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Community Work in Nelson: as told by Jonathan Thorpe

Community work in Nelson mainly centres around creating a strong sense of community and fun for International Students, giving them a place they can relax, enjoy Aotearoa New Zealand, build bridges amongst friendly locals and internationals.

Jonathan Thorpe, the city leader in Nelson runs accommodation flats with the help of several others as a staff worker. Their vision is to offer internationals and other young adults a place they can feel at home and are supported. Through regular connection with those who stay at the flats, friendship and trust is built, and students become comfortable to seek advice, or share their struggles with the team. When they know they are cared for, they feel less isolated and lonely. Having a stable place that they can call home also gives them a better chance to succeed in other areas of their lives. This support doesn’t end when they leave the flat either, when tenants move to other cities, Jonathan also makes sure that they are connected to the network of ISMNZ staff and volunteers around the country should they require assistance and friendship, and stays in touch with them long after they have gone.

Jonathan with some international students living in his flats
Jonathan with some international students living in his flats (photo supplied by Jonathan Thorpe)

Because of this, students often tell others that "Jonathan is the best landlord I have ever had". Parents of students even express their gratitude that their son or daughter is living in Jonathan’s flats. This high level of support that Jonathan is able to offer tenants is only possible through the support of ISMNZ.

Many international students come from more collectivist, community-based cultures, which are common in the Pacific Islands, Africa, Latin America, and various parts of Asia where strong family and community units are highly valued. As they often arrive in New Zealand without knowing anyone and this may also be the first time leaving their home country, and lacking the kind of community support they are accustomed to back home, they often find it difficult to get used to the more individualistic culture of New Zealand. Our ISMNZ volunteers often become like a kiwi mum and dad, or Uncle and Aunty to these young adults, and graduates often seek advice from them as they consider their major life choices.

In 2022, the Nelson team began running Choir Pick n Mix, which was led by Mari Slack, who was taken on with the support from ISMNZ’s funding. With the emphasis on 'fun', the choir was a relaxing space for participants to relax, and make new friends. There have been a mix of locals and internationals attending, including a number of students from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), and Nelson English Centre seeking a sense of community and to improve their English, making it a good place to build bridges across cultures.

Then there is Operation Friendship, which has served new International students in Nelson for more than 20 years. Through Operation Friendship, ISMNZ volunteers have helped students to feel welcomed, oriented, valued, and provided opportunity to meet New Zealand people, and other internationals. These positive experiences offered early in their stay are often pivotal in making their whole stay in New Zealand a success.

Excursions, especially farm visits are always a hit with international students. In August 2022, the Operation Friendship team took 20 Japanese language students out to see the Boulder Bank near Nelson, followed by traditional afternoon tea in someone’s home. NMIT Student Wellbeing staff are also always grateful for these events, because of the positive feedback they receive from students.

The Nelson team has also had the privilege of seeing graduates return as volunteers of ISMNZ. A number of graduates of NMIT have been organising a successful fortnightly games and dinner evening since COVID. This group has attracted many other international graduates who have found jobs in Nelson, and plays a role in offering a strong sense of community and family to other participants which is important for them to feel settled in Nelson, so far from home and family.

Jonathan Thorpe

Nelson City Leader, ISMNZ

Ministry Development and Staff Support

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