Community: Giving back is giving forward

Muna Dhakal reflects on being an international student, member of Shakti Youth and their new initiative iNSTIL.

Looking back on my three years in New Zealand, there are various factors which have influenced and shaped my path. My parents came to New Zealand on an entrepreneur work visa which made me a domestic student until secondary school.

High school is considered to be a crucial part in one’s life- be it in academics, making lifelong friends, or growing up and finding your identity. For me, I had a late start as I joined school in New Zealand at the end of year 12, making it harder for me to make new “friends”.

During these melancholic days, I happened to join Shakti youth.

Shakti Youth is a group of young members and volunteers from Asian, African and Middle-Eastern backgrounds, who are extremely passionate about social justice and building towards a violence-free future. Suddenly, I felt like I belonged. I realised that there were other students too who felt the same way I did, regarding the cultural differences and their identities. Shakti meetings at school provided me with the platform to express the views and opinions I had, which I felt were about to be lost. This support helped me cope through everything.

However, going from a domestic secondary student to an international student was a huge jump for me. Suddenly, I felt like an outsider. Everything started to be categorized into domestic and international. The facilities started to be subjected to as “only domestic students” “international please visit the website for further information.”

Looking back on last year, during university, I felt that it was my ability to speak English fluently which helped me seek more information and find help centres for international students. Once I met the international department and told them about my first experiences at the university, they did their best to make the rest of my journey ahead a smooth one.

When I see some of my Nepalese friends from outside schools, I realize how privileged I am to be living together with my family and having strong financial and emotional support. Though I never went through the same struggle, I can see the emotional, financial and physical pain is a very hard thing to go through. Working, travelling, studying, cooking, house chores, and at the end of the day they go to bed with no one asking, “how was your day?”. I am very proud of all my international friends who came to this unknown country all by themselves.

Despite all the facilities from family, teachers and ethnic communities, I still find myself alone and helpless at times, and I know it must be harder for those without any support. Therefore, I feel it is my core responsibility to stand for the rights of the international students and be a voice to help. This is why I am still a part of Shakti. Shakti has recently started with a program called “INSTIL: International Student Training Information AND Legal Services”. I think this is a wonderful start to make life a little easier in this beautiful country for all the international students. Shakti has given me the platform to thrive and has provided me with various opportunities where I can support ethnic young people like me. With my every involvement with Shakti events, I become more and more aware of the reality of the world we live in. Beyond my cosy little world, I have come to realise that there are people who don’t even know that they have a right to live a life of their choice.