Faces of Auckland: Enticed by education

KATASHA MCCULLOUGH
Last updated 05:00 05/08/2014
Renee Kim
Katasha McCullough
RENEE KIM: 'I'm not rich but I feel very rich in my heart and soul.'

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Faces of Auckland

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Auckland is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with more than a third of its citizens born overseas and boasting more than 200 nationalities living here.

Faces of Auckland is a series talking to those who have left all corners of the world to make their home here, reminding us why Auckland is so good.

SON'S FUTURE MADE MOVE NECESSARY

Renee Kim moved to New Zealand for one reason.

The Korean education system was failing her oldest son, Kevin, who was a delayed learner.

He was born prematurely weighing just 1.8 kilograms and spent the first four months of his life in an incubator.

Doctors were unsure if he would survive but Kim says there was ''no doubt in my heart'' he would.

After battling the school system for years, Kim took Kevin and her younger son, Danny, to New Zealand.

She left behind her successful business and her entire family, including her husband, in Seoul.

''When I said I'm going to New Zealand, they had just one word. 'What?' and then 'Why?,'' Kim said.

The family started their new life in Hamilton in 2002 before moving to Auckland five years ago.

Kim, 51, now runs a patchwork quilt shop and studio in Milford on the North Shore.

She said her boys were so happy going to school in New Zealand.

In Korea 95 to 99 per cent of children have started learning before they begin primary school, she said.

''They didn't want to wait for Kevin. They said 'No, you need to prepare for a good high school, prepare for university'. That's just their system.''

Fed up with this attitude, Kim began researching different education systems online.

She had no idea where New Zealand was before looking it up on a map.

Kim flew here alone to spend a month visiting Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, struggling to decide which city would be best for her sons.

She fell in love with the Waikato River and settled in Hamilton, but moved to Auckland when Danny wanted to go to university.

Kim's English was limited but she never took lessons, saying the people she talked to each day were her English teachers.

''Many Asian migrants all want to learn the language. But I thought I would make friends with my neighbours first.''

She threw herself into community life, running a quilt shop, putting on an exhibition, doing volunteer work and joining the Waikato Patchworkers and Quilters Guild.

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Kim originally planned to stay in New Zealand for only two years, but changed her mind.

She said in Korea she lived in a lovely apartment and drove nice cars.

In Auckland Kim lives in a cottage with a little kitchen and no new furniture, but she loves it.

''I feel very successful. I'm not rich but I feel very rich in my heart and soul.''

FIVE QUESTIONS

Is New Zealand tolerant of different cultures and are you able to express your cultural identity fully here?

Yes. I think sometimes I've got culture shock here but I don't have any problems. People say you are not like a Korean, you are more Kiwi.

Have you ever traveled in New Zealand outside of Auckland and where to?

More than you, I think! I went from Cape Reinga to Picton in my car. I know very well about most of the North Island, even small villages like Coromandel and Waihi. Hawke's Bay is my favourite.

What is best about being an Aucklander?

The art. There are galleries here, lots of beautiful galleries. Ponsonby, Greenlane and now Karangahape Rd. I'm very interested in K Rd.

If I was Auckland mayor I would...

That is very hard. I'm always watching television news and reading the newspaper, there are always issues. I'm not the person to comment on that.

Do you watch rugby and do you support the All Blacks?

I haven't watched rugby much because I'm not a sporty person. But I always buy All Black T-shirts for my nieces in Korea because they know the All Blacks.

- Auckland

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