Kia ora! Mabuhay!
My name is Jenny Sotto and I am an international student from the Philippines. I am currently in my second year, studying the Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Auckland.
This is my story.
Gaining independence in New Zealand
The wonderful opportunity to study in New Zealand is humbling and something I am forever grateful for. Just like everyone else, it was difficult settling into a new culture, environment, and an education system that’s far different from where I came from.
It came to a point where I would call my parents and cry because it was very difficult being far away from them at a very young age (Dumating sa point na tumatawag at umiiyak talaga ako sa parents ko kasi ang hirap mapalayo sa kanila sa murang edad kong ‘yon). Over time, I have overcome that fear by being socially active, volunteering, and seeking support from my peers, teachers, and from my uncles and aunties who have been like my second parents.
Being far away from home is mentally and emotionally challenging at times. However, I am now more independent, wiser (especially with my finances!), and determined to work hard for my dreams – doing it for my family, myself, and most of all, for the Lord Jesus (higit sa lahat para sa Panginoon!).
Learning never stops, even with COVID-19
When the lockdown was implemented in New Zealand, my course mates and I were completing our clinical hours through an internship at a local hospital. However, to ensure our safety as students, our internship was immediately put on hold.
Everything quickly shifted to online. We had lectures, group activities, and workshops in Zoom. The transition to digital learning wasn’t too difficult as we received coursework topics beforehand and we studied at our own pace. Just like how it was before the lockdown. Self-directed learning ensures ownership and responsibility for our work and results.
Our assessments and exams were also made online.
Our lecturers and the University were very understanding and supportive of our situation. They looked after our overall well-being amidst this pandemic through emails and informing us of the counseling services available if we feel anxious and distressed. My friends and I looked after each other by messaging one another at least once a week. This pandemic has certainly taken its toll on all of us.
It’s like everything was restricted. I just realized how difficult it is to stay at home and not go out at all. It drove me nuts! However, despite being in isolation, I knew that it is for everyone’s safety.
We are all in this together
As COVID-19 cases and death tolls were rising, I was worried about my family back home. To cope with my anxiety; I called my family more often, took some time off social media, cooked meals, and exercised instead. On days when I want to be productive, making a to-do list was my go-to plan. On some days, I binge watch movies, do some art and take long naps. I also kept an eye for announcements from Immigration New Zealand and from my University.
Feeling safe in NZ and giving back to the community
While being an international student, I also worked as a mental health assistant. It is my passion. To spread awareness about mental health and break the stigma on it has been one of my goals.
Conversations about mental health have been a “taboo” for many and it was something that many people aren’t talking about. Creating a safe space and talking about it responsibly has been a journey for me as mental health is equally important as one’s physical health.
Mental health is wealth!
My job may seem draining. However, there’s a saying back home that goes, “kapag may tiyaga, may nilaga” (you reap what you sow).
Success does not come overnight. I know that these experiences serve as training for me towards the area of nursing which I want to specialize in the future and focus on mental health. I can say that my job is very fulfilling especially when I see patients’ progress. Even a simple ‘thank you’ brightens up my day and makes everything worthwhile. Being given the opportunity to step up and become a frontliner during this pandemic makes me feel proud and gives me a sense of purpose.
For those of you who are reading this, remember that there is no shame in seeking help. Take good care of yourself, take some time off, and look after your mental health!