29 August 2022

Vanessa builds digital skills to help drive change in PNG


Vanessa Simbiken came to study in New Zealand driven by determination to use her digital skills to bring about real change back home in Papua New Guinea.

She had a diploma in computer technology and a good job with a major telecommunications company, but she also had big ambitions and knew that an international education experience in New Zealand would take her where she wanted to go.

“I saw that there were many areas where digital solutions could really make a difference. It was one of the driving forces which motivated me to study in New Zealand.”

As Vanessa was searching for a university where she could study computer science, her friend returned home from Auckland University of Technology. “She told me so many wonderful stories and I was just so inspired to go and experience New Zealand and AUT for myself.”

“She gave me an idea of what to expect and I knew I would be going into a supportive community. It was only when Covid arrived that I truly experienced how supportive it really was.”

Vanessa came to New Zealand on a Manaaki Scholarship, funded through the New Zealand Aid programme. “It was the reason I could come and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

The value of a Manaaki Scholarship

“The scholarships allow students who are passionate about creating a brighter future in their home countries to gain expertise in their field of our study,” she says. “It also provides exposure to new perspectives and the chance to build life-long relationships with like-minded professionals, which is something I really value.”

Although Vanessa’s father and brother both travelled overseas for education, not many of her friends have. “So now I’m trying to be the influence on my friends, encouraging them to take up that pathway.

Vanessa considers that a real bonus to her study experience was the opportunity to take up a summer internship.

“It was optional for my programme, but it was provided through the Pacific Cooperation Foundation for students who were part of the Manaaki scholarship programme. I applied so that I could gain experience working in a large multi-cultural organisation.”

Securing a role at Watercare in Auckland she not only gained valuable work experience, but also professional networking opportunities which have resulted in lasting connections with many of her former colleagues. “I had an amazing manager and I reach out to him from time to time. He has really helped me a lot and he’s one of the life-long contacts I’m going to be holding on to.”

Boosting confidence and career

With her Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences completed last year, Vanessa is now back in Port Moresby working as a Digital Transformation Associate with PwC and loving her new role.

“Studying in New Zealand grew my confidence as a person and has allowed me to progress my professional career,” she says. “It broadened my horizons and gave me a different mindset.”

Deciding to become an international student takes drive and commitment, but the rewards are worth the effort, Vanessa says. “I spent months researching the options and needed to stay motivated during the year it took to secure my scholarship and place at AUT. It took a lot of planning, but it was something I had my heart set on.

“I knew a degree would give me better opportunities and New Zealand was just such an amazing place to study. It has had a very big impact on where I am now.”

If she had another opportunity, Vanessa says she would head offshore again to pursue a Master’s in Data Science, but for now she is busy convincing her peers of the value of a New Zealand education.

“I tell them this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Don’t only go to study, go to really experience New Zealand, the culture, and the people.

“They ask me, what if I don’t get the scholarship and I say you’ll never know if you don’t try, so just go for it. Expect to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.”

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