By the time Tareq Assad walked into EIT's English Language Centre inquiring about English courses, he spoke so fluently that the tutors wondered what he was doing there.
They soon learned this was a man not afraid of a challenge.
It takes a brave person to fly halfway around the world to start a new life in New Zealand, with at first, hardly a word of English. As a new arrival, Tareq Assad overcame his initial communication problems and let his hard work and quality baking do the talking for him. Before moving to New Zealand 12 years ago on a key skill visa, Tareq had managed the cake and dessert section in a five-star restaurant in Amman, capital of Jordan.
Though he's modest, his customers will tell you Tareq is a first-class baker, producing perfect pavlovas, cakes and pastries since arriving in Hawke's Bay. He was employed by Pak'nSave in Napier and worked in the bakery for more than seven years.
In 2015 he moved on to work at the New World bakery in Hastings, where he rose to the position of manager. Through sheer willpower, self-teaching, and a natural ear for language, Tareq was speaking practically like a native speaker. But writing and reading were another story altogether. Arabic and English are poles apart as written languages. Soon these writing deficits brought him to a limit.
"As a manager I was expected to write a lot and my English was simply not good enough. I offered to step down."
It was also the time when his Kiwi wife, Allannah, gave birth to son Adam, now 3-and-a-half years old. With the arrival of a new baby people often re-evaluate their priorities and also consider career changes. It was no different for Tareq. He enjoyed baking but the night shifts really took it out of him.
Being a man of many talents, Tareq applied to work for the police but again, his written English let him down and disqualified him. Tareq couldn't put his language issues off any more. So he pushed himself out of his comfort zone to seriously open the books and put pen to paper. This month, he has successfully completed the Level 3 General New Zealand Certificate of English Language, a 16-week intensive course.
"From being a novice writer who barely knew a comma from a full stop, Tareq has progressed through to writing 250 word reports, essays and information sheets," says one of his tutors, Paul Lishman.
Half of the course was spent in lockdown, which brought with it the additional challenge of online learning. Thanks to his patience, perseverance and the goodwill of supportive classmates from Japan, Thailand, China and South Korea, Tareq emerged from the lockdown with a new range of computer skills and the drive to become a firefighter.
"I had planned on going to Jordan since my family has never met Adam but that's not going to happen now. Luckily my hobbies keep me busy."
A keen boxer, his punching bag is a good outlet for the frustrations of crazy English spelling. Tareq is also a member of the Pania Surfcasting Club and made the news last year catching a 25kg kingfish. The other silver lining from two months of being housebound at his Taradale home was more precious time with his wife and son.
"I needed a holiday, to sit back, clear my mind and start afresh," he explains.