Yash Dole did not choose New Zealand as his first destination for study - he came only because he had an aunt living here.

But the 21-year-old has enjoyed his Kiwi study experience over the past three years and says he will most certainly recommend the country to any of his Indian friends thinking of studying abroad.

"The problem I think is that New Zealand is still not very well known in India, and everyone only talks about going to America or the UK," said Mr Dole, who is from Pune, a city near Mumbai.

"I think New Zealand can offer a lot more to international students than any of these countries can.

"Even in a recession, there's still far less competition for jobs here than elsewhere, and that means far more opportunities for students who come here to find work and settle down."

Mr Dole, now an AUT business undergraduate, has been able to secure work at a call centre and also successfully applied for permanent residency last year.

"I am proud to call myself a Kiwi now. Compared to India, this country is like paradise," he says.

Research by the Ministry of Education in 2007 found New Zealand was not the first choice for 36 per cent of international students.

But several international students who have been here for two years or more told the Herald they were happy being here, despite it not being their first choice.

"I really love it here, and I am so used to the lifestyle I found it hard to adjust when I went back home for the holidays last Christmas," said Yulinda Zhang, 20, a Unitec business student, who came in 2008.

"I think overall the lifestyle for students here is better, not so stressful and more balanced than in China."

Immigration New Zealand says its research has found that international students choose New Zealand because it is English-speaking, as well as its safety, quality of education and international recognition of qualifications.

The agency says scenery, lifestyle and opportunities for travel and adventure also feature highly in the decisions of those who study here.

After graduating, many could apply for work permits and then gain residence as skilled migrants.