Exchange student making the most of extended stay

Host mother Kim Mortimer (left) sister-host Ella Mortimer (14) and James Hargest College international pupils’ director Lara Buchanan embrace Doris Shein (16), who hasn’t seen her own family in almost three years due to the pandemic border closures.

BEING homesick is a feeling 16-year-old Doris Shen has to become used to in the past three years.

However, the Chinese national, who attends James Hargest College, said those feelings were managed and softened up thanks to the support from her host family, school friends and Invercargill community.

Doris is among thousands of school pupils and migrants who call New Zealand home but was unable to return to China or have her family visit since the border closures in March 2020.

A focused and driven pupil, she was impressed with James Hargest College and she applied to study there.

However, when the New Zealand borders closed, Doris found herself stuck in China and she had a stressful journey, which involved quarantine in Thailand, to arrive in Southland.

loved New Zealand and wanted me to study here because it is really safe and has such a nice environment.

“And while they had hoped to follow me over here and live here too, the pandemic has meant we’ve been separated since.

Since she arrived in Invercargill, she felt embraced by an Invercargill family, who she has been with since.

“I enjoy being here but sometimes it is really hard, I feel very homesick, missing my family. But everyone here has been so kind and my host family makes me feel welcome.”

She spent Christmas with their extended family, has been on holiday during summer, and even attended family reunions.

Host mother Kim Mortimer and “host sister” Ella Mortimer (14) said it had been a pleasure to have Doris living with them.

Mrs Mortimer could not imagine how Doris’ mother was feeling being so far away from her daughter for so long.

“I feel very sorry for her that she can’t see her family. I really feel for her because it is so hard.

“We just try to make her feel home and include her in everything. She is part of our family.”

Ella, who is an only child, said in the beginning it was “weird” to gain a “new sister”, but she enjoyed having Doris in her life.

“It is really cool to have someone around all the time.”

Staff and pupils of James Hargest College have also united to support Doris through the International Friendships Club with regular catch-ups for activities like ice-skating, cooking and birthday celebrations.

“I have a lot of friends at the school and they are very kind to me.

“As well as the fun we have at International Friendships Club, teachers also help us to still embrace our own culture while learning about Kiwi culture.”

That has been one of her favourite things – Doris enjoying having the opportunity to share her culture with the Southland community.

A passionate cook, she made dumplings for her family to celebrate the Chinese New Year and she always plays the piano at home.

“The things I miss the most are my family and the food.

“But I’ve been cooking for them here which has been great.”

Ella agreed.

“I’m a very picky eater and usually I don’t like dumplings but I would only eat Doris’ ones because she makes special ones for me with the things I like.”

James Hargest College international pupils’ director Lara Buchanan said Doris was an exemplary student and impressed everyone with how well she was doing at school.

“She got 116 excellence credits on NCEA level one. With all of her challenges, it is absolute impressive.”

The support of her host family, as well as from her teachers and fellow pupils, helped Doris to not feel alone since being separated from her family, she said.

“I hope to be able to see my parents this year but I would like to stay living here in New Zealand and study medicine to help the community.”