25 October 2022

Ticket to ride brought Andres all the way to New Zealand

People & Culture

A chance encounter on a bus ride in the mountains of Colombia eight years ago put New Zealand on the map for Andres Ardila. It was the start of his love affair with Aotearoa and an impactful involvement in international education, both as a student and an advocate.   

“I sat next to this guy and had a really friendly conversation in English, and at the end of the journey he said ‘we need people like you in New Zealand’. He gave me his business card and when I did my due diligence, I found out he was Peter Cullen, Colombia’s Honorary Consul in Wellington. And that’s how my relationship with New Zealand began.” 

At the time, Andres was studying for his Bachelor’s in International Business in Colombia and needed to complete an internship as part of his degree. Mr Cullen knew of organisations in Aotearoa which were interested to learn more about Latin America, especially Colombia. One of those was Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao, where Andres secured a six-month internship in the Wellington office.  

“It was thanks to my internship back in 2015 that I learned that international education is an effective way to develop networks and share ideas. New Zealand is an absolute champion at this,” he says. “I also learned that international education is an effective way to create change. 

“I returned to Colombia knowing that I had found some sort of connection with this land and its people, and convinced that whatever I did in life, I needed to go back to New Zealand one more time.” 

Returning to Aotearoa as a student  

It took five years of determination, hard work, and saving before Andres returned to Aotearoa in 2020, this time as an international student. He chose to study for a Postgraduate Diploma of Contemporary International Studies at IPU New Zealand in Palmerston North. “There are many institutions in New Zealand, in addition to the universities, which are providing high-quality education with the required oversight and accreditation,” he says. 

Andres arrived on one of the last flights into New Zealand before Covid restrictions saw the border closed to non-citizens and the nation move into a lockdown. New to the country and on his own, it could all have gone wrong, but Andres says he was well supported from the start.  

“The general message was that if I needed anything at all, I only had to ask. I know that it wasn’t necessarily like that for international students in other countries. Although I was far away from everyone I knew, I didn’t feel alone. 

“There is a real spirit of manaakitanga (care and respect for people) here. And the new code of practice for the pastoral care of domestic tertiary and international students absolutely reflects that.” 

Andres now has a New Zealand partner and a sense of belonging in her family. “I came here as a Latin American, and now feel like a Latin Kiwi. I feel exotic but also embraced.” 

Tapping into passion for international education 

They have moved to Taranaki, where Andres works as Admissions and Enrolment Advisor at Green School New Zealand, a role which continues to tap into his passion for international education. 

“I thought the job ad was written for me!” he says. “They wanted someone who had been an international student, and who also had experience recruiting students. I had been an international student in the US, Austria, and NZ; and had helped recruit students in Latin America.” 

Green School New Zealand is a destination school, and families are making the life-changing decision to leave their home country to experience the education and ethos here, he says. “I get to support them in that decision, and I think that’s pretty cool.” 

“What I love most about international education is its capacity for building connections, and I think New Zealand understands this very well,” Andres says.

“They will gain an understanding of the Kiwi way of life in a country that is multi-cultural and tries to understand others, tries to be as green as possible, tries to be loyal and pure.” 

“New Zealand will stay in their hearts forever. It did for me, and it’s very special. I’ve lived in other countries, but Aotearoa was the place I fell in love with.” 

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