"It reminds me of my home."
That was how 16-year-old Loanna Pothanah described Tauranga compared to her birthplace in Mauritius.
The sun, sand and surf triggered memories for the East African-born teenager who will call Tauranga home for the next two years.
Loanna arrived in Tauranga with her mother and father in December last year and was one of 770 new international students officially welcomed to the city yesterday.
In the two years she will spend here, the teenager will finish off her school years at Tauranga Girls' College and plans to go to university when she graduates high school.
The 16-year-old hopes to study mechanical engineering either at the University of Waikato's new CBD campus or in Auckland. "I love cars," she said.
Loanna said her family fell in love with Tauranga after visiting the city about three years ago.
"My dad saw it and said it was a wonderful country. I think he fell in love with it," she said. "It reminds me of my home."
The teenager had settled into her new life in Tauranga and had already found herself a job at a local Burger Fuel.
She had also spotted differences between Tauranga and her hometown in Mauritius.
"There are lots of jobs. If I was living at home I wouldn't be able to have a job," she said. "We have to be 18 years old."
Ava Crone, 15, arrived from Hamburg in Germany and will stay for eight months going to school at Tauranga Girls' College.
"I wanted to go somewhere where it was sunny and I like the college," she said. "The Mount is beautiful and so is the weather."
Japanese student Rino Ochi, 16, will attend Tauranga Girls' College for the next nine months and said she enjoyed visiting the local beaches.
"I love the nature of New Zealand," she said.
Education Tauranga regional manager Anne Young said it was the first time a welcome event was held for all new international students.
Previously, two international student leaders per school were invited to the event.
"This year we wanted to be more inclusive and ensure that all of our new international students and their families had the opportunity to be welcomed to the region," she said.
"We wanted to demonstrate the diversity they bring to our schools and celebrate the value they add to our community."
The 770 students will attend primary and secondary schools as well as language schools, private training establishments and public tertiary institutions while staying in Tauranga.
Most students will stay for one year or more.
Young said international students were very important, particularly to New Zealand's young people.
"Increasing globalisation means that our young people need to expand their horizons," she said.
"Having international students in our classrooms, host families' homes and in our community brings the world to our doorstep. It creates lifelong friendships, connections and networks."
Education Tauranga chairman and Pillans Point School principal Matt Simeon said international students were an important and valued part of the community.
"They bring cultural diversity and teach our Kiwi students about a different way of life," he said.
Simeon said last year Tauranga hosted about 1500 international students aged 5 to 18.
A total of 680 students came to Tauranga to study English and more than 100 students studied in tertiary education.
More than 500 studied here for a short time, he said.
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said the 770 students represented 25 different countries, including South Korea, Germany and the Philippines.
"International students are so crucial to New Zealand's own young people. It encourages the idea of getting to know other people from different countries and cultures."