New Zealand ASEAN Scholar Awards: My Story

Pursuing education abroad is always an expensive venture. The cost alone of uprooting yourself from your home, traveling to another country, and supporting yourself during your stay there will almost certainly drain any money savings you may have set aside. So unless you’re rich or at least blessed with a wealthy benefactor, a foreign degree will likely register in that head of yours as an idea nice enough to think about but too ambitious to actually take seriously.

Unless, that is, you give yourself a third option by snagging a scholarship. I tried my luck down this path and, as fate would have it, I managed to do it after my very first attempt.

The scholarship program I qualified for is called the New Zealand ASEAN Scholar Awards (NZAS). It’s available to citizens (aged 40 or below) of selected Southeast Asian countries who intend to pursue post-graduate study in New Zealand.

If you will go over their website (click here and here), you’ll find that the program supports most – if not all – fields of study. However, applicants will have to explain how their chosen course will allow them to make a significant contribution to the development of their respective countries. Once they complete their study, the scholars are then required to return to their home country and work there for at least two years to fulfill the promise they made about helping in its progress, i.e., foster national development by applying everything they have learned from their studies.

As is true with most scholarship programs, it is necessary that an applicant must have been already accepted by a school in the host country (New Zealand, in this case) before filing his/her application with the program. He/she will have to submit the school’s Offer Letter, which, along with other application documents, will be evaluated by a Committee overseeing the selection process.

But enough of that. All these information are available at the NZAS website. Let me share how my experience as an applicant unfolded.


Group photo of the 2014 NZ ASEAN Scholar Awardees as published in one local daily.

ALMOST FAMOUS. Group photo of the 2014 NZ ASEAN Scholar Awardees as published in one local daily. Also inset are NZ Ambassador to the Philippines Reuben Levermore and some members of the interview panel.

It was early last year, through a confluence of various factors, when I decided to apply with NZAS. I remember having heard of it before, and having looked it up on the internet, just to see what it’s all about. But it was only in March or April last year that I really took a long hard look at the idea of studying abroad.

Early on, it was apparent that I was pressed for time if I were the least bit interested in going for the scholarship. While its application deadline was still in July, those for university applications in New Zealand were another matter altogether.

In my case, I had quickly narrowed down my school choices to two: the University of Auckland (UoA) and Victoria University of Wellington. Their performance as per the QS World University Rankings had something to do with that. What eventually made me go for UoA was the somewhat easier – in my opinion, at least – application process it had. That and my unwillingness to spend for two sets of application documents, and all the hassle that go along with their preparation.

Having made my choice of school did not make my task easier. Fact was, the deadline for post-graduate study applications with UoA was the end of May.

I cannot remember now how exactly I was able to muster enough motivation within a short period of time in order to complete the entire application process but somehow I did. End of May came and all the documents I had to upload, I had uploaded. All those I had to send by courier had been physically delivered.

In a little over a month, I got some feedback from the university. They sent me an offer letter (which was great), only that it wasn’t for my entry to the Master of Laws (LL.M) Program (which was not so great). Instead, the school was offering me a place in their Post-Graduate Certificate in Law (PGCLAW) Program. A PGCLAW is a certificate course which is effectively half of an LL.M degree. Apparently, my grades (the sole basis of their evaluation) were not LL.M caliber enough.

With the deadline for scholarship applications looming, I found myself also losing interest with the entire effort given my predicament and the uncertainty surrounding it. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I could still apply with only a PGCLAW offer in hand. The NZAS website is not very particular about accepting applications involving mere certificate courses. Worse, when I inquired with the local scholarship coordinator, she seemed certain that my application would be rejected unless my certificate course has something to do with geothermal energy.

If my application won’t even be considered, I thought to myself, then why should I bother.

However, similar to what transpired during my university application, I again found myself pushing forward.

