Saturday, 3 October 2009

China bound - going home!

Hello Everyone!

We just got another step closer to going back home to China!

After all it was the Chinese who said that the journey of a 1000 miles, begins with the first step!

We continue to make the steps, as the interviews are over, the medical checks are completed, the residence and work visas have been approved and airline tickets are booked - we are finally going home!

I have accepted a great position in Guangzhou as a Director of Studies, and will start in October! This will be a new adventure for the family, as our previous postings in China, were in Xi'an and Beijing, in fact both my wife, and our son, were born in Beijing! So we will experience the hospitality of the south, along with all of the fine food!

There are still many, many more steps to go through - saying our "good-byes", deciding what goes and what stays, not to mention packing for the children - but we are making process with each passing day. The stress level is high in our household, and the children and I are most careful not to disturb anything too much, but the days until we depart lovely New Zealand are very short indeed!

I have almost completed my "disengagement from Dunedin" and have resigned from all five of the Boards of which I served and am now in wrap-up mode! We have received some very positive feedback, from some of the local people, as to what we have been able to accomplish for international students and migrants here in Dunedin, however if you have read this blog for any length of time - you will know that positive feedback has not been the norm!

Hopefully I will make more regular contributions to this blog, as I made an earlier promise to our intern from France that I would!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Interview Workshop

Hello everyone!

Just a quick note to let you all know that we had a great interview workshop on Saturday! We at Maverick Trust worked together with Mike Dooley at Career Services, and this was our second "Employment Workshop" for this year. Our first was held in April which covered CV and cover letter preparation for international students and new migrants. On Saturday we focused purely on interviewing for employment here in Dunedin.

As an icebreaker, we shared some of our interview experiences here in Dunedin, both positive and negative, with the group of about 12 assembled. We had people from the following countries:

Korea, Mexico, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brazil, France, China, USA and Germany

The atmosphere was comfortable, and hopefully the information given helpful. Everyone had a chance to be both the interviewee (employee) and the interviewer (employer). We practiced the interviews with jobs gathered from recent issues of the Otago Daily Times (ODT), so each interview was an excercise with "real live jobs".

Mike did a great job of assembling a very informative Career Services booklet filled with potential interview questions for us to think about, humorous interview mistakes and the many different communication styles (verbal and nonverbal). Being an employer myself, as well as recently serving on a Community Organization interview panel, I was able to add some comments to the group about other things that potential employers might look for in an interview.

Next month (25/07) we will hold a Settlement Workshop about Insurance and Health issues, hope to see you there!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Economic Crisis in Dunedin ???

Had a great business class again on Thursday evening, where everyone shared their opinions of the "economic crisis" and how big or bad it really was here in Dunedin.

Some though it to be a bit overblown in NZ, as the traffic in to and out of Auckland still looks as busy as ever, and the banks in NZ are not really in trouble, as say the States, UK or even Ireland. Although banks here seem to be looking at business cash flow and debt levels pretty closely, and people are feeling the pinch? Another student pointed out that he was busier than ever in his business with quotes and contracts booked until at least the October or November of this year. And yet another student talked of people in his industry having 6 months of steady work already contracted, with no slow down predicted even after that?

It seems as if that everyone involved in the discussion, about 20 students from all over the globe, as well as more than a few "born and bred" in Dunedin, were watching their individual situations fairly closely, and pulling back a bit on any large purchases. One spoke of negotiating tough with local retailers for the purchase, delivery and installation of a refrigerator, with the feeling he got a "very good deal" in the end.

Perhaps the most interesting point in the whole 2 hour discussion, was that so many students saw this as a time of great opportunity to either expand their business and aggressively market against their major competitors, or to pull back slightly to re-focus on what they felt to be the core values and direction of their businesses. That customer satisfaction is the key element of either expansion or pulling back, was very interesting to me, after so many years in both teaching and running business operations. All students felt that creating, nurturing and expanding their relationships with customers and clients was of the utmost importance over the near future.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Reaction from Locals

It has been awhile since my last entry, and I can say that we have been busy - which is true - but mostly I have been digesting a few strong reactions from the Dunedin "host population" to a comment I made recently in an international educational publication. The publication is "Language Travel" magazine, and our relationship with the team at this publication has been pretty close since their very first edition back in 1997. We were mentioned a few times when we were still solely an educational agent in Beijing, China, and we have participated in some of their surveys and country specific articles since our arrival in Dunedin, New Zealand. So I felt very comfortable with talking openly and honestly with them, (and still do now) about what we saw with regards to how international students were treated in Dunedin.

