Category Archives: International students

WHEN NOTHING GOES RIGHT…

By Eva Izard
Degree: Bachelor of Communication
Campus: Wellington

A step by step guide to handling those below average days.

So, you had a rough day. Nothing went right and despite trying to remain defiantly positive, everything is actually just bloody hard. Sound familiar?

The truth is that we’ve all been there. We all know what it feels like to arrive home and to want nothing more than to curl up into a little ball of nothingness. This sounds serious, but something as minor as the weather can have a serious impact on our mood. But back to the ball of nothingness. Pro tip, don’t actually do that. Don’t curl up. Unless of course you really want to, then don’t let me tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.

But if you want to get out of your funk, stay tuned for my top 10 tips. If they don’t work, then you may feel free to curl up, because sometimes that actually is all you need.

1. Have a good cry (if you need to). Or you can scream, or punch a pillow. Anything that releases the tension. Seriously, it’s never healthy to bottle this stuff up. Listen to your body, feel the emotion and set it free.

2. Take off your clothes. Have a shower. Wash off the day. Wash off the embarrassment, the exhaustion, the workload. Whatever attached itself to you and wore you down, wash it off. Bonus points for using some sort of nice shower gel, you might still be sad but at least you’ll smell good.

3. Put on something really comfy. It might be your favourite tights, it might be your pyjamas, it might even be your exercise gear. If it is, consider going for a run. Running is a great outlet for anger and frustration, so it depends how you feel! If you do want to take it out on the pavement, feel free to raincheck step two. You can come back to that after. Chances are you’ll feel instantly better anyway. All about that #endorphinlife.

4. Boil the jug. This is a very important step because you’re going to need a cup of tea. I’d recommend camomile, but that’s just me. If what you need is an 800ml energy drink, then you do you. Also, even if you make the cup of tea and forget about it, that’s okay too. Sometimes just the idea of it is therapeutic enough, that’s the power of tea (I know, it’s beyond me…).

5. Put on some mellow tunes. You know what I’m talking about, some calming and chill indie beats. This is totally interchangeable, if you’d rather listen to Black Sabbath, I support that! My go to is usually Coldplay, because who doesn’t like to listen to sad things when they’re already sad to make them sadder? Kidding. For some reason it seems to have the opposite effect.

6. Talk to someone. Vent to your flatmate, your mum, your cat – basically anything that will listen (pin them down if you have to). This ALWAYS helps. Sometimes you don’t really even know what’s actually making you sad until you open your mouth. True story. Bonus points if your chosen person (or animal) can offer some solid advice.

7. Don’t scroll away your worries. This is not possible. This is never possible. Avoid social media. The last thing you need is to be staring at a screen seeing what a great time everyone else is having. I repeat, this will not help. Hide your phone somewhere and turn it on mute. Unless it is providing your mellow tunes. In that case I’m afraid you’ll just have to exercise self-control.

8. Cook something nice for dinner. Cooking can be really therapeutic, so take your time. Listen to music or chat with your flatmates while you chop your veges. Not only is the process calming, but you’ll get a really great meal at the end of it. Win/win.

9. Pick up a book. By keeping your mind busy, reading allows you to mentally escape the present. It’s basically like time travel, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. Plus, it is far more conducive to sleep than staring at a little rectangle of blue light.

10. Collapse into bed. Don’t take your phone. Just lie down and feel the day lift away. You made it. You survived your below average day and you lived to tell the tale. The best thing about bad days is that usually (hopefully) they are few and far between. And do you know what that means? Statistically, tomorrow is going to be better.

So there you have it, my best tips for beating the blues at the end of a really long and really tough day.

Disclaimer – These rules are just a guide based on my personal experience, the most important thing to take from this is to be kind to yourself. You’re only human after all.

Conquering Study Anxieties

By Kaitlyn Tyler
Degree: Bachelor of Communications
Campus: Auckland

It’s the beginning of a brand-new semester. You’ve purchased all the right textbooks, read and recited the course guides, and organised your binders. You’re ready for a full semester of uni, BUT, it hits you like a tonne of bricks. Although you’re up to date with all your readings, you feel emotionally defeated. You’re sleep-deprived, a pro at overthinking, and you can’t relax. In fact, every time someone mentions university you want to crawl back into bed and stay in the glow of your laptop screen.

As much as this goes unspoken, study anxieties are incredibly common. Believe it or not, they can be managed. This blog post compiles some simple but achievable ways into shifting the weight of all those textbooks from your back to the desk.

Establish a set study space

It’s important to establish a space where you study – whether you study strictly at university, or you buy a desk for your room. This so there is a clear space in your room dedicated to that one part of your life. The minute you drag it over to your bed, is when the stresses of university begin to gobble up your nights’ sleep. This simple change results in stronger and more regular sleeping patterns, which is precious during such stressful times. Starting my second year, I soon remembered how important it was to fall asleep and wake up at a reasonable time. By setting an alarm, I made sure I was up to tackle the day, and that I had left enough time to finish all tasks. This also helps study anxiety by not feeling as though you wasted a day or have left things overdue.

Keep your study schedule reasonable and organised

You should schedule your study accordingly – you don’t want to be up at ridiculous hours in the night finishing a reading when you should be working. Organize set periods of time to study each subject that work well around your own schedule. It’s good to have weekly planner that you can take with you day-by-day, so you can establish your agenda for each day. In my own personal experience dealing with study-related anxieties, I invested in a wall calendar, so I can note down class times, assignment due dates, and other important dates. They’re cheap and easy to get your hands on, all you need is wall space and blue tack. Another thing I felt made my days during university a lot easier was going over what I needed to do for the day the night before. It keeps you prepared for the day ahead.

Don’t forget your ‘me time’

It’s cliché, yes, but me-time will prevent study anxieties. Put time aside to go out for a drink, do your makeup, kick a ball around, or whatever it is that helps you wind down. It’s important to have time where you feel like you’re doing nothing that isn’t the time when you’re sleeping. Me-time will keep you feel frazzled, and prevent you ever burning out. You must remember that while university is a commitment of yours, it is not your entire life, and it’s up to you to keep it that way.

