Student Voices — Making the Most of Study Abroad in Auckland, New Zealand

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Ashley Houston
April 13, 2016

auckland, new zealand

Tiresa Po’e, a University of the Pacific alumna, was a full-year study abroad student on our Auckland Direct Enrollment Program in 2015. Of Samoan descent, and an International Studies major, the focus of Tiresa’s study and research last year was Samoan culture, an area of curricular strength at the University of Auckland. 

Tiresa definitely maximized her study abroad experience in many ways. During her time in New Zealand, Tiresa was sponsored by the University's Pacific Studies Department to travel to a forum in Fiji during her mid-semester break. She was also integral in arranging a symposium on campus, served as a guest speaker for a 200-level Pacific Studies class, and assisted a professor with research while studying abroad. Tiresa is now pursuing her M.A. at the University of Auckland and tutoring an undergraduate class, which current IES Abroad Auckland students are taking.

Tiresa made the most of her time as a study abroad student in Auckland, New Zealand, so we asked her about the experience and what advice she has for future students.

IES Abroad: Why did you decide to study abroad in Auckland, New Zealand?

Tiresa Po'e: Auckland is considered by many as the Polynesian capital of the world. The strong and vibrant Pacific identity showcased here is unparalleled to any other city in the world. In fact, Pacific peoples make up about 28% of the city’s population, and are being represented in a number of fields, including art, fashion, academia, politics, music, and the performing arts. Samoan is the second most spoken language after English, so the Pacific identity in Auckland is increasingly visible and celebrated as such. This was incredibly attractive to me as someone of Samoan descent.

study abroad in auckland

IES Abroad: What makes Auckland the best city for Pacific Studies majors to study abroad?

TP: The celebration of the Pacific Islander identity throughout the city gives you the opportunity to really engage with Pacific culture outside of the classroom. There are annual festivals such as Pasifika and Polyfest that showcase Pacific music and dance; Otara markets where you can indulge in some island food; the Fale at the University of Auckland; and even little things like Fresh TV, which is a local Pacific variety show that features Pacific icons from arts, music, and sports. Most importantly, the Pacific Studies staff at the University of Auckland specialize in a number of areas in the Pacific and their depth of knowledge and research expertise is invaluable.

IES Abroad: You were sponsored by the Pacific Studies Department at the University of Auckland to travel to a field school in Fiji during mid-semester break. Tell us about how this opportunity came about and what the experience was like.

new zealand study abroad

TP: This was one of my favorite highlights of my year abroad. Ten students were selected to participate in the Pacific Studies inaugural field school where we were exposed to different communities, such as the Namboutini and Viseisei village, and regional organizations, such as the University of the South Pacific (USP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). It was an incredible experience that allowed us to share in conversations that wouldn’t be the same had they taken place in the classroom in Auckland. We participated in traditional ceremonies and talanoa ("talk" or "discussion" in Fijian) sessions. It was an empowering experience to be reminded of the beauty of our Pacific heritage and identity as Pacific peoples.

I also found this trip especially meaningful in terms of reflecting on my own personal journey. Ten years ago, my family and I moved to Fiji, where my dad was a lecturer for four years at the Pacific Theological College (PTC) in Suva. During this recent field school trip, PTC was one of the places we visited. It was a very heartfelt experience to return to that campus at the end of my undergraduate career. I credit a lot of where I am now, and my passion for the Pacific, to that place and the time I spent growing up there with my family. I’ve come a long way since the 11-year-old girl who used to run around that campus; it was a surreal moment. Being reminded of where I started felt very reassuring in terms of the path that I am now on.

study in auckland

IES Abroad: You arranged a symposium on campus in late September and invited representatives from other South Pacific nations to come. What was the symposium on and how did it go?

TP: We called the symposium #TheDigitalPacific, and it started really organically with a simple conversation I had with my professor.

I took a mix of both undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Auckland. One of the graduate courses was my dissertation, which focused on Samoan identity and social media. My professor and I were talking about the idea of me presenting my research at a conference. And then we decided, let’s host a conference ourselves! Once we decided that we were going to put on this event, it then became a question of who we should invite. I suggested some names of people I had read and used in my previous work. These were people that I felt were doing incredible things in the area of digital technology and social media in the Pacific. He invited them, and the rest is history! It was my first time speaking at a conference of that magnitude, and it was a complete honor to be considered in that line up. It was a privilege to be involved with the event at every stage of the process and see it all come to fruition.

IES Abroad: What would you recommend to students looking to get involved in the academic community at the University of Auckland?

TP: I will always be humbled by the opportunities I received last year. For me it came down to hard work and some really big breaks. My recommendation for students would be to continue to work hard in the classroom and get to know the faculty and staff in whatever department you’re in. Get involved in student body organizations, and just have fun!

study in new zealand

IES Abroad: How has studying abroad in Auckland enabled you to understand your identity as a Samoan?

TP: I’m from Nashville, Tennessee, and the South isn't particularly known for its Pacific Islander community. I moved to California to go to college at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, but was surprised to find out there weren’t many Samoan or Pacific Islander students there either. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Auckland, a city where the Pacific identity is both recognized and celebrated, that I was able to embrace my Samoan identity not only at home, but in the classroom and wherever I find myself. These experiences of living in diverse places, each with their own distinct culture, has shown me the beauty of my own Samoan identity. There’s a sense of newfound confidence that stems from learning who I am through my Samoan culture, and for that I am forever grateful.

IES Abroad: How did IES Abroad staff in New Zealand support you in making the most out of your study abroad experience?

TP: When you study abroad you’re away from your home and community and it can be a difficult transition at times. But, it’s so comforting to have people like Andrew Barron, the IES Abroad Center Director in Auckland, who can help you with anything and everything that may arise during your time abroad. On top of that, Andrew and the IES Abroad Auckland staff organize trips and social events throughout the semester and keep us in the loop on other exciting opportunities going on in the area. Andrew goes above and beyond for all of the students that come through the IES Abroad program in Auckland. And for me, he’s been an integral part of my support team out here with his positivity, encouragement, and unwavering support.

study abroad new zealand

IES Abroad: You are currently pursuing your M.A. and assisting a professor with research at the University of Auckland. Tell us about this.

TP: Just before returning back to the United States, I applied for the Marsden Grant Masters Scholarship in Samoan History, which is a full scholarship for masters students who wish to write their thesis relating to the study of social, cultural, technological, or environmental dimensions of Samoan History. Being a first-generation American, I’ve always had an interest in my Samoan identity, and, as a millennial, I’ve grown up in this social media era.

I knew I wanted to build on my dissertation research from my undergraduate studies and continue this topic for my graduate thesis. I put forward a research proposal for the project, and I was awarded the scholarship! It’s been an exciting journey and something I’m completely passionate about. I am working toward completing my program by November 2016, and I am currently teaching three tutorial classes a week as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Pacific 100: Introduction to Pacific Studies, a freshman-level class. It’s been a collective journey in terms of the strength, love, and support I’ve felt from my family and friends around the world.

Now it’s your turn to make the most out of study abroad—apply now to study in Auckland, New Zealand!

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Ashley Houston

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