Thai Intermediate student Dana Stamenkovic slides into life at Tauranga Intermediate

"“I’m excited about starting at Tauranga Girls. There’s lots of opportunities and most of my friends are going there.”"

Thai Intermediate student Dana Stamenkovic slides into life at Tauranga Intermediate

Dana grew up in Thailand with a Thai mother and a Serbian father. Her looks are ambiguous and intriguing; her fluent English has British intonations; her surname is Serbian. You’d be forgiven for being unsure where she is from.

After two short-term stays at Tauranga Intermediate, Dana was hungry for more, so at just eleven years old she moved to New Zealand alone for an entire year. Dana slipped easily into life in this Kiwi community, excelling at school, making heaps of friends and still finding the time to have video conference calls with her parents each night.

We spoke to Dana about life in Tauranga and the excitement of starting high school at Tauranga Girl’s College.


Dana is from Samut Prakan, a province sitting on the Gulf of Thailand just south of Bangkok.

“In Thailand, we have three seasons: hot with dry, hot with wet, hot with hot. It’s very hot in Thailand! I like the climate better here. I also love the greenery and the mountains. You don’t get that in the south of Thailand.”

English was the easiest way for her Serbian father and Thai mother to communicate, so Dana learnt English at home. Because of this early exposure, she was always miles ahead of most students in English classes back home.


Growing up with a pilot father has made Dana a well-travelled young lady, so it was only a small leap for the family of three to head to New Zealand for a short-term stay. The visit went well, and Dana was back seven months later for another short-term stay, this time by herself, living with a host family.

Dana took to life in Tauranga and, upon returning to Thailand she kept in touch with the friends she had made during her stays. Eager to return, her parents enrolled Dana in an entire school year at Tauranga Intermediate.

“I was very excited to come back here to live. This last year has gone by really fast!”

As an only child, living with a host family has been an education in having siblings. Dana, ever the agreeable young lady, has taken it in her stride, enjoying playing older ‘sister’ to her host family’s children.

“There are four younger children in my host family. It’s fun: there’s always someone to play with.”


It was clear that Dana was a capable student and a lateral thinker, so she was placed into the CWSA (Children With Special Abilities) class at Tauranga Intermediate – a class for students whose grades score within the top five percent of the class.

“It’s nice to be surrounded by other students who think differently, like me. It challenges me to keep thinking.”

Dana loves science, soft tech and food tech, but the best part of school is being kept on her toes by her strong-willed peers.

“Our class is a bit of an argument class. For example, if there’s a black caravan, the students in my class will say, ‘no it’s not black. It’s the darkest shade of white.’ We have different points of view.

“I’m really glad I chose this school. I love everything here.”


International directors encourage their students to join clubs, sports and cultural activities, aware that pushing students outside their comfort zone is the best way for them to truly settle in a new environment. Dana chose to continue with basketball and choir, which she enjoyed back in Thailand, and added to her repertoire by trying her hand at water polo and joining the school production.

“Our school production was Tamanui the Brave Kokako of Taranaki. It was based on the book. My role was the backup kokako. It’s really fun and I get to meet more people when I do these activities.”


After a summer spent back home and visiting her father in India, Dana will return to Tauranga to live with a new family and start high school at Tauranga Girls’ College.

“I’m excited about starting at Tauranga Girls. There’s lots of opportunities and most of my friends are going there.”

When it comes to the distant future, Dana already has big plans.

“When I grow up, I want to be a crime investigator. I love scientific theories and I love figuring things out.”


Dana’s boldness and independence seem like natural qualities, but she insists that she wasn’t always this way.

“I used to be lonely, I’d work at the library and do my own thing a lot. I used to stick with the same friends. I have changed a lot over the year here.”

She has also taken it upon herself to make other new students feel at home, always going out of her way to introduce herself to anyone new, warmly welcoming them into what she knows can be a scary experience.


Of all the things to miss in Thailand, Dana misses her parents most of all.

She doesn’t miss the unrelenting heat, but she does miss some of the delicacies of the tropics, like year-round watermelon and mango with coconut sticky rice. And she misses her country’s best-known dish, pad Thai.


“Go for it. If you come to this school, there’s lots of opportunities, you’ll make lots of friends and you might do things that you’ve not done before.

You can do so many things here. Every sport, see the mountains, surf in the sea. It’s a dream school. There’s everything here.”