Jake Alabaster – International student

By Hayley White Reading time: 8 minutes Jake Alabaster came to New Zealand a year ago looking for new scenery. Originally from the Gold Coast in Australia, he enrolled at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts (NASDA) in Christchurch as an international student to study a Bachelor of Performing Arts, which came highly recommended from a colleague. “I had applied for a few schools in Australia, like some quite close to home, one in Munich, Germany and then one here,” he says, and adds: “I had been in the Gold Coast all my life, so I kinda needed a fresh start, completely new faces and all that.” Jake tells me he has always been an actor, gaining his performing experience at Warner Bros. Movie World, before coming to New Zealand to study musical theatre. “Prior to my audition, I had never sung or danced before. I was purely an actor,” he laughs.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 8 minutes

Jake Alabaster came to New Zealand a year ago looking for new scenery. Originally from the Gold Coast in Australia, he enrolled at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Arts (NASDA) in Christchurch as an international student to study a Bachelor of Performing Arts, which came highly recommended from a colleague.

“I had applied for a few schools in Australia, like some quite close to home, one in Munich, Germany and then one here,” he says, and adds: “I had been in the Gold Coast all my life, so I kinda needed a fresh start, completely new faces and all that.”

Jake tells me he has always been an actor, gaining his performing experience at Warner Bros. Movie World, before coming to New Zealand to study musical theatre. “Prior to my audition, I had never sung or danced before. I was purely an actor,” he laughs.

He always had the intention of becoming a theme park performer working in theme parks worldwide – noting the irony in coming to a country that has no theme parks – but says learning with NASDA is making those dreams come true.

He explains: “That’s what I want to continue doing overseas, in all these countries – Asia or the UAE – performing in those world-class theme parks over there. Singing and dancing and playing all kinds of characters in shows.”

But for now, he says he can easily forget that he is in a different country to home because of the similarities between the two nations: driving on the same roads and having the same shops. Even so, having moved to a new country and adjusted to a new environment he was surprised as the culture between Australia and New Zealand is also ‘so different’.

“The big welcome where we watched a haka and we rubbed noses, is it the hongi? Where you rub noses and share breath with all the senior students of NASDA and all the teachers and tutors. It was just such an overwhelming experience because Australia doesn’t have the best record culturally. Just to be in a country that was so proud of the heritage of the land and the culture was kind of a bit – it was really cool, but it was also a bit tough,” he says.

“The only reason I know about anything to do with indigenous Australian culture is purely because of tourism. They’ll have an aboriginal dance show at one of the theme parks or there’s a tour guide who will give you a bit of information. But that’s the only reason; international tourists want to be immersed in the culture. Domestically that’s not something that’s really ever brought up, which is such a shame.”

A big difference he noticed between Australia and New Zealand was signage. In New Zealand, it’s typical to come across a sign that has both English and Māori, but in Australia it’s common for signage to have English and Chinese because of Australia’s focus on the tourism industry.

Although Jake can see the similarities between the two countries, he still can’t pretend he’s in Australia, ‘because it’s nothing like anything back home,’ and can feel totally out of place because “pretty much all my classmates learned the New Zealand anthem and the Te Reo version in primary school,” he says. “They’ve got a better understanding of the language, you know? Me trying to learn a new language and learning all these things while pretending like I’m not homesick is all quite overwhelming.”

Unfortunately, Jake’s homesickness was made worse when COVID hit, and he couldn’t visit his family and friends back home. He had planned to go back to the Gold Coast every two months for visits, but with the border lockdowns and quarantine costing $3000 to get back into New Zealand, it was almost impossible.

“I understand all the points of keeping the New Zealand borders closed and I think it’s a great idea because, especially in the South Island, where there’s such a lack of cases, it’s for the wellbeing of the country. It’s just the unknowns of not knowing: ‘Oh yup, I’ll be able to go home for Christmas this year’, or ‘No, it’ll be two years before I can see my family again’.”

Despite not being able to go home over the holidays, he says that this has been quite beneficial. Not only did he get to experience a ‘slightly different-culture’ Christmas, but he also got to travel and see the South Island. “I saw more of the New Zealand culture and scenery and it was just really cool because if I had just come here to study and gone back each holiday, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience that,” he says.

Jake at Castle Hill with friends

“Until the end of last year I had never left the city, so my New Zealand geography was very limited. It was cool to actually visit those places and kind of work out that to get to one side of New Zealand to the other it doesn’t take that long.’ You just realise the size of the country.”

With the stress of his flat lease nearly running out close to Christmas, he says that the invite to spend Christmas with his friend’s family here in New Zealand over the summer was very lucky and without it, he wouldn’t have been able to make great contacts with people in his industry.

Jake’s biggest learning experience so far was accepting that a lot of things don’t really matter and, in the big scheme of things, stressing over things out of your control is unnecessary. “I’ve just learnt that there’s nothing I can do to get to my family quicker or anytime soon, you know?” he says.

“New Zealand is just so lucky, especially over COVID and how they handled it. Because of that, I was never afraid of the virus, I guess. I’m so glad I picked New Zealand to study and didn’t go home over the level 4 lockdown. It all turned out for the best – not only for my career, but for my mental health, and getting involved in a new culture and everything. I wouldn’t have learned all this if I had just stayed in Australia.”

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