17 Ways to Survive as an International Student in New Zealand

I just finished school. I took the final exam for my last term last week. So I am sharing with you 17 ways to survive as an international student in New Zealand. I overcame challenges and finally got freed from school requirements and the long hours sitting in the classroom. Here I am with heaps of time pounding on the keys without thinking about assignments, deadlines and exams.

I came here with a loan back home, I owe my brothers big sums of money. I have a long distance relationship that I continue to nurture all these months. I miss my hometown, my garden, the food at home, my parents, and I want to kiss and hug my niece. Some of you have spouses back home with children, how challenging could that even be!

In the middle of the school-year I already wanted to go home but resisted urge to do so. I already spent so much money, I need to just finish school. So I picked myself up and stood upon the bedrock of my values and inspiration. I listed 17 of them and wrote them to me.

student, one tree hill, new zealand, park
I reached one of my goals by walking alone up to the summit of One Tree Hill. Actually there’s not just one tree there but hundreds.

Dear Me,

You need to survive and on order to do that you need to be creative in your own. There is no turning back.

1. Start with yourself. Yes you. You are the rock and the foundation upon which your dreams of making it as a successful migrant in this new country depend. You have to know yourself by making an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Understand that you can capitalize on your strengths and at the same time be aware of your weaknesses. You have a better understanding of what you can and cannot do. Love yourself and make yourself your top priority, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

2. Develop your inner strength. Most of us come to this country alone. Some may have known a few who are already settled here. And yet, with or without friends, you will still find yourself a stranger in a completely new environment. To survive in a sea of overwhelming stimuli, you have to develop your inner strength, that strength that gives you the courage to stand still, to focus and to do things even when alone. In other words, trust yourself. This country is an individualist country. People rely and think of themselves first and foremost. So give yourself a favour, put yourself and your needs first.

3. Be clear of your purpose. You are not a paper boat on a puddle of rain drifting wherever the current will take you. If your goal is to get an international education and then go home or wherever the wind will take you, you are one lucky guy! But like most of us, you have already set clear goals even before coming here. Go make a list, number and prioritize them. Focus on them and don’t even waiver. Your goals may entail that you have to sacrifice on the things you have enjoyed before such as being with your loved ones, sleeping for longer hours, and eating good foods. Delay gratification for once, besides one year is just so short.

4. Make your physical health your top priority.  Eat healthy foods. Fruits and vegetables may be expensive in New Zealand, that is, if you convert the price into the Philippine Peso. I say, resist the urge to do so or starve.  Common sense will tell you that it is more expensive to get sick, even if you have a health insurance. Just do the math. There are plenty of cheap seasonal nutrient rich foods. Green kiwi fruits for example are sold for only $1.99 at the most for one kilo. Sometimes they sell their bread for $0.99. Beef also comes relatively cheaper. So keep your eye on them.

5. Avoid gossip. As the proverbial saying goes, “It is better to be alone than with a crowd that is going nowhere.” Standoffish as this may seem, but the reality is that, most of us Filipinos want to be among crowds than risk the stigma of being alone. The painful truth however is that when some Filipinos come together they talk about the lives of people especially those they consider different, or better than themselves until they destroy the person. That is crab mentality. Remember, you are here to make a significant life and in case you forgot, this is New Zealand. Leave the drama, the obsession for gossip and telenovelas at your country. If you are surrounded by these “friends” keep distance or run away or you will become one of them – small minds. You are not, I believe, so have some class!

6. Stay away from naysayers. You will meet a lot of naysayers, those whose dreams are shattered not because of lack of opportunity but because they are seeing the glass half empty. They are those who have difficulty accepting the reality that here in this country, we will have to start from scratch, that we will have to face an insurmountable challenge in finding our niche. But they can’t swallow their pride. They keep comparing this country with the “beauty” and “comfort” of the Philippines. I say, “What? So how come you are still here? You should take the next flight out of New Zealand and back to Manila immediately!”

7. Make friends with other culture. This is no longer the Philippines, do not limit your friends to Filipinos only, interact with people coming from different cultures. You will learn from them, you will get to eat their food, speak a little of their language, and practice your English while you converse with them. You will learn to understand their culture and in a way become less discriminatory and racist than you were back in the Philippines. You will learn that they are more sensible, with less drama in their lives. How is that for positive vibes? Studies have shown that people who interact with people coming from different cultures are more flexible, open-minded and cultured. You have a choice.

