International Student chooses New Zealand to Study Herbal Medicine & Holistic Health
International Student John Tang joined Wellpark College of Natural Therapies in 2019 in pursuit of knowledge. John had turned to natural therapies in Singapore to help manage an arthritic autoimmune disease and soon developed a keen interest in herbal medicine and a holistic approach to managing his health. On a quest to learn as much as he could John started researching post-graduate degrees in Naturopathy and found Wellpark College in New Zealand. John enrolled as an International Student and graduated 3 years later with a Bachelor of Naturopathic and Herbal Medicine and the Academic Excellence Award.
John is now back and practising in Singapore, John took time to talk to us about his year’s studying in New Zealand and why working in Allied Health and helping people to achieve well-being is a lifelong calling.
John, you were a keen athlete at school, however, a bout of ill health saw your interest in sports change to an interest in Health and Wellbeing as you investigated options to help you tackle an autoimmune disorder, can you tell us about the period of your life?
I was in the national sprint kayaking team and aiming to represent Singapore but I was forced to retire due to sports injuries that didn’t heal. The joint pains kept getting worse and they included my ankles, hips, shoulder, elbow and back. Eventually, it got so bad that I could not walk for weeks and couldn’t sleep as every sleeping position hurt. After six months I was finally diagnosed with an arthritic autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis.
I was put on powerful immunosuppressants that worked very well for suppressing my overactive immune system and corticosteroids for suppressing the inflammation. These were like miracle drugs as all my pain went away. However, after taking these for 3 years, I became worried about the potential side effects of taking these long-term. Every time I tried to wean them off, my disease would come back. I realized it wasn’t treating the root cause, just the symptoms.
Soon I began experiencing side effects that troubled me. I was determined not to continue taking these medications for the rest of my life. So I began dedicating my free time to researching and experimenting with natural therapies such as dietary changes and supplements. That was what perked my interest in natural therapies for health and wellbeing.
What made you decide to leave Singapore and study Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine in New Zealand at Wellpark College of Natural Therapies?
I made some progress but I was not able to go off medications 100%. Eventually, I found out about a post-grad degree in Naturopathy in the US and set my mind to pursue that after my current undergrad studies in Singapore. I had to do some job-shadowing to get that degree and so found a Naturopath in Singapore to shadow after graduation.
At the same time, I decided to try his protocol to see if he could heal me. For 3 years I suffered but under his guidance, I got better in 3 months! This time I was completely off all medications. His protocol was very holistic and consisted of a combination of herbs and nutraceuticals as well as lifestyle and even spiritual advice (we were both Catholics).
I eventually decided to switch to study Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine at Wellpark College of Natural Therapies after considering the costs between a post-grad in the US and another undergrad degree in NZ. 1 year of the US one was the cost of the entire 3 years in NZ! I also had a good impression of Wellpark after reading about it on the world naturopathic federation (WNF) website.
There is always a big adjustment for International Students when they start studying in another country, can you tell us what you loved about your time in New Zealand and what you missed most from home in Singapore?
I loved the pristine nature and fresh air! The beaches and farmer’s markets and fresh produce. I loved how everyone was so friendly and warm and always asking “how are you?”
I guess after a few months I began to get homesick and missed my family most of all. It helped that I began video-calling them during dinner time to catch up.
Do you have any advice for International Students thinking of following in your footsteps and travelling overseas to study?
You must really know that this is what you want before committing to a 3-year course overseas. For me, this is a calling and the studies were just a step in fulfilling my purpose to help others who are suffering like I was.
The 3 years will pass like a blink of an eye due to how busy you will be with all the assignments and your studies!
It helped that I could fly back every Dec to celebrate Xmas and the Lunar New Year with my family.
Also, I made lots of friends from my classmates to the parishioners at the churches that I attended to flatmates and colleagues at my part-time job working at a health supplement store (Health 2000). They were very dear and welcoming to me and definitely made my stay in NZ more enjoyable. I miss many of them and hope to catch up with them in person someday.
You were an A-grade student at Wellpark College and even graduated with the Academic Excellence Award. The Bachelor of Naturopathic and Herbal Medicine takes a lot of work. What did you enjoy most about the degree programme and what subjects did you find challenging?
I enjoyed going very deep into learning herbal medicine.
I think the most challenging one was the last year when we put all we learned into practice seeing real clients.
How would you describe Wellpark College to other international students looking to study in New Zealand?
