International Education Week with Oscar Yip

With Fulbright graduates in Dunedin. Photo credit: Oscar Yip.

This week marks the 19th annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, which celebrates and promotes the benefits of international education and exchange programs worldwide. Initially created so that America could inspire its students to travel abroad, IEW now encourages and supports foreign students interested in making the leap to study in the United States. Today, IEW is celebrated in over 100 countries, including New Zealand.

Join us as we profile kiwi student experiences in America this week. Today we chat with Oscar Yip…

Name: Oscar Yip
Age: 24
University: University of Otago
Location: Dunedin
Course of Study: Master’s of Science in Plant Biotechnology
Award/Exchange Program: Fulbright U.S. Graduate Award

What encouraged you to study abroad/study in New Zealand?

I was first exposed to the welcoming nature of New Zealand culture when I studied abroad at the University of Otago my Junior year in college. During my time here, I took an interesting plant biotechnology course and formed a great relationship with the professor. This relationship was the basis for my scientific research proposal to return back to New Zealand and conduct interesting research regarding heavy metal pollution resistance in plants. I was encouraged to study in New Zealand because I wanted to do impactful research in an international context, especially in a country that is environmentally conscious and takes pride in its great outdoors.

Up hiking the Tongariro. Photo credit: Oscar Yip.
Up hiking the Tongariro. Photo credit: Oscar Yip.

Tell us about the Fulbright scholarship. How did you hear about the award program?

The Fulbright US graduate award is a wonderful scholarship that allows American graduate students to undertake postgraduate study or research at New Zealand institutions in any field. I first heard about this award program at my undergraduate institution – Occidental College. I had friends and peers that had applied both to do research and teach English in various countries such as Hong Kong, Spain, and South Korea through the Fulbright and loved their experiences doing something meaningful following graduation.

Describe your school/program socially and academically. How does it differ from your studies in America?

I am pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in the Plant Biotechnology/Botany department at the University of Otago, which entails conducting an independent research project, culminating in a thesis documenting your experiments and findings at the end. I have found that the Botany department is a very welcoming community with a close-knit post-graduate student community. My supervisor is a wonderful resource and mentor who I meet with weekly to discuss my progress and plan for future experiments in the laboratory. As I have not participated in postgraduate studies in America, I can not speak to how that process is different from New Zealand, but I have found that academically the environment is a bit more laid back and less competitive here in New Zealand. For example, the daily morning teas at 10:30AM offer a great chance to take a break from work and re-energize.

In the lab! Photo credit: Oscar Yip.
In the lab! Photo credit: Oscar Yip.
At work. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.
At work. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

What is it like being an international student on campus in New Zealand?

As an international student on campus, the university offers many great resources and I did not feel like I was out of place due to this. In fact, many times it was a great conversation starter to laugh about the different names Kiwis and Americans have for the same thing, such as swimming trunks vs togs or flip flops vs jandals.

What has been your biggest challenge and biggest highlight since living in New Zealand?

One of my biggest challenges during the beginning of my time in was New Zealand was learning how to cook efficiently for one person. Growing up with a family-owned restaurant, I had always been spoiled with good food, so living by myself without a college meal plan was a tough taste of reality. However, after a couple months I started to get the hang of it and was actually enjoying cooking my own meals. One of my biggest highlights living in New Zealand is the great relationships that I have formed with the people I have met – both Kiwis and international. Whether it was sharing a meal at a hut after a long day of tramping or taking a trip to the supermarket to buy groceries, these experiences are meaningful to me because of the wonderful people I get to do them with!

What are your plans after the program? How will your time in New Zealand help your career?

My plans after Fulbright are to return back to America to pursue a PhD in cellular and molecular biology. With future career goals of being a researcher, my time conducting research in New Zealand has been a wonderful learning experience, helping me gain more independence and clarity as a scientist. For instance, it has helped me narrow my research interests, confirming that I want to conduct research that has a strong translational component in the future.

What advice can you offer to any students hoping to study abroad or go on exchange in the future?

To any students hoping to study abroad or go on exchange in the future, I would say do not hesitate to do so! Getting to learn in a different country and to form meaningful relationships with people from different backgrounds is an amazing opportunity. I would also suggest stepping out of your comfort zone and attending events and outreaches that will allow you to interact and explore new interests because that is a great way to meet people and make connections with people that have a wealth of knowledge to share.

with U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Susan Niblock and Deputy Prime Minister Hon Winston Peters, at the Fulbright Awards in Wellington. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.
with U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Susan Niblock and Deputy Prime Minister Hon Winston Peters, at the Fulbright Awards in Wellington. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

What is something you wished you would have known before going abroad for study?

Something that I wish I knew prior going abroad would be how chilly student flats can get during the cold Dunedin winters. A lot of the flats do not have the best insulation, so knowing this beforehand I would have packed some slippers and more warm clothes to wear in the house and would have tried harder to find a flat with double-glazed windows.

Taiko drumming performance. Photo credit: Oscar Yip.
Taiko drumming performance. Photo credit: Oscar Yip.

Did you engage in any extra-curricular activities, and if so, which ones and why?

During my time in New Zealand, I joined the Dunedin O-Taiko group – a Japanese drumming group. This was an amazing opportunity not only because it was a chance for me to take a break from doing research in the laboratory and work a different part of my brain, but it provided an avenue to meet people from the greater Dunedin community other than just students. I first saw the group performing at the Dunedin Chinese New Year Celebration and decided to attend their public workshop and eventually signed up for the beginners class to learn how to play. I also took part in social tennis and helped out at a the Dunedin community garden, which both provided great excuses for me to be outside and be amongst great company.

Finish the sentence: I believe international education is important because…

I believe international education is important because with any field of study or career, the ability to work with people of different backgrounds and with different perspectives is absolutely essential.

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Follow #IEW2018 to participate in the virtual conversations happening online around International Education Week.

Additionally, are you thinking about studying in America? There are thousands of opportunities for motivated students! Connect with EducationUSA New Zealand on Facebook (facebook.com/educationusanz) and Twitter (@educationusanz), and be sure to check out our free resources (nz.usembassy.gov) available to help you get started!