To make a long story short, the reaction from the local educational providers was extremely hostile to my observations and comments. My statement was (and still is) that it seems as if most of these providers treat their fee paying international students as something between a "cash register and a pet". I can say that this has been our observation as we listened to principals, international student coordinators and teachers describe their feelings or relationships towards these students, but the most disturbing thing is that it is the students themselves who feel this way. In perhaps many hundreds of conversations I have had over the last few years with high school, tertiary and even private language school students, it was they themselves who coined the term "cash register and pet"! I just borrowed the term, as I felt it was the most accurate and graphic description I had heard - and it came from the students themselves. Hard to argue fact or opinion?

Well as you can imagine, my publicized comments to "Language Travel" have not gone unnoticed, nor has it gained me many friends with in the education provider groups. So what should I do, as we are a language school ourselves?

Should I apologize?
I do not think so, as I feel the description is still an accurate account, however painful it might sound.

Should I try to arrange a meeting to smooth things over?
Perhaps not, as tempers are still pretty hot, and most locals do not want to discuss anything negative with an outsider, especially an Irish-American.

Should I try to change the thinking of the providers or the system itself from within?

Been there and done that (to coin another phrase)!

Since our arrival in Dunedin we have tried to assist and support many of the schools, most of whom declined our efforts, and are the schools most upset with us now. It is as if the whole education sector is living in a state of denial - they feel as if they need no help, they need not change and the system is just fine as is and is not broken (so why try to fix it)?

So what will we do?
We will continue our support of international students, foreign workers and new migrants in the areas of most importance to these groups of people - employment, education and housing.

We will continue to run our free employment search and Dunedin settlement workshops each month.

We will continue to have free English conversation clubs, twice each week, at Maverick School of Languages.

We will continue to teach the free NZQA Wananga Business classes (as we have done for almost 3 years) to all qualified students (NZ permanent residents and citizens).

And most of all we will continue to be the place where international students, foreign workers and new migrants can come to ask a question (in any language), to feel at home and to share a smile and a cuppa any time during the day!

Friday, 9 January 2009

What is Maverick Group anyway?

As I mentioned the other day, I see 2009 as being a great year of opportunity for anyone who can see past the doom and gloom that most of the sheep speak of these days! We have decided to increase our marketing budget so as to expand our exposure both here domestically, as well as overseas. Locally we see 2009 as a time to provide even more services to the newcomers to Dunedin, be they international students, foreign workers or new migrants. We will add more Employment Search workshops for people looking for employment, and also start a new Dunedin Settlement workshop that will focus on the entire family, not just the breadwinner or breadwinners. We also might expand our services to providing some assistance in finding suitable housing, be it rental or purchase, and possibly some other area as well! Overseas we see tremendous opportunities in the international student, overseas worker and migrant recruitment in many countries that most people in New Zealand overlook!

During the process of talking to all of these marketing and advertising people, someone asked me a very simple, but interesting question - "what is Maverick Group anyway"? She followed on by asking why do we care about these "foreigners, who do not speak proper English or might possibly take our jobs, besides no one asked them to come here anyway"! For the contents of this writing, I will try to answer the first question - "what is Maverick Group anyway" and leave the second for further discussion and debate in the future!

OK, so what is Maverick Group? Maverick is a group of companies that provides pathways in education, employment and immigration for our clients who wish to study, work and live in New Zealand! The group currently consists of three companies mainly involved with education, consulting and charitable support for people arriving in New Zealand. In 2009 we are looking for opportunities for expansion into housing, employment and recruitment.

We think our business is a bit different from most other education providers in Dunedin, as we strive to give ongoing support and assistance to any international student, overseas worker or new migrant, whether we recruited and brought them to NZ or not? Simply put, we have assembled the best educational providers at Maverick School, the best business professionals at Maverick Consulting and a talented pool of multi-cultural volunteers at Maverick Trust, to handle the three biggest needs and concerns of newcomers to Dunedin - Education, Employment and Housing.