Get help

Massey University have incredible doctors, nurses and counsellors that can aid you in your journey to beat study anxiety. I found that group counselling sessions really helped, not only in voicing your own worries, but finding students that are in the exact same position as you. It’s a great way to make friends. You’ll become more comfortable with expressing your own emotions too, especially if that’s something you struggle with. If you want to get in contact with the on-campus counsellors, do not be afraid. It’s one small step to getting yourself back on track. For anyone interested in talking to a professional or becoming part of a group counselling session, I have taken the liberty of providing emails and contact numbers for each campus health centre.

Auckland
studenthealth@massey.ac.nz
(09) 213 6700

Wellington
healthandcounsellingwgtn@massey.ac.nz
(04) 979 3030

Manawatu
s.counselling@massey.ac.nz
(06) 350 5533

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. University is a huge commitment, but you must remember that you can totally do it. With the support of friends, family, and professionals, you can push through and succeed. Keep those positive affirmations floating around in your head during stressful times. Believe in yourself. You’ll’ do great!

The International Student Checklist

By Claire Jenkins
Degree: Study Abroad
Campus: Auckland

Moving away from home can be a scary thing, especially if this is your first proper time away, or even studying at university, especially in a new country that isn’t home. I’m a Study Abroad student from the UK currently studying at Massey.

I’ve already completed a few years of study at my home university, so I know the uni drill, and I definitely know what its like to be away from home with NZ being the other side of the world for me!

Below I have compiled a little checklist of things that you should remember to bring (or at least not forget to think about) for those adventurous readers among you, coming to Massey from abroad.

Things to make your room feel like home.

Your room is your sanctuary for the next few months, or even years and you want your space to feel as homely as possible. Whether this be your favourite mug for a cup of tea, or pictures of your family and pets. Anything that provides a little home comfort will work wonders after a long day of study and when you need a cuddle from your mum. I left my favourite tea bags at home and waiting for them to arrive in the post is taking far longer than expected!

Study Materials.

You are here for studying after all! I’m making a really conscious effort to reduce my paper use, not only in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly but also to save the hassle of filing and lugging it all the way back home with me. My laptop is an absolute essential, but a notepad is always handy for scribbling notes. Don’t forget a few pens too. I am a self confessed stationary addict so this has been super difficult for me to strip back and not bring my desk organiser and the contents of my fave stationary shop, but hey – if I can do it, so can you. There is a wide selection of stationary shops here so you can always stock up when you arrive if you don’t have space in your case!

Clothes for every occasion.

That wardrobe you bring needs to be flexible and versatile, not only for weather changes (unfortunately the sun isn’t always shining), but also outfit requirements. O Week will have you needing costume variety, so make sure you pack as much as possible from your hoola skirt to your snorkelers, and don’t forget a white sheet for the obligatory toga party!

Check out where you are staying and what is provided for you.

Don’t bring a saucepan if you don’t have access to a hob. It can be super easy to waste money or valuable bag space if you bring something you don’t need or simply can’t use, if you’re not sure, leave it behind or double check, but don’t worry about something that’s not worth worrying about.

Boring Bits.

NZ plug sockets are most probably different to ones you’re used to at home, so make sure to bring some adaptors. Check with your bank regarding using your cards abroad, most banks may charge a small fee per transaction, so it might be easier to set up a different bank account that doesn’t charge – we are students after all! Either way make sure to double check. Likewise with your phone contract, you don’t want to be charged a hefty bill at the end of the month! Get changed over to an international SIM or pick one up at the airport once you’ve arrived. This way it’ll be much cheaper and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

If worst comes to worst, you are never far away from a shop that’ll probably have a good alternative to something you’re missing.

Safe travels and happy studies.

A peek into the mind of a PhD student

By Josephine Malenga
Degree: PhD in Human Resource Management
Campus: Auckland

When people think of a PhD, they imagine someone who must be very intelligent and will basically know everything if not most things. But the reality is not quite that; without taking away from the difficulty of doing a PhD, completing one does not make a person an expert in everything or even in many things – a PhD makes one an expert in their chosen research field alone. Any knowledge the person may possess about other areas is independent of the PhD.

We spend a majority of our time researching and uncovering knowledge about a specific area which we can later share with the world. At the end of the PhD you are expected to be the expert in that specific niche that you have created from your research work. However, to get to that stage, it takes a lot of reading, formulating, reformulating, rethinking, procrastinating (at least on my part) and generally discovering.

For anyone contemplating a PhD, I will provide some insight into what being a PhD student looks like, specifically in the early stages of beginning a PhD, which in my opinion will determine how or if you carry on with your intended study.

Before I commenced my PhD, I did a lot of background research on the best ways to make use of your time and how to ensure that you are able to complete the PhD in the allocated timeframe. A common theme was that you should treat your PhD like your job, and in essence it is your job. So my alarm is set for 6.30am each weekday, granted I may hit the snooze button more than I would like, but I try and maintain a consistent schedule. After getting ready and having breakfast and all that jazz, I make my way to campus.

One of the beauties of doing a PhD is that you don’t have to be on campus, unless you have a meeting or other commitment that requires it; but I find that I get more work done when I am on campus, because I can think of it as getting to work, and I wouldn’t spend the day at work binge watching a series, so I find I am more productive.

But there are those privileged individuals who are able to work from home and get the same if not more work done than if they were on campus, and if that is how you work then good on you, go with that. The important part is making it a personal journey that allows you to accomplish your goals in the time required.

Back to the schedule – once I get to my desk I usually prepare my mind by either listening to music while I respond to emails, listen to a podcast or watch a video. I technically get started on work at 9am and that consists of reading articles related to the area I want to pursue, taking notes, summarising key points and organising the literature so that I can find things easily. Before the day is done I will either make a list of specific articles to read the next day or what research I need to do, and by 5pm I am headed home. On very few occasions I have stayed on till later but only when I absolutely have to – which is hardly ever.

My greatest asset through this journey has been my organisation skills, I find keeping things organised goes a long way to ensuring that you don’t misplace important information or miss important meetings. To do that, I have my diary or personal planner that I take with me literally everywhere – you never know where you will get inspiration. In it I have little tabs that tell me where to find certain information, so for example, whenever I have a meeting with my supervisors I place a blue tab on it so that I can refer to any notes from the meeting and keep track of any action items that resulted from the meeting. Pink tabs are for important literature notes that I could not put down in my notebook like statistics that I need to refer to constantly – you get the idea.

