Success with international students this year despite Covid-19, is encouraging St. John’s College to expand its number of foreign boys once border restrictions are eased.
The college currently has three international students – two Tongan boys attending on scholarships from the Rugby Foundation and a Year Nine student from the Philippines, whose mother lives in Hawke’s Bay.
Soni Paletua and Maika Fehoko are both eighteen years old and in Year Thirteen. They started at St. John’s in February, having attended the same school in Tonga.
Maika says they came to St. John’s to further their education and to play for the First XV rugby team.
Soni said it was easy fitting into the new school when they arrived. “When we came here we felt the brotherhood. On the first day that we were here, all the students came and shook hands with us. Even though they did not know us, they tried to be friends with us.”
Both boys are determined to make a career out of rugby, with their main aim to play for the All Blacks. However, they realise that getting a good education is important. “Like the players in the All Blacks, they have to work when they retire. Also, you don’t know if you are going to be injured,” says Maika, who plays prop.
“You need a plan B for your life. You are not going to play rugby for all your life. Maybe you’ll just play rugby for five or six years and then you’ll retire and education is the next option for you to do,” says Soni, a number eight whose father was a famous rugby player in Tonga.
“For me, my dad (Maikano Paletua) is a famous rugby player in Tonga and then he retired from rugby. I’m the only son you see and he tried to teach me to continue his legacy in Tonga and he needs me to further my rugby skills that I have from him because he just played locally in Tonga. But when I got the scholarship he was very happy because I moved up a level.”
For both boys, providing for their families and helping them financially is what drives them.
While they aim to be professional rugby players, they have both chosen careers to fall back on. Soni is studying to be an electrician and every week, through the gateway class, he gets to do electrical work and carpentry. For Maika, farming is the future and he uses the gateway class to get work experience in that field.
While it is hard for them being away from their families, they have been made to feel at home by the St. John’s College family. Soni lives with the coach’s family, while Maika is at the manager’s home.
“We are just thankful to St.John’s for offering us the opportunity to come here,” said Soni.
Unlike the two older boys, Year 9 student Justin Ramirez travelled from the Philippines with his mother, Tess in October 2019. Regardless, he is classified as an international student.
Justin said he came to New Zealand for a better life and to get a “perfect education”.
The 14-year-old only started learning English upon arriving in the country. He says it is “very different” from the Philippines. “Students are very respectful to their teachers here and the teachers are more caring,” he said.
He is following in the footsteps of his brother Joseph who studied at St. John’s College for five years from 2013. Joseph is now studying engineering at the University of Canterbury.
“My brother went here. He came with my mum and when he was finished school my mum came back to the Philippines to get me.”
His father and other siblings are still overseas. He doesn’t miss his home country and is looking forward to potentially embarking on a career in the New Zealand Navy.
Director of International Students Christopher Wilson said it is fantastic to have international students at the school.
They have only had a handful of international students since first getting accreditation a few years back. Mr Wilson took over the role just prior to lockdown in March and hopes to increase the number of students coming to St. John’s College from overseas.
“This is a new experience for the school and a very exciting start,” he said.
“The rules are very strict because obviously children are coming from abroad and often without their parents to study so they need to know they are safe, looked after and enjoy being in a different country.”
Mr Wilson believes the diverse community of St. John’s College, and the way the boys are accepting of others is a drawcard for potential students.
Together with their sister school, Sacred Heart College in Napier, they will market the schools internationally.
“To be able to find a school that is also a Catholic school is a gem.
“As a Catholic school, our first concern is that we give a young person an amazing experience; of a very different lifestyle, different climate, and different way of thinking, all within the values of Jesus and Mary. The reason the school exists is to raise good, strong Catholic men.”
They are more interested in how they grow as a person than anything else.
A fundamental part of Mr Wilson’s role is to ensure the pastoral care of the boys. “Part of my role is to be there for them when they are upset and lonely, but also to celebrate their successes.”
He says their current international students have been “great” and have been welcomed into a new family.