All Languages Spoken
Maverick School of Languages Ltd provides a full range of English language courses for international students, as well as Chinese courses for local students and business people.

Providing Pathways to the World
Maverick Consulting Ltd offers advice and assistance in the areas of student, employment and residency visas for immigrating to, or migrating from, New Zealand.

All Cultures Welcome
Maverick Charitable Trust provides ongoing and overall support for newcomers, be they international students, overseas workers and new migrants who choose to study, work or live in Dunedin, NZ

As an example of how we are different, we set up a NZ government approved Charitable Trust (Maverick International Student and Migrant Support Trust) to provide support and help, to inspire all newcomers from abroad, be they students, workers or migrants to reach their full potential, and settle themselves with dignity and respect, within the Dunedin community. Through the trust (Maverick International and Migrant Support Trust) we are able to run employment search and settlement support workshops for international students and new migrants to New Zealand, as well as providing a hub for the various other ethnic community groups to connect and network with each other.

This is what we believe Maverick Group to be at present, but as mentioned earlier, we would like to expand our services to many other areas. We think that by being focused on our core business - newcomers to Dunedin - we can provide needed support, make a few dollars along the way and make Dunedin a culturally diversified and integrated community that welcomes all newcomers!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

2009 Outlook

Hello and welcome to 2009 here in Dunedin, on the South island of New Zealand. As I look at the articles in the local and national newspapers, be it the business section or even the opinion page, all I see is a "doom and gloom" outlook from what is usually an upbeat and optimistic host population. I am not a psychologist, nor do I claim to fully understand the Kiwi as a person, but I see tremendous opportunities almost everywhere I look - especially here in Dunedin.

In my last writing, I mentioned the other brainstorming session we had, this time with the business classes. All of these students are looking to set up their own businesses, and the classes have a mix of newcomers to Dunedin (70%) and host population (30%). During the session we heard many different ideas, with the biggest opportunity being tourism, and all of the services that fall under this category. Be it better service at local cafes and pubs, a more coordinated effort for all of the cruise ships that arrive this time of year or more hotel rooms. Education tourism was mentioned, as well as more international language services available to overseas guests. What I found most exciting was the openness of all involved in the session, as for that moment we were all equal in our feelings to make the place better, with all of us being citizens of Dunedin - whether born here or not! I must confess that this is not always the case, with some prejudices and ignorance of the outside world showing itself more often than it should. Dunedin has been described to me more times then I care to remember, as being "conservative". This definition has many versions, some of which I will discuss in a future writing.

I am looking forward to 2009, no doom and gloom here! We at Maverick Group are expecting great things to happen for the remaining 361 days of 2009. Will keep you updated, and we wish all of you great success as well!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

International Student Perspective

We at Maverick Group are always looking for ways to attract more and more people from the outside world to come to Dunedin to study, work and live. Last Friday we had a small brainstorming activity with 5 international students, all from the University of Otago. We had students from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam some of whom had been here for more than 6 years and 1 for less than 6 months. We talked about security and safety issues, and whether the situation had gotten better or worse since each arrived. The conclusion being that while the chance of physical violence was low for students, the social settings, especially for international female students, did indeed provide some areas of concern - particularly around the consumption of alcohol.

All students liked the fact that the town was small and easy to get around (most places in only 10 minutes), and very much quieter than most of the places the students originated from - but this was seen as a good thing for study, as there were less distractions to interfere with school. The University of Otago itself came out positively, as the opportunities to study pharmacy and dentistry were open and accessible to international students, they are somewhat limited in other Universities in New Zealand, as well as in their home countries. There is room for improvement in student support at most of the local high schools, as well as the University itself, but we took this to mean that there are opportunities for Maverick Group and its team to assist these organizations to improve such services. Mostly by a "hands on" approach with all of our brainstorming team committed to the task, especially with the support of international high school kids.

This was our first of hopefully many meetings as a group, and I will keep you updated on our progress as we proceed. I will also enlighten you about another recent brainstorming session with a group of business students (50/50 mix of local kiwis and newcomers) about the future of Dunedin from a business perspective.