I usually work in blocks, the duration dependent on what I am reading. There are some articles that I find more interesting than others, so for the more interesting ones I aim to work in hour long shifts with 10 to 15 minute breaks, and for the less interesting I try to make it to half hour shifts with the same break periods. Sometimes my concentration waivers before the time limit and I have to adjust and take my break then; contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly acceptable to just zone out and take the time off to give your mind a break, as long as you get back to it.

A successful PhD experience is about more than just the thesis you produce at the end, although that is the most important aspect – it also about networking, publishing, teaching and engaging with other researcher. To accomplish this, I attend student meetings, seminars, conferences and other networking opportunities as often as I can, especially in the beginning when you are more flexible to. Doing this has allowed me to meet a lot of different people and to connect with others that I would not have met otherwise, and that is always a good experience. It has also given me the opportunity to talk about my research and to get feedback from people that may not be in the same field, and that insight is valuable.

How you make use of the time you have is solely up to you, but it is important to ensure that at the end of the road, the only thing you have to show for your efforts is the thesis.

Homestay: a home away from home

By Josephine Malenga
Degree: PhD in Human Resource Management
Campus: Auckland

Why New Zealand?

Where is that?

How far away is it?

Will you come back?

All these are questions I have had to answer to family members and friends on why I would choose to study in a place so far away and cut off from the rest of the world. And each time I explain it, I get the same look that is a mixture of confusion and what I would say is pity. But for whatever reason and time period, here I find myself; thousands of miles away from home separated by a vast sea and over a day’s plane trip.

It has definitely been an interesting and sometimes challenging first few months – from the numerous times I have gotten off at the wrong bus stop and had to navigate my own home in one piece to the many strange (to my ears) terms of otherwise normal sounding items (like jandals instead of sandals, lollies instead of candy, tramping instead of hiking). However, navigating this new land has been made far more enjoyable thanks to my homestay family.

I would recommend any international student, especially one who’s never been too far from home to stay with a homestay family in the initial periods of their stay; unless you are a social butterfly and can literally make friends with anyone. Sadly, the introverts like myself will have to make use of this living experience in efforts to avoid being a hermit for the duration of our stay.

A homestay family is helpful for various reasons:

  1. You get in essence a second family that can help you with the ins and outs of settling in a new place, meeting people and the general tips that only a local would know. My homestay family has been so helpful from the day I arrived; with advice on what bank to open an account with, how to save money by getting a bus card instead of using cash, as well as taking me around the city and visiting beaches and the like. I can honestly say that half of the things I have done with my host family are things I would not have done otherwise; and for that I am thankful.
  2. You can never feel too alone. Like I said, I am an introvert, and left to my own devices I will most likely spend nights at home with my laptop watching a movie or series on my own – but it does get lonely sometimes. The good with a homestay is that the family would most likely have had other students stay with them before so they know that it can get lonely and hard for international students, and ideally they are equipped to deal with that. By now my host is aware that I am a homebody, but she is always inviting me out to dinner with her friends and making sure that I don’t feel like an outsider; and that goes a long way during the rare times that I crave the company of others. And as a result, I have opened myself up to the idea of meeting and interacting with new people even on my own.
  3. Food. Need I say more? As a student, sometimes you tend to forget that a nutritious meal is a necessity for normal body functioning. So in order to avoid prolonged periods of munching on chips and noodles, a homestay family allows you to have home cooked meals. Just ensure that any dietary requirements (like allergies, lactose intolerance, veganism etc.) are discussed beforehand.
  4. In my opinion it is a cheaper and more flexible option than on campus accommodation. This largely depends on the location you choose and the terms you agree with the homestay, but there is flexibility that may not be possible if you chose on campus accommodation, and you can always negotiate as your relationship with the family progresses and find creative ways to save a little extra money.

Disclaimer: I have been fortunate enough to find a homestay family that fits closely to my personality, eating habits and general lifestyle; but not each family is created equal. It is your job to do as much research and probing as possible to ensure that the family you pick are a good fit for you. And if not, you should not be afraid to move and find a better option – after all, you will be living with these people for a long time, you might as well at least like them.

Embracing diversity and staying motivated

By Itinterunga Rae Bainteiti
Degree: Bachelor of Social Work
Campus: Auckland

“When you decide to go to Uni, come to Massey”, these were the words of Massey’s renowned photographer and educator late Professor Tony Whincup in 2007 when I first met him.

Tony has been instrumental in photographing our islands for four decades and has a rich collection of photographic documentation of our people and culture. His life revolved around Kiribati and many admired him for staging to the world our culture and heritage. I was still finishing high school then but his words encapsulated my inspiration to come to Massey last year July as a starting student doing Bachelor of Social Work. I met Tony through my mother who had worked for Tobaraoi Travel, a well-known travel agency in Kiribati. She was privileged to have worked with Tony as his tour guide and interpreter visiting the outer islands to study and photograph the ‘maneaba’ – a traditional meeting house that is close to the hearts of all I-Kiribati people.

Coming to Massey University was an unregretful decision. I have always believed that through Tony (a Massey professor), a country so small and remote in the South Pacific and its peoples will always find Massey home through his work. Mom is grateful that I made the decision to choose Massey among other outstanding Universities in New Zealand.

I felt that Massey was like a ‘maneaba’ for me in New Zealand. Its big modern buildings somehow reflected the concept of my ideal traditional maneaba that is welcoming and accommodating.

The vibrant and diverse Massey communities from all the world all unite under Massey supporting one another making me less homesick and more school focused. The lecturers, tutors, NZ Aid officers, Pasifika staffs and campus staffs at all levels are very friendly and approachable. They are always there to guide and offer help. They were my families.

The community at Massey was an ideal blend of peoples I would imagine myself sipping a cup of tea with, enjoying the breeze, relaxing and chatting away in a ‘maneaba’ near the lagoon. Their professionalism match our values, level of respect and expectations for everyone in our communities and embraces everyone regardless of they are!

