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Student Voice

24 June 2020

How a Chilean Student Went With the Flow When Covid-19 Hit

How a Chilean Student Went With the Flow When Covid-19 Hit

Chilean journalist Karina Palma Trujillo came to New Zealand to work on her English.

She arrived on a working holiday visa and, within her first year, had experienced life in various regions, worked in kiwifruit and apple packhouses, acquired a Brazilian boyfriend and improved her English dramatically.

But she also discovered that her time in New Zealand was far from over, so she applied to study English at Tauranga’s Bay Learning Academy. Enticed in by the school’s ‘adventurous learner’ philosophy, Karina eagerly started her studies in March 2020, but only three weeks later the country ended up in lockdown.

Here is Karina’s story of how to go with the flow in a new country when the unexpected happens.

Growing up in Chile

Karina grew up in the Chilean capital Santiago, a city of over five million sandwiched between the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range mountains.

A writer at heart, Karina was never far from a journal and pen, so when it came time to apply for university, studying journalism at Universidad de Chile was a no-brainer.

“As a journalist in Chile, it’s important to have a second language. It opens a lot of doors and lets you write about world news.”

After gaining local experience for a few years, Karina headed to New Zealand to immerse herself in the English language.

Arriving in New Zealand

You could say that the seed for moving to New Zealand was planted in Karina’s childhood.

“The very first book I read as a child was about the kiwi. It was a story of a bird who cannot fly and, to this day, that book is the first thing I think of when someone says New Zealand.”

She arrived and spent a year on a working holiday visa, hoping that this immersive experience would enhance her English skills. What she didn’t expect was to fall in love, both with a man and with the country. The year flew by in a blink.

 “I had learnt conversational English but I still had a long way to go. I wanted to study the language too.”

Studying at Bay Learning Academy

While there are English language schools across the country, Karina loved that adventure activities were written into the curriculum at Bay Learning Academy. Along with lessons and weekly written, verbal or multiple choice tests, the class heads out into the real-world three times a week for hands-on learning experiences.

One afternoon, the students are ziplining through trees at Adrenaline Forest; the next, they’re discovering the distinctly Kiwi activity of Blokarts.

“You learn English in a different context, and have fun while doing it! You have to follow instructions and are always in a different situation. You don’t even realise how much you are learning, but it’s all processing.”

Karina got to enjoy three weeks of her four-month programme this way.

Then Covid-19 and lockdown hit.

“I was worried about my family back in Chile, but I wanted to stay. Having my boyfriend, Diony, here helped me feel calm.”

Lockdown certainly threw a spanner in the works for Karina. Her adventure-filled English studies went digital, Bay Learning Academy continuing to teach students using Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp.

“The teachers always ask what skill you want to focus on. People don’t always correct you, but in class you always get good feedback. I’m really happy with how much my English has progressed.”

Along with studying, Karina spent lockdown going for regular runs along the nearby beach and learning to cook.

“The pandemic has really changed my perspective of New Zealand. I loved it before, but sometimes thought it was too quiet. Now, I like the calm. I feel more present, more focused on the day to day. I’m grateful to be here.”

Luckily, Karina and her classmates could return to class at Level Two.

“We were all so excited to be back in class. Just yesterday, we explored Leisure Island and learnt about its history."

Chile Versus New Zealand

They’re both small countries in the Southern Hemisphere famed for scenic mountains and sea. So how does Chile compare to New Zealand?

“The landscape, especially in the South Island, is similar to the south of Chile. I love that you have mountains and snow here.”

As for differences, Karina misses Chilean food, especially her mum’s famous soup. She misses the street markets and is still not used to seeing people jogging and walking their dogs at sunrise.

“In Chile, we don’t get up before 8am. We eat much later and there’s a vibrant nightlife.”

Future plans

Karina’s studies come to an end in early July, at which point she will apply for a partner visa.

“I want a job where I can speak English a lot and practice my skills.”

She doesn’t feel confident working as a journalist in English yet, but this goal is an excellent motivator.

“Writing is something that I always need to do. I would love to start a blog sharing the stories of people who have left their home countries. Everyone has a story to tell.”

Where she will end up in the long-term is anyone’s guess.

“I thought I’d move back to Chile, but I met a Brazilian living in New Zealand, so who knows?”

Advice for international students

“Tauranga is a really good place to study. You can enjoy the outdoor life while you learn English. For Latin Americans, there’s the opportunity to meet all sorts of people here.  

Life is relaxed and the standard of life is high. There are parks everywhere and the beach is always close. People are very kind and welcoming.”


Join us on Facebook and contact Regional Relationship Manager Melissa Gillingham for more information:

Melissa Gillingham

 Regional Relationship Manager

 Education Tauranga

 Tel: +64 7 571 1401 ext. 707 | Mob: +64 21 724 272    
 Address: Private Bag 13057, Tauranga 3141, New Zealand  
 Email me