SIT and 'good life' lure family 10,000km

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 09/07/2014
Benjamin Kim
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/ Fairfax NZ

HAPPY CAMPERS: Benjamin Kim, with his wife Hyun Heo, and his children, from left, Donna, 10, Donnette, 8, and Jun, 13, who moved from South Korea to Invercargill to study at the Southern Institute of Technology. 

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It's a long way from Seoul to Invercargill - just ask Benjamin Kim.

The South Korean has shifted his family 10,000km across the world to study at the Southern Institute of Technology.

It was a big move, and one made in almost record time. Kim's wife suggested New Zealand as a destination for the family only in April.

Kim used to work in hotels, at one point managing a $1 billion property, and his wife, Hyun Heo, has a degree in mathematics.

However, Kim knew things needed to change when his family returned to South Korea to live after a long stint in Hawaii.

The couple's three children, Jun, 13, Donna, 10, and Donnette, 8, all enjoyed music, but in South Korea, the education system placed a heavy emphasis on academics, Kim said.

Children were often at school by 7am, not returning until 9pm or 10pm.

"I've been through [the system], my wife's been through it, but I don't want my kids to go through it," he said.

"Being smart doesn't give you a good life and happiness. I want them to be balanced."

Two months and four plane trips after his wife's suggestion, Kim and his family arrived in Southland, on a gloomy winter's day.

Kim is now working towards a post-graduate diploma in business enterprise at SIT, while his children enjoy the first week of the school holidays.

The Kims are just one of many overseas families choosing to make Southland, and its lifestyle, home while studying at the Southern Institute of Technology.

SIT marketing manager Chami Abeysinghe, herself a former international student at the polytechnic, said there were more than 700 international students enrolled at the end of June.

This translated to about 550 equivalent fulltime students (EFTS), up from 220 EFTS five years ago.

Almost half of these hailed from China, but more than 30 nationalities were represented in the student body, Abeysinghe said.

Students came from countries as diverse as Syria, France, Ireland and even North Korea to undertake a wide range of study programmes while at the polytechnic, she said.

Business and English are the most popular study options, but international students can be found in almost every classroom, whether it is for cookery, IT or music.

Last year, Venture Southland estimated international students across all education levels contributed more than $20m to the Southland economy.

Abeysinghe acknowledged the international student market was big business, but it was also competitive, she said.

New Zealand universities and polytechnics are not only competing against each other for students, but also against providers from across the world.

SIT had to make itself stand out from others, and also ensure it provided a caring service to its students, so the polytechnic's reputation spread overseas, she said.

As for the Kim family, their possessions are not scheduled to arrive from Korea for another few weeks.

For now, the five are enjoying camping out in their empty Rosedale house, and things look positive for the long term, Kim said.

"I think we'll enjoy it here."

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