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Student Voice

5 June 2019

The Sisterly Bond That Brought a Vietnamese Student to Tauranga

The Sisterly Bond That Brought a Vietnamese Student to Tauranga

If it weren’t for her older sister, Helen (Anh Ngoc Bao) Tran would never have ended up in Tauranga.

Even with a university degree, it’s hard to get a professional job in Vietnam without connections, which is why many families send their children to America, Canada or Australia for school.

But Helen’s older sister Steffany, who moved to New Zealand after meeting and marrying a Vietnamese-born, Kiwi-raised man, knew her adoptive country would be a great fit for Helen. It took hard work, sacrifices and guidance from Education Tauranga, but Helen arrived to her sister’s warm embrace in January 2016.

Here’s Helen’s story of joining her big sister and studying in Tauranga.

Life in Vietnam

With an older and younger sister each eight years apart from her in age, Helen is a classic middle child and a bold young woman. Self-described as outgoing and loud, Helen isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.

Steffany laughs that she, the eldest, would never be allowed to sport the trendy brown-dyed hair that Helen pulls off so well.

The Tran family is from a small, quiet, agricultural town in the southern Vietnamese province Tien Giang. Their busy parents ran a clothing factory that made and sold clothes to Cambodia.

Just out of school, Steffany met Steven and moved to New Zealand where she has learnt a new language and culture, married into a Kiwi-Vietnamese family and had a baby named David. 

Helen's school in Vietnam - Nguyen Dinh Chieu

Helping Helen Move to Tauranga

Steffany wanted to help her sister move to New Zealand, largely to help secure a bright future for Helen, but also because the two sisters have always been very close and missed each other dearly.

“I wanted to her to stay with me because my parent’s finances are not enough to support her. If Helen stays with me, it’ll help them financially and I will get to be with my sister again.” – Steffany

Steffany, who had been living in New Zealand for three years, approached Melissa Gillingham at Education Tauranga.

"Helping Helen achieve her dream of studying in Tauranga and bringing the sisters together again was a very rewarding experience. I feel honoured to have been part of their journey and I am proud of the success story that they have both become through their own hard work, determination and sacrifice." - Melissa Gillingham

Helen’s Arrival in New Zealand

Nervous and excited, 15-year-old Helen arrived in New Zealand to find herself in a completely different world. Vietnam and New Zealand are so distinct, that Helen couldn’t think of a single similarity.

“The first thing I noticed was that there are so many cars on the roads. At home, the main vehicle is motor bikes.” - Helen

The people were not only speaking a different language, but they looked completely different. The average person was taller with lighter hair, skin and eye colours and Helen was fascinated, albeit a little culture shocked, with this sensory overload.

“I think most international students feel homesick in the beginning, but I never did. I was with my sister again and we were laughing all the time. There was never an unhappy time. The only thing I worried about was my studies.”

Studying at Aquinas College

Being Catholic, Steffany knew local Catholic high school Aquinas College would be a good fit. She knew that despite being unable to drive and living in the city centre, the challenges of getting to and from school would be worth Helen having the familiarity and significance of a Catholic community at school.

Arriving in Year 11, Helen worried about being able to understand the teachers and complete the assessments. Dedicated, hard-working and committed to her studies, Helen spent every spare moment practicing English or studying.

Three years on, Helen has won a Principal’s Award and a Commendation Card Award for helping new international students. During last year’s International Week, Helen represented the international students, doing a speech on her experience for the entire student body.

“I grow up every day here. I understand more about the subjects, understand the teacher and do the assessments with good results. I really appreciate Aquinas college, it has changed my life.”

Finding a Community

Helen has made many friends, Kiwis and other international students, during her three years in Tauranga. She has taken on a leadership role among the international community, helping other new students settle in and flourish.

The Catholic community is an important one to the Tran sisters. Their faith has given Helen and Steffany common ground with others in town, even when everything else from ethnicity to language, culture to customs feels entirely dissimilar. Their shared religion not only provides a spiritual family, but is also a starting point for connections to the wider community. 

Helen’s Passions and Future Goals

“I asked Helen what she likes and she said accounting so I encouraged her to study that. But then I got sick and was in hospital and she came with me. When there, Helen realised nursing was what she wanted to study.” – Steffany

 “My heart was pumping. I thought being in hospital is one of the hardest parts of people’s life and they often don’t have anyone helping them. I want to be there to help people during this stage.” – Helen

Since discovering this passion for helping people, Helen has decided to pursue a degree in nursing at university next year.

Sisterly Bond

Helen: “Steffany takes an important role in my life. She can be my mum when she takes care of me. My friend when we laugh together. My sister when she supports me.”

Steffany: “Helen is able to not live with my parents, but she can’t live without me!”

While the youngest sister is only eleven, the older two hope they can bring her over and complete the Tran trio once she reaches high school age.


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