I will say though that what ultimately egged me on was the guilt I felt whenever I thought about the people (referees – former teachers, supervisors, and a boss at work) who took their time to prepare recommendation letters in my favor. To a lesser extent, I also did not want to see the money I spent for that expensive English proficiency exam (TOEFL) go to waste. (I did not know then that I was going to be reimbursed for the test fee I paid for) The least I could do, I told myself, was to submit my application. I owed it to myself and to the people who believe in me to at least try.

And so try I did. I turned in my application on the very deadline for submission.

After yet another month of waiting, around the first week of September, I received a letter-email and got a call informing me that I had been shortlisted by the Selection Committee and that I was still being considered for the scholarship. They had me scheduled for a panel interview the following week.

Regarding the interview itself, I can say now that I knew mine went well as I made my way out of the NZ Embassy. By that time, I was still running through my head everything that had just transpired. I really can’ explain it, but I had that feeling then that, all things considered, I handled the interview pretty well. Good enough that by the time it was over, I had that familiar (positive) sensation I also experienced after my law school application interview in UP.

My feelings were confirmed when the news came some time in November through yet another phone call. I learned that, together with 17 others, I bested more than 200 applicants and managed to earn for myself a scholarship for a one-year LL.M program. Yes, you read that right. Despite being offered only a spot in the UoA’s PGCLAW program, my scholarship was structured to cover an LL.M study, should I qualify for it after completing the PGCLAW course with flying colors, so to speak.

I was beside myself that day.

GRACIOUS HOST. The NZ Ambassador addresses the crowd during the NZAS awarding ceremony held at his residence.

GRACIOUS HOST. The NZ Ambassador addresses the crowd during the NZAS awarding ceremony held at his residence.

The NZAS awarding ceremony was held on 21 November 2013 at the Ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park. It was a small and simple affair with embassy personnel, some scholarship alumni, and a few other benefactors of the program joining the awardees (some of whom came with their relatives in tow) in a quaint private celebration. It was preceded by an orientation activity intended to give us incoming scholars an idea of what awaits in the next couple of weeks leading up to our departure for New Zealand, and eventually our stay in the Kiwi country for a significant period of our lives.

Remembering it now, I distinctly recall that it was when all the pizzazz had disappeared behind me, while I was on my way home, that it finally hit me: I got a scholarship and it’s going to bring me to middle earth.


Comments (69)”

  1. Charmaine

    Hi! I’m applying for NZAS too. Just curious, were you reimbursed by the embassy the exam fee for TOEFL?

    Also, did you get lodging allowance from the scholarship too?

    • admin

      Hi Charmaine. We got reimbursed for the test fees we paid for. If you haven’t taken the exam yet, clarify first if you really need it. My friend, who also got the scholarship, managed to skip the exam, by submitting instead a certification from our school that English is the medium of instruction. As for the allowance, it is enough to cover board and lodging and all other expenses—sometimes even things not related to school.

      • Charmaine

        Wow, thanks! I badly needed that info. I also submitted a certification from my university, hope it’ll work for me too. The exam’s pretty expensive too so I’m having second thoughts. 🙁

        Oh by the way, this post motivated me to pursue my applications! I’ll submit my application to AUT tomorrow and the rest will follow, I hope things go well!! 🙂

  2. admin

    Good luck and I hope you make the cut. You will enjoy NZ. 🙂 Incidentally, the apartment I stayed in is right beside AUT.

  3. Steph

    I just want to tell you how much this post motivated me. I was hesitant to apply at first but finally mustered the courage to do so after reading your blog. Currently, I am waiting for any update regarding my application. I have submitted my application for the scholarship along with my offer of place last week. Just wondering, will I get an e-mail confirming the receipt of my document or do I just wait (& pray & pray & pray) that I get shortlisted?

    • admin

      Hi Steph. I’m not sure if they still notify applicants of their receipt of applications. I hand-delivered mine, you see. I’m guessing you mailed or had yours couriered. As long as you got their address right, I think it’s a safe bet that they will received your application. For now, let it go and carry on with your life.You’ve done everything that you can and the rest is up to them. If it’s meant for you, it will be yours. Good luck!

