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Learning English helps EIT students to find their feet

May 8, 2020

A picture taken before lockdown: Heeya and Sandra on campus.

Starting a new life in a foreign country is never easy. Immigrants have to leave friends and family behind, adapt to new customs and adjust to the basics of everyday life. The biggest issue that newcomers face is the language barrier. Not being able to communicate makes you invisible and affects every area of life.

No doubt, there is no way around learning English if you want to feel at home in New Zealand. EIT students Sandra Sosa-Rivero and Heeya Yun have accepted the challenge and are tackling the intricacies of the English language together. EIT’s English Language programmes have not only increased their language skills, they also created wonderful friendships and opportunities.

Sandra grew up in Uruguay, South America. In 2004, searching for a better life for them and their three children, Sandra and her husband Walter relocated to New Zealand. First Walter and her oldest daughter, who returned to South America three months later. It took another five months for Sandra to join Walter while their children remained with family in Uruguay.

The couple, both trained chefs, took every job they could to save the money needed for immigration. “It was incredibly hard,” remembers Sandra. “I’m social butterfly, I love to be around other people. However, in the beginning we were pretty much excluded from social life. I told myself that I had to stay positive and strong.”

Sandra worked in packhouses and cafés. Although she was capable of making cabinet food, simple tasks like understanding a recipe were a big obstacle. But she had to earn money and didn’t find the time to study.

Six months after Sandra first set foot in New Zealand, they were finally reunited with their two younger children. The oldest daughter decided to stay in Uruguay. From that point, everything fell into place. In 2008, they had saved enough money to buy a house, they felt safe and content and Sandra decided to enrol at EIT. “I started to love the English language despite its difficulties. It opened the door to a new world. I always told my husband that we have to catch up with people and practice our English although it was tiring at times.”

Sandra says she is not scared to speak anymore. “We go out a lot, I love Salsa and belly dancing. We mingle with people from all over the world, and invite them for Asado, Uruguay’s traditional barbecue.”

For many years now, her husband has been working as a chef at Hukarere Girls’ College, while Sandra is a full-time student, still proceeding with her English studies. Before lockdown, Sandra also started a Certificate in Marae Cookery to revamp her cooking skills.

Born and raised in South Korea, Heeya has become one of Sandra’s close friends, bonded through their shared English learning journey. The mum-of-three followed her husband Han to New Zealand four years ago. The first two years the family lived in Auckland before Han, a software engineer, accepted a job offer in Hawke’s Bay.

Heeya’s qualification as a social worker is not recognised in New Zealand. Still, Heeya sees the positives. “The job market in South Korea is incredibly competitive. It’s all about promoting your career. It’s also a lot more stressful for children. I really enjoy the slower pace here in New Zealand,” she says and adds with a smile, “It’s a little bit quiet here though. In Seoul everything is open 24/7, it’s a city that never sleeps.”

Once her English is up to speed, Heeya plans to study Health and Wellbeing at EIT to gain employment in a retirement village. Heeya says that being a member of the Riverbend Bible Church helps them to make new friends. “I also tell my children to speak English with me so that I can improve my skills.”