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International student changes career as a doctor for sport science

Lili Dai has given up the busy schedule of being a doctor in China to study clinical exercise physiology in Hamilton, New Zealand. 

After making the decision to move to Hamilton, New Zealand from Shenyang, China, in January 2020, Lili Dai made a big decision – to change her career. 

Giving up her profession of ten years as a physician, Dai decided to enrol at Wintec to study a Master of Science (Human Performance Science) in Clinical Exercise Physiology as an international student. She is now in her final semester of the degree and will be graduating at the end of the year.  

Dai moved to New Zealand with her husband and young son after talking to friends of theirs who had been living in New Zealand for some years.  

Settling on Hamilton, Dai enrolled at Wintec because she saw the merits of practical study. 

“I did some research on the website and I read that studying at Wintec prepares you to be “a confident and work-ready graduate” and I thought yes, I really like this philosophy,” Dai says. 

Giving up her career of 10 years wasn’t an easy choice for her to make, but she doesn’t miss the busy and stressful lifestyle of life as a doctor. 

“When I decided to leave my job, I asked myself – is that the right decision? Everything is new – the culture and lifestyle. I was a bit anxious about what was going to happen,” Dai says. 

“But as a doctor life was stressful and busy. Doctors are always working under pressure. Especially in China, we didn’t have holidays and work was always the top priority, especially when you’re working with patients. Even when you’re away from work, it feels like you’re still working.” 

Her career experience was invaluable and taught her skills that have come in useful for her master’s studies in Clinical Exercise Physiology. 

“There is a lot related between my background in medicine and clinical exercise physiology. The clinical exercise physiology works with people with chronic diseases,” Dai says. 

“When I was a doctor I worked with people in the late stages of their diseases and the only interventions they could have were medications or surgeries. If I could work with people at an earlier stage as a clinical exercise physiologist, it would be so helpful so they can stay active, and even change their lives. It’s so meaningful,” she says. 

Dai is making a positive impression in her classroom, and her tutor Dr Glynis Longhurst, Principal Academic Staff member at the Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance, says she is a “beacon of hope” for the international students in their centre. 

“Many of the students in the class have leaned on Lili’s medical knowledge, and she finds time to mentor other students who may struggle with the practical elements of the course,” says Longhurst. 

“Her peers describe her as being humbled, dedicated, supportive and encouraging. She also has an openness and willingness to embrace the diverse cultures in New Zealand, reciprocating by sharing her own culture with her peers, enhancing the cultural intelligence of all those around her.” 

Her attitude and influence was also formally recognised this year as she was the recipient of an annual Wintec Adult Learners Award, in the International category.  

Dai’s moxie and verve has seen her adjust to New Zealand life quickly, but it has come with its challenges too, as her and her family have had to adjust to an entirely new culture and pace of life. 

One of the most positive things about moving here though is how much her son Joshua, six, is loving it. 

“He is really enjoying his life – his new school, classmates and friends. He’s so excited to go to school every day, and in the weekend and holidays he’s asking me when he can go back because he misses his friends,” she says. 

Although being away from home comes with its difficulties, Dai is thankful to have found her community of classmates, in particular a friend who studied the same programme as her last semester who she now “thinks of as family”. 

Dai and her husband do miss their families in China though, and think about their parents often, as each are their parents’ only children. 

“Our parents are getting older. Sometimes we will think about our parents, how they need someone to support them. There are moments you will think – oh – at this moment, I really miss a specific food or meal that my parents made for me.”  

For the most part though, Dai and her family love their new life here in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and have found an easy solution for the times they do miss their parents’ home cooking.  

“If we really miss some food or meal, we’ll go to the Asian supermarket, buy the ingredients and try find a YouTube video that teaches us how to cook the dish!”  

Find out more about studying a Master of Science (Human Performance Science)

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