Experience and empathy a crucial combination in new role

Published Jun 5, 2020

A passion for helping people is what gets Rachel Honeychurch—Wellington UniVentures’ recently appointed New Zealand Programme Coordinator—up in the morning.

Rachel joined the team on the same day as the latest intake of New Zealand English Language Training for Officials (NZELTO) scholars arrived from Africa and Palestine, and only two weeks later, the country went into Level 4 lockdown as part of the New Zealand Government response to COVID-19. “It was a real ‘sink or swim’ moment,” laughs Rachel, who is brimming with positivity over an experience which would have daunted many. “I was the only contact for the group of 18 students throughout their lockdown experience. Those two weeks between the arrival of the group and lockdown were so valuable for establishing a relationship, which stood us all in good stead when we had to pivot to remote relationship management.”

Rachel’s broad role as New Zealand Programmes Coordinator sees her deliver the pastoral care programme for the visiting scholars. This includes creating bespoke experiences based on areas of professional interest, organising field trips, extra-curricular activities and enabling the scholars to get an authentic experience of life in Wellington and New Zealand, plus all the budgeting, logistics and reporting that goes alongside delivering a professional programme.

“I lived and studied in Mexico, so I can recognise our scholars’ experience of settling in to a new culture. I think that inherent shared understanding helps me to be better at my job.”

Having studied anthropology, with an extensive public sector background, and as an enthusiastic traveller, Rachel has always a fascination with culture, making her well qualified to take over from previous Programme Coordinator, Helen Corrigan, who finished in that role with Intake 13. “We deliver the NZELTO Africa Programme on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” Rachel explains, “so my public sector experience is critical to ensuring we give good service to the Ministry. Additionally, our visiting scholars are diplomats, so the fact that I am adept in working with people in high level government positions helps them feel supported in their time here.”

The NZELTO programme for African officials has been running since 2013. Over that time, 14 intakes of scholars totalling nearly 200 individuals have come to New Zealand, all on fully funded scholarships from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Through the programme, MFAT aims to increase engagement with a region that New Zealand seeks closer ties with. By offering a 10-week intensive course covering diplomacy and governance, with a focus on English language development, MFAT has developed a successful formula for positive engagement with francophone and lusophone African nations. And with English being the language of diplomacy, scholars complete the course with English language skills to assist in their future postings, plus experience of living in a foreign country.

Rachel notes that the benefits of the programme are two-way, “Not only does the programme create affinity for New Zealand among our scholars but also builds increased understanding among New Zealanders of the various African cultures represented.” On a personal level, Rachel has loved spending her time with the scholars, not only for growing her own cultural knowledge, but because she recognises some of the challenges the scholars can face in a new country, “I lived and studied in Mexico, so I can recognise our scholars’ experience of settling in to a new culture. I think that inherent shared understanding helps me to be better at my job.”

Rachel is excited about the possibility of future engagement with Africa through the delivery of the NZELTO Africa programme alongside connecting with participants on other Wellington UniVentures initiatives from South East Asia, Saudi Arabia, the Pacific and beyond.