Joseph Foon feels for international students trying to adapt to life in New Zealand – especially in the face of circumstances thrown up in 2020 by Covid-19.
A third-year Bachelor of Business Studies student at Massey University's Manawatū campus, Foon came to New Zealand to study from Fiji as an 18-year-old in 2018.
Apart from distant cousins on his mother's side, he knew no one here. "I had little money, couldn't afford to buy textbooks; it was a struggle adapting to life not only at university, but to New Zealand in general," he says.
So he has enormous sympathy for the difficulties being experienced by Pacific students who came for study in the months before the pandemic hit. Because of travel restrictions most haven't been able to get home in the holidays and those new to New Zealand "get very homesick."
While Foon eventually settled in well after utilising some of the many support services and systems in place to help Pacific, Māori and international students orientate at Massey, his experience motivated him to help others in return.
Earlier this year – his final year of study – he took on a role as a student adviser with Manatoa, a campus-based Pacific mentoring and leadership programme. He has up to four students under his charge offering guidance mainly in weekly online meetings.
"I know what it is like to struggle, especially in your first year," he says. "I was asked if I would help and I am happy to do it. I think student-to-student support is crucial because we are at their level and are like friends."
Foon has completed his study – he majored in finance – but believes that without the support he received after joining an on-campus Pasifika club, he would not have achieved such high pass marks.
Through the club he found out about a bursary available to promising students facing financial hardship. He successfully applied and was able to buy books and a new laptop.
"It was a big help," he says. "Things were difficult in my first year. The weather was colder than at home, the technology was different, I had trouble with the way people spoke and found it hard to understand New Zealand slang."
Siata Tavite, Associate Director Pacific at Massey Business School says there are around 400 Pacific students in the school. She says without the support structures like Manatoa many would be in danger of falling through the cracks and either dropping out of study or being put off enrolling in the first place. "Unlike school there are no roll calls at university, no teachers checking on them; it's up to the students," she says.
Tavite says the challenges thrown up by Covid-19 have been particularly difficult for many students and highlight why it is important support options are available: "It (Covid) created big changes, especially for students studying on campus who were expecting to be face-to-face with their tutors."
She says events away from university also had an impact. One example was the case of a Pacific student who had to cut her study time because both her parents and in-laws lost their jobs during the first lockdown.
"She was forced to find work herself to help out but didn't tell anyone. By the time we found out she was at her wits end with worry about how she was going to continue her studies."
Tavite said with support the student was permitted to start afresh in the second semester, while fees applying to her first semester were refunded.
"Without the support mechanisms she may not have achieved such a satisfactory outcome," she says. "Her example shows how during times like the pandemic Māori and Pacific communities carry a higher risk both to their health and livelihoods."
As well as the Manatoa mentoring programme, a number of other support systems are in place for Maori and Pacific students at Massey. These include a team of Pacific student and learning advisers, orientation and social events, spiritual support, dedicated student spaces, Pacific student associations, Māori and Pacific librarian.
Massey Business School Promising Student Assistance Bursaries are available for students facing financial hardship. Established in 2016, they are funded by the school's development fund with one each being given to Māori, Pacific and international students.
School leavers with leadership potential are also eligible for Business School Future Leaders Scholarships, at least a quarter of which are intended to provide support for Māori and Pacific students.
Meanwhile research centre Te Punaha Matatini, which brings together New Zealand's leading researchers in physics, economics and biology (among other disciplines), says youthful Māori and Pacific populations are a demographic gift: "It must not be squandered in the post-Covid reset. Ongoing investment in their potential will not only benefit wider and future whānau, it will also future proof regional economies."
For more information about Massey University Business School visit: Massey.ac.nz/study-business