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Each year International Student Support hosts the International Student Graduation Function for graduating students as a way to celebrate their achievements. University communications advisor Koren Allpress spoke with Obreniokibo Amiesimaka and Emily Fruean about their time in Aotearoa and studying at Otago.

It may not have been completely smoothly sailing for Obreniokibo Ibifubara Amiesimaka, but his postgraduate journey at Otago concluded on Rahoroi Saturday when he graduated with his PhD from the Department of Medicine.

Obreniokibo had planned on arriving in Aotearoa New Zealand at the beginning of 2020 to start his PhD, however all that changed when the country closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was an “unsettling turn of events”, he says.

After about 10 months of studying remotely, it was Christmas Eve. He and his sister were working collaboratively to book him one of the “extremely scarce” MIQ spaces, something they secured by 10.10am on Christmas Day.

Just 90 minutes later he was on his way to the airport to make his 2.30pm flight from Munich, Germany to Ōtepoti Dunedin.

“That was a heart pumping experience, but after arriving in my MIQ hotel room in Auckland, two days later, I was able to catch my breath.”

Being able to enter the country as part of the first cohort of international students to return to New Zealand shores was “opportune” because by this point, he had exhausted the amount of research he could do remotely, he says.

“I shudder to think that I might have had to pause my PhD.”

Undeterred by the unusual circumstances within which he began his PhD in Health Sciences focussing on Public Health (Policy), Obreniokibo says his time in “beautiful Ōtepoti” has been one of calm constancy, high productivity and personal achievement.

“I was even able to submit my thesis with one day to spare before the deadline.”

He has formed enduring relationships with many people at the Department of Medicine, the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, across the University and at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Since submitting his thesis on medication adherence in inflammatory bowel disease patients in March, he has worked as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine.

He will be joined this weekend by whānau he has gained during his time in Ōtepoti at both the convocation ceremony and a subsequent celebratory gathering.

“What I feel is relief and fulfilment. I came here to secure a doctorate degree within three years, and I was able to achieve it despite the bumpy start.

“It is a great relief to be able to put this, rewarding but nonetheless taxing, phase of my life behind me and move ahead.”

With his new qualification, Obreniokibo has now taken up a research role at Otago’s NZ Pharmacovigilance Centre.

He is grateful for the support he received throughout his remote study, and beyond, from his supervisors Professor Michael Schultz, Professor Rhiannon Braund and Kristina Aluzaite, the Graduate Research School and the International Office.

“My time here has brought me great joy, fond memories, lasting – professional and personal – relationships, fulfilment and achievement. For these I am beyond grateful.”

Obreniokibo was joined by more than 30 other international students at the University’s International Student Graduation function on Rāpare Thursday.

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