Safe, approachable, slow and free. Those are some of the words international students use to describe New Zealand.

Tuiara Bekhtiueva and Payoshnni Jugroo moved from their home countries to New Zealand in 2023 to study at Victoria University of Wellington. 

One of them spent years planning to move here and the other did it spontaneously. They share with Re: News whether their expectations of New Zealand matched their reality, and what culture shocks they got on the way. 

Choosing to study in New Zealand 

Tuiara, 43, moved her family from Russia to New Zealand in November last year to study a Masters of Education. 

Having worked as an English tutor, she wanted to try doing her post-graduate degree in an English-speaking country. 

Tuiara Bekhtiueva moved to New Zealand to study in 2023. Photo: supplied.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created challenges for Tuiara’s travel to New Zealand. 

She says she needed to sit an English language exam before coming over but had to do hers in Kazakhstan because the exam providers had boycotted conducting exams in Russia

Tuiara also says she could only pay her university fees by opening a bank account in a foreign country because there is an international sanction against Russian banks. 

“I think it has always been a hard process, even before the conflict [with Ukraine],” she says. 

She picked New Zealand because it was “beautiful” and “the climate is milder” compared to her home of Yakutia, a republic of Russia, which is widely referred to as the coldest city in the world

“New Zealand is considered a safe country, that’s important for me as I have children,” she says. 

For Payoshnni, it was her biology teacher who convinced her to move to New Zealand. He raved about New Zealand so much, she left Mauritius in February last year. 

She says he told her that if she wanted to do anything environmental, New Zealand was the place to go. So she came here for the final year of her Bachelor of Science in environmental studies, ecology and biodiversity. 

In Mauritius, going abroad to study is “very normal” and “seen as an accomplishment”, the 21 year old says. 

Payoshnni Jugroo came to New Zealand to finish her Bachelor of Science. Photo: supplied.

Expectations of ‘a small country on the edge of the world’  

Both Payoshnni and Tuiara say people in their home countries generally don’t know much about New Zealand. 

Payoshnni describes New Zealand as “very isolated from the rest of the world” and says rugby and the haka were the only things she was familiar with while living in Mauritius. 

She says she had no idea what to expect because coming to New Zealand was “a shot in the dark”. 

Tuiara says she pictured New Zealand as “a small country on the edge of the world”.

She says Yakutia is also referred to as the “edge of the world” so moving to New Zealand felt like going from the northern edge to the southern edge of the globe. 

Tuiara spent years reading about New Zealand to prepare for her big move so she knew exactly what to expect and was warned it would be expensive. 

She researched about finding accommodation, opening bank accounts, what support was available for international students and how many raincoats she would need to live in Wellington. 

Payoshnni says she told herself: “I only live once. All I looked up was which universities offered my course and what areas were safe [before moving].” 

She did expect that moving away from Mauritius would relieve her of the pressure her parents put on her to always study hard. 
Doing the research paid off 

Tuiara says most of her expectations of New Zealand proved true. 

New Zealand is more expensive than she thought, apart from the cost of food. 

“We spend the same on food here as we did at home,” Tuiara says. 

She says fruits and vegetables are fresher and cheaper here, especially avocados which she finds so cheap, compared to Russia, that they almost feel free. 

She did struggle to find a “safe and warm” house for her family that was close to campus and ended up living in an AirBnB her first month here. 

Tuiara’s university and its students’ association provided even more support for international students than she had thought, she says. 

“You feel yourself in a safe place, that you’re not alone,” she says. 

Most of Tuiara’s expectations of New Zealand turned out to be true. Photo: supplied. 

A ‘slow’ and ‘approachable’ culture 

“Slow” is the word Payoshnni and Tuiara use to describe New Zealanders’ approach to life. 

“Everything is slow here, people aren't hurrying in their work or their study,” Tuiara says. 

Payoshnni says Asian and European culture is a lot more fast paced so coming to such a “chill” country was a “culture shock”. 

The first time Payoshnni couldn't finish an assignment on time in New Zealand, she says she was “so stressed” because being sick was not an excuse to not submit schoolwork in Mauritius. 

“I sent a massive apology paragraph [to my lecturer] and begged for an extra 24 hours. He said ‘oh, you can have until the weekend’ and I took a while to process that,” she says.

In that situation, Payoshnni says other countries could benefit from adopting New Zealand’s mindset. 

Tuiara says she’s been most surprised by how welcoming New Zealanders are and says “people smile more here”. 

She volunteers with two different community groups and is involved in a bunch of university programmes, and says she feels part of the community everywhere she goes. 

Payoshnni says she has had conversations with strangers in elevators and says New Zealanders seem to have a “familiarity” with each other and are very approachable. 

Preserving Indigenous names 

The prominence of te ao Māori in New Zealand took Tuiara by surprise, as she herself is indigenous to Yakutia. 

She says her people have ethnic roots in Mongolia and Turkey but that her region is “greatly influenced by Russian culture”. 

Tuiara says many Yakutia people fluently speak their native language but they don’t have dual names for places and organisations like New Zealand often does. 

While researching about New Zealand, Tuiara says she learned not every New Zealander speaks fluent te reo Māori so she was surprised how visible the language was. 

“Some of my European lecturers speak some words in Māori. Russia doesn’t have that practice,” she says. 

Free to wear what you want 

Payoshnni finds New Zealand “much less judgemental” than Mauritius when it comes to fashion. 

She recalls a time she saw a curvy woman wearing a crop top without a bra and thinking “woah, I didn’t know you could do that”. 

She also says she didn’t know visible tattoos were acceptable in many workplaces in New Zealand, as Mauritius’s workforce is “prim and proper”.

Living in New Zealand has made her “care way less” about what she puts on in the morning. 

The price of being an international student 

Coming to New Zealand didn’t lessen the pressure Payoshnni feels to work hard. If anything, she says it increased it. 

Her parents paid around $38,000 so she could study in New Zealand and that created a greater responsibility to succeed, she says.

Payoshnni is currently applying for jobs but says many companies will not hire someone who requires a visa sponsorship, so she is unsure of what her future looks like. 

Tuiara’s Masters degree cost her $52,000 but she got a scholarship to cover $10,000 of the fees. 

She sold a flat in Russia to pay for the remaining $42,000. 

‘I think it's worth it’ 

Tuiara says she will return to Russia to complete the third trimester of her degree but her children want to stay here. 

“I think [the price of studying] is worth it. It allowed me and my children to see the world,” she says. 

“We have one life so we should try to make the most of it. Maybe in future, my children will choose New Zealand for their studies.” 

Payoshnni says studying in New Zealand taught her a lot about how to be self-sufficient, manage her own emotions and make friends as an adult. 

“You learn how to find your people because you know your time is limited,” she says. 

“With international students, our biggest motto is ‘make it work’.” 

Update (7/5/2024): Sentences under the subheading Preserving Indigenous names have been changed and updated to provide more context and clarity around the comments made by Tuiara Bekhtiueva.

More stories: 

Auckland uni students say they’ll stop paying rent after 8% hike

“The rent strike is a last resort method to stand up to them.”

Changes to gender and sexuality education: What’s in the guidelines?

What changes does the coalition government have in mind?

Your social media posts can put your job at risk. Here’s what not to do

An employment lawyer explains why companies care what you post online.