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Student Voice

21 March 2018

Chinese Student Sky Ma Embraces Change in Tauranga

Chinese Student Sky Ma Embraces Change in Tauranga

Chinese student Ziqi “Sky” Ma epitomises embracing the culture and experience of living in a new country.

Despite a lonely start spending hours trying to crack the English language, Sky has grown, evolved and matured into an incredibly well-rounded young man who takes every possible opportunity that comes his way, greeting everything new with optimism.

During his five years in Tauranga, Sky has stayed open and receptive to new culture, language, religion, friends and experiences. Sky, who is halfway through a social work degree at the University of Waikato, sees himself staying in New Zealand long-term and hopes to use his education and natural generosity and kindness to help other youth and immigrants settle into life in New Zealand.

Growing up in China

For the first fifteen years of his life, Sky grew up in Wuhan, a city in central China, home to over ten million people. Life in China was hectic and busy, with lots of noise and constant traffic. Surrounded by millions of people, Sky felt the academic pressure of the Chinese schooling system really bear down during intermediate school.

Like most Chinese people of his generation, Sky is an only child and was close with his parents who he now sees only once a year. He rates his family and authentic Chinese food as the two things he misses the most from back home.

Seeking a New Educational Experience

The move to New Zealand was put in motion by Sky’s father, who wanted Sky to learn English and find a world-class education system that better suited his son’s learning style. At first his Dad pushed for Belarus because of the country’s reputation in engineering, but he decided that it was too cold and Russian was too hard to learn. He then turned his attention to New Zealand which consistently rates as one of the highest quality education systems in the world. The next step was choosing a city.

“We eliminated Auckland because there is a large Chinese population and we wanted me to be pushed to learn English. Hamilton was out because, like Wuhan, it wasn’t near the ocean and Dad wanted a completely new experience for me.”

At fifteen years old, Sky arrived in Tauranga, got settled in with a host family and attended the final term of year ten at Bethlehem College.

“Moving here wasn’t as scary as you’d think. I hadn’t enjoyed middle school back home, I went to bed at midnight at woke up at 6am every day. In Tauranga, everything was really quiet and relaxed.”

Learning English

The isolation caused by arriving without a good command of the English language is a challenging part of many international students' experiences in New Zealand.

“It was so hard to understand the teacher. I didn’t know what my homework tasks were or how to respond. Every night, I’d pull out my electronic dictionary and spend hours translating everything word by word.”

In the early months, the language barrier made Sky uncharacteristically shy and he spent most of those first few months alone. But the immersion in the local language both at school and at home meant that he eventually broke through this barrier. He discovered that he needed to translate less and less often. He made Kiwi friends who, along with his host family, helped him speak English regularly. He started watching - and understanding - English television shows.

“It’s going to be hard if you can’t speak English. You need to work at it and spend a lot of time learning English. But it’s worth it. Prepare yourself for the challenge but know you’ll get there one day.”

A Different Schooling System

Despite how relaxed the school system seems in Tauranga when held up against the endless school days in China, Sky believes this system to be far more effective for his learning.

“There is less pressure from the teacher here. Pressure creates stress, which isn’t always effective for students. It wasn’t effective for me.”

Sky loves that in New Zealand you get the chance to choose your own subjects towards the end of high school, giving students an opportunity to pursue and experiment with their interests at an earlier age.

“You get a taste of the career you’re interested in before entering university.”


Sky feels lucky that he ended up at Bethlehem College, which he describes as an amazing school with a very supportive international department. One of his favourite things to come out of Bethlehem College was the school’s mission trips to the Soloman Islands, which he attended twice.

During these 18-day long trips, the students spent the mornings running a literacy programme with children from the local village. Afternoons were spent doing physical work, like helping the village build fences. It was this experience of helping and empowering people that led him to a decision on what to study in university: social work.


After three years, Sky graduated from college and was accepted to a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus. Sky, who is now halfway through his degree, is finding his desire to help people fulfilled by working towards a career in social work and he hopes to stay in New Zealand after graduating and gain employment helping people locally.

“I really enjoy the programme and learning about people. My favourite papers are on human development. After graduating, I think I’d like to work with youth or immigrants, perhaps help people who are settling down in New Zealand. I'm hoping for a placement in one of these areas later this year.”

The Anomaly in Class

Out of the twenty-odd students in his programme, Sky stands out not for being an international student, but for being the sole male in his class, as well as one of the youngest students.

“There are a lot of mature students, sometimes mums bring their children to class. It was very new to me, but we’ve become good friends now and I’ve learnt how to mingle with people much older than me, which will help in my career.”

For a young man who’s been far away from his mum for five years, this unexpected demographic has had a lovely result…

“They’re like my mums!”

Finding the Church

An unexpected thing happened when Sky moved to New Zealand – he found the Church. Sky, whose family back home are atheists, was placed with a Christian host family who invited him to join them at Bethlehem Baptist Church each Sunday. Christianity has since taken a prominent role in Sky’s life, guiding all his actions and decisions.

“The reason why I want to study social work is because as a Christian, I feel God tells me to share his love with others through helping and serving them.”

Kiwi and Chinese Culture

There are certainly differences between Sky’s big, busy hometown and his new small, coastal Kiwi city. Some of Sky’s favourite things about life in Tauranga are the laid-back lifestyle, Kiwi slang like “chur” and “sweet as”, and fish and chips.On the other hand, there are things he will always miss from back home.

“We make really spicy food where I’m from in China. I miss that. Kiwis tend to cook quickly, chucking everything in the oven, whereas we spend ages each day chopping fresh veggies for dinner each night.”

Sky, who played basketball and soccer in China, quickly adapted to New Zealand sports and was on the rugby team at Bethlehem College.

“It was a new sport to me, it took a year to learn all the rules. But I thought, rugby is so popular here, why not give it a go?”

SKY'S Advice for International Students

“Don’t be shy: try to mingle with Kiwis, talk to people fluent in English and talk about any problem to your host family, they’ll help you settle in to New Zealand. Find the support networks that you need and make it work for you.”




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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  
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