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Long road to happiness

Candy Yan first came to New Zealand for four months to study English. She worked hard, and fell in love with the sunny, seaside city of Tauranga.

Candy Yan originally came to New Zealand to study English.

Today she's a business banker and a vital part of the community, and finally has time to enjoy life. But getting to that point was a long, difficult journey.

Candy worked in the seaside city of Qingdao, China, as a hotel catering manager, but needed a break. Husband Peter suggested she took a holiday to improve her English, and a colleague convinced her to visit New Zealand.

Deciphering Kiwi accents was a struggle. "I was actually thinking, 'Did I speak English back in China? Why don't I understand those people?"' says Candy, with a laugh. "It took me about three months to start to understand what you guys said."

She passed the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test the first time and returned home. But by then Candy had a bigger plan: working towards a Diploma in International Tourism at Wintec in Hamilton.

"In China, if you don't work harder and upgrade your skills often, there's a whole lot of people behind you who want your position," she explains. "That's why I came here, so I can stand out and people cannot replace me easily."

Hamilton’s cold, damp winter weather “made me so depressed”, says Candy, so while waiting for exams one term, she moved back to Tauranga for a month. A friend arranged for her to stay with a friend, Lorry, who owned a motel – and afterwards Lorry offered her a job at a motel he was buying.

She took on the work while studying and, after graduating in 2005, applied for a work visa. It was a long, stressful process – motel manager isn’t usually on Immigration New Zealand’s Skills Shortage List, but Candy had become involved with the local motel association and built a network of supporters who backed her residency application.

Next, with Peter’s agreement, she brought over her 10-year-old daughter Renay for a more balanced education and lifestyle. Renay walked into Tauranga Primary School without understanding any English, but settled in with help from a teacher’s aide and a couple of good friends.

“After a year here, when I went to the parents’ interview, her teacher said she often forgot that Renay's first language was Chinese,” says Candy. “After two years, I talked to her in Chinese and she’d speak back to me in English.”

When Renay was 16, she lived in the Netherlands for a year as an exchange student, and already knowing two languages helped her succeed there.

“Within a couple of months’ time she fitted in and started to talk in Dutch. When she finished her year at school, she was in the top 15 per cent in the whole country,” says Candy proudly.

Candy continued to give back to the community that supported and welcomed her. When China hosted the Olympics in 2008, the then-president of Tauranga Regional Multicultural Council asked Candy to organise a small Chinese festival. It was a success, and led to an unexpected opportunity.

“Lots of Chinese are still using the old way, the Chinese way of operating their business – they're working so hard, starting early morning and finishing late at night, not having a life. I wanted to help them realise there are ways to make their lives better and easier"

Candy Yan

While talking with Shane Southby from ANZ about sponsorship, Candy was offered a job as a personal banker. She left the motel and took that job in 2010, helping local Chinese with their banking.

Candy also organised seminars for the Chinese community on tax and law matters, and noticed more migrant businesspeople were choosing to live in Tauranga. So last year she and two others formed the Bay of Plenty Chinese Business and Commerce Association, to help connect Chinese businesspeople with the area and help them understand the Kiwi approach to business.

“Lots of Chinese are still using the old way, the Chinese way of operating their business – they're working so hard, starting early morning and finishing late at night, not having a life. I wanted to help them realise there are ways to make their lives better and easier,” explains Candy.

The association regularly hosts seminars, networking and social activities, and the occasional cultural event. Candy also hopes the association will act as a bridge, for Chinese wanting to invest here or Kiwis wanting advice on doing business in China.

Many migrant families make sacrifices in order to build a new life. Candy and Peter spent most of 2002-2007 apart, only reuniting a few times a year so Peter could continue his business in China. Peter joined his family here in 2008. 

The hard work is paying off. Recently Candy became a business banker, and finally has time to enjoy life. She and Peter go hiking on weekends; Peter enjoys his job with a cargo-handling company at the Port of Tauranga; Renay is in her second year at university.

“It's getting better and better, we’re really enjoying it and we are so lucky that we are here,” says Candy. “We so appreciate this opportunity and we want to make other peoples’ lives easier, to help them settle too.”

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