  4. Steph

    Also, you said in one of your comments that the apartment you stayed in was right beside AUT. May I know where exactly? I am looking for a place to stay- AUT offers very limited options so I’m thinking of getting one off-campus but still not that far from the university. How much was the rent and do they allow fortnightly payment?

    • admin

      It’s the Volt Apartments. It’s right in the corner of Queen Street and Mayoral Drive. AUT is made up of several buildings, and Volt is definitely beside one. There are quite a number of other apartments close by.

  5. Marilyn Castino

    Thanks for sharing your experience! By the way how did you get your test fee reimbursed? Also, how was the panel interview? Was it challenging?

    • admin

      No problem. It was the scholarship manager that brought the reimbursement matter to our attention. We did not know beforehand that they were going to reimburse it. I’m not sure if it’s an established policy, though. The panel interview was okay. I guess it’s inevitable to feel nervous before any interview, especially if it’s a panel that’s going to do it. Just read a few things about NZ, make sure you know why you applied, and be prepared to justify why you deserve the scholarship.

  6. Claud Cellan


    Thanks for sharing your experience. I have sent an application to UoA and I already have uploaded all of the requirements. Do I really have to send the hard copy documents they requested before considering an offer for me? I got quite confused with this since they mentioned that uploading the soft copies will enable them to assess my application, however the hard copies are needed for the confirmation of offer of place.

    I really appreciate your help with this. Thank you very much.

    • admin

      I believe so. The online submission goes first, then you send the hard copy documents by courier. If I remember it right, you will know, based on your online submission, if you need to proceed to the manual submission? In any case, that was how I did it: I first completed all online submissions, before I went on to submit the hard copy documents themselves.

      Good luck!

  7. Wai Yan Min Htay

    Hello, your story really inspired me. I am from Myanmar and I did apply this year New Zealand ASEAN Scholarship. My question is I did get offers from University even-though I don’t have a strong academic background. The scholarship committee still consider someone without strong academic background? Do you have any friends or you meet anyone like me while studying? Please let me know. I am really eager to find out.

    • admin

      Hi. Let me see if I understand your questions. First, would the scholarship committee consider someone like you, who—in your opinion at least—doesn’t have a strong academic background? Two, do I have friends or have I met someone with no strong acad backgrounds which got scholarships? My answer is simple. I wouldn’t consider myself as someone who has a stellar record as a student especially in college or law school. I was an average student at the most. But I got it. I think it has more to do with how you present yourself in the short essays, and in the subsequent interview. If you prepared them or for them well, think you have a good chance. Good luck!

  8. Chloe

    Hi! Just wondering if you had to work part time to cover some of your day to day expenses or was the stipend enough? 🙂

    • admin

      Hi Chloe. Personally, I found the stipend to be quite adequate for my day to day expenses. It even managed to fund a couple of my trips around the country, and a handful of things I wouldn’t necessarily consider as basic necessities. I made the conscious decision not to work as I wanted the entire experience to be about studying and also time away from the demands of work. I must disclose though that other scholars did decide to find part-time jobs, but not because the stipend was inadequate; rather, it was to have more money to send to their families back in the PH, or to support their shopping and/or travel sprees.

      • Chloe

        Do you think a fortnightly room rate of $518 will take a huge chunk on the stipend? I’m currently looking for accommodation, and most of the rooms I see cost about $250 – 300 / week, but the one I mentioned is the most convenient (location wise) but they only accept either fortnightly or full (sem / annual) payments.