Thus, far, my only regret is not being able to say hello to Tony in person. He would have been very happy to see me living to his advice when we first met. May he Rest in Peace.

What keeps me motivated to study?

  1. Coming to Massey was a rare opportunity for someone coming from the Pacific. Everyone can go to school but there is limited funding hence a competitive scholarship. While I have this one opportunity, and thousands of dollars invested in my study by the people of New Zealand; I have thousands of reasons to finish it to thank my sponsors
  2. Contribute to the social and economic development of my country towards completion of study
  3. Family, Church, and Community expectations, and for Tony!

Kiribati’s blessings of Te Mauri (Health), Te Raoi (Peace) ao te Tabomoa (Prosperity)

Tips for a successful homestay experience

By Si Yin Qian

Degree: Master of Management – Marketing

Hi newbies, especially those from non- western societies. I am also new in Master of Management ( hope to find some peers here). I have only stayed in my homestay for 2 days, but since I have had working experiences with the western world and New Zealand through different projects, I believe there are some tips I could share with you all. And you can give your feedbacks and suggestions to me too.

1. Get to know each other ASAP
Talk to your homestay family and get to know each other. For example, their life style, timetable, house rules. It is your responsibility to let your homestay family know your DOS & DON‘Ts. For instance, I had to let my family know that I couldn’t eat pork, so they won’t prepare meals with that for me, so it won’t cause any problems between us.

2. Respect the differences and follow the social customs
We all from different cultures with different backgrounds, so differences are acceptable. BUT, we should respect the difference among us. Meanwhile, as new comers we should follow the well-established social customs here.

3. Dive in and make fully use of the resources homestay provides you
As my homestay family told me, KIWIs are all friendly and love to help. If you need anything, just ask and you will receive the help needed. ” Ask, you shall be given”, as the Bible says. Blending in a new culture is tough and we all need to find a way to accelerate the process. Make yourself as comfortable as possible by making fully use of the housewares, for example the kitchen. But do remember to ask for permission in advance.

4. Observe and learn
Learning is always important. As a student, it is the priority and expertise in our life. So make use of your expertise and find the most appropriate way to share the house with your homestay. I believe that it is also the fastest way to prepare us for the future life in this country .

What’s up with the Wellington Weather?

If you’re planning to make a move to Wellington, it might be helpful to know a bit about the weather. First off, don’t waste space in your suitcase with an umbrella or ‘wind proof’ layers because they won’t stand a chance against the Wellington wind! Instead prioritise warm, waterproof layers for the winter and load up on sunscreen for the summer.

Shifty Seasons

Wellington
Wellington experiences a very temperate climate with highs in the mid-twenties and lows that hardly ever drop to zero (Celsius). For my American friends, this is similar to the coastal region of the Pacific Northwest. The temperature reaches the upper 70’s (which feels like the 80’s due to the intensity of the UV rays) and is barely ever freezing – at least in the city. A typical winter will only have you scraping ice off of the windows a couple of times during the year. So if you’re like this Portland girl and don’t mind mild weather, then Wellington is not a bad place to be.  December to February marks peak summer that is absolutely stunning with a higher consistency of sunny, warm days. June to August bring frequent southerly winds from the Antarctic providing a spattering of winter chill. The word ‘consistent’ may not be the best word though because Wellington weather is not really consistent. For example, spring is a combination of these conditions all in one day for much of September and October. The variability of the weather is largely due to the Wellington wind.

Windy Wellington

Wellington
‘Windy Wellington’ is typically the first phrase that comes to mind when people think of Wellington weather and for good reason! Locals are astonishing for their disregard of the 100 kph wind that blows them off balance during their daily commute.

Wellington city sits just inland from the Cook Straight making it a hot spot for systems passing through from the tropical north and the Antarctic south. The wind is experienced year-round with some days windier than others. On rare occasions there is absolutely no wind and you begin to question if you’re still in Wellington. You can often experience a shift between the two systems in a single day, particularly during spring as mentioned before. This gives the feeling of multiples seasons within 24 hours. It took me a month or so to really work out how to properly dress for the day as it is really hard to predict how the weather will change later on. I feel sorry for the Wellington meteorologists who make a career out of this! The solution, I’ve found, is to give up entirely on guessing and just become an expert at layering! It does makes for a lot of laundry but at least you get the best use of all of your outfits regardless of season.

The quick shift in weather, however, can also play to an advantage. Back home, the Pacific Northwest is notorious for its cloud cover during the majority of the year. Here, however, I quite enjoy the weather systems blowing through as you get to experience numerous sunny days scattered throughout the winter. It is only unfortunate when the wind mixes with the rain rendering umbrellas useless and one side of your body sopping wet.

Can’t beat Wellington on a Good Day

Wellington
Apart from the wind, the next most frequently used saying is that, ‘You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.’ The city comes to life when the sun is out and the wind is down. On these days it’s as if half of the city’s population has been hibernating and decide to venture outside to enjoy everything Wellington has on offer. The waterfront is teeming with happy people enjoying a leisurely stroll either to the market, a morning coffee, afternoon beer or all of the above. The outskirts of the city are also taken advantage of from stunning coastlines to the scenic bush walks. There are always events going on in the summer too such as local suburb festivals and free concerts in the Botanic Gardens! These sunny days make the windy, rainy days well worth it.

Wellington Weather in Context

WellingtonIf you don’t like extreme temperatures, then Wellington is a nice place to be. The mild weather has certainly helped me save money when it comes to gym memberships. I’ve found it is possible to run outdoors year-round (if you choose your tracks wisely) and mix it up with koha yoga in town. If you’re doing a PhD you can also use the weather to your advantage. Stay productive and writing on the rainy days and treat yourself when the sun comes out!

The Beauty of Data Collection

What’s Special about Data Collection?

Data collection can easily be one of the best parts of doing a PhD. This stage is where a year’s work all comes to life. My data collection has consisted of implementing a health programme entitled Next Level Health (NLH) that I created during my first year. The aim is to help women gain confidence over their health by setting small achievable goals across key areas to build a balanced approach to health. Such areas include exercise, nutrition, sleep, eating behaviour, self-care and stress management. A total of 60 women participated in NLH and attended monthly sessions to formulate health plans that can be incorporated into their daily lives. Each session began by reviewing their progression through the previous month’s plan. Then I helped them to set new achievable goals using the programme framework I created.  While this PhD stage has certainly required some intensive time commitments, it has also proved to be very rewarding.

