International student experience kicks off lifetime of volunteering

People & Culture

Pengbo Jiang has been a committed volunteer for almost 20 years and says his drive to give back to the community is rooted in the welcome he received as an international student arriving in New Zealand from China at the age of 10.

Knowing nothing of the culture and speaking very little English, it was the kindness of volunteers in his local community in Newlands, Wellington, which helped him to settle and assimilate in an unfamiliar environment. Such was the impression they made, that Pengbo promised himself he would give back his time and experience whenever he could in the future.  

There is no doubt that he has kept that promise. Since those early days, this self-described “Chiwi” has donated thousands of hours to numerous community organisations and projects and received many awards for the contributions he has made.  

Early student experience sparks desire to give back to the community 

“Their simple acts of kindness and the volunteering of their time made a great difference in my life that I will never forget. That's where my desire to volunteer and to be part of ‘giving back to the community’ comes from.” 

Aotearoa New Zealand is now home to Pengbo and his whānau, and he has built an impressive career which includes post-graduate study, mentoring, consultancy, and governance roles. He is currently working as Associate Director at Bank of China (New Zealand). But he remains passionate about giving his time to others. 

“Over the years, I have moved from being a cashier at the sausage sizzles to becoming a board member of a nationwide non-for-profit organisation. I’ve moved from being a student buddy to being a mentor at Business Mentor New Zealand and a student mentor for Victoria University. I’ve moved from helping to raise a few hundred dollars to million dollar fundraising campaigns.” 

Among the big campaigns, Pengbo joined with the NZ Red Cross and Wellington community NGOs to raise funds following China’s 2008 Sichuan earthquake, its 2010 Yushu earthquake, and tropical cyclones which hit Fiji between 2011 and 2013.

New Zealand benefits from contribution of international student volunteers 

He says there are many international students who volunteer in our communities, and they have much to offer, and gain, from the experience. 

“They learn about New Zealand culture, gain new skills, make friends, and build a valuable network. International students and migrants also bring their culture to New Zealand, along with their own skills and aspirations. The country benefits from the contribution they make.”  

However, he says many students lack confidence in the early days and cannot see that they have skills to offer. “The most important skill they have is their language. They don’t always recognise what an advantage that is.” 

Pengbo says the skills and cross-cultural connections he has gained through years of volunteering have allowed him to make a meaningful contribution in governance roles across a range of sectors including arts and culture, ethnic communities, conservation, and business. 

He is proud of the opportunities and achievements which volunteering has afforded him, and the role it has played in establishing an accomplished life in his adopted homeland.  

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