9 Things Interns in New Zealand Should Always Do

by Suzanne Bhagan

Be a trailblazer, take a dive, and hurl yourself head-first into an international internship in New Zealand. This country lives the “work hard, play hard” mantra, and play hard, they do! Kiwis were the first in the world to invent zorbing, which involves hurling yourself down a hill in a plastic bubble, and bungee jumping, where you swan-dive off a bridge or building with just a rubbery cord wrapped around your ankles.

Man in the ocean with a stand up paddle board
Work hard and play hard as an intern in New Zealand.

Clearly, there are tons of reasons why you should intern in New Zealand. It’s ideal for anyone interested in agriculture, engineering, environmental science, hospitality, journalism, social work, and even public relations. Popular cities for international internships in New Zealand include Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Wellington.

If any of this sounds right up your alley, but you’re still totally clueless about how to fit into the Kiwi workplace, here are a few tips for interns in New Zealand to guide you:

1. Flash those pearly whites.

New Zealand’s work culture is fairly relaxed, so don’t sink into your cubicle and pretend to disappear. Be friendly (but not over the top) from day one, and don’t wait to be introduced; walk around and say g’day to your colleagues. When the mid-afternoon doldrums hit, head to the break room for a cuppa and a yack with your co-workers. If they invite you to Friday Fives (after work drinks) or tramping on the weekend, jump right in. Kiwis love anyone who wants to be part of the team, so get to know them outside the office (P.S. It’s also a great way to network)!

Girl with a big grin on her face
A big smile goes a long way.

2. Be proactive.

During the first couple of days of your international internship in New Zealand, you may feel dazed and confused, but don’t despair; you will get past it. Take your time and get a feel of the office vibe, the kind of work they do, and how they work. Rock a sweet as work attitude: showing them that you’re willing to work hard and play hard. Ask your boss if he or she needs a hand with anything. Accept as many assignments as you can, but be sensible. Don’t take on so much stuff that you’re overwhelmed. Kiwis also respect people who are genuine. Lastly, for Pete’s sake, don’t be a skite (shameless boaster). If you go around blowing your own trumpet, don’t expect to make a lot of friends.

3. Keep the small talk small.

Although Kiwis are fairly easygoing at the office, remember it’s still a place of business. If you’re only interning in New Zealand for a short time, be on your best behavior so you can make a lasting impression. Instead of spewing about politics or religion, score brownie points by saying a good thing or two about the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team. Also, like in any other workplace, don’t get involved in office politics and stay away from gossip. Not only are these things tacky, but as the new guy/gal, you never know where office loyalties lie so keep your mouth shut. Kiwis pride themselves in treating everyone as equals, so don’t dish on anyone.

Man performing the Haka at a marae
Respect Maori culture; learn the do’s and don’ts to avoid any faux pas!

4. Be like the Kiwis.

Kiwis are known for their resourcefulness and resilience. Even if things aren’t too rosy at work, they don’t whinge. Follow their lead and harden up; put your head down and get the work done. If you see someone struggling with something, muck in. Help out. Get involved. Don’t wait to be asked. If someone asks you to bring a plate at the company barbeque, please don’t show up with shiny, new dinnerware. Instead, bring some nibbles to share with the others!

5. Respect Maori culture.

Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand, make up roughly 15 percent of the population and their culture remains highly valued in modern-day society. If you get a chance to visit a marae or Maori meeting ground, ask someone to give you a brief rundown of their cultural traditions. During the haka or traditional greeting, when a member of the tribe gets up close and personal and sticks his tongue at you, don’t crack up. Also, take off your shoes before entering any building on the marae. Traditional Maori culture has also shaped the Kiwi attitude toward environmental conservation, so if you’re out and about on the weekend, please don’t trash New Zealand’s stunning landscapes or you’ll endure the wrath of a nation.

Woman drinking coffee and checking her cell phone
WORK at work; put the smartphone away.

6. Get the hang of Kiwi humor.

Kiwis have a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, so don’t always believe what you hear. If someone calls you a winner, more often than not, they think you’re exactly the opposite. On the other hand, if someone says that things are quite nice, they may mean that it’s actually awful.

7. Don’t compare them to Australia.

Although they both belong to the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand are worlds apart. Kiwis don’t take kindly to folk who think that they’re the same country. If you plan on interning in New Zealand for some time, don’t claim that pavlova was obviously invented in Oz. Don’t say Aborigine when you really mean Maori, and don’t you ever, ever call a Kiwi a sheep shagger or a South Pacific Pom (both insults).

8. Don’t dress like a slob.

New Zealanders have a reputation for being very casual in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean you get to wear jandals to the office. The dress code will vary depending on the industry and office culture. In some places, you have to dress conservatively in suits and sober colors, but in others, business casual is the go. However, casual doesn’t equal sloppy. To be on the safe side, check with your employer before your international internship in New Zealand and always dress neatly, no matter what. On the other hand, if you want to intern in agriculture and your work takes you outdoors, ask your boss what’s appropriate for New Zealand’s variable weather.

Lake Tekapo in New Zealand
Remember why you’re there and make the most of it.

9. Remember why you’re there.

At the end of the day, one of the most important tips for interns in New Zealand to remember is that they are there for one simple reason: professional work experience (aka. an international internship). Put that smartphone away and don’t use the office computer to update your Facebook status every hour of the day. Get to the office on time everyday, and if you’re going to be late, let someone know. Respect goes a long way for any intern in New Zealand.

Before any internship abroad, you’re bound to feel the jitters. Keep in mind that you’re not jetting off on vacation, but to earn some serious international street cred for that resume, so do your research, prep well, go with a winning attitude, and you’ll be ’right during your international internship in New Zealand.