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Otago's most talented young people are having a ball, mostly in places other than Dunedin. They might return eventually but only if there are suitable jobs.
In 2003, 57 high school pupils received Otago Daily Times Class Act awards. Seven years on, we asked them to comment on the Dunedin City Council campaign to lure former Otago pupils and students home.
The council is building online databases, which alumni groups will use to organise reunions and other events in the hope of encouraging ex-pupils living abroad to become involved in the region again.
Of the 57 young people recognised for excellence, fewer than half are still in the Otago-Southland region.
Twelve are overseas and more than 20 others plan to join them in the next few years.
University research opportunities and the presence of family would be inducements for some to return but the small job market would be a significant barrier.
Ed Heydon, who studied medicine in England and is now a house officer there, says while Dunedin has much to offer certain groups, such as students and families, there is a lack of incentive for young professionals to stay.
Tiam Maghsodi, who manages a large cosmetics counter in London, says Dunedin is a fantastic place in which to grow up but there needs to be a "huge change" in the infrastructure, including public transport.
Others such as Jamie Kearney say they will probably return to New Zealand in several years' time but there is no incentive to do so at the moment because they want to experience what is on offer overseas. Jamie has worked on yachts in the south of France and is now with a banking group in England.
When asked what could be done to encourage former students to return, some suggested pay increases and cheaper flights from Dunedin to other main centres. One advocated "getting rid of the terrible mayor and having a democratic city council", while another said the climate would have to improve.
Rosslyn Knox, who works for a natural health product manufacturer in Te Puke, adds people like her would return sooner if there was more confidence that Dunedin businesses would remain and develop, but a smaller, more isolated city may be hardest-hit by restructuring.
Everyone wants to be involved with a success story, she adds, "so stories of successful Dunedin businesses would attract more people back to the area".
Seven years after it was touted as the cream of the crop, the class of 2003 is a success story in its own right. Among those achieving in a wide range of areas are commercial pilot Nick Hoffman, composer Andrew Baldwin, Tim Muller, who is doing volunteer work in India, and Tania Ashby, who is a professional dancer in Mexico.
Closer to home, Jenna Mitchell owns a Subway restaurant and Mario Leoni, one of five teachers in the cohort, juggles classroom duties with nights as a DJ.
However, the biggest single vocational group is doctors, six of whom now work in hospitals in New Zealand and England.
Many have double degrees and 10 are still studying. They include Brendan Connor, who is midway through a master's degree in European politics at Oxford University, and Logan Penniket, who studied at the Warsaw School of Economics and is about to start his master's in politics, economics and philosophy at the University of Hamburg.
Three are married, 21 others told us they are living with partners, but only three have children.
Six have bought houses but few have paid off their student loans.
So are the former Class Act recipients, now in their mid-20s, doing what they imagined? "Yes," says Nick Hoffman, a first officer with Air NZ Link subsidiary Eagle Airways.
"I've always wanted to be a pilot since I was very young so I'm living my life's dream."
But, asked the same question, Tim Muller responds that he doesn't think his imagination was "ever this interesting".
Architectural graduate Nathan Corbett jokes he wanted to be a Tall Black but "stopped growing" at 1.75m so went to university.
Kelly Hoskin, who is teaching English in China, planned to be away only 12 months but two years later, has "the travel bug and might not be back for a while".
Scott Vollweiler hopes to work in international development but sees his present job guiding tourists on Fox Glacier as a nice break before he enters "real life".
Many say the highlights for them since school have been their time at university, their graduations, finding jobs they enjoy, making new friends and seeing the world. For commerce student Rachel Grout it was giving her "life to Christ" after her dream of being a pilot fell through and she turned to alcohol to cope.
When asked about the biggest challenge of the past seven years, lawyer Rachel Byrne said it was getting through her final exams at the same time her partner left for a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
For doctor Ingrid Crawford, the low point was the death of her father in a rock-climbing accident in Mid-Canterbury in 2004.
Nathan Corbett has enjoyed living in Melbourne and Wellington but adjusting to life on his own has been a challenge.