8. Be cautious. You will meet new people who will scar your self-esteem, people who will literally try to drain you financially and emotionally. There are a lot of them and unfortunately for me they are the same people who come from the same country as you and me. I have learned painfully that not everyone is kind. Most people are nice at the outset – Filipinos as we are we are pleasantry addicts on the outside, but hiding behind a green monster of envy in our hearts. Please don’t ever be misled by outward appearances especially that person who is extra nice to you because not all nice people are good and not all good people are nice. Remember the wolves in sheep’s clothing are everywhere. There are a lot of them here.You will know.

student, flower, white, beauty
I clicked on this beautiful pot of flowers while applying walk-in to different establishments with a “friend”.

9. Learn to say ‘No’. You have set a budget for yourself and your ‘friends’ are asking you to have ‘coffee’, or watch movies, go to the pub, or shop or ask you to lend ten or twenty dollars . Say, ‘No’. Most Filipino’s will take this as offensive. They will think you are different. They will ostracize you. Hell, you care! You have loans back home, you have weekly rent to pay, you have to feed yourself and your family back home! You have to study your lessons, too. If they ask you to write their assignments for them, say no, very firmly. Let them learn on their own.  If you live to please others and care what others will say, you will lose yourself eventually and with it, your dreams.

10. Cultivate alone time to pray. Be spiritual. Pray, pray and pray unceasingly. Ask for the guidance from the higher power. Better yet, be alone among nature. New Zealand has beautiful parks where you can literally lie down and sleep and eat your lunch. Take a walk under the trees, bath in the sunlight and savour the cool breeze embracing you. In this way, you are keeping your mind in tune to the voice deep within you, that voice that comes from the higher force that will guide you to take the next step. Have faith.

11. Avoid religious fanatic groups. Do not join religious groups who will be nice to you when you start but then will demand so much of your time to attend bible studies, prayer meetings, church service and fellowship. In the end, you are already drained physically and mentally to study and work. The worst is the spiritual bullying and blackmail when they sense you are edging away from the group. Why won’t you, will you want to stay in a group who threatens  that their God will take away the blessings if I don’t join their circle? Unfortunately, you don’t see God that way.

12. Be frugal. Learn how to budget your money, leave something for the rainy season. If you are wealthy back in the Philippines with millions of your parent’s or your own money, then this article is not for you. But if you are a middle class or rich and you want to make it on your own, you better be financially savvy. Stop showing off how ‘rich’ you were in the Philippines because you will only look phony. Here everyone is equal.  It would not impress New Zealand. Notice how New Zealanders live a simple life. So keep it simple.

13. Do well in school. It is a common practice that students here take their studies for granted because for them, they are not here to study but to find work and get a permanent residency. I reiterate however that even if the immigration or your employer will not look at your grades the universe will one day reward you for your perseverance. Being a migrant means you have to work smart, meaning balance work and school and your life.  If you cannot manage your time you have just proven yourself unworthy as a migrant and even as a person. At the end of the day, a job well done is its own reward.

14. Love your work. Love your work whatever it is. Some are lucky to have good jobs others are not. Most of us will start as cleaners or as room attendants, the work will be physically demanding. But whatever it is, leave the ‘attitude’ back home. Stop bragging and crying about how you do not know how to cook and clean because your househelp does that for you back in the Philippines blah blah blah! I heard a lot of this complaint about how demeaning their job is to them. These hypocrites pretend themselves rich back home.

15. Maintain communication with family back home. This is very essential. Our families back home are our moral support. They are the only ones who know us, who understand our core personalities and the very essence of why we are here. Successful or not, they will be there behind us all the way. So love your family, resist the temptation of ‘friends’ who want to take away your time from them. Be faithful to your spouse, your family, your loved one. It is not just morally right but it will keep you grounded with a clear conscience. It always feels good to have our family and loved ones support us.

16. Practice minimalism. “Don’t carry what you do not need, in your pocket, in your home, in your heart.” I love this quote from Joshua Becker. You will be relocating from one place to the next as you look for a job or look for a more convenient place to live. It will be time and energy consuming to pack so much stuff that you do not need. Carry only what you need, and I really mean only the basic necessities. A medium-size or large luggage and a hand-carried luggage are enough. If you only have few clothes and shoes, you save yourself plenty of time from dressing up and packing up if necessary. I love the idea of simplicity. It is convenient and money-saving too.

17. Exercise. You can do yoga stretching at home. You can also run alone, with friends and or sign-up for scheduled runs. There are a number of them. The cheapest way to exercise however, is to walk. New Zealand is a picturesque country, where you can enjoy the beauty, smelling the proverbial roses while you walk to and from your destination.  It is clean and relatively pollution free. Exercising will fine tune your body as it eases out the tension of the muscles that are laden with the stress and anxiety of an international student’s life.

student, barefoot, new zealand, park
I love walking barefoot to feel my skin on the earth, especially that it is clean here.

