When Cambodian UCOL student Andy Piseth was younger, his mum convinced him to try a career as a chef. Now eighteen and mid-way through a two-year Diploma in Cookery, he’s happy to admits his mum was right. “When I plate up food, I can use my creative mind – I treat it as an artwork.”
Andy admits he got quite a shock that after applying to study in New Zealand four years ago - his application was accepted in only three months. “All of a sudden I had to believe I was actually going! Some of my friends in Cambodia are still waiting for placement overseas.”
Andy has left his parents and brother back in Cambodia and is living with his aunt and uncle in Palmerston North. When he arrived as a 15-year-old, Andy says his limited English was his main obstacle.
In Cambodia, Andy had studied English for only an hour a day at school. “I did not have the opportunity to practise much. When I got to New Zealand, I was surrounded by people speaking English,and they spoke so quickly! Now I feel my spoken and written English is at the same level as my Khmer (Cambodian language).”
Andy spent two years at Palmerston North Boys High School, where he says he was drawn to other Asian students. As his confidence has grown, so has his circle and diversity of friends.
Andy has returned to visit his family three times and now finds the trip – and the busy airports – far less daunting than his first experience.
Luckily, on his last trip he arrived back in New Zealand just two days before the country went into Level 4 lockdown. Andy acknowledges the help of his UCOL lecturers and the International team, who he says helped keep him well-supported during his studies.
Andy’s parents wanted him to come to New Zealand to have a good future, and the aspiring chef hopes his qualification will give him the opportunity to travel and work around the world.
His grandfather, who was a chef in Cambodia, is especially proud, often saying to Andy “You can do it!”