How a Student Exchange Experience in New Zealand Changed My Life | Study With New Zealand
When I came to New Zealand as an international student, never have I imagined that I would be working in the New Zealand education sector one day.
Before I arrived in New Zealand, I was worried that I wouldn't like here and won't get used to the lifestyle in a foreign country. After a month, I fell in love with New Zealand and didn't want to leave anymore.
Studying English Literature in New Zealand as an exchange student
In my third year at University, I was very lucky to get an opportunity to study as an exchange student with a scholarship. I was presented with four country destinations - the USA, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. After exploring my options and doing some investigations online, I was attracted by the beautiful scenery in New Zealand and the view from hte Victoria University of Wellington campus. My decision to study in NZ was totally supported by my parents, as New Zealand is considered a safe and peaceful country.
I majored in English Translation and Interpreting at University, and as an exchange student, I studied a similar subject - English Literature. What is it like to study English Literature in an English-speaking country? Not easy. I found myself the only international student in a huge lecture hall and I had to admit that it was stressful at the beginning to study the literature of a language that is not my mother language.
Luckily, I had lots of support from my tutors and my lovely classmates who shared their notes with me and kindly offered to help me after class. I also joined the PASS (Peer Assisted Study Support) group at the university, which was very helpful. It didn't take long for me to adjust to the new education environment, and although I was alone in New Zealand, I didn't feel lonely at all! While New Zealand education was entirely new to me, I became more and more confident thanks to the Manaakitanga (respect, generosity, and care) of the university staff and students around me.
Studying Education in New Zealand as a full-time student
After returning to China from my exchange experience, I always missed this beautiful country's stunning scenery and lovely people. Soon after graduation, I passed the IELTS English test and was eager to come back.
This time I studied Graduate Diploma in Teaching (ECE) at the University of Auckland. As a more mature student at the Graduate level, I discovered more unique things about New Zealand education - it encourages critical thinking and emphasises practical learning.
In the lectures and tutorials, students were presented with a variety of theories, supported by research articles. There were lots of interactive and group discussion sessions, where we could freely share our ideas on a particular topic. We were also encouraged to write essays based on our own opinions - there were no right or wrong answers.
An essential part of the programme was practicum when students could gain practical skills in the real workplace. The university has clearly put a lot of effort into arranging practicums for us. We were given opportunities to work across early childhood centres with tamariki (children) and whānau (families) from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. It was such an unforgettable experience for me and has really deepened my understanding of New Zealand education.
Working in the New Zealand Education sector
Early Childhood Centre
After graduating from the University of Auckland, it didn't take long for me to find a job in Wellington as an ECE teacher. Soon after joining the childcare centre, I attended a professional development programme - the Incredible Years funded by the Ministry of Education. Our team always shared our learnings in our monthly meetings and developed learning plans for tamariki (children). New Zealand's early childhood education emphasises learning through play, so the part I enjoyed most about my work was having lots of fun with the kids and celebrating their learning. It was incredible to see how much children grow every day, and you know what? I learnt so much from them too! Some kids know much more about dinosaurs than me!
Weltec (a subsidiary of Te Pūkenga)
With my passion for teaching and mentoring, 3 years later I landed a job at WelTec as a student advisor. This was a role that required me to talk to domestic students on a daily basis and give them advice on programme selection and career paths. Even though I came from another country, and English is not my mother language, I was still offered this opportunity. I was super grateful for this opportunity and it shows how much New Zealand values cultural diversity and endeavours to give people equal employment opportunities.
Education New Zealand
When I joined Education New Zealand | Manapou kit te Ao (ENZ), I was amazed by its cultural diversity. My colleagues are from different parts of the world - Europe, Asia, America, and Africa, to name a few. Different cultures are valued and celebrated here - in fact, we've just celebrated the Māori Language Week, New Zealand Chinese Language Week, and the Diwali Festival. Whenever there is a cultural festival, we participate in activities and share photos and videos on Yammer. In fact, I was approached by my colleagues to teach them some phrases in Mandarin and Cantonese. As a Chinese, I really appreciate their efforts in learning about my culture and languages, which made me even more proud of my culture!
I love working with my colleagues who are so passionate about promoting international education at ENZ. In fact, when I was going through one of my old photos 8 years ago when I was an exchange student at the Victoria University of Wellington, I spotted a familiar face - my current colleague at ENZ! Both my colleague and I were so surprised and excited to find out that we crossed paths 8 years ago. "Isn't it amazing that a previous international student is now working on promoting international education within New Zealand and to the world?" she says, as we were both looking at the photo.
I am so pleased to be able to contribute back to the industry, and at the same time, I feel so lucky to find my true calling - Education along the way!
About the contributors
Isla Ye is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Education New Zealand. A previous international student back in 2014, she has worked across various roles in the education sector, as a teacher, student advisor, and marketing and communications coordinator.