Maryam Ghouzivand found herself in this situation just seven years ago. Today, you’ll find her socialising with a wide circle of Kiwi and international friends, chatting to colleagues at work, and happily settled into her adopted country. She exudes pure joy, and bubbles over with enthusiasm as she shares her journey from new arrival to feeling "New Zealand is my home.”
Maryam’s progression is an inspiring story and one that reflects the success of many migrants who pass through the doors of English Language Partners.
Born and bred in West Iran, love brought Maryam to New Zealand to be with her sports medicine trainer husband. Growing up speaking Farsi and Kurdish, she had studied English at school, but found this wasn’t enough to converse or to understand the Kiwi accent, slang and culture.
This left Maryam missing her family and friends, and unable to have even simple conversations on her daily outing to the gym. Luckily, a friend of her husband’s told her about English Language Partners (ELP), and she began attending classes where she met lovely and kind people and learned Kiwi English and culture.
Maryam credits not only her language skills and her confidence to her ELP tutors, but much more. “One tutor said, ‘Would you like me to teach you to drive in New Zealand?’ which is the main reason I was able to get my license.”
Another tutor, who became an enduring friend, was particularly welcoming and understanding because she had recently visited Iran. She took the extra step of helping Maryam write a CV which was a critical step on her career path.
Maryam relates her experience as: "When you move to a new country and change your living environment, it is like relocating a plant.
“At the beginning, the plant leaves are weak and turning yellow. Only once the roots start growing do the leaves become stronger and more beautiful.
“For me, after arriving from Iran, the volunteer tutors at English Language Partners were like a nursery, nurturing my roots and helping me grow and bloom in Aotearoa New Zealand's rich soil."
A working foundation
As her language skills progressed from elementary to working level via her ELP studies, Maryam picked up a casual job for a school photographer and then began volunteering at the ELP offices. Soon after, she applied for and received a part-time job as Northland ELP’s administrator.
In this confidence-building role, Maryam managed the student database system and local accounts, coordinated the volunteer programme and matches, and organised events like shared lunches and teas.
Michele Topping, ELP Northland’s centre manager, sings her praises. “She was very patient and helpful, incredibly efficient and always seemed to have everything under control. She is great at relationships; empathising with students, nurturing friendships and chatting to people to get to know them.
“I was often amazed by the details she knew about the learners’ lives.”
After progressing with her own English and understanding of New Zealand culture, Maryam felt ready to volunteer herself, and began participating in the volunteer training programme to further her own experience and to give back to the organisation.
"I love helping other migrants build their confidence in New Zealand by sharing my experience, while simultaneously improving my own English and cultural skills. As a tutor, you learn more when you teach others."
Maryam relied on her previous experience as a teacher when she began tutoring a young man who’d recently arrived from Korea with almost no English. She began with simple words paired with reading short stories and watching short New Zealand videos then discussing the content. As a fun way to progress his skills and cultural understanding, they went on excursions to the art gallery, library, and cafes.
“Maryam was very patient and kind with him and started him off well,” says Michele.
Maryam’s empathy was invaluable in the relationship: “Because of my background I know it’s hard at the beginning. He was a smart and fast learner.”
Maryam is looking forward to doing more tutoring in the future. “I gained a lot and learned more. It’s a wonderful way to be in contact with different people from different cultures.”
While everything was challenging from the beginning, the toughest part once Maryam learned the language was finding a job that met her hard-earned IT qualifications and expertise gained in Iran. This is common for well-educated, highly-skilled people who migrate to New Zealand and face language barriers to getting employment in their field.
With the experience gained through working at ELP, their encouragement to apply for jobs suited to her skills, and the reference Michele provided based on her good work for ELP’s Northland centre, Maryam successfully secured a position as a Service Desk Technician for the Kaipara District Council.
Knowing that IT is a rapidly changing environment, Maryam had studied for six months in advance of getting the job so was ready from a technical standpoint. However, her cultural learning only intensified once she began the job.
“The ELP environment was very multi-national, supportive and a welcoming place to use as a steppingstone on my career.
“Now, suddenly all my colleagues were Kiwis with English as their first language or had been here 25 years. I had to rebuild my confidence.” After a shy first six months, Maryam opened up and now feels a part of the team culturally as well as knowing she is contributing to the organisation.
Maryam hopes to pursue her dream of a career in Artificial Intelligence or Cybersecurity via university study in New Zealand. With that long term goal in mind and an immediate goal of being more successful in her current role, Maryam recognises that she can continue to benefit from English Language Partners’ offerings.
She is currently enrolled in ELP’s English for Employees (E4E) course, which focuses on work-related literacy and culture and is available to New Zealand citizens and resident visa holders who are currently employed.
While working with her tutor Bruce Hodder to add skills that will help her confidently present and write reports, Maryam says: “The most important part of E4E for me is how to adapt to Kiwi culture in the workplace and be part of the conversation in meetings and the lunchroom.”
She may not yet be a true rugby fan, but she is always ready to discuss who won and lost the latest game with her colleagues.
Maryam illustrates this distinction vividly: “Say you know how to swim in the pool and someone asks you to swim in the ocean. Knowing how to read and write is like knowing how to swim in a pool but not in the waves and currents. You need time and help to build the skills and confidence to swim in the ocean.
“ELP provides that help and confidence.”
Words of wisdom
Maryam is keen to share advice from her experience with new arrivals. “Be open-minded, let go of your expectations, and be ready to start slowly learning from zero. Learning is not only English grammar; it is how to be part of society and build your confidence and trust.”
She also offers a note of caution: “The first two years can be really hard where you will experience many ups and downs, compromises, and hard work before everything starts to come together. Commit yourself to two years and be strong. Don’t give up yet because it is too soon to judge.”
“You are not alone. Take advantage of English Language Partners. I am very grateful to ELP who have played a big role in my life and opened the door to many opportunities.”
“Every day I meet more people and get more support. Every day as I am working, visiting with a friend over coffee, or looking at my garden which I grew myself, I see my face with a big smile. I am so grateful for what I have achieved.”