Supporting Pacific scholars to gain skills to benefit their home communities
Front row - Puasina (Samoa), Dovena (Solomon Islands), Susan (Wintec | Te Pūkenga International Student Services Advisor), Vali (Papua New Guinea).
After a three year break due to Covid, Wintec | Te Pūkenga is again home to a vibrant group of scholars from the Pacific Islands, thirsty for knowledge and skills that they can take back with them to improve their communities. The group of eleven scholars are here in New Zealand for between 6 months and a year, thanks to Manaaki New Zealand Short Term Training Scholarships (STTS). The scholarships are funded through the New Zealand International Development Programme, and administered by Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao, on behalf of the New Zealand Government.
The scholars have come here from Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tuvalu, and range in age from 25-51. Studying a wide range of subjects across all three Wintec | Te Pūkenga campuses in Hamilton, their chosen careers are as diverse as their homelands, spanning business to horticulture, engineering to IT, and electrical to automotive.
Anderson is one of the scholars here from Papua New Guinea studying Accounting. His parents back home are self-employed and he’s equipping himself to take over the business one day, “I must know some basics of business and financial things so that hopefully I can expand or grow the business and make opportunities for my people back home.”
One month into their stay, we met with eight of the scholars along with Susan Ye, Wintec | Te Pūkenga International Student Services Advisor to find out a bit about their journey. From the outset it was obvious the newfound friends, who are living together in a central Kirikiriroa hostel just down the road from the Wintec City Campus, are settling in well and have already formed a tight-knit and supportive group.
This is not least due to the care and support they have received from Susan and the rest of the International Student Services team to get them settled and ensure they have everything they need to succeed.
Brendon who is here from the Solomon Islands studying Horticulture for six months said, “Susan is really here for us. She’s like a mother to all of us.” This sentiment was echoed by all the scholars, who have clearly formed strong bonds with Susan.
Arriving in New Zealand on a long weekend, Susan and the team wrapped them in support from the minute they arrived. With some coming unprepared for the colder weather in New Zealand, one of the first trips Susan took them on was to go shopping for warmer clothes and other things they needed. As well as the shopping, this trip had an unexpected highlight for the group, who were abuzz at having their first drive in an electric car. “I didn't hear it but it just moved, like magic! And it had the screen that you could see when you reversed,” said Robert, who along with the others got lots of photo.
Robert, who is here from Solomon Islands studying engineering said of the International Services team supporting the group, “if we need anything, they will just come. So yeah, I rate them 100%. I feel at home and I really appreciate it.”
For Susan, she says sometimes she feels like she has a second family. “I really enjoy spending time with everyone, they are just very positive and very caring. I like to go see the scholars during their dinner time and I love the hugs from them when I go home. Like that's the purpose of why I'm doing this job. That's why I'm here.”
Pastoral support is so important to the scholars, who have moved to a new country leaving behind their family support networks. For some, like Dovena who has come from Solomon Islands to study accounting, it has also meant having to leave behind children to take up the opportunity. “I have a 3 year old girl at home and that will be a challenge for me as a mother.”
Add to the family aspect the colder weather, unfamiliar food and new technology to learn, and there have been many challenges and hurdles to navigate. Most of the scholars were used to pen and paper as their main communication tools back home, so our heavy use of technology that we take for granted, has been a challenge for many and something they have had to learn quickly.
Susan reflects on the many things we take for granted, which are new for many of the scholars, “every time I go home after spending time with the scholars, I think how I should appreciate what I have in my life and not take things for granted like a laptop, internet and time with family.”
When the scholars arrived, Susan and the team took them to pick up their laptops, which had been funded through their scholarships, and helped get them used to a new way of working. As they have come to grips with the technology, it has proven to have lots of other benefits for them too, including allowing them to communicate with their families face-to-face via video chats to help them to feel closer to their loved ones.
After spending some time chatting with the group, one of their highlights of their experience so far has definitely been the people here in Aotearoa.
“I love the friendliness. I love the smiles. The hellos and kia oras,” said Vali who is here from Papua New Guinea studying business and leadership. She enjoys hearing our Māori language spoken, having previously only seen ‘kia ora’ written in emails from the High Commission. “We are learning words in another language on top of our own and its good.”
Brendon from Solomon Islands loves the practical aspect of his horticulture course and the collaboration with his classmates, “my classmates are really good and friendly. No one does things by themselves, we just all share ideas and always help each other.
Barao, an Internal Auditor from Kiribati, is studying IT and really appreciates the help he gets from his fellow students, “it's quite new for me so it's challenging. I am very thankful for my friends in my class. They've been helping me out with all the activities.” He also really noticed how peaceful it is and how safe he feels relative to home, “when I accidentally left my equipment behind in the hub, I went back later it is still there!”
Studying business and leadership after not being in education for ten years, Puasina says it’s a blessing to be here, “everyone around me and where we stay is very supportive and helpful.” She works in a library back in her home in Samoa and is very lucky to be here on a bond with her employer, so she is able to receive half of her salary while studying. She found it challenging leaving her kids to come here but she’s positive about the leadership skills and management knowledge she will be able to take back with her.
Karen Kemsley, Wintec | Te Pūkenga International Student Services Manager, is always proud to see the strong, heartfelt and genuine relationship that Susan and the team build with our international ākonga.
“We have had the opportunity to welcome, settle, nurture and uplift each of our Pacific scholars by extending our usual manaakitanga processes, pastoral care and support systems, and we cherish the thoroughly authentic, two-way learning and development that has taken place from having them in our care."
The Pacific scholars enjoy one of their many opportunities to explore Kirikiriroa and New Zealand, with a trip to Hamilton Zoo.
Pictured left to right: Back row - Brendon (Solomon Islands), Matapoga (Tuvalu), Dovena (Solomon Islands), Robert (Solomon Islands), Fatu (Tuvalu), Susan, Vali (Papua New Guinea) and Puasina (Samoa).
Front row - Barao (Kiribati), Amelia (Tonga) and Keukeu (Tuvalu).