05 October 2023

April Kwak’s career – much like her life – has a very international focus.

Born in South Korea, April speaks three languages, has been abroad on language exchanges, studied overseas, visited more than 20 countries, completed international internships, plus her current role is about connecting Aotearoa New Zealand with the rest of the world.

“It all started when I came to New Zealand, which is much more diverse than South Korea,” she says.

“I really enjoyed learning about the different cultures in New Zealand and the similarities in them, as well as about New Zealand’s bicultural heritage.”

April is a Foreign Policy Officer at Manatū Aorere | Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Her work includes providing research, policy advice and support to the Government on a wide-range of foreign policy issues affecting New Zealand and the world.

She describes her role as representing New Zealand’s interests with international partners, and building meaningful connections with the rest of the world to build a safer, more prosperous and more sustainable future for all New Zealanders.

Before joining MFAT, April worked as a Policy Analyst at Te Mana Ārai o Aotearoa | New Zealand Customs Service. Her time there corresponded with New Zealand’s hosting of APEC in 2021, which was held virtually.  

As part of that, April led a project on developing best-practice guidelines for facilitating the processing of COVID-19 vaccines for APEC economies. It was a big, ambitious piece of work with multiple stakeholders and partners, and aimed at making it easier and faster to get the vaccines and other essential goods through borders.

“I didn’t really realise the practical impact of this project until we got it across the line. The guidelines were mentioned by APEC Trade Ministers, who encouraged the implementation of the guidelines in their respective economies. 

It’s amazing to think it could have helped many people, including me, my parents, and even my grandmother in Korea, receive their COVID-19 vaccines in a timely, safe, and efficient manner.

In 2021, April was named joint Young Leader of the Year at the Spirit of Service Awards, which recognise public servants and initiatives that exemplify the spirit of service and demonstrate an outstanding commitment to New Zealand.

In her citation she was praised for being “a strong example for young people in public service and for her commitment, her drive to bring forward new ideas, and not being afraid to challenge the status quo”.

While April has clearly achieved a lot, it has also been a challenging journey at times. April came to New Zealand when she was 12 and didn’t speak any English. She says that the move was a difficult adjustment. 

“My parents wanted to provide a better environment for me and my brother, so they gave up their stable jobs and family and friends in Korea to come here. They worked really hard and sacrificed a lot.

“I’ll never know but my life would look very different to now if I hadn’t moved to New Zealand. I had so many opportunities here, which enabled me to do language exchanges in France and China, and an internship at the United Nations in New York. I didn’t take those opportunities for granted.” 

April says at times she pushed herself too much.  

“As a 1.5-generation migrant, I had set myself a lot of expectations and by constantly challenging myself I was adding a huge amount of pressure. Since then I have learnt to prioritise my mental health and well-being, and to look out for others’ too.”

She likes to help other people, especially ethnic young adults who may be going through similar life experiences, by providing advice and support. She also gives back to her community by volunteering at the Wellington Community Law Centre, and gets involved in Public Service ethnic networks.

She says the percentage of ethnically diverse public servants in New Zealand is promising, but points to the ethnic pay gaps that exist. The Asian pay gap in the Public Service was 12.4% in 2022, and the Māori and Pacific pay gaps 6.5% and 17.7% respectively.  

She says diversity of background produces diversity of thought, which comes with many proven benefits.

"There is more work to do, especially in increasing the number of different ethnicities in roles with greater influence, such as in senior leadership.”