"Beyond providing me with a theoretical foundation for better understanding the world and all its complexity, my degree taught me how to think critically and structure persuasive, nuanced and rational arguments in support of my views."
Tell me a bit about your background, where you grew up, what did you want to be growing up?
Originally from South Africa, I immigrated to New Zealand in 2012 with my family. I have always had a passion for words and spent much of my childhood writing stories inspired by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I was fortunate enough to have a succession of English and History teachers throughout high school that cultivated this passion, teaching me how to employ words to convey critical thought and craft convincing arguments. These years nurtured a zeal for problem-solving and, combined with a love for history that I'd inherited from my parents, led me in the direction of journalism in the hope that I'd one day write for a publication like Time or National Geographic. One year into a journalism degree, however, I discovered that rather than write about events and ideas, I desired an opportunity to put my problem-solving skills to work in service of my adopted country. Given my abiding interest in foreign affairs, I decided that I would pursue a diplomatic career.
Can you explain why you chose to study your specific qualification/degree/programme?
My natural curiosity concerning global affairs and a desire to understand contemporary developments led me to choose Political Science/International Relations. I wanted to gain the knowledge and skills required to make a contribution to solving complex global problems and advance New Zealand's national interests.
What were some of the highlights for you while studying? Have there been achievements or experiences throughout your studies that stood out for you? (E.g. scholarships, awards, student exchanges, travel opportunities?).
I was fortunate enough to have numerous highlights during my time at Waikato. An ever-present highlight was the chance to study a subject I found truly fascinating in an environment that encouraged critical thought and the questioning of personally-held assumptions. I was honoured to receive the Theo Roy Prize in Politics and the Prime Minister's Scholarship for Latin America during my time at Waikato. With the wonderful support of my lecturers, I was also awarded the Freyberg Scholarship, which enabled me to pursue postgraduate study. I also relished the opportunity offered by Waikato to tutor a first-year course on New Zealand politics. Participation in an Asia-New Zealand Foundation Track II dialogue on Asia-Pacific security issues alongside my professors was another standout experience for me.
What did you / are you really enjoying about your study?
Having studied at other universities, one of the key advantages of studying at Waikato is the approachableness of lecturers, who always proved very generous with their time in my experience. Their responsiveness to questions and passion for their subject matter made for an enjoyable and memorable learning experience. They also genuinely want you to succeed in your studies and go the extra mile to ensure you are equipped to do just that. I also valued the numerous opportunities Waikato presented to meet fellow students that shared my interests, many of whom I still call friends today.
What was the student experience like on campus? (E.g. class sizes, interactions with lecturers, group work, the campus itself?)
The student experience at Waikato is geared in a way conducive to success. Class sizes are small enough that there are more opportunities to participate, share ideas and receive valuable feedback from your lecturers. Professors conduct their lectures in a way that invites questions and stimulates debate. Students are given the opportunity to really delve into the subject matter and expand the boundaries of their thinking. There are also ample resources available to support learning from the University library, and I always found the librarians very helpful, even when I asked them to help track down obscure, seemingly inaccessible sources!
If you’ve already completed your studies/graduated, what are you doing now? If you’re employed, talk us through your current role - where (what organisation) are you working and what is your role and responsibilities? How has your study at UoW helped you get there?
I'm a Foreign Policy Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, currently working on disarmament and arms control issues. My responsibilities include advising the Government on international security matters, representing New Zealand in international fora, and developing policy and strategy in consultation with colleagues, both from MFAT and other government agencies. My degree has proved crucial in preparing me for life at MFAT - the analytical skills I employ each day were developed during my time at Waikato. Waikato taught me the value of clear, precise and concise writing, as well as the ability to articulate one's thinking in a coherent and measured manner. The fact that many of the assignments I completed at university, such as policy briefings and presentations, are identical to the tasks I undertake at work highlights the practical value of a degree at Waikato.
Do you feel your degree has put you in good stead professionally? If so, how?
Yes. Beyond providing me with a theoretical foundation for better understanding the world and all its complexity, my degree taught me how to think critically and structure persuasive, nuanced and rational arguments in support of my views. Waikato enhanced my ability to analyse and dissect complicated issues and devise suitable and proportionate solutions, a skill I use on a daily basis at work.
What advice would you give to someone from home or another prospective student, wanting to follow the same study path as you?
Be curious. Ask questions. Engage in self-examination frequently. Cultivate a lifelong desire to understand, while acknowledging that you will never stop learning. Always seek to improve. And persevere when the going gets tough.