"When you're not under the same roof you grew up [under] and don't have high school teachers running around after you to get things done ... the big bad world can be daunting and harsh," he says.
"You've got to get up off your backside and start holding yourself accountable for your future."
Kelly Hoskin was disappointed to realise how little a bachelor's degree is worth "once you are out in the big wide world", while Tiam Maghsodi misses her family and says "Dunedin is so many airports away from anywhere else".
For some, it has been a struggle to find work in tough economic times. Melissa Broughton and her husband survived on a limited income for several months after they moved to a farm near Gore and she was unable to find a job in banking, her usual line of work.
But she points out that her Gore High School motto was Palma Non Sine Pulvere "or the Southland equivalent, ''no spuds without digging" and hardship is not such a bad thing.
"If you know what it is to sacrifice, you'll learn what it is to appreciate."
Brendan Connor says the recession has made him more conscious of the fact that employers will not necessarily be falling over themselves to give him a "cruisy, high-paying job".
The reduced number of jobs available reinforced Logan Penniket's desire to continue studying, and fellow student Scott Campbell does not see the future being as secure as he once thought.
However, Rachel Grout says she gets her satisfaction from things other than money, and more affordable mortgage interest rates made it easier for Rachel Byrne to buy her first home.
For the first time we asked if environmental concerns affect how the group lives.
The response of solicitor Sheena Kirkland was typical of many - small things such as recycling and composting are slowly becoming second nature.
Scott Campbell has changed his diet, pays attention to how consumer goods are produced and packaged, and last year found himself before the Dunedin City Council making a sustainability-related submission - something he never envisaged himself doing.
Tim Muller avoids buying from or applying for jobs at firms that he has reason to believe are environmentally irresponsible, while living in Germany has shown Logan Penniket how far New Zealand has to go iareas such as recycling and public transport.
Nick Hoffman is concerned that power companies "want to dam every single free-flowing river we have left".
Asked about the other pressing issues facing his generation, farmer Sean Wilkins lists "terrorists, boy racers and manicured professional sportspeople".
Today's businesspeople have to work smarter, otherwise they are at risk of "just working week to week, living hand to mouth", he adds. Studying for five years, travelling overseas and gaining experience in their field means many will be "on the wrong side of 30 before getting their heads above water".
Others cite war, poverty, student debt, a lack of employment for graduates and the healthcare of an ageing population riddled with lifestyle diseases as concerns.
Doctor Victoria Taylor says the most important issues include keeping up with a rapid pace of change while still maintaining structure and direction, tackling ethical issues that new technology such as cloning introduces and staying connected in a community "despite the community format being more fragmented".
Pharmacist Joshua Freeman wonders if he and his peers will be able to buy their own homes as well as save for their retirement "because, let's face it, the pension will be well dead and buried by the time I reach 65".
Herman Visagie, who has law and commerce degrees as well as a diploma in Chinese language, says a key challenge for this "particularly privileged" generation is finding what they want to do.
Most have had comfortable upbringings and expect to have job satisfaction, success, flawless relationships and perfect lives: "What we are realising now is that life is not this easy and these dreams require work."
Others comment on how busy their lives are and how the number of choices available to them is almost overwhelming.
Tiam Magshodi claims one of the attributes of her age group is the ability to set and adjust short-term goals to help achieve long-term objectives. She is happy to take on new challenges as they arise because she does not want to look back at those opportunities and think, "What if?". But she is in no doubt that time is the biggest issue.
"There is so much I want to do, so much I want to see and even more that I want to achieve. And even though I'm only 24, I don't know how and when I'll squeeze it all in."
Dancing beside the sea in Mexico
"I'm living my dream," Tania Ashby says in an email sent from a mall near her posh Mexican hotel.
"Sometimes it's really hard to be on the other side of the world away from family and friends but, for now, this is where I want to be and I am so happy."
Ashby has spent nearly three years working as a dancer and choreographer in Mexico's most popular tourist destinations. Employed by an international hotel chain, she rehearses with her dance team during the day and performs in shows at night.