Getting to Know your Participants

participant
The monthly sessions created a high level of participant interaction that became quite personal since health was the topic of focus. As a result, I have come to know a vast variety of women from very different walks life. They ranged between 19 and 40 years of age and consisted of students, mothers, health professionals, full-time employees, creatives, esteemed researchers, introverts, extroverts, and everything in between. Despite the diversity of their backgrounds, they all share a common interest – the desire to improve their health. It has been  humbling to learn the unique challenges, perspectives and experiences each woman faces.

Learning New Skills

ultrasound
bloodsAnother rewarding part of the data collection phase is the specialised skills you may have the opportunity to learn.  In addition to the check-ins, women also attended three health assessments which involved a battery of tests I needed to carry out. These tests included a step test, a body composition profile, ultrasound scans, blood tests and surveys. Thus I’ve learned many skills including how to operate an ultrasound, measure body composition through a series of skinfolds, girths and breadth measurements and also how take bloods trained at the local hospital. I’ve also grown significantly in my ability to initiate and engage conversation during the monthly sessions. I have always enjoyed learning new skills to add to my tool belt and this has certainly served as an excellent opportunity. Who knows where these skills will play out in my future!

Sharing what you’ve Created

screen

Most importantly, the data collection phase has provided me the opportunity to implement something I’ve worked hard to create. It has been exciting to see my ideas come to life as the women utilise the programme to set goals and confidently formulate health plans. It is even more rewarding to witness their progression in health awareness and make significant life changes toward their greater life goals.

At the end of the day, you must be motivated and passionate about your research.  Everything else comes after that 😉

Don’t Let Homesickness Get You Down!

Oregon Coast

A picture of the Oregon Coast

Homesickness is likely to creep up on you at some point during your study. It may not be immediate. Exploring a new place is exciting and can keep you distracted for an extensive period of time. For me, the pangs of homesickness began about six months into my study. By this time, the distractions of living in a new place had begun to dissipate and I’d developed more of a routine.

When you move as far as I did, family, friends, favourite hangouts, and inexpensive Mexican food 🙁 are on a completely different hemisphere! It becomes especially obvious during winter when everyone back home on the northern side of the world is playing in the sunshine and you’re stuck inside writing on a rainy day.  Having a solid support network is essential to get through the tough times.

Know your Fellow Postgrads

bicycleThis group is a very special form of support.  These are the people who can relate to your daily struggles, academic feats (big or small!) and the quirks that come along with doing a PhD at Massey.  Friday night drinks is a great way to let off some steam from the week and get to know the people you see every day outside of the academic sphere.  Who knows, maybe this is where you discover that the postgrad sitting in the corner of the room loves the same things you do!

I’ve spent a lot of quality time with the post-grad group not limited to running on lunch breaks and weekends away tasting wine. Sometimes mid-week drinks (coffee or beer) are in order too whether they’re for the particularly tough weeks or maybe you just can’t wait ‘til Friday :).  Either way, getting to know the people you work with can be a great form of support.
fridaydrinks

Build a Life at Home

While the postgraduate crew is full of wonderful people, I also recommend creating a friend group outside of Massey life.  Pursuing a PhD keeps your brain running 24/7 and sometimes all you need is a few hours of escape.  Escape can be hard to come by if the people you’re surrounded by are hardwired the same way. Talking with others outside of Massey can help you keep that balance between work and personal life.

My flatmates would definitely be the group that keeps me grounded.  We operate like a little family; cooking flat dinners during the week and exploring the city on the weekend.
bonfire

Branch Out

Apart from flatmates, it can be easy to meet people around town. Wellington in particular, is a great place to meet new people. New faces are constantly streaming through the city since Wellington serves as a popular destination for travelers as well as a black hole for ex-pats.

Despite the abundance of people, you might start to recognize faces around town due to the city’s compact size. It might be your local bartender, the barista who serves you coffee on the weekend, or someone who shares your daily commute.  Whoever it is, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation!

New Zealand is known for its abundance of friendly people. You might even meet someone from your hometown. I got to chatting one evening with one of the bartenders and it turns out he was from Portland! Sharing the love of where you’re from can be a good cure for homesickness. Once you make a new friend, networking through them is a great way to meet more people too.

Stay in Touch with Loved Ones

No matter how friendly the people are around you, sometimes you just need someone who understands where you come from.  Keeping regular Facetime/Skype sessions with my family and close friends back home has been the best way to stay in touch with what is happening at home.  I’ve found even the talking about small things like the daily weather reports and latest family gossip keeps me involved in the daily happenings which makes me feel closer to home.

I manage weekly skype sessions with my parents the best I can and regularly contact my close friends through Facebook and Whatsapp.  It’s amazing how close someone can feel that is on the other side of the world. Who knows, maybe all of your adventure stories might lure your someone out to visit you 🙂
familyvisit

The Cure for Homesickness

Regardless of which strategy you use to build a support network, sharing a quality connection helps to keep a sense of familiarity.  Reaching out to friends can keep you from getting too deep in your head, particularly when the pangs of homesickness come to visit.

Embarking on an overseas adventure promises endless potential for growth as an academic and as an individual. Making friends with people from different walks of life can make the large unknown world a little bit more familiar. Just don’t forget to stay in touch with the amazing ones you already know back home!

Tackling the Three Minute Thesis

Taking the Plunge

Sooooo, I’ve reluctantly agreed to give my Three Minute Thesis (3MT).  I say reluctantly, not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because of my relationship with public speaking.  I’m very comfortable when communicating in small groups but disseminating complex concepts to a large audience tends to be intimidating.  This is a common hurdle I share with many others and it is a challenge I came into my PhD wanting to face head on.

What is 3MT?

