THE DIGITAL MAGAZINE FOR AUT alumni & friends 2021Alumni 2021
Global interns on the front line

When borders were closing, thousands of Kiwis needed help getting home from North America and New Zealand’s trade relationships became more important than ever.

Trade Commissioner and Consul-General Matt Ritchie was pleased to have not one, but two AUT alumni in his Vancouver team when the pandemic hit.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in Vancouver is a partner of the University’s global internship programme, AUT Internz. Matt says the programme, which gives NZTE access to top quality graduates, has been excellent.

He has been particularly grateful to have two graduates in his small team since the pandemic arrived.

Bachelor of Communication Studies alumna Ayaka Archer joined as an intern in 2019 then was offered a permanent role, making room for the next AUT intern, Bachelor of Business graduate Alex Mackenzie, whose arrival was timed only weeks before that of COVID-19.

As part of the office’s pandemic response, a new role – consular officer – was added to Ayaka’s job title and she became a critical support for many stranded Kiwis in British Columbia.

“The amount we’ve had to deal with – flights were cancelled and there were so many issues – it was unprecedented in consular history,” says Matt.

“Whether they returned or chose to stay, the resilience and positivity we’ve seen in all the graduates who received 2020 scholarships to intern overseas has been incredible – everyone here is so proud of them.”


In a normal year, the Vancouver NZTE office would provide assistance to a handful of cases but by March 2020 it was supporting 60 or 70 people a day. “There were days where we fielded literally hundreds of calls.”

Part of the North America research team, Alex has been providing invaluable support for Kiwi businesses trying to enter into, expand or simply survive in the Canada and US markets. She took a role that Matt says would ordinarily be filled from Washington DC or LA, “but because we were all working from home, it didn’t matter.

“She’s been helping with desk research for companies that are either interested in the market or are already here but struggling because of the pandemic. We’ve had a large influx of work due to New Zealand businesses not being able to travel, supporting customers in how they actually transact the business, finding other marketing channels – digital commerce is the big thing at the moment.”

Another issue for the office was supporting the movement of important equipment like PPE and devices when passenger flights were no longer carrying it. Fisher & Paykel, for example, needed assistance getting important medical technology to hospitals there.

Ayaka, with her communication studies background, was in the right place at the right time to help Kiwis with consular assistance. As a consular officer, she says her role is to assist New Zealanders overseas who are in a crisis, “Last March, that was pretty much everyone! I was speaking with hundreds of people per week who were upset, distressed and unsure of what the future held.

“Both the volume and value of calls were quite intense, with some people asking for advice on whether to uplift and move their entire family and life back to New Zealand. Because of how rapidly things were changing there was so much new information coming through. It was quite draining as everyone’s situation was so different and there was no easy answer.”

AUT’s director of development, Rebecca Lowery, who oversees the global internship programme behind Alex and Ayaka, remained in touch with the 30 other 2019 graduates who departed for internships in New York, LA, Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, London and Singapore.

“Each graduate made their own decision about whether they would return to New Zealand when borders were closing or see out their internship. While many returned, a handful did stay, and they’ve been well supported.

“Whether they returned or chose to stay, the resilience and positivity we’ve seen in all the graduates who received 2020 scholarships to intern overseas has been incredible – everyone here is so proud of them.”


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