Paying it forward: Taimana Iversen and his experience with NEXSTEP

NEXSTEP is an experiential learning company hosting customized learning experiences throughout Asia. We offer programs for students and working professionals, helping get people out of their comfort zones and, on the ground, learning. Relatively recently, we have also premiered virtual internships, which allow interns the advantages of global connection from the comfort of their homes. We believe in cutting-edge, transformative, invested learning experiences that change lives.

We recently had the opportunity to interview Taimana Iversen about his experience as an intern with NEXSTEP. Taimana first heard about the program through the University of Auckland. After learning that applicants were eligible for the Prime Minister’s Scholarships, he decided to throw his name in the ring. 

The Prime Minister’s Scholarships are funded by the New Zealand Government and exist to support New Zealanders in studying abroad. “Since 2013, the Scholarships have enabled more than 2,400 New Zealanders to broaden their horizons,” embarking to Asia and Latin America with full funding.

“I felt that I could really benefit from an overseas experience,” says Taimana. He was drawn to the idea of being in a new environment and getting to meet new people. “I really needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone.”

He found the experience to be enriching on both a personal and professional level. As an intern, Taimana “was partnered with a company called Galaxy Kids. “We were doing a lot of low-level coding and also some marketing. It was cool for me because I actually got to learn the basics of being in a company, but as it was also a startup company, I got to experience the roots of working in a startup, watching behind the scenes.”

“But I think the coolest thing for me was meeting completely new people from all different places, and the people that were my work colleagues were probably the highlight of my trip. They were so welcoming to me, they took me under their wing, and they gave me an authentic experience.”

Prior to attending NEXSTEP, Taimana had stepped foot in the world of work, working in his mom’s company and doing research for his university, as well as grading papers. “But it was nothing compared to where I’m waking up at 9 and leaving at 6 and going to work and doing that for about five weeks.” NEXSTEP was his first international learning experience, and there were many surprises.

‘A lot of the work that I was doing over there was a bit different to the work that I’ve done back home, in terms of almost having to teach myself how to market, how to use a lot of marketing applications. This was something foreign to me, but it was something that I think I highly benefited from.”

“I also think that the environment that I was in with my boss – the fact that I had a very high-pace, demanding boss – was good, really good,” Taimana shares. “He kept me on my toes in terms of what I was expecting each day, there was always something new. They’re about to launch the app, so some days he had me doing marketing, some days he had me cold calling.”

In terms of NEXSTEP, their support was really good, that boots on the ground stuff was awesome,” he continues. “Aaron Clark was so reliable, he was amazing with his support. He was always available. His ability to speak Thai was also very valuable; I think he was perfect for the job in terms of this, and also because of his characteristics as a liaison, as a supportive person. Aaron really enhanced the experience.”

Taimana’s brother, Kihaora Iversen, attended the same program with NEXSTEP, and the two were able to work together at the same company. Their first day, Taimana remembers being extremely nervous, but his Thai colleagues were very welcoming from the outset. “I’m not sure if they had had very many international workers for their company, and they were so amazed, asking us questions,” says Taimana. His coworkers were quick to include him in office life, eating lunch together and taking him to the local market. His boss regularly checked up on him to see how he was getting on with the projects and applications. “The workplace was so welcoming to me.”

NEXSTEP Taimana Iversen University of Auckland

Most of the interns with NEXSTEP were working in Bangkok, but Taimana and his brother were outside the city. “We would travel outside, and I remember the first day we got there the boss referred to it as coming to the jungle. It wasn’t the jungle, but I think it was more of a saying that we were getting away from the city. It was about 30 minutes outside the city, so a lot of the people that we were working with hadn’t really been around a lot of tourists before, which was kind of cool, because a lot of people would come up to us and ask and try to communicate with us. I enjoyed that experience because I think it was a bit more authentic. I spent a lot of time in the city because I was staying there, but also getting outside the city was pretty cool.”

For Taimana, one of the main highlights of the program was the connections he made with local people while abroad. “I’m still getting messages from my work colleagues,” he says. “That’s something that I’ll cherish for a long time, especially my friendship with my friend T. I think that he’s a lifelong friend now. Even though I was only there for 2 months, we were able to establish such a strong connection.”

