Teaching Legacy: Kiharoa Iversen and his intern experience at NEXSTEP

NEXSTEP is an experiential learning company hosting customized learning experiences throughout Asia. Creating experiences on the ground for students, enterprises and government agencies, we are committed to hands-on learning that immerses our learners in a new environment. Offering a variety of program types to suit specific individual and group needs, NEXSTEP partners with universities to facilitate student internships abroad, as well as supporting study abroad programs, study tours, and learning expeditions for business organizations.

NEXSTEP is committed to foregrounding lived experiences in our programs, believing that students get the most out of real-world immersion. Whilst we have recently branched out into offering virtual internships in light of the pandemic, our mission remains as strong as ever, with our goals to ground students in their experience coming through in both our virtual and in-person programs.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with one of our alumni from our internship program in Bangkok, Thailand, Kiharoa Iversen. A post graduate history and education student at The University of Auckland, Kiharoa was a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship, meaning that his internship was fully funded. He had the opportunity to intern with Galaxy Kids, where he worked on the development of a language-learning app. Kiharoa’s experience was unique as he was able to intern abroad at the same time as his twin brother, Taimana Iversen, who was also a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship.

“I was really lucky to share the experience with my twin brother,” says Kiharoa, “I think he actually was the one that found out about [NEXSTEP] and I thought it could be a really cool opportunity to experience working in a different country and learn about their culture and hopefully have an opportunity to share mine as well. It was great that my brother and I could experience it together.” “I applied and hoped for the best. I managed to get through the interview process, kept going and then eventually I was lucky enough to be picked to go to Bangkok,” he continues, “I knew it would be a really cool experience.”

“I was really keen [when I first heard about the program], but I thought it was kind of a shot in the dark as there was a stringent process to get selected. I just thought it would be a cool experience, so why not just throw my hat in the ring?” Kiharoa’s chance paid off, and he made it through, easily passing not only NEXSTEP’s application but scoring a spot as a scholarship recipient as well.

In terms of pre-departure expectations, Kiharoa did not really know what to expect. “I just really wanted to learn from it, not just in terms of work but in terms of everything that was on offer, the people, the culture, the country.” shares Kiharoa. “Being over there was a really interesting new experience for me and I just wanted to get whatever I could out of it.

Before attending NEXSTEP, Kiharoa had worked the previous year at his university on a research project focusing on how Indigenous cultures and sports could assist refugee resettlement. “I’m actually finishing that off now, writing my masters thesis on that topic,” he shares in our interview. But interning abroad was a new experience for Kiharoa.

Much of Kiharoa’s undergraduate degree work focused on education, and he hoped that his job as an intern with NEXSTEP would feed into that field. 

“I was working for [Galaxy Kids, which is a company] that is making an app to help kids learn English,” he shares. “A lot of my internship was more marketing based, which I think was actually still a good thing because I feel like marketing’s a really good skill that you can use in any job.” Whilst his internship still built upon his educational background, Kiharoa found that his company placement allowed him to expand his skillset in a new, highly applicable direction.

Kiharoa is now finishing up his master’s in education at The University of Auckland. His twin brother is also in the education field, as are both their parents. “My mom was a teacher, and my dad’s still teaching, and now my mom’s family runs a literary company that makes children’s books,” says Kiharoa. 

In terms of support provided by NEXSTEP, Kiharoa mentioned the workshop offered pre-departure to help bring all of the interns up to speed on what to expect, as well as on-the-ground support offered in Thailand. “They did everything they needed to do in terms of getting us ready for the internship, in terms of support,” he says. “We had a supervisor, Aaron Clark he looked after all our group. For example, When we first arrived we found out that my brother and I would have to catch a taxi to work. On the first day Arron came with us to make sure we knew where we were going and introduce us to the staff. Another time I got really sick, and there were other people in the group who were sick as well. He took care of us all making sure we knew where to get medicine and letting our work know we were unwell.” 

Adapting to a new culture and a new place always brings its share of challenges as well as excitement. “In terms of culture, the biggest challenge was probably language. It was the first time I’ve been to another country where they don’t speak English. Aaron made an effort to help us learn Thai.” Besides giving the interns a cheat sheet of common phrases, Aaron also facilitated learning through experiences, such as the time “he took us to a food court and we carried out a challenge where you had to order your food in Thai.”

