Doing good with virtual reality | Study With New Zealand
We asked Chinese student Weilian Du what she has gained by studying in New Zealand – and how it inspires her to want to help others.
While studying at the University of Auckland, Weilian started working on virtual reality project to enable people with autism to strengthen their social skills.
What’s your virtual reality project about?
The project involves using virtual reality videos to help people with autism practice their social interaction skills.
I started developing it with two New Zealand students I met at Summer Lab, an entrepreneurial programme at the University of Auckland. We had very similar ideas about using virtual reality to help people.
At the end of February 2019 we were one of one of six teams chosen to pitch our project to a group of experts for the Sustainable Development Goals Challenge at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
I will keep working on the project even while working full-time. It’s like my voluntary work – I want to keep doing it because it can help people.
I’m also using the experience I gained from the virtual reality project on another start-up business, which gives people the chance to rent a drone and try it out before deciding whether to buy one or not.
What have you gained from the New Zealand style of education?
The education system in New Zealand is very focused on interactions with professors and also with other students. Most of the professors like you to ask questions and they encourage you to think differently from them.
We did a lot of group assignments and through that I learned to work with other students – it has definitely been an opportunity to learn how to work in a team.
The New Zealand education system also involves a lot of presentations, and I’ve really developed my presentation skills. I joined the University of Auckland Toastmasters club so I could practice speaking more confidently in public.
Has studying in New Zealand changed you?
Studying in New Zealand has changed the way I think. My classmates and professors all have very different backgrounds and everyone comes from different cultures and environments, so they all think very differently from each other.
The discussions we’ve had and the assignments we’ve done together have given me lots of different ideas and new perspectives. I’m much more likely to ask questions now. I want to dig deeper and find out why they do something or think something.
How did you get so involved in voluntary work?
When I first came here I didn’t know anyone and my English wasn’t very good, so I started to do some voluntary work. That helped me to get to know like-minded people and also to understand the local culture more.
Since then, voluntary work has become a big part of my life in New Zealand.
I’m a Māori cultural Chinese experience host for Mandarin-speaking tourists at Auckland Museum, and I volunteer at social services provider Auckland City Mission.
I’m also involved in helping to raise money for Project Starfish, a New Zealand organisation that helps fight child trafficking in Cambodia and Thailand.
I want to give back to the community because I really appreciate all the help people have given me here. Without them, I wouldn’t have grown so much.