Penguins without Borders: a taste of Latin America in New Zealand schools

Issue: Volume 96, Number 20

Posted: 13 November 2017
Reference #: 1H9g7V

Secondary schools participating in the New Zealand/Chile Penguins without Borders programme say that being able to embrace another culture has had multiple benefits for their students.

This year’s group of 55 ‘Penguins without Borders’ students from Chile brought a taste of Latin America to 26 secondary schools in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, says Schools International Education Business Association (SIEBA) director John van der Zwan.

“Not all Kiwis can travel when they’re young, so spending time with international students is a chance to experience a different culture and find out more about the wider world,” John says.

Funded by the Chilean Government, the Penguins without Borders programme involves Chilean high school students (known as ‘Penguins’ because of their distinctive black and white uniforms) attending a New Zealand secondary school for six months. New Zealand hosts Penguins every second year, with Canada hosting them in alternate years.

Participating schools in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are selected in Chile, and the student placements are arranged by SIEBA on behalf of Education New Zealand. 

Chilean student Laura Alarcon was a real asset in Wellington High School’s year 12 Spanish class in terms 1 and 2 this year, helping and collaborating with other students. The school’s First XI football team also benefited from Pablo Munoz’s involvement. 

“It’s very competitive in Chile for students to be selected for a government scholarship to come to New Zealand,” says Maria Walker, international student director at Wellington High School.

“So these were high-achieving students. They both got excellent school reports here and contributed really well, both in class and outside it.” 

Nicky Ewins, international director at Kaiapoi High School, says their Penguin students were equally impressive. 

“Antonia Cuadra and Javiera Catalan both integrated themselves into class and school activities with ease. 

“They had a good understanding of English so they were confident engaging with teachers and other students and made some good friends during their time with us.”

Nicky says it was a huge benefit to have the students in their food and nutrition class, as a whole term’s module was about ethnic food and culture. 

“The Chilean students virtually ran the class, explaining, teaching and demonstrating their culture, food and life experiences to the rest of the class. 

“Other cultures – Japanese, Korean, Thai, Māori, and European – were also represented, so this was a great opportunity for all students to enjoy diversity in action, and learn about the differences.”

The students also took part in the opening of Kaiapoi School’s new Cultural Learning Centre. The Chileans joined other international students in wearing traditional dress and preparing special food to serve to guests. At the same time, staying with homestay families gave the Penguins plenty of opportunities to enjoy Kiwi family activities and learn about our culture.

“Overall, the visit was a huge success, not only for the Chilean students, to see them improve their  English, confidence and life experience, but also a wonderful opportunity for our students to embrace another culture and learn about the people and their lifestyles,” Nicky says.    

John van der Zwan also emphasises the benefits for domestic students from the programme.

“If we ask employers about the skills they are looking for in their future employees, soft skills like personal confidence, flexibility, being able to work well in a team and understand people who are different are right up there,” John says. 

“Interacting with international students like the Penguins is a great way to start.

“And in a globally connected world, where international trade is vital for a country like New Zealand, future employees who can speak another language and operate in a different culture and business environment will have a huge advantage.”

The Penguins without Borders programme was established by New Zealand and Chile in 2012, and it has developed into a key aspect of New Zealand’s education relationship with Chile. The next programme will run in 2019.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 13 November 2017

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