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Student Voice

8 January 2018



After leaving his hometown of Igling in Bavaria, Germany to backpack around New Zealand in 2014, David Zencominierski quickly realised that one year was not long enough in New Zealand.

With only a few months left on his working holiday visa, David decided New Zealand was the perfect spot to pursue a childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist. He enrolled in Tauranga’s Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and has just completed his Diploma in Marine Studies. He plans to extend the programme for another year to gain a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biological Sciences through Waikato University.

Life in New Zealand has been a tangle of love and study: love for the ocean, love for his ex-partner – an American woman he met in the South Island – and love for the people of Timor Leste, a developing Southeast Asian nation he visited to further his studies.

David is unsure if he will stay in New Zealand forever, but one thing is certain: studying and living in Tauranga has been a wonderful, life-changing chapter of his life.

A Love of the Sea

David grew up in a landlocked German village, yet his love of the ocean dates back to his childhood.

"I started diving at 13 years old. I did a diving course in Spain and after that, my Dad and I would do diving trips in Spain, Egypt, Oman, The Maldives or Greece every year.”

This early exposure to the deep blue sea instilled in David a fascination with marine life. He spent hours poring over ocean-related books: Jacque Cousteau, scientific picture books, educational books about whales. If something lived in the ocean, David knew about it.

“It was the weird stuff I was interested in. My favourite animals are sea squirt, which are small sessile invertebrates.”

A Backpacking Trip to New Zealand

At 21 years old, David was ready for a change. He had finished a three-year engineering apprenticeship and the career prospects were not thrilling. One day, he decided to take a gap year as far away as possible in a country surrounded by sea. The following day, he booked his ticket for New Zealand.

He lived with friends in Nelson for the first two months, then bought a campervan and toured the rest of the South Island. Five months in, David could tell he needed more time in New Zealand.

Marine Studies at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology

“As a child, I would say, ‘I want to become a marine biologist’. Marine studies was always at the back of my mind.”

Surrounded by the sea, his childhood dream which had been simmering away on the backburner came to the fore. He wanted to become a marine biologist. He wanted to stay in New Zealand. There was only one way to satisfy both.

David researched marine studies in New Zealand and discovered Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology’s programme. Knowing nothing of the gorgeous stretch of beach that is Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach, David enrolled.

“I came up here, had a tour of the campus and I was instantly hooked. I loved the idea of not just sitting in a classroom, but actually going out to work in the field. We have boats and dive tanks and dive field trips!”

Learning from the Sea, in the Sea

The Diploma in Marine Studies is a hands-on programme incorporating field trips, data recording, first aid and plenty of dive expeditions. Students even have the opportunity to get their Dive Instructor certification.

“In our first year, we did a field trip to Whitianga. We did a couple of dives from shore, then went out on a catamaran for four nights, diving four to five times a day.

“Second year, we went to Tuhua (Mayor) Island. This time, we had to organise the trip ourselves. I was group leader and responsible for organising our food and diving compressors.”

But the dive trips are not all fun and games! The class of around 40 students – mostly Kiwis – recorded the fish that they saw, estimated their size and handed over the data to be used by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

Falling in Love with Timor Leste

David’s ex-partner Alexandra – whom he met in his first year in New Zealand and had been in a long-distance relationship with until last year – was working for an NGO in Timor Leste while David was studying in Tauranga.

“I went to visit Alex in June 2016 for two weeks and I did my field work there studying sea squirts.”

During his visit, he got involved with Conservation International and created a documentary on local fishing practices. David returned a few months later for a second trip, this time to learn more about the local practice of turtle poaching and how it impacts sustainability.

David is in the process of securing funding for a fourth trip to Timor Leste. He hopes to be able to return to the country and work with the locals to discover how to make marine protection work for them.

The Marine Studies Diploma

Achieving a diploma in Marine Studies is a dream come true for David and he credits the quality of the programme and its tutors for making it a rewarding and enriching experience.

“I’ve been supported to pursue areas I am interested in. If you have some self-initiative, this course supports you to follow your dreams and sets you up for a great career.”

Not only have tutors been wonderful with the programme, but they even make the time to help David on his self-directed study, helping him navigate the world of grant applications for his next Timor Leste trip.

That Tauranga Lifestyle

Between study and travel, life in Tauranga is fairly busy for David. When he gets the chance, he loves running up the Mount and going for a swim – or, preferably, a dive.

“I live in a rural area with a veggie garden and a stream running through the land. It’s a homely feeling, living with families, dogs and cats.”

Where to Next?

“I’m feeling more and more comfortable here in Tauranga; I’m making more connections and it’s starting to feel like home here. But I’m also really attached to Timor Leste.”

His future in unpredictable, but he has another year of study before he has to figure out what is in store. For the time being, David is excited about another Kiwi summer, a possible trip back to Timor Leste and learning how to sail.

Want to learn more about studying in tauranga?

Join us on Facebook and contact our 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