So have fun, be discerning, and focus on your goals and see you to the fulfillment of our next goal –  the work visa.



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  1. pete daryl | 11th Nov 15

    thank you so much for these guidance. im from Baguio Philippines, can you give some information their on how to get job easier..cos im planning also to come their as a student. thnk ou so much and God bless you and your career..

    • Pinay | 30th Mar 16

      Hello Pete, Thanks for reading my blog. Job opportunities here greatly depends on your field/course. I suggest you read more of my post here about coming to New Zealand.

  2. Jason | 29th Mar 16

    Enjoyed reading this. Im just curious, were all your resources from personal loan? Do u know of any institution where we can get student load in the Phils?

    • Pinay | 30th Mar 16

      Hi Jason, thanks for reading my blog. I honestly do not know. I heard some borrow from lending institutions and even 5/6. However, I do not also encourage for you to get a loan just to come here it would be too risky. Mine came from my family.

  3. Kris | 17th May 16

    Thanks girl! I am coming to NZ as a student and hopefully will find a part time job. I dont mind even if it is skilled or white collar. realy have no idea about living in NZ and this post is so helpful. thanks. I will come by myself this next school year. what else can you advise and if i may ask how did you apply for a job? or a part time job in case of working student? thanks! 🙂

  4. KevinM | 26th May 16

    Thanks for sharing, the big question…is there enough part time jobs for international student? specially for IT/Computing student?

    • Mari | 29th May 16

      Hi Kevin.

      You are asking me if there are enough part-time jobs available. My answer is it depends on your location. It also depends on your network. You cannot choose a part-time job here. Just take whatever comes. Some of my IT friends work as a room attendant in the hotel and another in a store.

  5. KevinM | 26th May 16

    just a follow up question…having an open visa after you’ve finished school, will you have a bigger chance in securing employer assisted work visa before your open visa expire?

    do computing student have an edge on this since they are in “demand”? are they?

    thanks in advance!

  6. UGrace | 29th May 16

    This is really helpful. I’ve been looking for blogs such as this, as I am an incoming student this July.. Can you also thoroughly share your experience as a student and working at same time. Is the money you’re earning enough to support your needs as a student. I will be taking postgraduate and allowed to work for 20 hours a week. I have been searching for the cost of living in flats and it scares me because the prices are really pricy.

    • Mari | 29th May 16

      Hi Grace, Thanks for reading my blog. I think that I have written a post about my daily struggles as a student and working at the same time. You may not find a job immediately. You need to have funds for at least three months. Everything is paid here weekly and the rent is expensive and so does food and fare. If you are lucky to find a 20 per week part-time job that will be enough for your accommodation and food.

  7. caroleen ileto | 4th Oct 16

    i am in Canada now. and feeling really homesick. in fact at this moment im in class. i read your blog and it helped. really this homesickness thing is something i have not prepared for. and what you said about not turning back. it is exactly how i feel. it is painful to decide whether you want to continue being away or continue fighting for a better life (hopefully).

  8. marites | 12th Oct 16

    thanks ….very informative… kakastart palang namin… sna matuloy at makasurvive husband ko sa NZ…. super relate ako sa mga advices mo kasi eto din yung guide namin kaya tumagal kami dito sa Dubai..

    • Pinay Thinks | 13th Oct 16

      Thanks for reading my blog as well. Goodluck on your husbands journey.

  9. Kelvin | 13th Nov 16

    I just like to know how you applied for the visa? Did you get help from firms in the Philippines? Also, how much did it cost you for everything else? And most importantly the tuition fee range in New Zealand.

  10. marite | 8th Mar 17

    hi, po My husband arrived in NZ last week as a Student Visa Hospitality , level 7, Nsa New lynn cya and planning to transfer sa CBD,,,,.. sna makayahan nya.. at mkahanap nang partime to sustain his daily living……If may ibang suggestions or info po kau paano maghanap ng partime and and job search after school naman. pra mapaghandaan namin,, at sana mkasunod ako after 1 yr.. naiwan ako dito sa Dubai…..

  11. jack | 30th Mar 17

    Hi good day. hope your will read my comments. I have plans of migrating to NZ as student since it is the quickies way as I’ve heard and you can make part time jobs as well while studying. Anyhow, just want to ask if you any idea how much money would I have to prepare from processing and everything. thank you

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