After Abroad: ISA New Zealand Internship Alumni Interview


By Bridget Naphen, ISA Administration Assistant 

An interview with Justin Lai, a University of California, Davis alumni.  Justin interned for a sustainable development organization with ISA Internships in Wellington, New Zealand. 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a University of California, Davis, alumni with a degree in managerial economics with an emphasis on environment and agriculture. I am a huge foodie and worked in numerous restaurants throughout my academic career.  While I was a full-time student, I was the Sous Chef at Sukthohai Cuisine in Suisun City where I worked almost 8 years. I was very busy during my semesters! That’s why I decided to do a summer internship.

Justin group

How did you grow professionally during your internship? 

As a Program Development Coordinator for New Zealand’s leading organic certification agency, I oversaw the development of the Non-GMO Verification program. Over the two-month period, I conducted market research to identify potential clients, developed the Non-GMO verification process and wrote out operation procedures. I also designed the web interphase for clients as well as the internal system for staffs, working in collaboration with a team of engineers regarding the Non-GMO aspect. Four days before my internship ended, I pieced the whole picture together and presented it to the CEO, Commercial Manager, Head Accountant, and several Certification Officers.

The project management experience I received during my internship was vital to my success upon my return to the U.S. The best example of this was when the CEO of Acela Biotech, a microbial technology company in Davis, adopted a business proposal that I wrote with a team of three other members. I also contributed to several district analyses for Flip The 14, a political grassroots resistance organization in California. Since I held previous experience in project management, I was able to be more engaged, strategic and deliverable in terms of deadlines and goals.

All Blacks Game

How did you grow personally during your internship abroad? 

In New Zealand, I learned that information circulates most effectively by word of mouth rather than online media. In the U.S., most of the information can be found online but in New Zealand, people are the primary source of information. Even though I’ve done a considerable amount of research, I always ask my co-workers or local kiwis for suggestions before I finalize my plans. More often than not, they will have helpful tips or advice. For example, wear gumboots (rainboots) to a rugby game!

I also got accustomed to quick chats, not only in the workplace but everywhere in New Zealand. I’ve met locals while eating lunch, riding the elevator, traveling on an airplane, tramping (hiking) bush trail… etc. Kiwis also love asking about your weekends, especially on Mondays. It can be at work, in person, through e-mails or whatever – be prepared!


What is your favorite aspect of Kiwi culture? 

New Zealand is one of the most ecologically conscious countries according to the United Nation. For example, The Whanganui River has become the first river in the world to be granted the legal status of a person. It is amazing to see how New Zealand prioritizes Maori culture’s spirituality, tradition, and practice over profit-oriented agendas.

Do you think that you can get the same experience from an internship in the U.S? 

One may argue that an internship in the U.S may easily do the same, but I strongly disagree because the environment in New Zealand is totally different. For example, New Zealand is the top-ranked country in the ease of doing business evaluated by the World Bank. Every day around 10:30 am, my company would get together to have morning tea. It was an opportunity for us to, not only take a break from work but more importantly hear about each other’s lives outside of work. In addition, every Friday there would be a social event between colleagues where generally everyone brings food or drinks to share. These are very common social practices across New Zealand and part of the reason why Kiwis, or people of New Zealand, are so friendly and outgoing!

Learn more about doing an internship with ISA in New Zealand.

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Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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