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The Hurunui district is developing innovative ways to engage with international students.

Through its sister district relationship with Changping district, Beijing, in China, the Hurunui District Council is promoting the district as a place to visit for Chinese families.

While Waimakariri district schools have tapped into the growing international student market, the 13 Hurunui district schools’ relative isolation means they do not hold the same attraction for student exchanges.

However, since the November 2016 earthquake the website www.changping-hurunui-youth.com has been developed, thanks to funding from a Chinese association, as a way to promote tourism and business opportunities between the two districts and develop youth initiatives.

Michelle MacWilliam, who has been working with the council in its sister city relationship work, says the new initiative is a totally different concept to the usual student exchange programmes.

“This initiative encourages people to come here and it’s positive.”

Chinese students can learn about the Hurunui district via the website before they come and then a tour can be packaged for them, Michelle says.

“Their parents can come with them and experience the district.

“Instead of staying with homestay families, they can choose their accommodation and enjoy what our district has to offer.

“And for Maori culture, we can tap into people with the knowledge, so it’s actually a true iwi experience.”

Some of the more than 100 schools in the Changping district have also been paired with Hurunui district schools and 37 students were selected to become penpals with students at Waiau School, being the community closest to the earthquake epicentre.