When Olivia Eames first arrived in Chengdu, China for a two-week exchange at Wanda No.7 High School she experienced tremendous culture shock. She found herself in a completely different culture that had completely different values: the local food took some getting used to; the school hours of 7.30am – 10.30pm were intense and exhausting; and the language was completely foreign. Despite all the differences she encountered, Olivia persevered and embraced the experience.
The Chinese people she met during her stay were warm and welcoming, and expressed genuine interest in Olivia and her home country, New Zealand. They were also proud to share their own local customs and heritage with her in return. Chinese culture is very different from New Zealand culture, but Olivia found that the people she met in China were willing to embrace her differences, and help her to fit in and feel a sense of belonging.
Prior to her China trip, Olivia had hosted a number of international girls at her home in Fielding. She already had an insight into how hard it was for these girls to travel to New Zealand and try to find their way in our Kiwi culture. However, having that lived experience of an international stay and all its challenges was life-changing for Olivia and provided her with a whole new perspective for understanding and embracing difference. Olivia has taken this perspective and applied it to her life at Woodford House.
Olivia has made it her personal mission to try to help international students fit into Woodford House and feel like they belong. She makes sure to introduce herself to each student so that they have someone they can connect with from a peer perspective. Olivia points out that “a sense of belonging allows girls to feel like they can grow and thrive in an environment that recognises their individual identities. The Woodford House family is an important and unique part of life at school as it gives student and staff alike a safe place to express who they are – a place to be yourself.”
As a Woodford House girl, Olivia believes that it is important to live up to the school’s global citizen values and get to know the school’s international students. Olivia believes, “This could be each of us one day, travelling to new countries and experiencing new cultures. How do we want to be welcomed?” Oliva continued, “It is easy to turn the other way and not make an effort, but, from my experience, by doing this you miss out. You miss out on getting to know an awesome and brave girl who has travelled so far to experience New Zealand and Kiwi life: a girl who wants to get to know you; a girl who has amazing stories; a girl who you have more in common with than you think; a girl who could open your eyes to a whole big world; and ultimately a girl who could be one of your very best friends.”
Chris Lonergan, Acting Communications and Development Manager