In 2009, Lisa Tobler from Switzerland took a Cambridge CAE course at Languages International. While she was in Auckland, she fell in love with a Kiwi man and now she calls New Zealand home. I recently interviewed Lisa to find out about her experience at Languages International, what it has been like living in New Zealand and what advice she can give to other students about things like cultural differences, finding a job, making New Zealand friends, and finding ways to practice your English outside of class.

Why Cambridge CAE?

Lisa wanted to do a CAE course because it would be useful in her job as a primary school teacher. The education system in Switzerland was changing and English was going to be taught to kids from year 2 of primary school. Teachers who wanted to be involved needed CAE. Lisa had been teaching for five years and was ready for a new challenge, so she decided to take a CAE course to enable her to teach English to her primary school students.Learn English and paraglide in New Zealand

Why New Zealand?

Lisa chose New Zealand because she wanted to spend the three months of her CAE course somewhere special. She explained, when you live in Europe, you can easily go to the UK or Ireland for the weekend. When you have a longer chunk of time, it’s worth making the most of it by going somewhere a bit further away, somewhere that you might never have the chance to visit otherwise. Boa Lingua, a language travel consultancy in Switzerland, helped her choose a school and recommended Languages International.

Lisa later did a Cambridge CPE course in Switzerland and noted that it was a lot more difficult to prepare for the English test there than it is to prepare for one in New Zealand, where English is all around you

The best places to visit in the North Island

When her family and friends visit from Switzerland, Lisa usually takes them for dinner at the Sky Tower and out to Muriwai beach to see the gannet colonies. For long weekend trips she takes them to places like Tauranga, Rotorua, and Waitomo to the south of Auckland, or Matakana, Russell, Paihia and Ninety Mile Beach to the north. Her visitors have all “loved New Zealand’s outdoors, nature and the sea.”

Lisa’s experience at Languages International

Lisa still remembers her teachers, HD and Tom, well, and very fondly. She notes that Tom is great at teaching conversation. “He always kept us laughing” she remembers, and H.D. is exceptionally good at teaching grammar and writing.

The help she got from her Languages International teachers is still useful to her now for the degree she’s doing here in New Zealand. She is studying part time for a Bachelor’s degree in Library and Information Studies through the Open Polytechnic and she can still hear H.D.’s voice in her head giving her advice as she is writing her assignments.

How to make New Zealand friends and immerse yourself in English

Lisa made the most of her time in New Zealand by creating an environment where she would naturally be speaking English. She didn’t spend her time with other Swiss German speakers. Instead, she put herself in situations where she would need to speak English.

Her advice to language students is to stay with a host family or go flatting (= rent a house together with other people). Lisa went flatting. She managed to find a flat online before arriving in New Zealand. She stayed with a lovely New Zealand couple who rented out their spare rooms to flatmates. In the time she was there, Lisa had flatmates from the USA, Australia and England, so she was hearing a great range of native-English-speaker accents. (If you listen to Lisa speak today, after four years in New Zealand, you’ll notice that her Swiss accent is almost imperceptible.)

Lisa’s second piece of advice is to “take your hobbies with you. Join a local club. Lots of clubs are happy to accept you even if you are only [in Auckland] for a few months. They take good care of you and are excited to get to know someone [from another culture]”

Lisa’s hobby is paragliding. When she joined an Auckland paragliding club, not only did she make New Zealand friends, but she met her life partner, another avid para-glider. After her three-month course at Languages International, Lisa spent some time travelling around New Zealand and decided to stay here as long as her nine-month visitor visa would allow her to. She had been planning to travel through Asia before returning to Switzerland, but love kept her in New Zealand instead, and she has now made New Zealand her home.

New Zealand vs. Switzerland

The things Lisa misses most from Switzerland are her family and friends, the Swiss public transport system and certain foods.

If she ever left New Zealand, she would miss the outdoors, the “openness and friendliness of the people” and the “amazing variety of international foods [we] have here.” She and her partner are still paragliding and also enjoy kayaking and “all the outdoorsy stuff” that New Zealand has to offer. You can do these activities in Switzerland too, but New Zealand is “much more wild. In Switzerland there are always crowds.”

Cultural Differences

Lisa notes that the Swiss are more outspoken and direct than New Zealanders are. She has had to learn to say things in a less direct “nicer and more flowery way” so that people don’t take offence.

How to find a job in New Zealand

Lisa has had a few jobs in New Zealand. She started out with part-time work as a nanny and in a café. Now she works full-time for a Swiss chocolate factory here in Auckland, where she has been getting experience in everything from production and distribution to customer service.

Her advice to students hoping to find work in New Zealand is to look for work through friends. “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” she says. Try to get job contacts through your “fellow countrymen”. Also, “show your face and be extremely outgoing. Networking is important.” Lastly, be sure to talk up your achievements on your CV. What might be taken as “showing-off” in more modest Switzerland, she says, is necessary in New Zealand to be able to stand out and “not be dull”.

  • Do you have any advice on how to make friends when you are studying in a new country?

  • Do you have any tips for speaking more English in New Zealand?

  • Have you noticed any cultural differences between New Zealand and your country?

   Share your ideas in the comments section below.