Right now, she is based at Los Cabos on the Baja California peninsula, known for its white sandy beaches, deep-sea fishing, snorkelling and golf courses.
The former Waitaki Girls High School pupil moved to Mexico after completing a BA in performing arts and a graduate diploma of teaching in Dunedin.
Two weeks after registering on the talent website StarNow.com, she was contacted by a Canadian company that employs foreigners on dance contracts in Mexico. Forty hours later, she arrived in the country unable to speak a word of Spanish.
Looking at photos of the hotel in which she lives for free explains why the former Class Act recipient is in no hurry to return home.
The new beachfront resort has 547 suites, including 24 swim-up suites; seven themed restaurants, several pools, a world-class spa and a 526-seat theatre where her dance team performs six nights a week for mainly foreign audiences.
The performances encompass many styles of dance, with themes ranging from Broadway to '70s and '80s music and a Latin fire show.
Ashby says the most difficult to learn was Mexican folklore dance, which she describes as a combination of tap and Irish but "oozing with Mexican culture".
The 24-year-old loves Dunedin but says nowhere in New Zealand could offer her the same opportunity to dance in nightly shows, live in hotel accommodation and receive an income.
"As far as my other career teaching goes, there is an incentive for me to return [to New Zealand] and teach in secondary [schools] because I know the place well and it feels like home. But, for now, I am happy ... in this exotic paradise."
Ashby has no plans for the future, saying it depends on what contracts she is offered.
"I would love to make it to the stage in New York or London."
Something else to sell
At 13, Sonali was stolen from her Indian village and sold into prostitution.
Bashanti was sold into the sex trade by her mother so that the rest of her poverty-stricken family could eat.
Although names have been changed, the stories are familiar to former Class Act award recipient Tim Muller. For the past year he has been in Kolkata, India, working on a voluntary basis for Freeset, an organisation that offers freedom to women in forced prostitution.
Many of the women are trafficked, kidnapped or sold into the trade, while others are driven into it by poverty, Muller says.
Established by a New Zealand couple, Freeset produces fair trade T-shirts and bags, mostly for the international event and conference market.
"We train and employ the women to make these products, giving our 160 (and counting) employees a genuine economic alternative to the sex trade."
The 24-year-old manages the screenprinting department, where 20 women print about 1000 T-shirts and jute bags daily.
"It's been a steep learning curve as I didn't know anything much about screenprinting before I came," he says. "But it's been good fun and it's an awesome privilege to work with such an amazing bunch of women."
A former Cromwell College pupil with science and history degrees from the University of Otago, Muller says he and wife Sarah will return to New Zealand when their visas expire next month.
Volunteering has taught him many things, he adds.
But probably the most challenging is how to help people in a way that's not selfishness in disguise and [that] treats the recipient as an equal.
A healthy appreciation for others' needs
Working in a public hospital high in the Andes showed Ingrid Crawford how well-provided-for New Zealanders are.
Travelling to Peru during her final-year medical elective last year meant tackling altitude, a new language, a different hospital culture and scarce resources, the 24-year-old says.
Medication and food had to be paid for by each patient's family, the infectious disease ward had cold running water not fit for drinking and there were no gloves for medical staff.
Crawford took medical equipment bought by the Medical Aid Abroad Programme, with which she has been involved, and says it was humbling to see how grateful the hospital was for the donation.
However, the trip was also exciting and colourful, with festivals, a trip to the jungle and a trek through mountain villages to the famous Inca site, Machu Picchu.
A former Queen's High School pupil, Crawford moved to Christchurch almost four years ago for the clinical part of her medical training and has stayed on to work at Christchurch Hospital this year.
The junior doctor had no idea what she would end up doing when given an Otago Daily Times Class Act award seven years ago but says now she cannot imagine herself doing anything else.
"Being a doctor can have its moments but despite the challenges, it's immensely rewarding and a real privilege to be involved in the lives of the patients I care for."
"And the exciting thing is that I have no idea what I'll be doing in another seven years. Medicine is such a varied and growing field and I'm not sure exactly where to next."