From China to “chur” – the sky’s the limit for international student

4 October 2017

Sky Ma web
Sky Ma is studying for a Bachelor of Social Work in Tauranga.

When Sky (Ziqi) Ma’s parents sent him from China to study in Tauranga five years ago he barely spoke a word of English and relied on his phone’s Google translate function to communicate with his teachers. Now the 20-year-old University of Waikato student cites kiwi slang, especially ‘chur’ and ‘sweet as’, as one of his favourite things about living in New Zealand. That, and fish ‘n’ chips.

Sky is grateful that his mum and dad put so much thought into where he should be based. Their first choice, Belarus, was vetoed in favour of New Zealand. World-class education and relative isolation from world conflict was what won them over. The next decision was where in New Zealand should he go? Originally from Wu Han, Sky says the hustle and bustle of Auckland didn’t appeal to him and the Christchurch earthquakes were a concern for his parents. He deemed Hamilton to be “too much like home – inland and no view of the ocean”, but Tauranga’s beautiful beaches and University of Waikato campus beckoned and seemed the perfect fit.

After researching potential high schools, Bethlehem College was chosen for its Christian values. Living with a host family who treated him like one of their own helped him settle in and start to master the language. He says his positive experience in New Zealand was a world away from the intensely disciplined schooling he’d had back in China – one of the reasons his parents felt their son would be better off continuing his studies abroad.

While toying with the idea of studying tourism, dentistry or food technology Sky says it was while on a mission with school to the Solomon Islands that he received his “calling from God”. He is now in his second year of a four-year Bachelor of Social Work degree based at Waikato’s Windermere campus. Quite simply, Sky wants to help people.

Meanwhile, he has adapted well to laid-back Kiwi life. He played rugby for three years and now enjoys the odd game of indoor netball. But studies come first. He took on some valuable advice from a fourth-year student to treat study like a full-time job. He has and is proud that he’s passed all his papers so far. But tertiary study took some getting used to.

“There were no bells to tell you when to go for lunch,” he says, recalling his first week on campus with a laugh. “I kept waiting for the bell to ring.”

He enjoys the mix of younger and more mature students in Tauranga and occasionally heads over the Kaimai’s to visit friends at the university’s Hamilton campus.

Every summer break Sky returns to China and enjoys catching up with family and friends. He doesn’t enjoy returning to the smog that’s at its worst during the Chinese winter. He’s been hospitalised more than once as his body isn’t used to processing the polluted air.

“When I go back I miss the fresh air here, and the people.” Grinning, he adopts a bit of slang to make his point, “People in this country are really chill.”

Sky is a second-year student in the four-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. The Waikato BSW is recognised by the Social Workers Registration Board, and qualified social workers are needed both in New Zealand and overseas. When the University of Waikato’s new Tauranga CBD campus opens its door in 2019 it will continue to provide the BSW. Chat to a Future Student Adviser if you’d like to know more about where the BSW could lead. Email

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