15 December 2022 at 11:00 am

Student Ambassadors build global citizenship skills   

Building community connections and new experiences for international students has been a key focus for domestic and international students participating in the Student Ambassador Programme. 

Student ambassadors

Since it was set up in 2021, the programme has involved around 85 secondary and 50 tertiary students in six participating regions – Northland, Auckland, Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Whanganui and Wellington. Northland acted as national coordinator.  

“International students can sometimes find it difficult to connect with locals, make friends or venture outside their campus,” says Sahinde Pala, GM Sector Services at Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao (ENZ). 

“Language and cultural barriers, hesitation to meet new people, lack of knowledge of opportunities off campus, or budget constraints – many factors can play a part. The emergence of Covid-19 and lockdowns made it even more important to address these challenges, and so we worked with a range of people, including regional partners and Welcoming Communities, to develop the student ambassador programme.”  

The programme has developed differently in each region, but with the same shared goals.  Another common factor has been the training provided for student ambassadors – the opportunity to complete a New Zealand Global Competence certificate, training in social media, and specially tailored training provided by ISANA NZ.  

“Student ambassadors are bridgebuilders and leaders, who create opportunities for students from different cultures to form relationships and learn about each other,” Ms Pala says.   

“The ambassadors themselves also gain from the programme, by developing their understanding of cultural differences and learning new skills and strategies that are valued by employers. And regional communities benefit when international students feel valued and connected – they are more likely to remain in the area or recommend it to others.” 

The ISANA NZ Student Ambassador Training explores intercultural concepts in an interactive and engaging format that can be run online or in-person. Participants are then able to apply their learning to develop activities and events that help students to connect with the wider community. Debrief sessions towards the close of a programme cycle support students to reflect on what they have learned from being a student ambassador.  

“I enjoyed learning about how communication works between different cultures, going over cultural values and how some are visible and invisible and learning top tips to help me improve as an ambassador” – student feedback. 

“Our Northland student ambassadors joined the ISANA workshop as a group of excited students interested in global citizenship and finished as a tight knit group of inter-cultural leaders in the school community. They learnt to work together, giving everyone a chance to contribute and respecting each other’s perspectives. The communication and planning skills honed in the workshop, enabled them to run a large-scale ‘Matariki Kai Festival’ event, introducing a range of food from cultures across the school to the students.” – Jo Lees, National Ambassador Coordinator and Project Manager at Study Northland. 

Other activities sparked by the programme in different parts of New Zealand have included a Kiwi Cooking Class, an Auckland Weekly video series, international languages week events and Matariki events organised and run by the ambassadors, diplomatic events attended by ambassadors from other countries and an International Students Issues Panel Discussion. 

One of the student ambassadors was recently profiled by ENZ: Michael Ren – Award-winning app designer eyes a future in tech | Education New Zealand (enz.govt.nz) 

Several regions have indicated they hope to continue their student ambassador programme beyond 2022: Northland, Tauranga and Hawke’s Bay. 

“This student ambassador training is much needed, not only for the international education sector but also across wider communities in New Zealand. In fact, I think everyone could benefit from this training if they have not received similar training before in intercultural communications and leadership,” says Wenhua Yang, Regional Manager at Learning Hawkes Bay. 

To learn more about the ISANA NZ Student Ambassador Training, please contact: caroline.stevenson@isana.nz  

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