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International student support during extraordinary times

June 17, 2020

EIT international student Sajeela Ismail at the Student Village in Hawke’s Bay.

EIT welcomed over 750 new and returning students across its three campuses in semester 1 under the most extraordinary circumstances. During what should have been an exciting time, settling into a new country and starting academic studies, many students were faced with a set of challenges unlike any other.

“Within a few weeks of starting my studies at EIT, the country went into lockdown. Confined to my bubble along with two other students, I was unable to go out and interact with others. With the uncertainties about my family back in India, times were tough but right from the beginning the EIT International Student Support team stood with us, supporting us in every possible way under the circumstances. The team gave us moral support through weekly online meetings which were so much fun. The sincere efforts from the entire team to keep track of our wellbeing and academic progress throughout the period was truly commendable. With New Zealand’s remarkable achievement in dealing with the pandemic, it’s a blessing to be here right now,” says EIT Hawke’s Bay student Sajeela Ismail.

For the EIT International Centre team and the students they support, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about new ways of communicating. Reaching out, checking in and providing the latest information became a key focus as academic delivery moved online. EIT International Centre put a support network in place to ensure students continued to feel safe and well connected.

The Student Support team used Messenger and WhatsApp groups as well as private social media pages to keep in touch with students. The team also set up weekly Zoom meetings to bring students and staff together to catch-up over coffee. This enabled students to share their concerns and ask questions in a supportive space. Further updates were sent via weekly student emails packed with information about EIT and community support, activities, wellbeing and emergency contacts.

EIT International Centre worked closely with regional community organisations including Civil Defence, Multicultural Association Hawke’s Bay, Learning Hawke’s Bay and Citizen’s Advice Bureau to support students. One such collaboration with Learning Hawke’s Bay and Citizen’s Advice Bureau enabled funding to be secured from the Ministry of Education Wellbeing Fund for some important webinars. During a well attended online session, INZ Sector Strategy Manager, Celia Coombes answered queries about work rights, post study work visas and other immigration related questions. In another great session, students were able to talk with Employment Law Specialist, Tania Waterhouse from Employee Rights NZ.

Taking into account the financial struggles of some of our students during the COVID-19 lockdown, EIT approved a hardship fund for international students. The team continues to support eligible students to open bank accounts and access the hardship fund.

As New Zealand returns to relative normality, EIT campuses are open for students to access facilities while online learning continues for most until the end of Semester 1. Many EIT international students are enjoying reconnecting with friends and making plans to explore New Zealand, just like EIT Auckland student Gaurav Maru. Gaurav recently won the Stars of EIT student competition with his story about a trip to Devonport.

“I plan to spend a real casual, sunny day in mid-December at Devonport eating my sandwich by the wharf, wandering in and out of the shops, taking in the views of Mount Wellington and the rest of the evening sipping on a smoothie (too darn sunny) before making my way back to Auckland city,” wrote Gaurav.

So far, the 2020 international student experience has been challenging to say the least. However, our international students continue to show incredible resilience and a desire to look to the future and make the most of their time with us at EIT and in New Zealand.