Studied: Masters in Social Work (Professional) University of Auckland
After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of the West of England, Bristol back in 2008, I never thought I would find myself back in academia again. Knowing the work that is involved and the fees that are required, I really questioned whether the benefits would ever outweigh these costs. However, having spent some time (18 months) living and working as an English teacher in South Korea I quite liked the experience of living as an expat immersed in another culture and the challenges and rewards that this brings and left with a feeling of sadness that this adventure had come to an end.
That was in 2013. Fast forward two years to 2015 and I was getting itchy feet to live in another country once more. The first challenge was to find a course that I could instantly translate into a career afterwards, and social work seemed like a good fit because of my background related experiences and my Psychology qualification. I was adamant that I did not want to complete another thesis, so working with Study Options I was able to find a course that involved two practicum placements, research papers, but no written thesis. By this point I was virtually sold on the idea. The only thing left to decide was a location, and with New Zealand always being a country that I had wanted to visit and having family over there this seemed like the ideal place to start my next adventure. After a meeting with Study Options, it seemed that the pound was quite strong against the New Zealand dollar, so paying international fees to study over there wouldn’t be quite as expensive as I first feared.
So in February 2016, I first stepped foot in New Zealand – going straight from Winter to Summer in the hours it took for the flight over there. My first week over there was spent in a Backpacker’s hostel, with little ventilation, an array of clubs that stayed open until 3 or 4 in the morning at the weekend, and jetlag to boot! Needless to say, finding a more suitable accommodation was my first priority. I found a suitable studio apartment on Trade Me, which seemed like a reasonable distance from both the city centre and the campus that I would be studying at. It was so quiet and peaceful there that I instantly felt that I was in Paradise.
I was welcomed onto my Campus marae with a Powhiri Ceremony (traditional Maori welcome for visitors) and my course co-ordinator created a “Haere mai” (Welcome) group for me and the other international students to help get us settled into our new home here. We exchanged various stories of our trials and tribulations of adapting to this new culture and these exchanges helped us to feel that we were all in the same boat. Our course co-ordinator was excellent – she was also from overseas, so was well aware of the challenges faced by foreigners in adjusting to New Zealand as a bi-cultural country.
It was a challenge for me to get back into the habit of writing assignments and reading quite technical papers, but with the first couple of essays under my belt I began to slowly ease back into life as a student once more. Under my student visa, the conditions meant that I was allowed to work up to 20 hours per week to support myself during my studies. So I started with a couple of casual positions– one as a note-taker through the university for students with a disability, where I learnt about New Zealand Law, Politics and more besides, and the other as a Relief worker serving food and clothing to the homeless. After a few months of doing this work, I applied for an Non-Government Organisation position as a telephone and online counsellor for “tamariki” (children) and “rangatahi” (young people) across New Zealand. I learnt so much through this job, and I feel that it really supported my studies at the time through the skills that I was learning, such as empathic and reflective listening, and learning to just “be there” for someone without judgement.
However, this work barely covered my weekly rent and living costs, so it was only through the support of my partner’s full time work that we were able to start saving for the second year of my tuition fees. Auckland is not a cheap city to live in and the first two years living here it was very hard to get by, living off a very strict budget and relying on walking to places wherever possible and public transport. Now that New Zealand has companies such as Uber, Ola and Lime scooters, I feel that being a student here would be a lot easier for those unable to afford a car. We only had one trip outside of Auckland in that first year, which was to Coromandel for Christmas. It was only after we bought a car, however, at the end of my two-year Masters, that our lives started to become easier.
I was very fortunate to land a job just over a month after completing my Masters. I found it by accident, as the company I was working for in my role as counsellor were looking to fill some full time positions for a new pioneering service. I accepted the role on the condition that I could work for my full Social Work registration alongside, which was agreed. Although the role is not strictly social work, it carries many similarities but without the care and protection mandate that a ministry organisation carries. In this role, I work with children and young people with complex behaviour, emotional and/or social problems in their school, home and community. It is a holistic and strengths-based service that has a good evidence base, particularly among Maori whanau (families).
I have now completed my 2,000 hours to become a registered Social Worker here in New Zealand and am in the process of applying for Residence with my wife after tying the knot earlier this year. It has not been an easy journey to get to where I am today, but sometimes an element of naivety is a good thing so that you are not deterred from making that first bold step that can literally be life transforming. I am hugely grateful to Study Options for clearly highlighting the pathway for me, and for making me feel that the impossible was in fact possible. I have not looked back since I first set foot in this beautiful country over three years ago now and am excited about what the future has in store for us.