Taimana recalls sitting at a market on the side of the street with his brother and friends, both from work and the program. One of his friends spoke English and Thai, and acted as a translator for the group.” It was cool to be able to meet these people who without the help of NEXSTEP I wouldn’t even be able to have a relationship with.

Taimana is Māori; whilst in Thailand, he noticed that his friends “were also really intrigued about where I was from. They had heard a lot of standard English names, but they were really intrigued about learning more about my culture, and I remember the first day I went in, people that couldn’t speak English came up to me with videos of the Hakka on Youtube. And then I pointed at it and at myself.”

That was probably one of my main highlights, being able to show who I am and show an understanding of my people. What was cool is when we did go to the university, I was able to speak and share my story and show my language. They gave it a go, like they would always ask me for simple phrases or words in Māori that I could share with them, and they always were really intrigued to learn more, and they gave it a really good go, they were really open.” The cultural exchange enabled by his time in Thailand left a lasting impression on Taimana. 

We share the same cultural values here in New Zealand. I saw a big connection between Thai cultural values and our cultural values which was awesome.”

Taimana would definitely consider going back to Thailand again or working overseas. “What being in Bangkok did is it reinforced in me that being on the teaching pathway is where I want to be,” he shares. “What I like about being a teacher is it gives you flexibility to travel through international schools. Being over there and seeing the Thai culture, but also the opportunities to [intern] in Bangkok, to [intern] in Thailand, is something that I’m really grateful for. Maybe I’ll work as an international teacher in Bangkok, or even further afield; I love traveling as much as possible.”

In terms of professional and personal growth through the experience, Taimana says that his organizational skills improved a lot, as well as his time management, which “had to be a lot better, i.e. knowing how far ahead I needed to leave for travel. I had to be real strict on my time management, when I got up, getting to work on time, getting home.”

He also feels more confident in his leadership skills, as well as increased resourcefulness, from having to figure out how to communicate with people across a language barrier. “If you can be resourceful, you can sometimes still find the answer, or the right means to the situation.”

“Learning independence” was another key lesson from studying abroad for Taimana. “I know I had my brother there, but it felt like, being in a foreign country, working and being by myself, I had to become a bit more independent.”

NEXSTEP Taimana Iversen University of Auckland

If he met someone considering NEXSTEP yet undecided, Taimana knows exactly what he’d tell them. “I’d say, take the lead! I’m very much a homebody, a guy that loves to be amongst his family and stay home. I have been scared to take opportunities like this, but I think it’s one of the best things I ever did. It taught me about myself, about what’s out there in the world. I really advise that people take this opportunity because it’s something that I won’t forget, and the skills that I’ve learned from this are all essential things in life.”

Taimana believes that there is still immense value to be had in studying abroad in our increasingly globalized society. “What I’ve noticed is that it’s easy to get lost in technology and your own journey at your own home. The biggest thing is getting out there and seeing the world somewhat boot on the ground. Just being there, having to communicate and broker connections and relationships with people … means that even when I come home, my ability to communicate, my ability to be resourceful has skyrocketed.”

“I would also say, I think through technology, through the avenues of travel, the world is so much more connected than it ever has been. So in terms of, if you can hone these skills overseas, it opens up so many avenues for you to travel for job opportunities around the world. Being there gives you an advantage, and hands-on experience I feel is very valuable.”

In terms of future plans post-NEXSTEP adventure, Taimana shares that, “The big thing for me, now that I’ve done the teaching path, is being a role model in the teaching space. I want to be a role model, especially for young Māori males, many of whom have been let down by the English medium education system in Aotearoa, that doesn’t cater to their individual and cultural needs.This is where I feel I can make a large impact.

Of being in Thailand with NEXSTEP and how formative the experience was, Taimana says that “You solidify the impact you want to have on the world. Being over there, and enhancing my cultural skills and my ability to connect with people, gave me a further fire to come back here and think, ‘Oh, I can make a difference with Māori students in the education system,’ and that’s where I feel my biggest impact.”

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