Perspectives of an International Student in Aotearoa New Zealand

June 18, 2022
Kang Min Hyeok (Chad Kang)
Global Ambassadors

On Thursday, June 9th, 2022, Global Ambassador Chad Kang (Kang Min Hyeok) spoke in front of an all-school assembly at Tauranga Boys College (TBC) to introduce the idea of creating a Culture Committee at the school. This is a copy of the speech he gave.

Today, I am here to tell you guys a bit of a story of myself as a student from a different country that goes to school in NZ and how I ended up doing the speech in in front of the whole school with the language that I’m not even that good at. This whole story starts from May of 2019 which was my first year in NZ. Actually, TBC is not my first school in NZ. It was a high school in Palmerston North. Back then, I was so full of excitement and anticipation that I couldn’t wait to talk to people with the language I was so passionate about learning and to experience new things in such a new culture. Unfortunately, it didn’t last for that long. The language barrier was higher than I expected and being included in the local community was harder than I imagined. The excitement and anticipation that motivated me to step forward soon turned into self - disappointment and fear of getting rejected by others.

Of course, I looked different and spoke little English, but I also had a strong cultural colour which is obvious since I spent way more time in Korea than I did in NZ. The way I was speaking, the way I was thinking, the way I was behaving, the way I was joking, the way I was eating and everything, every small thing was similar but different to other students due to my cultural colour. These differences between myself and other students made an invisible wall which prevented both me and other students from approaching each other. As a result, by the end of the year, I learned nothing but how to greet in several asian languages as people kept saying “Nihao” or “goniziwa” every time they walked past me. And I also gained nothing, but an uncle named Kim Jung Un somehow by the end of the year. I was thinking “Surely, I can learn something more than how to say “hi” in other Asian languages. Surely, I can gain something more than an uncle named Kim Jung Un, paying $15000 per a year just to come to school”. 

Since then, I decided to change, and I had to change. So, I started to observe those who came from different cultures like me but got along with local students well. And I found out that they were trying to be exactly like other students at school. You see, here’s an important thing: They were not like other students for sure, but they were trying to be like other students at school. They tried to think, talk and behave like other students. So, I decided to do the same thing. I had to hide my cultural colour and become a “normal” student at school. Even though it took some time it worked really well, and I could finally build some friendships with local students and be included in the local community more.

I will be honest with you, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed being treated like others and being identified as a normal student. The invisible wall blocking me and other local students was gone like it never existed and I felt a sense of belonging. But It felt like I had two identities, inside and outside the school. When I was Inside the school, I would be a person who prefer to eat sandwiches for lunch instead of rice and call K-pop as gay-pop. But, when I was outside the school, I couldn’t have a singlemeal without  kimchi and I could dance for an hour just listening to “gangnam style”. I love eating rice and listening to K-pop but I had to pretend like I don’t because that was the way to survive from being just a quiet and mysterious Asian who is super good at maths at school, which wasn’t me again because I wasn’t good at maths. As you could imagine, I couldn’t handle the confusion in me by having two different identities and soon gave up trying to be like other normal students. And, as expected, the invisible wall between me and other students at school started to be built again.  

My story and situation cannot speak for all the international students, but I can confidently say that students like me who are from different cultures have been going through the same or similar struggles to mine day by day. And now, I am wondering Why can’t it be changed? Why can’t we lower that invisible wall and make the school community a place where students that have different cultural backgrounds understand and include each other more while maintaining their own cultural colour? Why can’t we? I see the needs and possibilities so why can’t we start the change?  I see the need for this change at school, especially in NZ because of the unique aspect which is a massive diversity of cultures. If we just look at TBC, stats show that there are 53 different ethnicities at school. This means, We have 2102 students who are from 53 different cultures at school. That’s something very unique that can only be seen at schools in NZ . I also see the possibilities because NZ has already done this before as Maori Culture is so respected and understood by not only those from Maori Cultures but by those who are not from Maori Culture as well which is impressive. So, knowing those needs and possibilities, I decided to stand up here today and speak about the change.  However, we can’t do it without your support.

We understand your stances. Why would you want to try to understand and talk to people who don’t speak English that well and have different cultural backgrounds to yours when you’re busy talking to your mates who are fluent at English and from similar cultural backgrounds. There is no motivation or reason for you guys to make this change at school. We understand and that’s what we’re going to do, giving you guys a motivation and reason to try to understand us. But as I said, we can’t do it without your support. 

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me or other international students. I am telling this hoping this might help you guys understand a bit more about the circumstances of students from different cultures, so maybe next time, when you see students struggling to speak English, you choose to help them out instead of laughing at them. Maybe, next time, when you see students expressing their cultural colour, you choose to try understanding them instead of ignoring and staring at them like they are not “normal”. And, If you bring those little changes and efforts into our school, I believe we will be able to give an actual impact to our community.

Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit our school community and I’m looking forward to bring that collective strength with you, altogether, by breaking down that invisible wall existing among us.

Left - Robert Mangan, Principal, Tauranga Boys College | Right - Kang Min Hyeok (Chad Kang)