Studying at Mahurangi College’s International department, from left Angelina Yu, William Yu and Marin Nakaura.
Border closures in the wake of Covid-19 have left Mahurangi Colleges’ cohort of international students separated from their homes and families – in some cases for two years. Communications student Alisha McLennan asked how they were getting along …
Lincoln Song is in Year 13 at Mahurangi College. He has been studying in New Zealand for five years, and for the last two he has not been able to return to China.
“I haven’t seen my family in two years, it’s quite a strange feeling. I feel nervous about seeing them again. It’s like they’re strangers,” he says.
He is also anxious for his family and grandparents back home and says he checks the number of coronavirus cases in China every day.
Fortunately, he has been able to keep in touch with his family via social media.
Visiting the airport is among the things he misses experiencing over the past two years. He says the smells there would remind him of going home
“I think if I could go to the airport again, I’d actually cry,” he says.
On a brighter note, his mum has promised to visit him next year if the borders re-open.
Such stories are common among the 18 international students who remain at Mahurangi College this year.
His friend, William Yu, another Year 13 from China, says that locating specific items, such as food types and the skincare he is used to, have been a challenge from where he is staying in Warkworth.
“Living here, if you can’t drive it’s quite difficult. You have to spend a lot of time planning,” he says.
The students often band together for travelling by public transport into Albany for shopping trips.
William says he is lucky that the popular Chinese beverage brand CoCo is available in Albany.
Students Naoto Onishi and Marin Nakaura have to return to Japan in August for national university entrance exams.
“I’m looking forward to seeing people, but stressed for exams,” Naoto says.
Tania Steen, a homestay mother of another student affected by these exams, and Mahurangi College’s Sports Coordinator says that usually students would have gone home, done the exams and come back to New Zealand to finish the school year.
“But I don’t think that’s really an option any more,” she says.
Before the pandemic hit, Marin says she was intending to return to Japan last December for Christmas, but instead she spent her summer at an English School in Takapuna.
Not all the students have been struggling without their families. Year 13 student Yusuke Maeda, from Japan, says she misses the food but not so much her parents.
Other students have had to make tough decisions. Angelina Yu is in Year 12 and has had to choose between returning to her family in China or continuing her studies.
“They really want me to go back, but I can’t,” she says.
She says staff and students at the college have helped improve her English, and that she video calls her family every week.
Mahurangi College’s international director, Alistair Elder, says on the whole international students have done surprisingly well, which he feels is a tribute to to the homes where they board.
But he says College staff are all conscious that for these students, it is not home.
Mahurangi College’s International Department staff, from left, Sarah Dodds, Lisa Cardno and Alistair Elder. Staff have had to pick up extra hours in other areas of the school to make up for those lost in the international department.
Covid shakes up Mahurangi College’s international department
Mahurangi College had 43 full-time equivalent fee-paying students in 2019. This year they have 18.
Once a profitable business within the school, the College’s international department has had to adapt and redesign in the wake of border closures and international director Alistair Elder says there is no end in sight.
Now, the school concentrates on developing strategies just to break even.
The college’s international student accounts director Sarah Dodds says income has dropped by at least 50 per cent.
The school expects to lose a further nine students this year, which will halve its income yet again. Some staff have lost their jobs, others are working reduced hours.
The English as a Second Language (ESOL) department has been effectively cut in half, in terms of students, classes and staff.
Lead ESOL teacher Tanya Jensen has lost one of her classes entirely . She has had to pick up extra hours in the English department, which she says the school has been accommodating to offer.
“Nobody’s offering permanent ESOL jobs in this climate. For me, it’s coming down to a choice of changing subject or changing country. That’s that,” she says.
With no news of when borders might reopen, the staff remain uncertain of their futures.
“It’s not looking good for any of us,” Alistair says.
The Ministry of Education provided $20 million in transition funding to support state-integrated schools that have lost international students. However, that fund was limited to the 2020 school year.
According to the Ministry of Education, the total number of international students in secondary schools was 10,115 in 2019. The number is now down to 4796.