        Well, nothing’s been set and I’m still waiting for an update but just in case I get it, at least I already have an idea. Haha *keeping my fingers crossed

        • admin

          Hi Chloe. If I remember correctly, the 2-bedroom unit I stayed in cost $840 fortnightly. I shared it with another NZAS scholar—which is a typical setup to save up on expenses. That meant I contributed $420 within such period. That only included the water though, so we still had to pay for the power and the Internet expenses. It worked well for us. We stayed at the Volt Apartments, by the way. Regarding the payment schemes (fortnightly/sem/annual), that’s also the usual system there.

  9. Char

    Hello! I am currently waiting for my application result. You said you received an email around the first week of September, I was also told to wait until the first week of September but as of now I still haven’t received any email. Do you think this means I didn’t make it and should just stop waiting?

    • admin

      Hi Char, I’m afraid I really can’t answer that. I just checked my inbox. My email actually came in at Aug 27th, informing me of my interview date which was then on Sept 4. That said, I can’t tell for sure if not receiving any email at this time means anything. I don’t know if the schedule has changed, for one. I’d like to think they do inform everyone though whether they’re up for interview or not. Best wishes!

      • Dee

        Hi there! I am also waiting for an update regarding the scholarship. I emailed them yesterday and I was told the applications are still being processed and we will be notified through mail whether or not we have been shortlisted by next week! Don’t give up just yet. All the best!

    • Angela

      Hey, we have the same dilemma. Could you possibly inform me if you’ve heard news about your application as soon as you get it? I’ll do the same as well. This way, both of us don’t go crazy haha. Hope to hear from you soon.

  10. Angela

    Hey, I’d just like to thank you for sharing your experience step by step. I, just like Char, have also sent my application and I’m also worried that I didn’t make the cut because I haven’t received any notice from the embassy. While they did inform me 2 weeks ago that the results will be on “early September”, I’m still quite unsure as to when that will be. For the mean time, your post certainly comforts and distracts me from the looming news ahead. Cheers.

    • admin

      Hey. I just received word from a friend of a friend who also applied. She was informed yesterday that she was shortlisted and among those for interview starting next week. I’m not sure if they inform everyone all in the same day, but this piece of news should at least give you all an idea that the announcement as regards your respective applications should be coming out around this time.

        • Pines

          Hi Angela,

          I wonder how did it go with you after this comment of yours.. Did you hear from them on the same week? (I have the same dilemma at the moment).


  11. Malyn

    Hello Ma’am! Do you have an idea kung ilan po usually yung shortlisted and will proceed sa panel interview? Thanks a lot!

  12. KD

    Hi, I got shortlisted. I received the email about two days ago, and interviews will start next week. I was told by the program manager that even those who did not qualify will be informed.

    Anyway, hi Sir! I just wanted to ask what to prepare for the interview? How many will there be in the panel? Dress code? Getting really about the interview.

    Thanks in advance!

  13. Babz

    Hi, reading your story and your responses to other comments gave me a lot of ideas. I’m just wondering, are you the one who search for ur apartment? Or the scholarship team assisted you?. How was tje medical exam? Also how many more weeks after the dinner with NZ ambassador to the PH did you wait before your departure? Thank you.

    • admin

      Yes. I (We: myself and my friend/fellow scholar) did look for our own apartment. I think the (Univ of Auckland) team offered to help though. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the medical exam question: did you mean, how was it conducted? As for departure time, they (University people) prefer that you leave a week/a few days before the start of classes. So it would depend on your schedule of classes.

      • Babz

        Hi.. Thank you. I’m just wondering how did you go about the medical test and X-ray? Do you still remember how long it will take to get the result of visa application?

  14. Cassandra

    Hi there. I am selected for the NZ ASEAN Scholarship. I got a place in University of Auckland. But I notice their accommodations are quite pricey. Is it better to stay off campus? Any suggestion on which accommodation is reliable and the nearest to UoA City Campus? Thanks a lot in advance.

