27 October 2021

The global citizens helping connect New Zealand with the world

People & Culture

Before the pandemic, New Zealand was a temporary home for over 100,000 international students – global citizens who bring their knowledge, experiences, culture and diversity with them.

The future looks like arts and crafts. In a room at the TSB Arena in Wellington in August, the Festival for the Future expo floor is packed with things to paint and fold and stick and make. At a stall for the Sustainable Development Goals I pick up a wooden bead representing the 11th goal – sustainable cities and communities – and paint it carefully orange, ready to be strung into a bright pattern with everyone else’s. As a shameless eavesdropper, this is my natural habit. I listen to two people discuss 3D printing, while another group sip ethical soda on colourful beanbags and chat about responsible investment.

At the Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao (ENZ) stall people line up for coffee while filling out forms about their experience of “global citizenship”. ENZ is the crown entity responsible for international education in Aotearoa. In 2019, pre-Covid-19, there were over 100,000 international students in New Zealand, studying mostly at tertiary institutions, but also at primary and secondary schools. Since 2013, more than 2,400 New Zealanders have been awarded Prime Minister’s Scholarships to study in Asia or Latin America.

ENZ partnered with the Festival for the Future to discuss what international education and global citizenship looks like in the unique confines of 2021. For Carla Rey Vasquez, ENZ’s global citizenship manager, the strategy’s value in an era of limited travel is the gift of a dual perspective to complex problems. It is also an opportunity to help New Zealanders understand the nuanced and mutual benefits of international education and the long-term relationships it creates with people around the world.

“Our world is characterized by complex issues. Global citizenship offers an opportunity to find ways to navigate and respond to those issues through shared understanding,” she says. “It’s about realising the value and power of your identity and knowledge, but also acknowledging the potential of others’ experience and perspectives on the world.”

This is a worldview that Rey Vasquez says is built on a relationship of local belonging and responsibility to our people as well as people across the world. International education is an essential way New Zealand builds that bond with the rest of the world, bringing diverse people, organisations and countries together.

Vasquez, a former international student herself, knows how transformational international education can be for both the student and New Zealand.

“It brings the world to our home, if we can harness the cultural value that international students bring to New Zealand we will all grow as global learners,” she says.

ENZ sees global citizenship as a way to bring shared understanding and learning between countries and cultures. Marc Doesburg, senior innovation advisor at ENZ, believes it offers new perspectives on the world, and a chance to question one’s own understanding. 

“We give young people an opportunity to critique [their cultures] by going overseas, to see that things are done differently here.”

International students are a significant source of income for education institutions and the New Zealand economy, contributing more than $5b in 2019. But for both ENZ and international students the benefits students bring New Zealand are far broader than a GDP injection.

That works both ways – studying abroad was an “invaluable” experience for New Zealander Anna de Boer, who studied Mandarin in Shanghai as part of a Prime Minister’s Scholarship and has been back to China several times since. De Boer now works with international students at Victoria University of Wellington. She wants to reframe the narrative that international students “come here, take something, then go back to their home country.”

There’s a huge benefit in how international students can take a piece of New Zealand home with them, and leave an important part of their own story behind in Aotearoa too, says De Boer. This builds long term relationships that have value far beyond the years they spend studying.

This was originally published on The Spinoff as part of a content partnership between Education New Zealand and The Spinoff.

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