Student-led business sets out to break down barriers

Business & Economy

Three award-winning Year 13 students from Auckland’s Waitakere College are determined to break down barriers with a business concept which sets out to inform, support, and inspire international students in New Zealand.

InterStudentsNZ, a platform which will host resources and courses to meet the needs of international students, is a regional winner in the Company of the Year category in the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme. It also scooped the Excellence in Promotion Award and Paying it Forward Award.

InterStudentsNZ is the brainchild of budding entrepreneurs Mackenzie Roskruge (CEO), KimSreng Keo (Production Manager), and Russle La Morena (Finance Director), who met through the college’s international student buddy scheme. They bonded over a shared interest in education and curiosity about their cultural differences.

Mackenzie and Russle are both domestic students, but Kim arrived in New Zealand in 2018 as an international student from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, knowing no-one and understanding little of what seemed to be a strange, new culture.

He believes that international students enrich New Zealand communities and have much to offer, but that many don’t make the most of their time here because they face challenges integrating into the community and planning a future beyond school.

“Understanding how people think and how to communicate is important,” he says. “When we first arrive many of us have a big language barrier. There are even subtle cultural differences which we don’t understand, and which need explanation.”

Platform driven by students, for students

Sharing his insights of the challenges that international students can face, the friends determined that more support was needed and that a platform driven by students, for students, was the answer.

The opportunity to enter the Young Enterprise Scheme through their Year 13 Business Studies course, gave the students a chance to turn their ideas into reality.

InterStudentsNZ has big plans. The team want to create a one-stop shop for resources tailored for students to better understand New Zealand’s education system, work environment, and culture.

“For example, if a student came to us and wanted to learn about New Zealand slang, we could direct them to a one-hour course with video tutorials, quizzes and written explanations to help them master slang,” says Mackenzie.

“Or a student might want to learn about social innovation in New Zealand. We could potentially provide a one-two hour course each week for a month with case studies, opportunities for mentorship, and tools for how they could move into social innovation themselves.

Empowering international students in New Zealand

And it’s not only international students who stand to benefit. Surveys of domestic students at Waitakere College showed that they were also interested to explore topics which would likely make them more engaged and invested in their education.

The InterStudentsNZ team all plan to study at the University of Auckland next year and hope to continue developing their business. With more funding, they would like to add workplace mentorship opportunities for international students, courses in te ao Maori, New Zealand history, and New Zealand industry pathways. They also plan a blog space and a social media presence. “We’re creating a digital Aotearoa for rangatahi all around the world to explore.”

Giving international students a sense of belonging

Kim is proud of how much he has achieved since arriving in Auckland as a shy 14-year-old, and grateful for the support he has received from his New Zealand friends. “Working alongside them has been amazing and allowed me to gain so much more confidence. Now we’ve come up with this idea on how to help international students, it’s really strengthened our relationship as a team. “Our business motto is ‘Encouraging Connections’ and that sums up our goals,” says Mackenzie. “It’s about building bridges and supporting international students, giving them a sense of belonging and a great future in New Zealand.”

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