Life-changing experience for Associate Professor from China

February 2, 2021

Emma in front of the Tukutuku panels which were created for EIT’s wharenui, Te Ara o Tāwhaki

The decision to study abroad wasn’t an easy one for visiting scholar Qi Yan and little did she know of the challenges the year ahead would bring. Having never travelled beyond China and facing the prospect of leaving behind her husband and two young daughters, there was much to consider. However, with the support of family and colleagues, Qi seized the opportunity and travelled to New Zealand in January 2020. 

Qi or Emma as her EIT colleagues and peers now know her, had always dreamed of spending time in an English-speaking country to enhance her career. Having worked as an English teacher at the School of International Studies at Binzhou Medical University (BMU) since 2002, Emma was proud to become an Associate Professor in 2020.

BMU is one of the key medical universities in Shandong Province, China and has been working in partnership with EIT since 2016. As educational partners, EIT and BMU have established international articulation agreements for pathways into business, computing and viticulture and wine science programmes.

With the support of Executive Dean, Fred Koenders and International Business Development Manager, Richard Cao, Emma received an invitation in October 2019 from EIT to spend time at the Hawke’s Bay Campus to further her research into the ‘effectiveness of online and blended language courses’ and improve her English language skills.

During her first three days at EIT, Emma joined with EIT whānau to volunteer for an exciting project on campus. The group helped to prepare and assemble thousands of laser cut pieces of plywood to complete Tukutuku panels for the interior of EIT’s wharenui, Te Ara o Tāwhaki. The stunning Tukutuku panels were officially revealed and blessed on 12 February 2020.

After starting at EIT’s English Language Centre, Emma’s first few weeks were going well until New Zealand announced the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emma says she will never forget that day.

“We were asked to come to school with our own laptops and were given online instructions. An ensuing sleepless night was fair enough but words failed to express my depression. What is the point if I cannot fulfil my goal? It suddenly felt like a waste of life being locked down far away from home.”

Being part of the English Language Centre, Emma was supported by her teachers who inspired and motivated her to keep going by practising her reading, listening and speaking skills. 

At the end of May, Emma was transferred to EIT’s Educational Development Centre (EDC) to start her research. As New Zealand was still in lockdown, Emma admits to feeling totally lost every morning during online meetings. Emma struggled to understand what everyone was talking about in this new environment. However, with the warm encouragement of her colleagues at EDC and the International Centre team, she started to feel better about everything.

Emma received several emails from volunteers within the EIT community who were ready to help by connecting with Emma online to improve her oral English.

“I was given this amazing opportunity because all those conversations took place either at home, or at the beach, or on the way to walk the dogs. I felt relaxed, and I learnt to express myself. It’s this experience that changed me, not only in my English language but also in my work and life,” says Emma.

During term break, Emma took a trip to the South Island. Mesmerised by the breathtaking views of the rain forests and crystal clear lakes, the break reinvigorated Emma and gave her the motivation to plan the rest of her time in New Zealand. Emma decided that the best way to reinforce her knowledge was to take an IELTS test. This, along with other experiences at EIT helped with her research project.  

“What really matters is finding the confidence to face challenges and break out of your comfort zone. I couldn’t have imagined making a 20 minute speech in front of a room of native English speakers with only 5 minutes preparation, but I did it!” says Emma.

Emma says that there are so many exciting events for international students to get involved with at EIT such as the orientation activities on campus, the International Dinner and the International Farewell Party. Emma found that these experiences were so welcoming and gave her a sense of ‘whānau’.

It’s clear that this has been a life-changing experience for Emma. “I am so grateful that I chose New Zealand. It is a blessed place, where I have been surrounded by lovely people. I am also proud to have studied at EIT. It’s a promising institute, with helpful and friendly faculty. At the end of my journey, I feel extremely thankful and grateful for this wonderful experience.”