was the beginning of our new life in New Zealand and it has changed us forever.

I enrolled as a Year 6 student at North East Valley Normal School and then moved on to Year 7 at Dunedin North Intermediate. These two schools changed the way I felt about education. I recall a different feeling of getting up in the morning for school here than I had felt for my school back home. Primary schools in New Zealand develop a child’s interest in going to school and getting an education. Teachers and staff members try their best to make school fun for children.

I remember Mrs Kewene-Edwards - a lovely teacher of mine who saw my talent for story-writing back then. She encouraged me to share my personal writings, comics and journals with her and the class to read and was a mentor throughout my time at North East Valley Normal School. Kiwi teachers really engage with their students’ true potential, and they believe we are all different individuals with different ‘gifts’ to share with the world.

Settling down as a university student.

After my Malaysian Education Certificate (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia), I started my Foundation Year studies at the University of Otago. Having to find a flat, make new friends, work part-time, surviving daily life activities like cooking and at the same time balancing it all with my studies was definitely not easy at first. I got the hang of it after a few months after I found a whole group of new friends and practised a new ‘life routine’. I remember feeling homesick, but remembering why I started was the drive for me to continue. After all, I’m not only a student in New Zealand, I also want to be independent, brave and the best version of myself while I’m here. I used social media to show my use of different studying methods on Tumblr and became a part of the Studyblr community. I then started my own study blog, shared my notes and found support from other international students from around the world.

Finding my study passions

When I was six, I wanted to be a fashion designer. When I was 12, I wanted to be a journalist. When I was 16, I wanted to be a dentist. Today, I’m passionate about sexual violence prevention, and I study psychology and gender studies at the University of Otago. I wouldn’t have found my path of interest if it wasn’t for the help of the university resources. Students at New Zealand universities have control over their choice of papers and can structure their programme of studies. Although I study psychology, I can minor in gender studies and also take an extra paper in sociology and sexual health, which will, in the end, contribute to my Bachelor of Arts degree. This flexibility allows students to explore different study options and pathways, giving us ideas on what we can do ourselves and how we can contribute to society in the future. I might not have had the opportunity to make my study choices anywhere else with my specific choice of papers.

University support for international students

Students at the University of Otago are given a lot of help and guidance throughout our study life. For example, international students can get advice about visa issues with the visa-on-campus services at the International Office, so not all problems have to be directed to Immigration New Zealand. Problems with immigration can be scary, but the support we get as international students is essential for a safe and healthy environment while studying in New Zealand.

International student advocate

Today, stories of my experiences as an international student have been shared by the University of Otago, Education New Zealand and on other platforms. I’ve enjoyed being a storyteller and an advocate for future international students. I share my experiences on social media and through collaborations with international education agents. I want to inspire students thinking about studying overseas, especially in New Zealand as I looked for inspiration from others before making the first step of choosing to study here. I also want the world to recognise New Zealand as a study destination, over and above being a tourist attraction with its beautiful scenery. This is the beginning of my ‘international student in New Zealand’ story.

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About the contributors
Arina Aizal
Malaysian undergraduate student

Arina Aizal is a Malaysian student at the University of Otago. She studies Psychology and Gender Studies with interests in Sexual Violence Prevention. She is a Kiwi Ambassador for Education New Zealand and an Otago Ambassador. She has published articles on her perspectives as an International student and collaborates with global education agents for promotional content on social media. Instagram: @arinaaizal Website: www.arinaaizal.com