3MT is essentially a speaking competition for postgraduate students.  It begins between students within the university, and if you do well you can progress to compete with students from other universities.  The enticing part about doing 3MT is the prize of up to $5,000 which can be applied directly to research expenses or maybe an overseas conference :).  The aim is to pitch your thesis – what it is, how you’re doing it and why it’s important.  Your pitch must be concise and technical yet engaging and comprehendible by a lay audience.  You only have one static slide that you can use to help with your pitch. Here’s the one I used this year to depict than many different factors that influence our health.

NLH

Three minutes?  Easy right?  Well, surprisingly not.  It is incredibly difficult to express what has been going on in your head for the past two years to a group of people who have no idea what you’ve been doing while simultaneously trying to meet all of the criteria in the span of three minutes – which is why it is a really good exercise for postgraduate students to do.

Last Year’s 3MT

Last year’s 3MT may have been one of the most nerve racking events I have ever spoken at.  I prepared a solid two weeks in advance practicing with a few of my fellow postgrads.  Something about having an impossibly short time limit combined with the competitive nature of the event seemed to have us all on edge when the day finally came to pitch our research to the judges.  The best way I can describe it is relating it to a TED talk setting – hooked up to a mic surrounded by a dark, ascending auditorium of people providing you their undivided attention.  This had us all shaking in our voices and limbs to say the least.  But despite the nerves it went pretty smooth and very quick considering it only last three minutes.  Since last year, I’ve really progressed with my PhD work having spent another year on it and am in the final stages of the data collection phase.  So for this year’s 3MT, rather than focusing on the competition itself, I’d like to use it as an opportunity to simply practice speaking about my research to a larger audience without too much preparation.  I’m not the type who feeds off of time pressure.  Over-preparation is my bread and butter so combining limited preparation with public speaking will be a challenge and this year’s 3MT will be the perfect opportunity.

Last Minute Preparation

The morning before the heat was the time I decided to outline my pitch for the next day.  I quickly whipped up what I wanted to say – ‘why it’s important’, ‘what I did’ and ‘how I did it.’  It’s just a matter of making it engaging and saying it in three minutes.  So that night my partner and I binge watched the Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’ (it’s great!!) and between each episode he had me pitch my research until I felt comfortable and able to do it in three minutes.  This turned out to be a really good way to keep the nerves down and get enough practice with breaks in between.  Speaking to someone out loud is really the first hurdle and once you’ve gotten past that step it’s not so bad.  The next morning I chanted my pitch in my head on my walk to Massey feeling ready for the heat.

walk

Coming out at the End

Well, I certainly lucked out in terms of nerves this year.  Since there were not enough competitors from the Wellington campus for a live event, another PhD student and I were streamed into the Palmerston North campus.  While we were still attached to a mic there was no intimidating audience and judges peering directly at you.  We practiced our pitches to each other before going on air and away we went. The pitch went well and I spoke through it just as I had the night before.

3MT

Resulting Advice

Focus on your positive progress

I’ve definitely seen the progress I’ve been making over the past few years which is beyond reassuring that going outside of my comfort zone has been working.  The judges provided positive feedback reporting my delivery was very good and I appeared comfortable.  Success!

Learn from what didn’t go well but don’t dwell on it

Well, I didn’t make it to the next round but it is not something to dwell over too much.  While my perfectionist self might be a little disappointed that I didn’t get through to the next round, I truly received what I put into the competition.  I nailed the delivery which was my focus for this year so I can’t be too upset about getting a lot of feedback on my content seeing as I had only prepared it the night before.  Plus, this feedback will be very handy for next year’s competition.  Next year’s 3MT will be the one I fully compete for as it will be at the end of my PhD journey and I can share the answers to what I’ve discovered.  This year was only part of the process.

Get out of your comfort zone

If there’s something that feels a bit uncomfortable or makes you nervous, then whatever it is it’s probably a good thing for you to do.  While I didn’t end up with the entire intimidating experience, this was a good exercise for me to put myself into a position of vulnerability and practice going through the motions of planning and presenting.  The more you do something that makes you uncomfortable the more experience you have to work with to build a foundation for confidence.  Regardless of what it is that makes you uneasy, personal growth is important for everyone.  Vulnerability is the key to personal growth so face whatever it is that makes you feel that way and tackle it in bite size pieces.

The Vet Bet

Since the rest of the bloggers on this site have at some point talked about their course of study, and since I am the only one on the team who is a final year vet student, I might as well provide some insight into this field for potential readers who might be thinking of doing the same degree.

I feel like I may be the wrong person to brief you on the structure of how the vet school is run at Massey because I am the last batch going through on the old syllabus. All classes below me have now adopted the revamped curriculum which has been revised to produce even more high quality vets than Massey has already been spewing out for over half a century. Despite the moans and groans, I feel like this is a good move by the university to stay current and to maintain its spot as one of the forerunning institutes in its field on the world stage.

As such, I will give you a brief overview of what this degree involves and the aspects you can expect to dabble in should you choose to pursue it.

 

Animals (…obviously)

Ask almost anyone in the field why they voluntarily chose to put themselves through five long years of agony to end up with a middle-range salary that is barely enough to pay off their massive student loans and I guarantee that no one will say they did it for the fancy cars and screaming fans. It is our passion for all things furry and scaly that drives us. It doesn’t matter which species you like or even which ones you end up working with, these five years are the chance of a lifetime to get to know a whole range of members from the animal kingdom.

Be it the everyday animals to the weird and exotic, every little (or big!) guy is a charm to work with. Being close to them keeps you in constant awe of the biodiversity we share this planet with, and leaves you longing to gain more in-depth understanding of them. From anaesthetising horses to doing post mortems on mangrove snakes to everything in between, there is hardly a dull moment in the course.

Below are just some of the very many moments I have captured over years of encounters with all kinds of special fellas.

sheep birdbath cow doge dragon goat horse kiwi llama parrot peacock seal

 

People

One of the things that will be constantly repeated back to you in communications classes and soft skills workshops is that the veterinary profession is one that deals with people just as much as with animals, and I fully agree. I’m not just talking about classmates who will be a representation of the smartest and most fun people you’ll meet from all over the world. Many of the staff members we have in the industry at Massey are internationally renowned, and it is something I didn’t fully appreciate until recently. Having direct access to world experts who are ever-ready to impart their abundance of knowledge on you is a luxury a lot of us take for granted. You will also find heading out on practicums and working alongside practising vets and vet nurses who are equipped with tricks of the trade a blessing every time you work at a clinic.

