Building a business and a life

Acceptance and education drew Ying Somumchan from Thailand to New Zealand, but settling here also sparked her entrepreneurial streak.


Ying Somumchan is no stranger to studying in foreign countries – she’s done research courses at various universities in other countries. But when she was deciding where to do her master’s degree, New Zealand stood out.

The University of Auckland is rated number 66 out of 700 in the QS World University Rankings for its engineering and technology subjects. “The quality of education and living brought me here first, and I wanted to see the beauty of the country with my own eyes,” Ying enthuses.

“And because I'm gay, I decided to try the place that accepts my situation. New Zealand has same-sex marriage, which is a really, really good deal.”

Ying had an undergraduate degree in petrochemical engineering, and came here in October 2010 on a limited student visa to study English. “It was quite hard for me to take IELTS [International English Language Testing System] to get the criteria that they wanted. I took the test four times and I got it the last time, just before university started.”

She decided to complete a Master of Engineering Management. “I was looking for a course that combined business and engineering skills, because I'm from an engineering background but have a huge interest in business and entrepreneurs,” she says.

As part of her studies, Ying paired up with a host company to work on a project. Her engineering background focused on plastic, so she worked with Koves Plastics Industries, which makes plastic components for everything from fridges and mobility wheelchairs to communications equipment.

After graduating, Ying eventually found a full-time job with Koves Plastics Industries as a process improvement engineer, making production processes more efficient and economical. “The thing I like most about Kiwi working life is, you can share your ideas, you can discuss or even you can say no when you don’t agree,” she explains.

“In Thailand it's totally different. If you are new to the company, it's hard for you to give an idea or say no to the people who have been there for many years.”

The company employs migrants from many different countries, and Ying says they always find a way to work well together. “I think they always accept wherever you come from, if you are in New Zealand.”

When Ying was first struggling to find a job after graduation, she had the idea of creating a business. “I felt like I needed to do something instead of waiting for opportunity from others to come.”

Her partner, who had come over in 2012, had been a packaging designer in Thailand and was embarking on a Master of Design. They developed the company name, Sheepy Chill, by blending the iconic New Zealand sheep with the very Kiwi idea of ‘chilling’ (relaxing). After launching in 2014, they now sell colourful design products such as silk scarves, bags, cushions and greeting cards through their website and craft markets.

The couple have gone through many visa applications before becoming permanent residents, and Ying says they found a lot of immigration information on the government’s website. “It's very handy that you can call and ask for help if you need it, so I'm pretty impressed for the service that they provide us.”

Ying also registered their company online, which was particularly helpful as she already works full time. “The immigration, bank and tax offices have flexible hours, you can just ring them. Pretty much all my business is done by phone, which makes my life much easier,” she says. “It's very different from back home in Thailand.”

Despite having a full-time job and running a business, Ying still insists work-life balance is better here than in Thailand. “I work full time, 8am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, and that's it, so I can have spare time for my partner and we just chill out with my friends,” she says.

“Every weekend we always go out because I love coffee, and I never get bored of the view in Auckland.”

Ying and Saro often go on day trips with friends to beaches or places such as Goat Island, a marine reserve one hour north of Auckland where you can snorkel among fish.

“We both love travelling and seeing beautiful places in New Zealand, we've been to the South Island together more than three times,” Ying says. “My mum visited me in 2012, she loved being here very much and she's coming again in a few months.”

Ying says her life has just begun. She is excited about how her career and the business may develop, and the life she can have with her partner. She advises others to do their research if they want to move to New Zealand – the more you prepare, the more you can achieve.

“Always ask for help if you need it, there are lots of services you can get online,” she says. “Come and see with your own eyes what New Zealand has to offer.”

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