    • admin

      Hi Cassandra. Sorry for the super late reply. I stayed at the The Volt Apartments, which I found to be quite near the campus. I think all accommodations in Auckland are pricey in general. That’s why people tend to share units. There are a few others, but I cannot recall them right now. Admittedly, it is difficult to assess the real state of the units online. Try to inquire with Crockers (1 of many property managers over there) and see if they have any available units at the Volt. Look for Jillian Merritt. I don’t know if she’ll remember me, but try telling her I referred you. 🙂

    • admin

      Hi Marc. In our case, yes it was. They reimbursed us. But if my recollection is accurate, it was not always the case. Best to ask them directly if this is still true now.

  15. Cassandra

    Hi there! Thanks for your reply. I have shortlisted YWCA, Central Hostel and Railway Campus for accommodation. Have you heard of them? Any opinion from you? The hostel arranged by the ISO officer is at Epsom, which is far from City Campus.

    And how much would the electricity/power cost you? Is it charged weekly or monthly? What electric appliance did you use in your unit? Thanks a lot for your and sorry to trouble you. Have a nice day!

  16. Ken

    Hi admin! I am planning to apply this 2016 but I am discouraged by my financial situation. I have a family to support so I would like to ask for your comments about sending money in the Ph. Does the stipend provide extra money to send home? Do you think I have to work to be able support my family (spouse and 1 child)? If yes, based on your observations did it affect student performance? Thank you.

    • admin

      Hi Ken. Sorry for the delayed response. Based on my experience, you will have some extra cash from your monthly stipend but I doubt it will be enough to support your family. You will have an opportunity to work, and with discipline & good time management, I don’t think it will affect your performance. I know of other scholars who excelled in their academics despite having 2 jobs.

  17. cara

    Hi! Just want to know, can I bring a family member with me to New Zealand while I study? Do I have to find a part-time job to cover our expenses? I’d like to bring my 54-year old mother along with me since she’ll be all one when I leave. She’s a freelance writer. Could there be a possible arrangement for that?

    • admin

      Hi Cara. I know of scholars who brought their spouse and child(ren) with them. But I haven’t heard of people bringing along their parents (or siblings, for that matter). You can ask the NZ Embassy directly. If they do allow you, I do think you will have to find part-time work in order to make ends meet. Finding work there isn’t easy. Between you (finding work in, say, the University) and your mother, though, you may have the better the chance.

  18. Lina

    Thank you very much for this very informative post. Did you apply directly to the Embassy itself? There is an online submission for the scholarship that did not require the submission of recommendation letters. Do I need to submit an online and a physical application for the scholarship? Thank you.

    • admin

      Hi Lina. I think there have been major changes in the application process. For one, I think the Embassy is handling the application process now more directly. So it would be best to inquire with them, to be sure. In our case, we still submitted hard copies of our application. I hand-delivered mine to the company/organization handling the process then.

  19. Cynthia

    Hello there, thank you for creatingbthis blog. I admire how you take time to reply and share your experiences.
    I would like to ask your take regarding the eligibilty criteria pertaining to residency of 2 years in the Philippines. I am currenntly working overseas in the past 5 years, and been going back to Philippines 3 times a year as its nearby. Will this be a concern on the above given criteria (as in Im not leaving in Philippines currently due to work) will appreciate your advice. Cheers!

    • admin

      Hi Cynthia. Unfortunately, I am not prepared to answer your question with confidence. For a more definitive answer, I think the folks over at the NZ Embassy would be the best ones to ask. From a purely personal standpoint, I’d say you may have a bit of a problem there, considering the scholarship is meant to help SEA individuals help their respective countries. And while you can definitely say that by working abroad and helping your family back here IS helping the country indirectly, I’m not sure if they’d consider that. Know as well that, assuming you get the scholarship, you’d be required to work/serve your country for 2 years after you complete your studies.

  20. cara

    Hello again! Thanks so much for your reply. Based on my research, my mom would have to apply for a visitor’s visa (good for only 3 months) if she is to come with me to New Zealand. That would require a show money of $1000/month on her part. Anyway, I’m almost done with filling up the online application form in time for submission before April 30, 2016. The scholarship is good for 2016. If I do get accepted, when will the first semester begin in New Zealand?

