The unique sisterhood of Jay & Nutcha

"Korean school wasn’t the right fit for me. I was tired of the memorisation-style learning and felt different from the other students."
Jay & Nutcha
Thailand & Korea

The unique sisterhood of Jay & Nutcha

Sisterhood. It can refer to biological sisters, close girlfriends or a group of women with a shared life experience. Whatever your definition, it’s an undeniably unique and meaningful relationship.

The same can be said of Jay Lee and Nutcha Sirawattanakul – two very different girls living under the same roof in Tauranga. For three years, Jay, who arrived from South Korea, and Nutcha, who came from Thailand, have been host sisters as they both attend Bethlehem College as international students.

The girls’ relationship has grown and evolved over the years and, while they are very close, they hesitate to actually use the word ‘sister’.

“I think we’re more like friends who live in the same house.” – Jay

Here is the story of Jay and Nutcha, their experience in New Zealand and their special host sister connection.


Growing up in bustling Inchin, South Korea, Jay was accustomed to a very busy lifestyle and a highly competitive school environment.

“Korean school wasn’t the right fit for me. I was tired of the memorisation-style learning and felt different from the other students.” – Jay

Jay’s parents recognised this as early as primary school, and suggested that she study somewhere overseas where independent thinking and following individual interests was encouraged. By her last year of intermediate school, she had come around to the idea.

“Mum was interested in New Zealand after watching a television programme where Korean families came here and stayed with a Kiwi family. She thought the country looked nice, there was lots of nature, freedom and a good education system.”


Born and raised in Nakornpathom, Thailand, Nutcha moved to New Zealand at 15 years old for the opportunities that studying here would provide.

“I wanted to do university overseas, but my Dad thought it was a good idea to come earlier to help improve my English.” – Nutcha

Back in Thailand, there was pressure to be good at everything in school. Nutcha had to take a wide range of subjects, including music and dance, whereas in Tauranga, she gets to put more focus on her interest areas of maths and science.

Nutcha, who has been here for three years, felt scared and nervous when she arrived. But over the years, the environment at school and home have seen her come out of her shell and her confidence has grown by leaps and bounds.


Jay and Nutcha live with Sue Jones, a local woman who has been hosting international students for seven years.

“I love having students come into my home and become part of my family. I enjoy learning about their family life and culture, schooling and social lives in their home countries.” – Sue

Sue puts great effort into her host children and feels a positive, safe and enjoyable home-life is a very important part of their experience in a new country.

“Over the past three years, we have developed into a family, sharing love, joy and difficult times together. I have seen them change from timid little girls into confident young women. My house will feel very empty when they go.”

Each Friday afternoon, Jay, Nutcha and Sue catch up at a local café and reflect on the week. It’s a special ritual they look forward to – a way to celebrate the end of the week and a reminder of something they’d do with their own mums back home.

“Sue is very kind. She always welcomes us home after school and is available to talk. We go out for dinner sometimes and she’ll bake us a cake on our birthday.” – Jay

“It feels like family.” – Nutcha


Coming from two very different backgrounds, living in the same Kiwi home has both exposed them to New Zealand culture as well as each others’.

“Nutcha shows me photos of Thailand and her family. We talk about Thai and Korean school, houses, food.” – Jay

“Sometimes we cook our country’s food for dinner.” – Nutcha

“Thai food is very spicy!” – Jay


As one of Bethlehem College’s two international captains, Jay has found a passion for helping other international students become more involved in the school community.

“I support teachers in helping students adapt to school, I plan events like today’s pizza lunch, and I encourage international students to make Kiwi friends and join mainstream school life.” – Jay

Jay is also a prefect and is involved in the school’s Kapahaka competitions and athletics days.

“My family notices a difference in me. I’m brighter, more confident.”

Nutcha, who arrived as a very quiet girl, has flourished at Bethlehem College. She tutors other students who need academic help, plays badminton, is editor of the school’s international magazine and photographer for the yearbook.

“I like the freedom here. It’s different to school back home.” – Nutcha


Being able to focus more on her interests has been of great value to Nutcha, who has been accepted on the fast-track enrolment to Auckland University’s Engineering and Health Sciences programme.

“I was planning to do medicine but this year I changed my mind. I like maths, physics and chemistry, so now I think engineering is a better choice.” – Nutcha

In the long term, she’d love to begin her career in New Zealand, maybe even help her family move over from Thailand one day.

Meanwhile, Jay plans to go to university in New Zealand as well, perhaps in Auckland or Otago, with interests in health sciences, nursing and teaching.

“My parents would like me to come home, but I plan to live here forever. I said, ‘Mum, I’m a rock – you can’t move me!’” – Jay