Staff Spotlight: Sarah Sung

Study Abroad and Exchange Officer


Sarah was born in Korea and moved to New Zealand in 2002. She graduated with a BA in Linguistics and English Literature from Kyungpook National University, Korea. Sarah was an English language teacher in Korea, but moved into the international education field when she immigrated to New Zealand. She now looks after international students coming to the University of Auckland on Study Abroad and Exchange programmes.

Did you study abroad?

Sarah: I completed my first degree in Korea which is a very different type of learning experience from here in New Zealand. At that time I did not have the opportunity to study abroad which I regret.

Luckily I have recently been able to start postgraduate studies in education, here at the University of Auckland.

I’m enjoying the interactions with my professors and classmates from all round the world. Auckland is very multicultural and this is reflected in my program, where I’m able to get a global perspective on education policy. This study will help me take my career to the next level – I am interested in policy in the international education sector.

What was your favorite traveling experience?

Sarah: My favorite traveling experience was my first trip to Europe in 2013. I had always dreamed about traveling there and it totally lived up to expectations – I loved it. I visited seven countries from the UK down to Italy. I was fascinated by the rich histories of each country and the magnificent architecture and art.

My favorite place was the Piazza San Marco in Venice – I was completely overwhelmed by the grandeur when I first entered the square. I’m returning to Venice for my Christmas holidays this year, I can’t wait! Another favorite memory from this trip was spending time in the mountains in Switzerland and exploring the farmers markets there.

Any exciting new programs at the University of Auckland

Sarah: The University of Auckland is always developing new programs, especially at postgraduate level and often in response to global issues. For example our new multidisciplinary Master of Disaster Management is very popular with students from around the world. On the Study Abroad front, in addition to our typical semester abroad program, we are developing short-term programmes as we recognise some students prefer a study abroad experience over their summer break.

The first one is scheduled for June/July 2016 and is an exciting screen-production program from our Film, TV and Media Studies department. In the last two decades New Zealand has played an impressive role in the film industry, with projects like the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and Avatar based here.

Alongside these big-budget films, New Zealand has a strong indie film industry so I think this will be a very interesting program to join. Plus, it’s going to be taught by a Hobbit cast member!

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Sarah: Well, I used to be an English language teacher, so obviously I think language learning is very important. Learning another language helps break down barriers between cultures and increase understanding. It gives more opportunity to interact with other cultures and broadens your perspective.

I always say “if you know another language, you know another world”.

I would encourage students to study abroad in a country with a different language or customs. Even here in New Zealand we offer study abroad students the opportunity to learn Te Reo Māori, the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people, and engage with Māori customs and culture. The University of Auckland has a strong Māori Studies program.

What is the best story you’ve heard from a return student?

Sarah: One Medical and Health Sciences student from Brazil came to the University of Auckland for two Study Abroad semesters. He was a top student in Brazil and wanted to achieve highly in his courses here as well. Naturally, this caused him a bit of stress as coming to a new country and studying in a different language is a big challenge.

The first semester he worked really, really hard and achieved the top grades possible, but it took a toll on his health and he reached a point where he decided he could not continue to a second semester. However he reached out to our international student support team for help. The University health services helped him put strategies in place for dealing with stress and after his summer break he was able to continue. This second semester led to him being accepted for an internship at Auckland City Hospital, a very rare occurrence.

He described it to me as the best thing that had happened to him in his life. He felt “honored to be able to be part of such an amazing medical team” and he wants to return to Auckland to work with them again in the future. Whenever I think of his story I smile -- it’s things like this that make my job very rewarding.