Kwok arrived as a highly-qualified and experienced senior engineer, able to read and write reports in English. Kwok sees himself as luckier than most because he was able to get a job within three months. However, he believes his communication problems have prevented him from getting a higher paid job with staff responsibilities, such as he had previously.
In Hong Kong, Kwok worked as a senior engineer in the refrigeration field. Since arriving, he has been working as an air-conditioning technician. Kwok feels employers tend to hire people they know rather than those with the best qualifications. This situation is especially problematic for immigrants, he explains, because they are no longer in the same country as previous colleagues, employers and clients and have not had time to form a wide circle of local acquaintances.
Recently, he handed in his notice, and is now excited about setting up in business for himself. Kwok believes he has at last built up enough experience and made enough contacts for this to be a viable prospect.
After realising what a problem his lack of conversational English was, Kwok began actively looking for ways to improve his language. He now believes one of the best ways to achieve this is to join in with the neighbourhood community and to engage others in conversation.
Talking with his neighbours helped him to pick up the local slang and to feel welcome here. Kwok has formed friends with people from different nationalities and has been touched by kind offers to clear his mail or bring in his bins while the family is away.
An advertisement in a local newspaper drew Kwok’s attention to English Language Partners’ English for Employees programme held at Howick Library. Keen for any opportunity to learn, Kwok responded to the ad and was put on a waiting list. Six months later he was given a place.
The lesson format surprised him because he had not realised they would be so focussed around the learners’ own goals. He deliberately chose small, realistic goals that could be achieved within the programme’s 25 weeks.
While he was able to meet some goals within that time, he still had much to learn and was pleased when he was then offered a place in another course. For Kwok, a positive aspect of life in New Zealand is the number of volunteers helping in the community. He believes volunteer work is a great way for new migrants to gain relevant experience and build networking contacts while also helping others.
Kwok tells his eighteen-year-old son he would be wise to consider volunteering opportunities and to enjoy the happiness this work brings to others.
Writer Mary Atkinson