South Korean mum on why she keeps coming back to Tauranga

"Kids in school all look happy. They get to have more fun, run around, be kids. It's the opposite from Korea, where they are locked in the classroom."

South Korean mum on why she keeps coming back to Tauranga

Sujin Park has been to New Zealand three times.

She first came here with her husband for a visit in 2003. They stayed for several months and during this time she gave birth to their first daughter, Sera, before returning to Korea.

Ten years later, Sujin came back, this time with two daughters in tow – Sera and Serin – so that the children could attend school in Tauranga. They stayed for eighteen months and during that time she gave birth to the couple’s son, Hyunwoo.

Sujin gave up her job at Korean Air so she could come back to Tauranga a third time with all three children. Sera, born here before regulation changes in 2006, is a domestic student, while Serin and Hyunwoo are international students.

The family plans to stay for three years, while Sujin’s husband stays in Korea, busy running a restaurant. He will visit every few months and the family will return to South Korea each summer for a couple weeks, but essentially, Sujin is on her own with three kids in a foreign country and culture, learning a new language.

For Sujin, the sacrifice is worth it to give her kids the opportunity to study in New Zealand. With the assistance of a translator from Tauranga Korean Times agency, we sat down for a cup of tea to hear about more about Sujin’s brave story.


Sujin is from Changwon, a city near Busan with a population of one million. It’s one of the fastest growing cities in Korea and every time Sujin goes back home after a stint overseas, she’s stunned at the growth that occurred in her absence.

Sujin worked as a flight attendant for Korean Air for seventeen years. She jetted around the world on international flights, switching to the domestic service after having children. Still, despite the glamour and the travel, the job involved weekend and holiday work and long hours – a tough job to balance with family life. For Sujin, leaving her job to accompany her children in their new lives in Tauranga was a no-brainer.


For the family, New Zealand offers quality education, plenty of natural beauty and the chance to learn English. Sujin and her husband searched cities online and Tauranga popped up. During their first visit, they were impressed by the city size, quiet lifestyle, easy access to natural attractions and beautiful weather.
“In Korea everyone is so busy, living such fast-paced lives. It can be exciting, but as a worker that life is tiring. It’s such a peaceful and quiet life here, you have more time for yourself.”

Undoubtedly, education and the ability to be immersed in the English language is the primary reason for bringing her children to New Zealand. With a child in secondary, primary and early childhood, Sujin has really seen the full spectrum of Kiwi education.

Speaking of Serin’s experience at Pillans Point School, Sujin says:

“Kids in school all look happy. They get to have more fun, run around, be kids. It’s the opposite from Korea, where they are locked in the classroom.”


When Sujin first brought Sera to Pillans Point School, she was one of the school’s first international families. At the time there were six international students, all from South Korea; now the programme has grown and evolved.

“Even then, I felt welcomed and people were interested in us. We got lots of positive attention and curiosity, especially from other children. The local kids were so kind.”

Feeling so included in the local community is part of what drew Sujin back. Returning has felt like something of a homecoming: it all felt familiar and they were warmly welcomed, which helped the kids settle in easily and came as a huge relief to mum.

“The difference is that they are now more used to Korean culture here. Last time, it seemed like Korea was very different, now some of the local students are into K pop!”

International student manager Lee Simeon explains that the programme has developed significantly. There’s more support and an increase in activities, events and feedback. Parents can come in for a coffee in the morning, there’s a Children’s Day and a Welcome Day, an end of term lunch and a buddy system where international students are paired with locals. The families are encouraged to get involved in local activities like sport and playdates.


The community has grown since her last trip to Tauranga, helped in large part by local agency, Tauranga Korean Times.

“Korean Times helps find a house for new families and offers all kinds of help. It’s hard coming here without your husband, the Times makes it easier.”

Korean Times office assistant Tasha Kang who has come along to translate for Sujin explains:

“Life is good for kids, but can be hard on mums. The strong community helps the mums adjust and enjoy life here as well by sharing information, meeting for lunch or coffee, and other activities.”


Each year, Tauranga Korean Times holds a fair in Busan to teach interested parents about all their options for education in Tauranga. There are representatives from schools all over Tauranga, and last year Sujin travelled to Busan to share her experience at Pillans Point.

“A lot of mums come to the Fair and ask about life and education in New Zealand. Mums who can share their own first-hand experience are more helpful than translators at the booths.”


Sujin wants to convey that it isn’t always easy, but bringing the kids to Tauranga is worth the personal sacrifice.

“Serin’s facial expressions are different here: she has found her smile again. In Korea, she was so stressed out and under so much pressure and it only gets worse as they get older. The most important thing is for the kids to learn English, but they also get to be kids. The air is clean and fresh, they can run around and play outside – and schools encourage this.”


A shy girl of only 10 years old with limited English, Serin was kind enough to share a few words about her own experience.

“I was happy and excited to come back this time. School life is fun and there is less pressure. The school is bigger than when I was last here. I miss my friends back home but I like school better here. It’s a different kind of learning.”