The benefits of a multicultural study experience
Gaining the ability to work across cultures is a vital skill in our increasingly globalised workplaces.
We talked to four Malaysians from different backgrounds about why they chose to boost their career prospects by studying in New Zealand, one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries.
What have you gained from studying in one of the world’s most multicultural countries?
Chui: My parents didn’t get a chance to study overseas, so they wanted me and my siblings to gain international experience and a wider perspective. I’ve been surprised how multicultural New Zealand is – I’ve met people from many different cultures. My studies have included cultural workshops, which have helped me understand how people’s culture affects the decisions they make about their health.
Pavenraj: Malaysia and New Zealand are both very ethnically diverse. New Zealand was a good fit for me because I wanted to study somewhere that would give me opportunities to have new experiences and meet people from many different cultures. I was amazed at how friendly everyone was, and how easy it was to feel at home.
Janice: One of the things I’ve valued most about studying in New Zealand has been learning more about Māori culture, which I’ve discovered through my studies and through my friendships with other students. My people have very similar values to Māori people. For me, going into a Māori home has been like going into an Iban home, but in another country.
Mujahid: Studying and travelling in New Zealand gave me a wider perspective on other people and other countries. I had Kiwi friends, Malaysian friends and friends from all over the world – I met people from countries I had never even heard of! A highlight for me was performing a traditional Malaysian dance at Palmerston North’s annual Festival Of Culture. It was great to be able to celebrate my culture and learn about other people’s culture.
What do you like about the style of learning in New Zealand?
Pavenraj: Education in New Zealand is very practical and hands-on, with lots of group work. In every group you’ll have people from different backgrounds with different mindsets and different strengths, so it’s just like working in the real world. It has made me more confident, and I’ve been able to apply what I learned in class to real life and real work.
Mujahid: Students in New Zealand contribute more in class. The lecturers ask you questions and give you opportunities to discuss your ideas. I really loved the hands-on practical work, with labs and workshops. The New Zealand style of learning has helped me in my work and made me feel more able to express my opinions.
Janice: In New Zealand, they teach you the theory and then you talk about how you can apply it to your real life. It’s a really cool way to learn, and I’ve found it very effective. The theory I’ve learned in my lectures has helped me in my volunteer job at Youthline [a helpline for young people]. I’ve also enjoyed the group work – I’m in a study group, and I have a group debate coming up soon.
Chui: New Zealand has more critical thinking, more group work and more learning outside the classroom. I’ve had placements at a high school, in an early childcare centre, in an old people’s home, at a student clinic and in a hospital. It’s good to be able to get practical experience with people at all stages of life, and my tutors have given me lots of support on all my placements. I also enjoy being part of a group of students who meet every Friday to talk about how the week has been and to share ideas about how to solve any problems we might have had.
How has studying in New Zealand given you new skills for the future?
Pavenraj: New Zealand has played a role in shaping the person I am today. Openness is a big thing in New Zealand, and so is critical thinking and thinking outside the box. Asian countries are increasingly adopting Western ways of working, and studying in New Zealand helped prepare me for that. I even call my CEO by his first name, which shows how much things have changed in Malaysia.
Mujahid: Studying in New Zealand honed my English language skills, and a course I took on English for engineering had a big impact on me. I realised I loved both engineering and journalism. Eventually I decided to move into journalism, which combined my language skills with my love of reading and my interest in current issues. I loved the New Zealand style of learning, which continues to help me in my work – especially when it comes to feeling confident talking to my bosses or to other people in authority.
Janice: I was very happy to find that my psychology studies included looking at Māori health models. Rather than just assuming everyone is the same, my lecturers say, ‘If this is what this person believes, how can we accommodate it?” This attitude will really help me when I become a psychologist.
Chui: My goal in life is to be of service. It has been very useful to study in a multicultural country that encourages me to be culturally responsive. I’ve also found it amazing to study in such a supportive environment, on campus and in the community. The attitude in New Zealand is, “If you need a friend, I am here for you.”
About the contributors
From East Malaysia, Janice is a member of the indigenous Iban community. 2019 was the final year of her studies at the University of Canterbury for a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
Mujahid Masor, from Peninsula Malaysia, gained a Bachelor of Science and Technology in Mechatronics Engineering at Massey University in 2014. He is a sub-editor at the New Straits Times, an English language newspaper in Malaysia.
Chui San Sang, from East Malaysia, gained a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Otago. She has stayed at Otago to study for a Master of Dietetics.
Pavenraj Singh, from Peninsula Malaysia, studied at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). He gained a Bachelor of Accounting and IT in 2008, and a Graduate Diploma in Commerce in 2009. Paven now works for AirAsia as head of Commercial and ROKKI Aviation, the company’s technology business.