Being an international student as well as a part-time worker is not a simple undertaking. It requires commitments in various aspects, including time-management, physical and mental efforts to maintain the responsibilities between study and work. In this article, Lavinia Disa shares her story in stepping out of the comfort zone by working as The University of Auckland’s Student Ambassador.
One afternoon during my first summer break in Auckland, I suddenly rose from my bed and was determined that I would gain some work experience, rather than laying on bed idly. As the funding body of my scholarship prohibited awardees from working outside of campus, I then looked for job postings on campus. From an Internet search and by scanning on-the-wall posters, I found three vacancies. Out of these, I only managed to score one, which was The University of Auckland’s Student Ambassador.
The (Not So) Bad
Here is how the selection process went. At the end of December 2015, I got an invitation to apply for that position as I submitted an expression of interest to become a Student Ambassador previously. I filled out the application form, which asked me personal information, availability, and short answers to some questions (why I was interested; any relevant leadership experience applicable to the role; why I would be a positive addition to the team).
On January 12, 2016, I came to the interview session. It was surprisingly fun! The applicants were grouped with 5-6 other students and told to introduce ourselves to each other and collectively draw a figure of an ‘ideal’ Ambassador, which we needed to describe later on. During the group discussion, the supervisor and senior ambassadors went around, observed, and assessed individuals. I didn’t expect much about the outcome, but I remembered going home feeling positive because of the experience. A week later, that good news arrived in my e-mail, announcing that I was selected.
Now came the hassle: the administrative work. I filled in a confirmation form to accept the offer and received a Casual Employment Agreement. However, before returning the work contract, I had to apply for an IRD number. It is basically a unique number issued by the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) to record any tax-related events, including part-time work. This is also to make sure that “new arrivals” to New Zealand work for a legal job. To get the number, I could apply online by logging passport and student visa details, bank statement (with a proof of address), enrollment letter from the university, and the employment agreement. Within two weeks, I obtained an IRD number, sent through a post-mail.
Prior to our first job assignments, all new Student Ambassadors were required to attend an orientation training. We were explained that it was casual work, meaning that we would work only when available. The work itself was based on the university’s events with various types of role. There was a dedicated website called “The Ambassador Roster” to sign up for working shifts. When the training was finished, my 1.5 year-long work contract, thus, began.
When I applied for this position, I focused too much on earning additional income without paying much attention to the work. Even from the start, I was greeted by some difficulties and needed to make some adjustments to how I carried myself.
First, the work required me to be a people person, while I am an introvert. During the Orientation Week, I had to stand wearing an “Ask Me” T-shirt, smile to new students, and approach seemingly confused ones to give them direction to go (which room, which way, and which session to join). Putting on a friendly face at all times was rather hard as I got lost in thought so often. I tackled this issue by trying to put myself in those new students’ shoes, thinking how uplifting it would feel when a senior student helped me on my first day as a freshman.
Second, I do not really like marketing, but when I worked for the Graduation shifts, I had to turn into a sales promotion girl who kept calling graduates to fill in an alumni survey, promise them some prizes, explain the purpose of the survey, and hand out a fortune cookie with a motivational quote inside (which was the cute part of the work). I dealt with this by absorbing all the positive vibes around the graduates and imagining if it were me who graduated.
Third, I obviously does not have any physical strength and found it distressful to take care of heavy-lifting jobs. One time, I was helping an event coordinator of a Chill Zone event by setting up equipment for outdoor games, such as giant-sized chess, bean bags, and long desks for displaying light snacks. When I arrived at the venue, the coordinator seemed startled, probably in disbelief and wonder if this petite girl could move weighty stuff around. She’s correct; I couldn’t. But in the name of responsibility, I tried my best. I was struggling so hard that a few male undergraduate students noticed and helped out. When I got back home, my hands and legs were sore.
Fourth, I am more of an abstract thinker, so I do not really do well with tactile tasks. This became problematic when I was assigned to do an inventory check at the Campus Store. I had to tally all items, from the front display to the big boxes piled up in the storage room. On the other day, I worked in a team for the International Office to pack souvenirs in hundreds of goodie bags. We failed to finish it on time, so the coordinator extended our working hours.
Fortunately, there were exciting shifts. For example, when I was overseeing a pōwhiri, I got to see how Māori people conduct a welcoming ceremony for new students. I also liked doing crowd control at the Clock Tower and during DELNA (Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment) tests as I could amplify my problem-solving skills. I had one memorable moment. When I was at the help desk, two Germany parents stopped by to ponder about university life. They asked where I was from and wished that their teenage son could get into The University of Auckland. Soon after, I was reminded of how privileged I was, despite the challenges I faced at work. Another fun fact is that the administrator of DELNA was my classmate in my last semester. This taught me that some people just don’t stop learning, so I should do the same.
Taking a part-time job when studying overseas does sound prestigious, but work is work; we need to get it done. I’m grateful that the work was professional with clear job description and schedules, including paid and unpaid breaks, and everything was communicated openly. Indeed, there were hurdles, but all workplaces are just the same. I regard my experience being a Student Ambassador not as a non-comfort zone but, rather, a learning zone. This resonates well with a famous saying that “there is no growth in a comfort zone, and there is no comfort in a growth zone”. Therefore, whenever I feel uncomfortable in doing something positive, I always remind myself that it means I am gaining some new knowledge and skills.
*Featured imaged by The University of Auckland. All other photos are courtesy of Lavinia Disa.
*Editor: Yogi Saputra Mahmud