5 July 2022

Learning in and out of the classroom

Andrew Smith

Twins Kevin and Helen Wang came to New Zealand from their home in Beijing in 2016, keen to experience a different education system and to broaden their horizons.

“Our father is a tour guide in Beijing for foreign visitors, and he was keen for us to experience life outside China for a while,” Helen says.

“He made friends with a New Zealander, who suggested we spend some time in New Zealand. We were nervous when we first arrived because the country, the culture and people are so different, but we’ve loved it and don’t plan to leave for a while yet!”

Helen and Kevin completed secondary school in the Hawkes Bay and both stayed on in New Zealand for their tertiary education. Kevin is studying viticulture and winemaking at The Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) in Napier, while Helen moved to the other side of the North Island to study hospitality and hotel management in New Plymouth.

While the initial move to New Zealand was challenging, the twins agree it has been well worth it.

“The approach to education here in New Zealand is totally different to China,” Kevin says.

Kevin believes a New Zealand education is more balanced and is about helping students find their interests and build future career pathways. In China, he says there are no choices in what you study and how you approach things.

“It's all compulsory, you study the same problems over and over again to make sure you get the best grades you can, and nobody really thinks about whether what you’re learning will be useful for the future or not.”

Twins Kevin and Helen Wang growing up in China

Helen says the New Zealand culture took a bit of getting used to when they first arrived, but says these challenges were part of the learning experience.

“Our English was quite good when we arrived but it was still hard work studying and socialising in English all day. The challenge made me more resilient, as well as improve my English.

“I think that studying in New Zealand for the past six years has made me a stronger, more independent person. I feel confident that I can work things out for myself, rather than having my teacher or my parents doing everything for me.”

Helen realised very quickly after arriving here that the things you do outside the classroom matter just as much for New Zealanders as what you learn in class.

Kevin agrees. “Being in a diverse cultural environment to study has definitely pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and work with other students on assignments, which helped me learn more and make new friends.”

While they don’t live in the same city anymore, the twins spend a lot of their holidays catching up and making plans for the future.

“We’ve both got a couple of years left of study, but we talk about how great it would be to go into business together,” Kevin says.

“I’m making really useful contacts in the wine industry in New Zealand and would eventually like to spend some time in Australia and Europe, learning more about the traditions over there. But we talk about how we could open a restaurant with Helen in charge of the hospitality and management side of things, while I could concentrate on the wine supply.”

Both Kevin and Helen work part-time in their industries, which is preparing them for their future careers once they’ve finished studying. Kevin works on weekends and holidays at a winery, both in the vineyard and cellar door, and Helen works in the kitchen at a café.

“We’re getting a lot of work experience which will be useful in the future,” says Kevin.

“But in the meantime, we’re just enjoying our time here in New Zealand, making the most of everything that’s on offer. We’ve had an incredible education here, and we want to stay and keep learning for a while longer.”

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About the contributors
Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith is a freelance writer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He spent several years studying English Literature at graduate and postgraduate level in the UK and Australia, before returning home to New Zealand to pursue a career in communications.