Volunteering is at the heart of a New Zealand experience for a group of students from Hong Kong studying with the
English Language Academy (ELA), the language school at the University of Auckland | Waipapa Taumata Rau.
It’s National Volunteer week and the students have been living up to this year’s theme ‘Time to Shine - He wā pīataata’
pushing their comfort zones to practise the English skills they’ve learnt in the classroom, out in the community.
The group of 15 is participating in the ELA’s six-week Cultural and Language Immersion Scheme. Their arrival from the
City University of Hong Kong was eagerly anticipated after two years of Covid-19 border closures halted the usually
steady stream of overseas students.
The volunteering aspect of their programme is unique, and a valuable part of building their English proficiency.
Students are matched with fields they have an interest in - and where there is plenty of interaction - including charity
shops, aged care homes and the New Zealand Maritime Museum on Auckland’s waterfront.
The students’ first week of learning in New Zealand is a classroom-based cultural orientation and a chance to research
their volunteer organisations before moving to their hybrid timetable of a morning classroom session and an afternoon
The Māori concept of manaakitanga - the act of showing respect, generosity and care for people - is used as a framework
to help students understand both the responsibilities of volunteering and the valuable contribution they are making.
Having manaakitanga as a basis is also an effective way of providing feedback to the students further down the track,
says Paul O’Farrell, acting director of the English Language Academy.
“It’s a way of walking them through the impact their actions have on everybody involved.”
Jeffrey Lam, one of three students volunteering at the Maritime Museum said something he will take away from the
experience was the respect New Zealanders have for other cultures.
“People are helpful and friendly and love to greet others. Even the bus driver says good morning and thank you.”
The three students volunteering at the Maritime Museum have been greeting visitors, directing them to exhibits and
helping other volunteers with their work.
Candice Yeung says volunteering work is important to her because she likes helping people and it is effective way to
contribute to society.
“As we are not native English speakers, we may be afraid of speaking English sometimes but we can express ourselves with
the use of body language and it is also a chance to improve and learn from our mistakes.”
“ELA provided lessons to guide us on how to be a good volunteer – things like being on time, taking initiative and being
patient with visitors and what they ask.”
Quintina Situ added that “we learnt about Māori culture before volunteering, so we can use “kia ora” to replace hello
when greeting people.”
It’s not all work and no play for the students, however. They visited Cathedral Cove and tried Coromandel oysters one
weekend and spent another experiencing the cultural and natural attractions in Rotorua and Waitomo.
“This group has a real hunger to immerse themselves in New Zealand culture,” says Paul O’Farrell.