Great 🙂 The staff are very supportive. I loved the natural ambience surrounding the college too – it is located at a yoga retreat centre.
You returned home to Singapore in 2019 and started an apprenticeship with acclaimed Phytotherapist Sebastien Liew, can you tell us why you made this decision and why ongoing education and personal development are important to you?
I did not feel ready to start my own practice and I thought it was worth learning from someone who has more than 20 years of experience ahead of me in this field.
I have not regretted this decision and am very glad that I have a mentor willing to share his knowledge and experience. There is so much to learn, I don’t think learning can ever stop. Even to this day my mentor and I continue reading and re-reading the same notes and books on the same herbs that we’ve read dozens of times. Each time you get new insight.
Another aspect of it is practice. We learn so much from our clients and the feedback they give us when they take our herbs or follow our protocols / lifestyle advice. Often I see my mentor taking the same herbs or supplements he prescribes to his clients just to get to know the effects better on a personal level.
I guess it boiled down to the growth mindset. On my way home I continue learning about other topics such as financial management through YouTube videos, etc.
Your Mission Statement is, “To help those suffering unnecessarily Heal and Teach others to live a Healthy and Fulfilling life so we can all make this world a better place”How well received is Holistic Health in Singapore? Are you finding that you can follow through on your mission statement and use your qualifications to help others find better health and wellbeing?
It really depends on the individual and whether they are aware of or are open to ‘alternative medicine’. Many people in Singapore are too used to conventional medicine and have reserves or doubts. While others like the older generation who grew up using Traditional Chinese Medicine have a better understanding of Holistic Health and herbs. Still, the holistic aspect always requires much education especially when it comes to things like connecting to Nature (in such a built-up and fast-paced city life) or treating Food as Medicine rather than indulgence (we have so much sinfully delicious food here haha)
My mission and purpose are the motivation for what I’m doing and give my work meaning. I especially find it fulfilling when I see the reaction of my clients when they realize they are better.
What is the one message about preventative Medicine that you would like to get across to people? What would you recommend people do/change to ensure good health and wellbeing?
The one message about preventative medicine I would like to get across to people would be “Take care of your body before it’s too late. Because it’s the only one you’ve got.”
I would recommend people to try to reflect on how busy they are being busy and try to prioritize time for self-care and learn to set boundaries for themselves.
I’m sure most people want to be fit and healthy and live long enough to see their grandchildren grow up. And most people would rather spend their hard-earned savings on things like retiring comfortably and travelling the world rather than hospital and medical bills.
Therefore, it’s worth investing in preventative medicine such as regular herbal supplementation like our Holistic Vitality Program
You have dedicated much of your Twenties to study and education, what are your goals for your Thirties?
Good question 😅
I guess getting lots of clinical practice and hopefully growing our business to reach more people both in Singapore and internationally starting with regional countries. Increasing awareness and education about holistic health and phytotherapy.
Maybe having a family of my own but all in God’s time
- Favourite Quote– “Be a blessing to others”. I recently learnt this from an old friend I reconnected with whose life is a true reflection of this quote.
- Favourite Herb – a wise herbalist used to say “you should never have favourites!” because it might cloud your judgement of what is most appropriate for the individual at that moment. I try to be unbiased but if you told me to pick one, it would be Rose. Many herbalists these days have forgotten about rose but I have seen some miraculous healing (especially of the heart/emotions/past trauma) from even 1 drop of Rose tincture in water. This whole dimension of spiritual/emotional/psychological/energetics of herbal medicine is something my mentor and I have been so fascinated with and there just isn’t enough books or clinical research on this!
- Favourite Book– hard to pick one … I love and always recommend Sebastian’s first book “Leaf to Life” to every new client. There is just so much about holistic health that we want to teach but cannot cover even if you came for a 10 hour consultation! So I tell them “just read the first chapter and you’ll get what I mean” 😂
- Favourite Healthy Snack– I’m sorry I’m one of those boring guys that don’t snack much! I do drink herbal teas all day and currently am loving this Pu’erh + Rosemary + Nettle blend.
- Favourite Place in New Zealand– Long Bay Beach because it was just a 5 min drive from where I stayed. I enjoyed the magnificent sunrises and sprinting down the straight beach as hard and as far as I could, barefoot of course!
Interview with John Tang by Nikki Morgan
Find out more about Wellpark College’s Bachelor of Naturopathic and Herbal Medicine
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