Never mind the elite and the brilliant, some of the most wonderful people in the field I’ve had the personal pleasure of meeting comprise of regular pet owners and farm managers! A lot of the genuine Kiwi friendliness and warm acceptance I received when I first got here many years ago were from farmers who have taken me in to live and work with them as part of my required course training. This holds true even till today. Companion animal owners are equally grateful and lovely to you when you explain to them that you are a student. They are extra patient with your lack of competency because they know their pets are helping to serve as valuable learning experience, and it is not uncommon that they bring in baking and treats as a thank you for showing the utmost compassion for their little darlings that have to be admitted to hospital.

choc

 

Travel

You will find heaps of opportunities for this if you look in the right places. Many vet students go on volunteer programs to work with all types of wildlife sanctuaries around the world. Here are some photos (published with permission, of course) of myself and my classmates who have had the opportunities to do some pretty cool stuff over the years aside from dogs and cats.

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bex africa

brandy tiger

luke gazelle

panda boon

samoa steph

But fret not! even if you have qualms about money and/or time (although most of us make time and fundraise) about going overseas, there will be plenty of opportunity for you to at least move around the country on various prac work, and New Zealand is as good a place as any to do a bit of travelling. I know I can never get enough of it.

 

Medical Proficiency

Many people are still of the perception that vets do not know nearly as much as “real doctors” when in fact, this is just as hard as any medical degree. Imagine everything a medicine student has to learn in their lifetime. Now multiply that with the number of species we have to study for. Now add to this the fact that our patients can’t talk to us about what their ailments are and diagnosing them depends solely on clinical knowledge and experience. We have it pretty rough, don’t we?

The field of modern veterinary medicine is no longer separate from other aspects of health sciences but is in fact being integrated more and more every day in a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. So the knowledge we gain, while still in many ways exclusive to animals, are actually coherent with a lot of the relevant medical breakthroughs being achieved in modern times.

 

Invaluable Degree

We once had a lecturer who claims that a degree in Veterinary Sciences is just about the most versatile degree in the world. And as I near the end of my studies, I am starting to see how right he is. Getting into general clinical practice or specialising is just a very tiny sliver of the pie. Vets are delving into and branching out to all sorts of related fields from R&D, public health, animal welfare, education, epidemiology, international biosecurity, forensics, consultation, business management and much much more. Moreover, with qualifications from a university as internationally acclaimed as Massey, you can go pretty much anywhere once you’re done. The world is indeed your oyster.

1297286085795787133world-globe

 

I feel obligated to mention though, that because Massey is the only university in the country that offers this course, and with the field being as competitive as it is, you might likely not find it a walk in the park to secure a seat. But don’t sweat it! There are plenty of other related options you can explore or other routes you can take if pre-vet doesn’t work out for you the first time, as helpfully run through by one of my colleagues here.

But hey, to everyone else who is thinking of it and is wondering whether this really is a calling they want to pursue, take it from me that there is nothing to look back on with regret if you do.

The Big Move

“When a piglet is weaned from its mother,” our pig specialist lecturer droned in the sweltering afternoon heat of the crowded lecture hall, “it undergoes a significant period of stress because it is taken away from its mum, experiences a drastic change in its environment, is exposed to unfamiliar piglets and is moved from a liquid diet onto solid feed.”

He paused to take note of the class, some of whom were watching him with eyes glazing over from drowsiness, some playing Candy Crush on their phones and a couple in the back who had given up the good fight to stay awake altogether and were full-on snoozing in the last row.

“Much like yourselves when you first came to university,” he continued. “It is a stressful time because mummy is no longer with you, you’re put in a new environment away from home and you are introduced to new friends. The only difference is…” he stopped and smirked. “Most of you move from a solid diet to a liquid one.”

He isn’t wrong. Moving away from home to study overseas was overwhelmingly scary for me. At that point, I had never even gone on vacations that have taken me over my country’s borders before, so heading to the end of the globe on my own for five years was unthinkable.

I remember having second thoughts and panic-stricken nights approaching the day of my big move. I remember putting on a brave face for my family when I said goodbye at the airport then bursting into tears the moment I walked through the departure gates. I remember getting off the plane when I landed for the first time in Auckland and thinking how unforgivably chilly the February wind was, not realising at the time the full wrath of winter that was to come in a few months. I remember finally dropping my bags and falling in a heap on my bed when I made it to my dorm room in Palmy about 24 hours after I had left home, and having another long fatigue-induced, starvation-aggravated bawl.

I think of all that, and I smile. If you could go back in time and tell that weeping girl who was convinced she was going to be all alone in a foreign land that she was going to find long-lasting friendships with the most amazing people from all walks of life, she would have regarded you with unconcealed scepticism. If you had added to that same girl who was then terrified to get on a plane that she would have not only explored almost the entirety of New Zealand but also visited 17 different countries in total by the time she finished her degree, she would have laughed in your face.

But look at her me now! I’ve formed bonds with some of the best people I have ever met in my life, whose paths I have had the blessed pleasure of coming across. With everyone in the same boat coming from all parts of the world and being painfully far from home, we have turned to each other for solace and companionship while having heaps of fun on outrageous adventures along the way. The result:  the development of a supportive little community akin to family, a part of which I will always carry with me even long after I have graduated from university and moved on to different phases of life.

On top of that, taking that first big leap to come here has shown me that travelling isn’t such a scary notion after all. The world is in fact a small and easily accessible place filled with wonderful things to see and do. Breaking out of my comfort zone and taking the decision to grasp life by the horns and travel while in university (before I get bogged down with commitments of career and starting a family, eek!) was by far the best one I’ve made.

I guess what I’m saying is that something I was so sure was going to be my bane ended up becoming the best possible thing I ever could’ve imagined happening to me.

And there is never a day where I look back and regret a single thing I’ve done in regards to that.

