Moving to an unfamiliar country can be tricky; finding your way around, learning the language and trying the local food (with varying results). When this year’s intake of eager international students arrived in Auckland, they probably didn’t expect to end up playing rugby.
Auckland is the number one student destination in New Zealand. Annually, more than 86,000 international students enrol in Auckland, bringing NZ$2.2 billion (US$1.6 billion) into the local economy every year.
This year, more than 155 international students from more than 50 countries have taken part in a special programme. Set up by the Auckland Rugby Union and supported by Study Auckland, the programme is designed to introduce international students to New Zealand’s national sport.
For international students, embracing the local culture is often one of the most exciting aspects of moving abroad. In Auckland experiencing the “Kiwi culture” is an important step toward feeling a part of the local community. Participating in the nation’s best-loved sport is a rewarding and interesting way to familiarise students with the NZ way of life.
Study Auckland manager Henry Matthews is passionate about the way sports can help students to settle into a new culture and mesh together people from all walks of life.
“The core values of sport are passion, integrity, solidarity, discipline and respect,” said Matthews. The students “develop connections, be[come] part of the Auckland community, and experience our Kiwi culture,” he added.
“The response has been fantastic and it’s been incredibly heart-warming to see the camaraderie and inclusion play out on the rugby field.”
Rugby is famously a sport for everyone. No matter what your height or build, there is a position for you somewhere on the field. Auckland is leading the way for universities to help integrate international students into the local community.
And it’s not just rugby. Each session includes development skills alongside the rugby. The students even had a chance to learn some basic Te Reo Māori (the local language) pronunciation and waiata (traditional Māori music).
Much like the local cuisine, there were no doubt varying levels of success with the rugby. The beauty of the programme, though, is that does not matter. Everyone is welcome, no matter what their ability or where they come from. Students from all over the world found enjoyment in a sport which was previously alien to them. Although no doubt many of the students were a little apprehensive about getting into the centre of a scrum!