From Russia to New Zealand: "I've lived two different lives"
Andrey Sukhomlinov left an extraordinarily remote corner of the world at the age of 17 to study in New Zealand, with little English and little knowledge of the country he was coming to, but with boundless optimism and enthusiasm.
Home was Petropavlovks-Kamchatsy, on the far eastern seaboard of Russia, almost 7000km from Moscow, and the decision to leave was a relatively spontaneous one. “The whole experience was pretty surreal.”
He was introduced to the possibility of an education experience in New Zealand by ACG (Academic Colleges Group), which held a fair in his hometown back in 2008. “I had never heard of them visiting Russia before, let alone my hometown as it’s so remote.”
Andrey admits that at the time he wasn’t keen to stay on in Russia and “jumped at the opportunity” to come to New Zealand for a six-month stint in Year 13 at ACG Parnell College.
“Looking back on it, I really wanted to go somewhere far from home and different. I placed all my hope on it being a better place and it turned out that it was. That internal drive to explore took over and I followed my intuition.”
Student life provides connections
Having improved his English, Andrey went on to study for his Bachelor of Commerce in finance and economics at the University of Auckland, where he found his tribe. “Life in Russia did not resonate with me in the way that life in New Zealand did,” he says. “I think what was missing for me at home was the kind of openness and connectivity which is so apparent here.”
Coming to New Zealand I was exposed to other people’s perspectives and backgrounds, and I really connected with that.
"I felt a sense of belonging and that I could be who I am without judgement. Breaking away from being expected to fit a certain mould at home was a big thing for me.”
With new-found confidence and his degree completed, Andrey travelled the world on modelling contracts before “returning to the original plan” and establishing a career in e-commerce and project management.
And he has the perfect credentials for his current role at The Mind Lab, helping to launch Mission New Zealand, an online education portal aimed at international students. “It provides short courses and micro-credentials as a taster of what education in New Zealand is like and what it can provide. It’s a full circle moment for me.”
Mission New Zealand highlights what makes an education experience in Aotearoa unique through the lens of creativity, sustainability, tech innovation, and culture. “I think it puts us on the map in terms of global education.”
Looking back, Andrey says he would have loved the opportunity to access a platform like this as a student travelling to a foreign country, “to really get an understanding of what it’s like on the ground”. He says he is excited to see what impact Mission New Zealand can have.
The decision to leave Russia for New Zealand has been life-changing for Andrey. He is now a citizen and knows his future lies here. “There is so much social and career mobility here and that’s exciting for me.”
He arrived determined to carve out a new path in life and he has certainly achieved that. “I have grown into a person who is more confident and assured, and not afraid to explore new opportunities.”
He now has plans to explore and better understand the significance of te ao Māori. “I want to immerse myself in that space. I love that in New Zealand there is more than one way of seeing the world. It is so important that there is an alternative perspective,” he says.
“I would like to get a deeper understanding of the tenets of te ao Māori, to see the challenges we are facing and the potential solutions through a different lens.”
His advice to students considering coming to New Zealand is to get fully immersed in the culture “and absorb it all”. “Don’t come to recreate what you had at home. If you do, you’ll miss huge opportunity for personal growth.”
Andrey says his life now looks nothing like his old life. “It’s like I’ve lived two different lives.” And he’s not done yet.
“Coming to New Zealand has drastically changed how I view myself in the world,” he says.“ Through international education you realise that your actions do matter, that you do have the potential to make a real impact. You start seeing yourself as an individual in a connected system.”
“Keep exploring is my motto for the future.”