Published Dec 9, 2019

Viclink’s recent signing of another three-year contract with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)—to provide English Language Training for Officials (NZELTO) from Southeast Asia, Mongolia and Africa—marks nearly thirty years of Victoria University of Wellington delivering that training. So we thought it was a good time to look back on how it all began, and reflect on what’s changed.

MFAT says that NZELTO began as a response to the changing world situation in the 1990s, with more countries keen to make English the common language of diplomacy and trade. New Zealand, as a small, independent-minded regional nation, was well placed to offer this type of training and support in South East Asia, and later in Africa.  MFAT designed the programme’s structure, and worked closely with Victoria University of Wellington’s researchers to develop the teaching aspects.

In terms of what’s changed during that time, who better to ask than the person who has been there (almost) from the beginning: Dr Carol Legge, a Language Support Tutor from the University’s English Language Institute (ELI). Carol (pictured, far left) first started working for the NZELTO Asia programme during Intake 2—they’re now up to Intake 52—and has been helping participants with one-on-one language support ever since. 

Viclink: What changes have you seen?

Carol: There have been so many—I think if I had to choose just one word to describe the programme, it would be ‘evolving’. It started out so modestly in the beginning, with just one country (Vietnam), five participants and a tight budget that meant the students simply took part in the University’s standard English Proficiency Programme along with everyone else. 

Today, MFAT’s NZELTO Asia is a complex, sophisticated programme that involves seven countries* and 160 students over three intakes each year. One of the biggest changes has been the introduction of special topics or ‘themes’—such as agriculture and trade, renewable energy and education—that we tailor the English language training around, creating specific texts for each. 

The ages and the seniority of the participants has also changed significantly. Early programmes were targeted at very senior diplomats—Ambassadors and the like—in their fifties and from the major cities. But today’s participants are much younger, and come from a wide variety of ministries from many different parts of their countries.

As the generations have changed, we’ve also seen changes in the shared values of the participants with New Zealand, and between themselves.  It has been fascinating to observe these changes in countries once torn by strife, as new perspectives take hold to address an entirely new set of challenges. 

Pastoral care is another area of major change. In the beginning, participants were hosted at what was the Central Institute of Technology in Heretaunga, but today they each share an apartment in town with a participant from another country to build and develop inter-country relationships. 

Participants travel more now as well. While we (ELI) continue to provide the bulk of the English language training, the first part of the programme is carried out by our regional partners in Nelson (Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology) and Napier (Eastern Institute of Technology) where participants experience a home-stay for seven weeks. They also visit workplaces and other organisations in and out of Wellington relating to their ‘theme’.

Technology has also obviously played a part in change.Our first groups didn’t have phones or computers; sometimes they did not even have a phone at home, so they had to write letters (which took two weeks to get there), but it did mean they could focus on learning and not on what’s happening at home! Of course today, they can use technology to see and talk to their families every day. 

Viclink: What have you gained from working on the NZELTO programme?

Carol: I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. It’s been so rewarding, satisfying and worthwhile to be part of such an amazing education programme that sees most of our participants get promoted as soon as they get home, often to overseas postings. Others return to do Masters or PhD programmes at the University, but they all become friends of, and unofficial ambassadors for, New Zealand, creating a large network of high-ranking government contacts. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to Amanda Ellis from MFAT who saw the potential in me at the start and invited me to become part of the team.


Carol holds undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and French, and a PhD in French, from Victoria University of Wellington. Highly regarded in Vietnam, she has travelled there three times at the invitation of the Vietnamese government, met the country’s President in Wellington and been reunited on personal travels with past Vietnamese participants in Brussels and London where they held postings. Currently working part-time, Carol is retiring at the end of 2019. Viclink would like to thank Carol for her amazing contribution and commitment to delivering the ELTO programme over the last 27 years, and wish her the very best for retirement.