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Ask Eun Kyung Kwak about her time at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and her eyes fill with tears.

"It has changed my life to brightness," she says quietly.

 Eun Kyung, or Katie as she's known, is currently enrolled in her first year of a Bachelor of Bicultural Social Work, after completing a Certificate in Social Services last year.

 Originally she was looking for any qualification that could pull her out of the caregiver role she felt trapped and poorly treated in for almost a decade.

On top of her work situation, she also faced the personal struggle of raising two sons and the break-up of her marriage.

"I was facing a crisis and desperation took over because as a Korean woman in New Zealand, I felt so isolated," she says.

Despite moving to New Zealand from Korea 21 years ago, language - both written and verbal - is still a barrier, she says.

Although she's experienced in finance and accounting, Katie's English skills restricted her progress and affected her confidence. 

By initially studying for a Level 4 Certificate in Social Services, she had to confront her situation head-on and while it was a humbling experience, it turned out to be the best catalyst for change.
 "The open counselling was so powerful," she says.

"It gave me a sweet taste of learning that I've never experienced. It was really hard to let it out. Even now I'm working really hard. I am very proud of my learning and my school Te Wānanga o Aotearoa."

Katie says through knowledge gained of Ngā Takepu she is now able to exercise kaitiakitanga and ahurutanga and has been especially inspired by the Māori approach to health through the model Te Whare Tapa Wha.

Her degree, Nga Poutoko Whakarara Oranga, takes tauira further through self-development and even though it's still challenging, it's a challenge she relishes.

"This course is not only about studying for others, actually it's for ourselves. I apply it to my work, my home, and wherever I go. It's life-changing," Katie says.

 And despite the dark times that led her to the wānanga, she can already see a positive future serving the Auckland District Health Board in the mental health field.

 "I want to be running an organisation with my dear son who is also a counsellor; I want to support others to stand up and go back to their life and I want to be the best social worker I can be.”


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