Valuing the Kiwi Connection

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A major survey of English Language Partners’ ESOL home tutors, past and current, has found this programme adds significant value to both learners’ and volunteers’ lives.

Online surveys were sent to nearly 1,500 current and former tutors. The study also included tutor focus groups, learner discussions, data analysis and a review of other research.

Through the ESOL Home Tutoring programme, English Language Partners New Zealand (ELPNZ) aims to help refugees and migrants settle effectively and feel a sense of belonging. Another aim is for the country to benefit from the skills, knowledge, experience and connections of both learners and tutors.

The research confirmed that refugees and migrants benefit from improved English skills and understanding of New Zealand’s culture and lifestyles. This helps them access community facilities and activities, make social connections and progress towards personal goals.

In turn, volunteers said tutoring helped them develop new skills, promoted personal development and wellbeing and enhanced their understanding and empathy for other cultures.

“The thing I love most about being a home tutor is that I can learn about new cultures of countries that I could never travel to myself, and seeing my learners’ experiences of discovering a new city gives me the opportunity to see where I live through different eyes.” (Survey participant)

Chief Executive Nicola Sutton, says: “The uniqueness and value of the programme suggest real value is added to the successful settlement of refugees and migrants in New Zealand. Therefore, we must find ways to ensure it can continue well into the future.

While many language classes are available in New Zealand, ELPNZ is unique in offering a volunteer programme where Kiwis visit people in their homes to teach English.

“The programme’s value extends far beyond learning English skills,” says Ms Sutton. “For learners, the advancement in English can be just one bonus. There’s enormous value in having a trusted local to ask questions of – someone who can help navigate our ‘everyday life’ systems.”

“I want to work in a school, as I was teacher in [home country]. The home tutor made contact with someone in school for me. Now I understand what training I need to do.” (Survey participant)

This value was emphasised by tutors, who were asked about the most rewarding aspect of their work. Recognising the difference they were making in learners’ lives was cited as the most satisfying aspect by 44 per cent of current tutors and 40 per cent of former tutors. However, the second highest reason given – for 17 per cent of current and 13 per cent of past tutors – was public good, or altruism – specifically with regard to settlement.

“[The most rewarding part is] helping refugees and migrants integrate and become confident by learning to not only speak but also learn about the New Zealand way of life.” (Survey participant)

The findings also highlighted the benefits tutors gain: feeling welcomed into the homes of refugees and migrants and gaining new insights and understanding about people who are often from very different backgrounds from themselves.

“The warmth and friendship that ensues is often much more than the volunteer ever thought they would gain from participating in the programme,” says Ms Sutton.

The benefits cited by tutors included: “Meeting people who I would normally never meet”; “Getting to know the whole family and building a lasting friendship” and “The joy of making a new friend.”

Responses also showed that outcomes go way beyond the immediate learner and tutor. Learners’ families can benefit too, such as parents gaining a better understanding of what is required from the school, or helping the family access health services.

“My son had an accident, and broke his elbow. I phoned the home tutor [and asked] “can you help?”. A few minutes later they were there and helped me take my son to emergency department.” (Survey participant)

Family and friends of tutors also gain from developing a better understanding of another culture, being invited to special festivities or seeing the tutor flourish from the sense of meaning they get from their role.

“I feel like I’m an advocate, without getting on a soapbox. I try and connect stories and break down suspicion. I know my husband will talk about what I am doing proudly at Rotary.” (Survey participant)

Employers may also benefit from staff gaining increased cultural competency and being able to better support and work with diverse cultures.

“Lots of people who haven’t had this training get into wrong situations. At our work we get a lot of international nurses. The course was incredibly useful in supporting me to train our workforce.” (Survey participant).

A 2008 report from the Ministry for Social Development underlined how social cohesion depends on people’s interactions with and attitudes to each other, especially those they consider to be different from themselves.

“I don’t have Kiwi friends. Getting to know [the tutor], we talk about New Zealand, something in the news. She is very patient, always smiling. Friendly.” (Survey participant)

“The survey results underline what’s happening through the ESOL Home Tutoring programme,” says Ms Sutton.

“Through ‘ordinary’ Kiwis connecting with people from other cultures and sharing vital information about how we do things, and understanding how other cultures do things, we can help break down social barriers and make New Zealand a more accepting, safer country where people understand one another better.”

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