Some days are wacky, and teenagers just want to have fun. Every week, I get a chance to sample an international fare prepared by other foreign students at the hostel. Of course, there are chores to do everyday – cleaning up, throwing rubbish, laundry and cooking on weekends – aside from classes. This is my life at the boarding school, at Marlborough Girls’ College in Blenheim, located in the South Island of New Zealand.
At 16, I am the only Filipino in my high school (Year 11) class; the other Asians are mostly from Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand or Korea. Together with the Kiwis (New Zealanders) and Europeans, we celebrated Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day where international students dress up in their native costume and perform a dance or song number. They all wanted to see me dance “with candles in my hands and on my head,” but I didn’t know how to dance the Pandanggo sa Ilaw. I did try to make pastilles de leche, though, but I must have overcooked it because it turned brownish and tasted different!
In our English literature class, I usually finish ahead of the others, and soon became the teacher’s assistant, helping my other Asian classmates, and earning “stars.” A star is equivalent to one NZ dollar. After earning 10 stars, I would go to the cafeteria to exchange the starts for something I wanted – a muffin or ice cream. For English literature, we have to speak in front of the class, one by one, in order to build our self-confidence and communication skills. We also have to learn English the way the British speak it.
The standards are high, and subjects are tackled in depth, with analysis, research, and discussions. No memorization. We freely expressed our opinions about everything we discussed, even in science. Art class is interesting, and very exacting. We have to draw a 100 times, using different materials and subjects, and our works are sent to a cultural office in Wellington for grading! Of the school facilities, I liked the gymnasiums best, because we can play sports for PE like rugby, cricket, soccer, catch or basketball.
There is a work day, when a student can volunteer to work, like in a grocery store, restaurant, or boarding school, and receive payment which must be given back to the school.
I change class with every subject, like in a university. Under the NZ education system, Year 11 students begin to specialize in other areas of study such as Art, Commerce (e.g. Accounting), technology or Languages according to one’s interest. Mathematics, English literature and Science remain the key subjects.
Next year, in Year 12, I will transfer to Rangi Ruru Girls’ School in Christchurch. Year 12 students in NZ are able to specialize in up to six subjects, and I will have Accounting, Economics, Mathematics (Statistics), Photography, English and Art subjects. In my new school, I will have to learn how to play an instrument and be a member of a sports team.
Filipino students enjoy a good reputation here in New Zealand – they are perceived as well-mannered, adaptable, friendly and independent. One of my unforgettable moments in New Zealand is the home stay during our break. I spent four days in the mountains of Marlborough Sounds with a Kiwi family.
Marlborough Sounds area is made up of three main bodies of water – the Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, and Pelorus Sounds. This collection of drowned river valleys is a natural wonder in New Zealand. Surrounded by the gentle sounds of birds and sea life, the fragrant scent of the forests and pure mountain air, the lodge had no electricity but it was fun! I did a lot of kayaking, and fed lambs with milk.
Marlborough is also New Zealand’s largest grape growing and wine making region with 65 wineries, 290 grape growers and 4,054 hectares in grape production. Sauvignon Blanc is the region’s specialty. Aside from grapes, they produce wines out of coffee beans, oranges, Kiwifruits, or just about any fruit!
Blenheim, the main town of Marlborough where my school is located, is a friendly and secure community especially for young visitors to develop their confidence in a new country and school. Like most of New Zealand, it is very clean, and green. One day, I saw some mussels in a nearby stream, but my Kiwi friends ignored it because it was of a lower grade, not good enough to eat! New Zealanders are spoilt for their choice of fresh seafood.
Living and studying away from home made me appreciate my life, and I learned how to live responsibly with the freedom I had. I am by nature outspoken and friendly, and this greatly helped in befriending the Kiwis. There are cultural differences, and one must adjust to the Kiwis, and be tolerant of the differences.
I’m looking forward to completing my final year in NZ which is Year 13, where I will sit for university entrance and Bursaries examination. I’m aiming to achieve a B pass or higher in the examinations so I can apply for a university degree program in NZ.
I dream of becoming an accountant and I believe my New Zealand education will provide the best foundation I need to succeed someday.
(based on the life of Candy Enriquez as told to the author)