New Zealand. Never have I ever thought I was going to be continuing my undergraduate study in this ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ country. I did dream of studying abroad but my main choice was definitely United States – primarily because I was often exposed to the top universities there, and not going to lie, Taylor Swift lives in the USA so, maybe there’s like 0.000001% chance I might bump into her at theCornelia Street (?). But here I am writing this essay in the corner of the University of Canterbury’s library about my journey that brought me to this extremely beautiful country. Hi, I am Khairunisa Binti Shaiful Khairi, a final year student at the University of Canterbury, majoring in Information System. I am a recipient of JPA scholarship in the twinning program.
Disclaimer: Even though I will be using the term scholarship/sponsorship throughout this essay, the fund that I received from JPA is a convertible loan. I signed an agreement to work with the government for eight years after finishing my study.
As I mentioned earlier, New Zealand was not my ‘numero uno’. After receiving my SPM result, I started looking through the scholarship programmes for undergraduate students offered by different organizations, be it from the government or private company. To be honest, this was one of the toughest parts of the journey mainly because I had no idea what my interest was, and I did not know what I wanted to be in the future. My main goals at this time were I want to study overseas, and I will not take any science-related courses because I struggled a lot with this subject. Actually, this was a good start. I started eliminating sponsorship programmes that offered science courses and only went seeking for sponsors that offered the overseas program. This had brought me to the JPA-MARA scholarship programme. They offered many programmes that support overseas study with a preparation year done locally. There were many countries to choose from such as Korea, Japan, Australia, and of course, New Zealand. I simply chose the New Zealand twinning program because this program offered the perfect combo of what I always wanted; an English-speaking country because I am bad at learning new languages, non-Science courses, and four years in total for foundation years and Bachelor Degree, which can be considered as a short period.
Long story short, I went to the group interview with JPA, and months later I received the offer letter. I was beyond grateful but sadly, I was not offered the course that I applied for, which was Actuarial Science. They still offered the New Zealand twinning program but with a major in Information System, which was not even listed in the courses available for this program. I had a hard time making a decision because I have never imagined myself as an ‘IT’ student. I always knew I hated Science (no offense) but IT? Do I have to be a computer geek to study overseas (this was a lame, typical assumption that I made for people studying IT at that time, sorry)? And the most important question- can I do IT? I hesitated to accept the offer at first because this was so out of my comfort zone, and at the same time I also received the UPU result, which I got a spot in my first choice. But eventually, I decided to proceed with the JPA offer because it would be a waste to reject this opportunity.
The programme that I enrolled in is called ‘twinning’ because half of our study years will be completed locally, and another half will be continued in the twinning country, which in my case- New Zealand. For students heading to New Zealand, there is only one preparatory college, which is KYS Business School (KYSB), Malacca. For this programme, they only offer Bachelor of Commerce subjects such as Accounting, Finance, Information System, Actuarial Science, and Economics. The preparatory years required us to complete one year of Foundation in Accounting, and a first-year degree at KYSB. For the first-year degree, all of us learn the same Commerce subjects despite the differences in major. We will only focus on our major once we are in the university in New Zealand. I am pretty sure most of you have not heard of KYSB before since this college is quite new. My batch is the fifth batch in the college. The number of students in each batch is quite small, and in my opinion, this is an advantage for the students as well. There are only 72 students in my batch, hence, we learned in a small group during foundation year. One class consists of no more than 20 students, and in some classes, we are grouped into 10 students only. This gives us the advantage to be more connected with the lecturers and even our batchmates. It’s like everyone knows everyone in the college. The lecturers in KYSB are diverse as well. We have lecturers from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Malaysia, South Africa, Russia, and the UK, which helps me to prepare myself to catch up on different accents and ways of teaching.
Enough with promoting KYSB and Malacca, now we are moving to a more serious topic. How to apply to a university in New Zealand? Firstly, securing a spot in this twinning program does not guarantee your place in NZ. To be qualified, we have to take the IELTS paper and pass the 6.5 benchmark point. IELTS is an English assessment similar to MUET. There are four sections in this paper; writing, listening, reading, and speaking. Apart from having to pass the IELTS, we also have to exceed the cut-off points set by JPA to keep the scholarship. During my year, we had to exceed 80% for the foundation year, and 70% for the first-year degree. We can choose the university that we want to enrol in during the first-year degree. Three universities are linked to KYSB- University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, and University of Canterbury. Out of these options, each student is allowed to select two universities, and pick which one is going to be their first choice and second choice. This option can be made through a Google Form that is set up by the college management, and then we have to wait until the third semester before the result of the university is out. But please bear in mind that you will not necessarily receive an offer from your first-choice university, trust me I have been through this. My first choice was not UC, I planned to get into the University of Auckland. I do not know how the management decides who is going to which university but some of us did get into our dream university. One thing that I was sure is they will distribute the students equally into all three universities. Undeniably, I am a bit heartbroken because first, I was not offered the course that I want, and then now, I can’t even get into the university that I like? Ouch!
BUT now, I am fully grateful for where fate has brought me. I would never do anything to change where and what I am doing now. Honestly, I could never imagine me studying Actuarial Science in Auckland. I have applied for the University of Auckland because it is one of the best universities in New Zealand, and I thought I love an urban lifestyle. However, when I arrived in Christchurch and spent a few months here, I totally fell in love with this city. The scenery, the people, the environment are beyond what I expected. Since Christchurch is located on the South Island, all the beautiful natural tourist attractions are reachable by road. We have been on a few road trips during semester break and tour the whole island. You name it, Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Dunedin, Franz Joseph, Wanaka- we’ve traveled there and there’s only one word could describe those places- magical. If you are an adventurous-type-of-person, again, New Zealand is for you! Bungee jumping, sky diving, Nevis swing, cruise, a helicopter ride are some of the activities you can do here, and the list keeps on going.
I think I might have answered every single question you could have regarding how I secure a place in New Zealand. If you are hesitating whether you should consider the path that I took, here are some questions to solidify your stand:
1) Do you like commerce?
2) Are you ready for an adventure?
If all your answers are YES, then, you won’t regret it. There’s only one reminder that I want to share with you, don’t be afraid if your plans change, you will make it to the end. Just trust yourself, and the process!
Khairunisa is a final year student majoring in Information System at the University of Canterbury. She finished her high school years at Sekolah Tun Fatimah and continued her preparatory college years at KYS Business School, Malacca for two years before flying to NZ. She enjoys trying new things, and she thinks NZ is the perfect country for that.