GoAbroad Interview

Jane Gunn-Lewis - Resident Director, New Zealand

Jane Gunn-Lewis - Resident Director, New Zealand

Jane earned a bachelor’s degree at Auckland University, followed by a TEFL diploma from Sydney University and a master’s degree at Victoria University in Applied Linguistics. She traveled and worked abroad for multiple years, but eventually she returned to New Zealand to settle down. When the opportunity to work for Arcadia University popped up in 2001, Jane jumped at the chance and she has been working closely with Arcadia ever since. When she isn’t busy with her family or work responsibilities, she enjoys skiing and hiking.

What inspired you to get involved with Arcadia University in New Zealand?

I wanted to work with American students and share with them the beauty, fun, and slower pace that New Zealand has to offer. I love the idea of providing a support base with the goal that students become strong and independent individuals.

Arcadia University students in New Zealand
Some real live Arcadianz in their natural habitat on campus.

How has your past experience, both in New Zealand and abroad, helped you in your current role?

I used to lecture in the English language, and before that taught calculus to engineering students. I have worked in Australia, Japan, Austria, France, and England doing all sorts of work and meeting all sorts of people. I think the job requires a genuine interest in the lives of others, and an ability to communicate effectively with warmth and honesty. I call a spade a spade, but the students know I’m on their side and will go the extra mile for them.

What’s your philosophy on what makes a successful study abroad experience?

The happiest students seem to be those that have faced adversity, been out of their comfort zone, and realised they can do it. Some students get homesick, others do a bungy jump or plan an entire trip around the South Island all on their own - whatever the challenge, that renewed belief in their own capabilities is magic.

Arcadia University students at a farewell dinner in New Zealand
The farewell dinner is when it really hits home how special the semester has been.

Why is New Zealand a great place for study abroad?

I LOVE New Zealand. NZ is a place where everyone speaks English, so students can really scratch the surface and form deep relationships with the locals. The landscape is outstanding and changes dramatically over very short distances. There is a vibrant dialogue between the Maori (indigenous people) and Pakeha (non-Maori). People have a silly sense of humour that is very dry and sarcastic, and self-deprecating. Society is less litigious, so there are all the mad adventure activities on offer. I also love that there are so many opportunities to experience silence and beauty on your own. Finally, the universities are of high academic standard.

International students in the mountains in Queenstown, New Zealand
Students enjoying the views of Queenstown

What activities and events can students get involved in during their time in New Zealand that will push them out of their comfort zone?

We take all our students on a three-day activity weekend at some point in the semester and get them hiking in the alps, kayaking around Abel Tasman, or black water rafting in the Waitomo caves. They finish exhausted, but with huge smiles. We also plan smaller events, including surf lessons, pavlova baking, rugby games, and bike rides.

Volunteer work opportunities are also a great way to stretch our students. Last semester we had our students working in a primary school; it was so cute seeing the children excited to have an American buddy in the classroom.

Arcadia University students hiking in New Zealand
The activity weekends are when you really get to know the students and share what NZ is all about.

Do you have any accommodation tips for students headed to New Zealand?

My advice is always go for self-catered. Our students are placed in university flats with three or four others from other countries, usually with at least one kiwi flatmate, and that seems to work really well. Cooking for others and sharing food around the dinner table is such a special way to connect.

How do you support students as they adjust to life in New Zealand?

Everyone is different. Some students hit the ground running and I hardly see them because they are hiking/skiing/making music/socialising every weekend. Others find it hard to find their tribe and need more encouragement and support to venture into the unknown. Others have health issues or an event that requires a few days of extra support. Some fall in love and don’t want to return home. After 32 semesters on the job, I have to say I’ve seen the most crazy and hilarious things. I should write a book. When your life is working with 20 year old Americans, the job is never boring.

Jane Gunn-Lewis, Resident Director in New Zealand for Arcadia University

What is your best piece of advice for students thinking about studying abroad in New Zealand?

Come with an open heart and open mind. Remember you are here to experience something different. Minimise the amount of time you spend on Facebook and instead put your energy into building new relationships with the people here and now. You will grow as a person more in this semester than in any other, but it won’t be fun and sunshine everyday. There will be times of challenge and adversity, but that is what growing older and wiser is all about.

Why do you enjoy working for Arcadia University?

I LOVE my job. I have gorgeous staff here in NZ, and brilliant colleagues in the U.S. and around the world. There is a sense of integrity that permeates throughout the whole organisation. And then the students themselves are wonderful.

Group of girls taking a break while hiking in New Zealand
Hiking in New Zealand

The kind of student that chooses New Zealand is already very independent and gutsy; I think I get the best students of all. My job is so rewarding because the students arrive looking slightly nervous and excited, and leave looking so strong and confident. Many go on to explore more intrepid places on the planet. New Zealand, for them, is a stepping stone to the Himalayas and beyond.