On the 8th of November 2023 the 56th intake of government officials from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Mongolia graduated from their 13-week tailored training programme English Language Training for Officials (NZELTO) Asia programme with a beautiful certificate ceremony in the Hunter chamber on Kelburn campus.
The 32 officials had landed in Wellington in, for 30 of them, what felt like the depths of winter, and for the two Mongolian officials a mild, damp winter. Before they left, according to their own words, they saw sunshine, beautiful views, and took part in several firsts. These included seeing or touching snow, being on a boat, seeing a Kiwi (bird), using a backpackers on independent trips to the South Island, eating a hangi, watching Question Time in Parliament, meeting a local MP, coming within arm’s reach of the then-Prime Minister walking past, experiencing an emergency hub practice run by the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO), and visiting the National Crisis Management Centre under the Beehive. These latter two were also firsts for the accompanying staff from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s English Language Institute (ELI).
The officials were in Wellington, taking part in the NZELTO tailored training programme, with the goals of improving their English for international and professional communication, developing cooperation and economic and cultural ties between New Zealand and their countries, cultivating ideas for sustainable economic development, and developing their knowledge in the course theme area. For intake of 56 the theme was Strengthening Resilience, including Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. As part of the theme the officials interacted through guest speakers and small-group workplace visits with staff from agencies such as WREMO, the Ministry for Primary Industries Manatū Ahu Matua, Metservice Te Ratonga Tirorangi, GNS Science Te P`u Ao, and various university experts. Some also explored how Victoria University of Wellington’s data centre is protected from and designed to be resilient through earthquake damage.
In the 30-plus years the NZELTO programme has existed in various forms it has previously included government officials from Myanmar, Peru on an APEC-focused programme, and, returning in 2024 from a Covid-related hiatus, diplomats from various non-Anglophone countries in Africa. There are now over 2000 NZELTO Asia programme alumni, some of whom met on short alumni reconnection programmes online in 2021 and 2022. Alumni include ambassadors and foreign ministers. Kāpuhipuhi Wellington Uni-Professional delivers these programmes in partnership with the ELI on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Manatu Aorere (MFAT), as part of the Manaaki New Zealand Scholarship Programme, and Education NZ Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga (ENZ).
Intakes 55 and 56, which both took place in 2023, are the first face-to-face intakes since 2020’s Covid-19 lockdown. They are also the first intakes who will experience a new innovation for this tailored training programme, meeting together in Thailand in early 2024 for a multi-cohort symposium presenting workplace projects they have been working on since returning home during a new blended component of the course.
The NZELTO56 programme continued well-established elements such as classes, workplace visits, field trips (in this case to Rotorua), and the use of conversation partners. Volunteer conversation partners provide the officials with a safe and relaxed forum to practice their English outside of the classroom and have been a consistent highlight of the programme. Intake 56 had some unique experiences as well. These included meeting then-MP Ibrahim Omer during a parliamentary education visit, a pre-election political debate on the topic of education held at VUW’s Hub, attending public lectures on the South China Sea disputes and interpretations from the war in Ukraine, hosted respectively by the Asia Forum and the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, and lavender picking at Ōtaki.
To quote one participant in their course feedback:
“These 3 months gave me more than what I expected…All the activities just bring me to an age again where I really enjoy learning and happy on the weekdays for class…I will focus more on how to apply what I learn here to my current career.”