    • Joyce

      Hi Cara,
      I think we are on the same pace. I wonder if you were able to hear from them already.. 🙂

      -Potential batchmate

  21. Ginger

    Hi! Thanks for sharing this. I actually applied for the scholarship and realized its very hard to make the cut. I’m hoping that the scholars who will be chosen does not only have the brains but also the heart to serve the purpose of the scholarship. 🙂

  22. jaa

    Hi, I also applied for NZ Asean Scholarship. I believe major changes happened to this year’s application process. For instance, I did not seek offer letter from any University prior to submitting my application. Thankfully I received an email a week ago informing me that my application has progressed to the next stage which is a detailed assessment of my application.Do you think it is OK to follow up the status of the assessment now or is it too early?

  23. Carls

    Hi, I had received an email from the embassy that I was shortlisted for next school year. But the process was different. They said, my application has been shortlisted and moving to the next stage Of selection process which is detailed assessment. Thus, my application didn’t require me to submit an offer from desired university. was the procedure changed?

  24. Jia Gomez

    Hello there, I’m planning to apply for this scholarship. Would they consider your undergrad grades or GWA to be able to create their shortlist?

    • admin

      Terribly sorry for the super delayed reply. I’ve been remiss on my duties insofar as maintaining this blog is concerned. For whatever it’s worth, I think they take into account the entirety of your background. That means your scholastic record, your work experience, your plans, etc. You need not worry too much about one factor. If you think you are weak in one, make sure you make up for it in the others in order to give yourself a fighting chance.

  25. Geraldine

    Hi! 🙂

    May I know how to be accepted by a school in the New Zealand? Like what are the requirements?

    As you mentioned it as a first step before the actual application.

    Thank you.

    • admin

      So terribly sorry for the delayed reply. Have been too busy with work. You’d have to check with the school you intend to apply to. Each one has its own application process.

  26. Marie

    Hi, I am trying to apply this year. Were you a fresh grad when you applied for the NZAS? I am currently working, however, my bachelor’s degree and my work experience are not super related to the study program that I want to take. What I have is a goal to contribute to the country’s devt, but to effectively do that, I need to study and learn more about a specific field. I hope you can respond and share your thoughts. Thank you.

    • admin

      Hi Marie,

      No, I wasn’t. I had been working for 6 years already by the time I decided to apply. I don’t think your current background needs to be related to the program you want to pursue. I was in your exact same situation. It all boils down to you being able to express fully your plans to the Scholarship Program. If they see that you know what you want and what you’re doing, I don’t see why they won’t support you.

      Hope that helps. Best of luck!


  27. Micah

    I find your blog very helpful. Thank you for sharing your experience and answered all the questions/comments. I applied this year’s NZ ASEAN Scholarship Program and still waiting for results. I told myself that I won’t worry about the results but I can’t help it..

    All I can do right now is to pray fervently for God’s will.

    • admin

      Hi Micah. You’re welcome. I agree. It’s best not to burden yourself with what-if’s, at this point. I get that it isn’t easy. But, in my case, once I submitted my application, I knew then that there was little else for me to do. And worrying definitely shouldn’t be one of them. Good luck!

  28. Louis

    Hi! Thank you for this blog. I just want to ask if you know someone who got a scholarship in which the course was outside the priority are of the Philippines, Health for instance? Thank you very much!

  29. Celine

    Same situation with Micah, I applied this year’s NZ Scholarship Program, and I’m still waiting for the results of the initial screening. I’m slightly unsettled as the preliminary screening are still not out. Based on their selection process timeline, the result should come out around the month of April at least those who made it on their first cut. As of now, the status of my application hasn’t changed from submitted. I’m staying hopeful as submitted status is still better than decline. 🙂

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