Make Yourself at Home

A Letter to International Students



By Prayag Shethia (International Affairs Officer)


Okay, so introductions and icebreakers have never been my thing. But I guess here we are: Kia Ora, Namaste, I am Prayag Shethia, a second year student studying a Bachelor of Engineering majoring in Mechatronics . I’m an international student from Mumbai, India. I landed in Aotearoa two years ago with an intense ambition to learn, grow and build connections. As an international student we are often met by challenges that aren’t acknowledged by our academic institutions. Because of this, when we encounter new obstacles we often feel isolated and belittled. I got into the role of International Affairs Officer earlier this year to voice our concerns and support international students.


2020 has not been a very fulfilling year for most of us. The world has come to a freezing halt, and none of us are quite sure how to navigate this uncertainty. But for us international students so much seems to be on the line. While we did sign up for new experiences and challenges, none of us anticipated that it would come in the form of a global pandemic.


We all feel very individual during this time, and being away from home only makes things more difficult. Work is being done behind the scenes, however there is always more to be done. There is strength in numbers, so if you have an experience you would like to share do reach out. In this article I have curated my opinions and a brief summary on some of the events that have occurred which directly address and impact international students.


Representation in NZUSA’s National Action Plan


A few weeks ago AUTSA declined to be one the signatories for NZUSA’s (New Zealand Union of Students' Associations) ‘National Student Action Plan’ to help counter and action the plan to help soften the effects of COVID-19 on students across New Zealand. NZUSA has been and is still doing a massive job for the students in NZ and I greatly acknowledge their work. However, the main reason for not signing was that the the plan failed to acknowledge and represent a few communities including international students.


Refund Appeals? Online Learning? UGHHHH


The flip flopping of 'block learning’ created a massive sense of uncertainty and worry among international students. This decision directly impacted international students in a number of

ways, raising issues with visas, academic semesters and finances. Switching to online learning with the normal semester model has some pretty obvious downfalls, which further raised

one of the biggest questions of all - when an international student is paying almost four times the fees and not receiving the practical degree that was expected, whatever the circumstances may be, was it really worth studying? Followed by refund appeals, deferring enrolments and massive dissatisfaction, international students were completely unhappy with

AUT not considering their voices. As a direct response to international student discontent, I have appealed to the Pro- Vice Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of AUT for partial refunds for semester one.


A Massive Win for International Students


Following several weeks of careful and persistent public consultations with the Ministry of Education, Education New Zealand, ISANA NZ, Office of Ethnic Communities, and regional international student representatives from NZISA’s Representative Council, on Thursday 21st

May 2020, $1 million was allocated by the New Zealand Government towards a hardship fund for international students. Thank you to our representatives at AUTSA and NZISA for your hard work and dedication! This new $1 million international student hardship fund supports currently enrolled fee-paying international students who are in temporary financial hardship. Each student is able to receive up to $1,000 from their organisation or education providers. This grant can be used for direct cash support, living costs (excluding salaries, tuition fees and air travel costs) or the purchase of resources such as food parcels. Please be strong and ask for help, in situations like these it is more than okay to.


SUPPORT!


It is vital to raise awareness for international students because we deserve just as much empathy and consideration as any other student during this turbulent time. Here are some support systems available during this trying time.


1. AUTSA


AUTSA can help you navigate through just about anything. Including accommodation, academic issues, wellbeing support and so much more. Get in touch with me –

international.affairs.officer@aut.ac.nz or autsa@aut.ac.nz


2. NauMai NZ


NauMai NZ offers help to international students studying or about to study in New Zealand. It's your place for information on life as a student in Aotearoa

https://naumainz.studyinnewzealand.govt.nz/


3. NZISA


The New Zealand International Students’ Association (NZISA) is an umbrella body that brings together international student leaders nationwide. NZISA represents the collective voice among international students studying in New Zealand.

https://nzisa.co.nz/


4. Ethnic Communities


Numerous ethnic groups have supported their communities during this time. They provide information, advice and services to, and for, ethnic communities in New Zealand and administer funds to support community development and social cohesion.



These are just a few recommendations, as there is a lot of support out there. If you do need help, feel free to come talk to me. I am not as scary as I may look and I love making new connections and meeting new members of our community. I am here to help. These are tough times but I encourage you to make the most of your university experience. Believe in yourself. It is okay to fall down, it is okay to stumble, because you will learn. But, if you do fall, remember to get back up and start running again, because we’re not at the end yet. Whatever goal or target it is that you are striving towards while here at AUT, make sure to give it your all. You cannot shoot an arrow unless you pull it back! Stay strong, and reach out.