“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!” -Louis Armstrong-  

Picture taken in Queenstown, NZ (2013)

The Perks of PhD Life

Studying your PhD certainly comes in waves where you either have long days at the office and others where work demands call more from your laptop.  The latter is what I like to call schedule ‘lulls’ which typically occur around the start and end of the PhD where much of the time is spent reading and writing.  This is one of my FAVORITE parts of being a PhD student because your schedule becomes much more flexible.

As much as I love my space in the postgraduate room, anything can get a bit redundant sitting in the same place every day.  Breaking up the long sitting periods and getting a change of scenery can be very helpful to stay productive throughout the thesis journey.  Here are a few ways I like to mix up my routine.

Starting at the Café

cafeI LOVE cafes.  Starting the day with a nice cup of coffee and smashing out a few hours of writing can be a really nice way to break up the routine.  You can’t throw a rock in Wellington without hitting a cool café with delicious coffee.  Most cafés have free wifi and outlet access.  However, sometimes it’s handy to choose a café with no wifi access to stay focused on my writing and not Facebook ;).

Frequenting a cafe is also a cool way to get to know the community and local baristas.  It can be a dangerous routine for the wallet but I like to use it as a way to ‘treat myself’ for all the hard work I’ve put in.  If my bank account doesn’t agree with how hard I think I’ve worked, then a good strategy is to eat a big breakfast beforehand to resist eating everything in the cabinet.  I also like to mix up the atmosphere depending on my mood whether it’s a bustling background or maybe somewhere quieter if I need a little extra concentration.  After a nice, productive morning I’ll usually head into Massey headquarters (the postgraduate room) for the rest of the day where I can get other work done that requires more screens and software.

Running during the Dips

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PhD life also comes in handy for running during the winter.  I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to stay active (it doesn’t have to be running!), especially if your job is quite sedentary like PhD work typically is.  Winter can make it difficult to enjoy the outdoors because of the limited daylight before and after normal working days.  However, if you’re a PhD student, that flexibility sure comes in handy!  I’ve started slotting in my runs around 2-3 pm when everyone in the room is staring at their computer pretending to work and thinking about chocolate.   One of my postgrad buddies and I motivate each other to go for runs during this time and I find I come back refreshed, ready to work and proud that I’ve done something good for my body.

One of the best parts about studying at Massey in Wellington is not only the close quarters to yummy cafes and bars but also the abundance of bush walks.  The town belt is a series of green hills that completely surround and dissect the city.  We can run to the top of Mt Victoria or out along the waterfront soaking in the scenic views of Wellington paired with our runner’s high.  It’s also nice having a running buddy you work with because we tend to bounce ideas off of each other, share our successes and talk through other things that are more challenging.  It is a very nice way to break up the day and get a get a moment away from work.

run

Surfing at Odd Hours

surfIf you have any passed experience with regular surfing, you’ll know that the forecast can be constantly changing (especially in Wellington) and difficult to predict more than a couple days beforehand making it tricky to plan around a regular working schedule.  Plus, there’s rush hour on the water before and after work and during weekends.   Thus the flexibility of PhD schedule ‘lulls’ and the surfer lifestyle coincide quite nicely.

I absolutely love being able to enjoy an empty ocean with uncrowded waves during normal work hours (which is only about a 10 min drive from campus)!  I like to either head out in the morning for a surf and head to Massey in the afternoon or vice versa if the swell picks up later on.  Once I’ve surfed my little heart out, I have no problem spending the rest of my day at the computer.  Just have to make sure to go to the computer after!!

Having a flexible schedule during the ‘lulls’ is one of the best parts of PhD life and can be done in a hundred different, creative ways!  Having a work/life balance is so important to stay happy through anything you do.  Just make sure to keep the balance in check and put in those regular research hours. Your future-self with thank you for it 🙂

Lost in Translation

“How much of the chapter have you read?” I asked my Kiwi classmate who happened to be staying in the halls with me in my first year at university.

“Oh, sweet bugger all,” he replied nonchalantly.

I smiled uncertainly. “So… All of it?”

“Nah, bro.” he laughed. “Means I’ve done none of it.”

***

Because I had a rough first couple months grasping the local lingo, I was always the brown girl with the limited command of English. This, to me, was mildly insulting because I pride myself on my mastery of what is in fact meant to be my third (but what I personally feel is my strongest) language.

“You won’t have a problem when you move to New Zealand!” I was told. “They’re an English speaking country and you speak English good!”

“Well.”

“Hmm?”

“I speak English well.”

“See? There you go!”

Yet here I was in a foreign land, always smiling bashfully and at a loss for an appropriate response because I wasn’t exactly sure what was being said to me half the time.

I almost had an existential crisis every time someone I was pretty sure wasn’t related to me called me their “cousin”. One time, I was told to grab my “jandals and togs” for the beach and I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown because I didn’t understand half the words in that sentence. I wasn’t sure if I was being threatened this other time I helped someone out with a favour and they “promised to shout me”.

The list goes on.

Fast forward four years and I find myself not only automatically switching on my version of the local accent when I talk to the Kiwis but also throwing in these very terms that used to baffle me when I first arrived here. I do the accent so well sometimes that I’ve had people ask me if I was from Auckland. And I tell them nope, I am not a Jafa (see what I did there?).

The accent I adopt when I speak to the locals is not permanently embedded on my tongue, though. I do switch back to my natural dialect when talking to fellow Asians or people from my part of the world. My friends make fun of me for my bipolar speech styles but I prefer to think of it more of as borrowing an accent rather than faking one. I do it mainly because it helps the locals understand me better than if I speak to them in my Malaysian accent. It just overall saves me a lot of time, trouble, and embarrassment from having to continuously repeat myself.

In saying all that, I have never in all my years come across anyone here who has either maliciously teased or been teased for lingual differences. It’s funny how the same language can have a multitude of variations around the globe, making it close to unrecognisable from one country to another. Studying in an environment that is a melting pot of nationalities and different mother tongues has given me a deeper sense of appreciation for the harmony we are blessed to savour amidst the diversification that we embrace. You know those cliché university promotional catalogues that always have a picture of a group of multiracial students sitting together on the lawn and sharing a good laugh? Well, we are the living embodiment of that.

But usually at a class party or pub instead of on the grass.

And usually with alcoholic beverages between us instead of books.

But hey, we’ll take it!