My role at Study Northland is to work with schools and tertiary institutions, helping to promote Northland as a study destination and to improve the experiences of international students studying here.
Part of my job has been to discover why students choose Northland and what they love about their time spent here.
Our warm climate, safe, welcoming communities, authentic culture and incredible nature are all cited as important factors in their decision.
Marketing as a region means we can promote these unique features of Northland and then show the impressive range of great schools and study options available here.
Working together also means we can showcase the unique and authentic experiences international students have in Northland and show how it greatly enhances our regional study offering.
There are still a large number of international high school and tertiary students in Northland who arrived before lockdown and, although new students have been unable to enter the country, we are planning hard for when they are allowed back.
There is no doubt stories about our international students during Covid-19, combined with our organised and timely response to eliminate the virus, have enhanced New Zealand's reputation globally as a study destination.
Study Northland now has a website dedicated to studying in this region with a page for each school and information on living and studying in Northland, as well as profiles of student ambassadors and stories of student experiences.
The experiences and stories that our current international students share with us will help future students decide on the Northland region as a place to live and study.
To this end, Study Northland has recently launched a student ambassador programme working with a group of engaged international and domestic students, providing opportunities for them to connect with Northland's culture, environment and community.
Culinary challenge to celebrate Northland's unique flavours
How my pride for Northland grew during lockdown
A winning speech we can all draw on
The ambassadors, who come from nine Northland learning institutions, are chosen for their enthusiasm for our Northland way of life and their willingness to embrace new opportunities.
Programmes such as this help to bring together domestic and international students, while enabling them to get to know the real Northland and to increase diversity and global thinking.
Recent events have included extending every newly-arrived international student to New Zealand with a heartfelt, traditional Māori welcome at Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
We greet them with a private pōwhiri and a presentation of welcome certificates, while teaching them waka drills, pūkana, Poi Rākau and a waiata by Waitangi educator; we even throw in a Kiwi lunch of fish and chips, wrapped in yesterday's newspaper!
This not only helps to nurture global citizenship, it creates lifelong memories and kick-starts each student's Northland experience.
Last week, we welcomed 26 new student ambassadors from 13 different countries – including New Zealand – to our Study Northland Ambassador Programme event, held at the beautiful Kōmanawa Retreat, 40 minutes from Whangārei.
One of the guest speakers at the event was Study Auckland student ambassador Saurab Lama, from Nepal, who has been studying at Auckland University for the past 18 months.
In a stirring address, he advised students to "embrace who you are, embrace where you are from and use that diversity to promote studying in Northland. Be yourself and think of this as an opportunity to experience more of New Zealand".
With those few words, he managed to perfectly capture the Study Northland ethos.
We are also working on a number of collaborations with Study Auckland, the international education arm of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, including a soon-to-be-released series of videos designed to promote Northland businesses, stunning locations and adventure opportunities to Auckland's youth and tertiary students.
The videos, narrated by international students, capture the people and the unique story behind the individual businesses, showcasing authentic Northland or, in the words of the students, "a true Kiwi paradise, only two hours from Auckland".
Among the many impressive locations, the students were filmed at HeadsUP Adventures in Whangārei, Tahi Honey in Pataua North, Oceans Beach, AH Reed Park, and the iconic Jaggers' Farm Camping Ground, where they stayed in a luxurious Perfect Four tent overlooking Whangārei Heads.
There are some 15,000 international tertiary students still living in Auckland, looking for unique and authentic experiences out of the city, and Northland's proximity makes it the perfect destination for a weekend away.
Other projects in the planning include tertiary experiences for high-school students in Auckland and Northland, and a cultural event where international students can share their own culture with the Northland community.
We are excited to welcome international students back to New Zealand and Northland once it is safe to do so.
• Jo Lees is project manager for Study Northland, the international education arm of Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.