Whanganui and Hanoi share very few similarities but that’s part of the appeal for Vietnamese student Vu Thi Bang Trang, who has won a scholarship to study at Whanganui High School in 2024.
Vu will start her year-long studies in July 2024, once she finishes her end-of-school-year exams in Hanoi. Vu’s scholarship success was announced at an Education New Zealand Fair in Hanoi last month. Whanganui High School’s Director of International Students, Natasha McKee, was in attendance.
McKee was in Hanoi as part of the international education delegation supported by Whanganui & Partners. The economic development agency’s Strategic Lead for Capability, Rach Hoskin, facilitated the trip to Asia with clear goals for the group to reestablish Whanganui’s international student numbers after the disruptions of the pandemic. International students each contribute upwards of $40k per year to Whanganui’s economy.
Jane Williams, who is Whanganui Girls’ College Director of International Students, Jude Lydia, a former International Secondary Schools Director, and Rebecca Black, Strategic Lead for Marketing at Whanganui & Partners, rounded out the delegation.
Vu, who is 14 years old, said she was already looking forward to the move and to spending time with her host family. “I really loved travelling abroad when I was young so I am excited to go to New Zealand.”
McKee said she had been impressed with Vu’s video supporting her scholarship application. “Her personality really shone through, she showed humour and enthusiasm along with her very strong academic profile. I know that not only will Vu have a great experience at Whanganui High School, she will also enrich the experience of local students and the friends she makes.”
At school in Hanoi, Vu studies alongside 4,000 students. She had chosen Whanganui High School as her preferred study choice and was then selected by Education New Zealand as a scholarship recipient. “When I first saw the top list of the schools I (thought) the atmosphere and activities are really good so that’s really why I wanted to choose that school,” Vu said.
Education New Zealand’s Van Banh, Market Manager for Vietnam, said scholarships were awarded based on students’ outstanding academic achievements and their suitability for international study. The scholarship include subsidised fees for one year, but many students extended their study period.
The Student Fair in Hanoi was the last appointment for the delegation to Asia, which had earlier visited Japan and South Korea. In total, the group met with more than 50 international agents, visited six high schools and met with more than 30 individual students and parents looking for study options.
McKee and Williams shared a table at the fair, where they fielded questions from a steady stream of students and parents over four hours. Whanganui and Kerikeri were the only smaller centres represented at the fair, with most of the schools and tertiary institutions present based in Auckland, Wellington and Chirstchurch.
Williams was impressed with the Vietnamese students’ language skills and broad academic interests. “In each country the student profile has been quite different and it’s been interesting to be in the emerging market of Vietnam. We’ve gained important insight into what these parents and students value and now we can be targeted in what we offer and how we communicate our schools’ unique qualities.”
Rebecca Black, Whanganui & Partners’ Marketing Lead, said the strength of working together as a region was clear. “Natasha and Jane collaborated in a really effective way. They were able to demonstrate how people support each other here, they made sure they found the right fit for each student’s needs and the outcome was that Whanganui had an appealing proposition for most of the students, agents and schools we spoke to.”
She said some students preferred homestays while others wanted hostel life, there were parents who favoured the all-girls environment at Whanganui Girls’ College while for others the facilities at Whanganui High School were more suitable.
“One theme was consistently well received though – Whanganui is a safe place where caring for these students and meeting their needs is a priority. Everyone we spoke to could see that demonstrated through the way Jane and Natasha took an honest and genuine approach to each interaction and opportunity.”
Vu said she wanted to get really involved in all aspects of school life in Whanganui. She had spent a lot of time looking at what was on offer through YouTube and the school’s social media page and information McKee had provided Education NZ with. “When I see the school I see that they have a lot of sport,” she said. Vu was interested in participating in swimming, basketball and boxing practice.
Vu also planned to do volunteer work while in New Zealand, an interest she also has in Vietnam. She was looking forward to working with young children, in care facilities, and possibly volunteering with the SPCA. She was not too concerned about being away from her family and felt lots of online ‘facetime’ and communication would make the transition easier. “Of course I will miss them but I will make friends,” she said.
The delegation’s 17-day trip began in Japan, where the group attended an Education NZ agent conference in Tokyo, visited schools and agents throughout the capital and met with the Tokyo Municipal Board of Education.
They then travelled to Osaka, stopping off in Whanganui’s sister city, Nagaizumi-cho, on the way. The group toured Nagaizumi Junior High School and spoke to teachers about how the schools could work together, then continued on to Osaka where another round of agent engagements took place.
Seoul, South Korea, was the next stop for the delegation where they again met with agents to establish student connections. From Korea, the group travelled to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam for more agent appointments, then continued on to Hanoi where they attended the student fair in addition to agency appointments.
Hoskin had set an objective to attract 16 international students in the 2024-25 period as a direct result of the delegation to Asia. Attracting this number of students would boost the local economy by more than $640k over the two-year period, Hoskin said. The schools now have 13 students on their “probable” lists – meaning contracts are underway.
In 2019 Whanganui High School, Whanganui Girls’ College, and Cullinane College combined had 100.5 international students on their rolls (the .5 reflects a study period of half a year). In 2022, that figure was 7.5. Hoskin said the long-term plan was for Whanganui to return to pre-pandemic international student numbers.
“The schools have now formed lasting connections through doing the legwork, meeting face to face and showcasing Whanganui and its study opportunities. This trip has created great momentum to get us towards that goal.”
Both schools also secured agreements for short-term study group visits throughout the year. The first of these groups consists of 15 students coming from Japan in March, with another 15-20 in July. A Vietnamese group is now planning a four-week stay in May or June.