In terms of the day-to-day experience, Kiharoa gave us the run-down. “Monday to Friday, we interned 9 to 6 … My brother and I got up pretty early each day as we would gym in the morning. So we would wake up at 5, or 5:30, go to the gym and then come back, have a shower, catch the taxi to work, get there at 9 and then finish work at 6. Then catch a taxi home, which would get us back at about 7. We would then head out to have dinner somewhere – because we wanted to experience the different foods and interact with the people in the street markets. Also it is much cheaper to eat dinner out there than it is to make your own food. The days were pretty long, but it was definitely a good experience; The busy schedule didn’t negatively affect me too much; it was just a change from my life in New Zealand.”

“In terms of the internship, the work was varied. A lot of the marketing work was trying to find people within the education field or specifically English language learning field to promote our app. So I’d be finding different literacy distributors through LinkedIn and message them. Sometimes I would message influencers on their Instagram pages and try to get them to promote our app through some kind of marketing project.

“And then other days we’d be working on the app, testing the app out to see if there are any bugs, or trying to make some of the games. Much of this was new learning for me as we had to use programmes I hadn’t used previously, such as Canva and Photoshop. That was definitely something that I took away from it, which is good.”

“I’ve noticed that Thai people’s English was generally better than they thought it was, but they were too shy to speak it,” shares Kiharoa in terms of the language adjustment in the workplace. “All of our work colleagues were really nice, they wanted us to speak English so they could learn it and we wanted them to speak Thai so we could learn it. One of our work colleagues gave us a framed photo of all of us at the end, which is really cool.”

In regard to the workplace culture itself, Kiharoa shares that “our boss was pretty full on like that, you know, I feel like that’s like most bosses. He spoke full English as well. Towards the end, there were two other girls that came that could speak fluent English. The people in the workplace, even if they weren’t fluent in English, were really welcoming every single morning that we came in. They’d say hi to me and say something, and then would bring me snacks and all the time. We also went out with a few of the work colleagues for lunch each day. They took us to places where locals go, so we got to experience authentic Thai eateries. It was really cool. So the workplace was actually a really good environment.

“I definitely want to work overseas at some point; it was a really cool experience. Maybe not just work, I would definitely look at the opportunity to work overseas, and combine that with traveling. This experience made me realize how much I want to travel as there is such a big wide world out there.

From his experience interning with NEXSTEP, Kiharoa feels that he grew on both a personal and professional level. “I think I became a bit more diligent,” says Kiharoa. “I actually had to have a proper routine and focus on my time management  of what I did throughout my day. As a university student you have to have good time management but you also have flexibility. Having to be at work during specific times meant other activities had to be planned outside those times. Because we were in Bangkok, we wanted to see a bit of the country and immerse ourselves in the culture and do some sightseeing. So we have to plan these activities ahead, you couldn’t just take off whenever you wanted.

“That was actually my first time living away from my parents as well, so having to look after myself was somewhat of a new experience, but I think it’s probably needed for me, which is really good. Professionally, that was my first real 9 to 6 job,” continues Kiharoa. In terms of the benefits of undertaking such an experience, working abroad, Kiharoa says that he thinks that “it just provides so many more opportunities. If you have the opportunity to go overseas and intern in another country it gives you so many more experiences.  Not just in the work environment but getting to know other cultures, languages and people.” 

For Kiharoa, the experience went far beyond the capabilities of classroom learning. “I would say that a lot of the things I experienced at work were things I wouldn’t experience [in the classroom],” he shares. “Having to catch a taxi to and from work, like an hour there and an hour back, is a little bit different. I obviously don’t have a problem with this, but working 9 to 6, I don’t think it’s very common in New Zealand. Everyone’s kind of used to the 9 to 5 lifestyle. There’s a lot of things that were slightly different, but [that’s not] necessarily a bad thing.

“University is a little bit different because the learning can be more general and focused on the subjects you choose, particularly in the arts field which offers a great range of subjects, I have studied History, Education, statistics and Māori Studies. Whereas the things that I was learning at work were very specific to the job I were doing, very work-related.” 

And in terms of the lasting impact of the NEXSTEP experience, Kirhaoa explains that “Obviously, in terms of [the] multicultural [aspect of studying and living abroad], it’s really important to me as well. Thailand has a fascinating culture and I liked being part of and learning about their culture, history and language as well as having the opportunity to share mine as well. I was lucky enough that some of the other interns were Māori as well, so we had that aspect of [culture] with us.” The aspect of cultural exchange that NEXSTEP facilitated for my brother and I was particularly important in terms of their internship experience, both for our deepening connection to our host country and for the wealth of opportunities it afforded to share their Māori culture abroad.

And [as far as] my future, definitely having an influence with my people,” shares Kiharoa. My culture would be really important. That’s something that I’ve been lucky enough to do somewhat through my work. I work with refugee communities and Māori communities; if there are further opportunities to continue that in the future, that will be really cool.”

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