“Studying in Auckland provided a gateway to a country and a culture.” – UEA Natural Sciences student, Amy, on studying at the University of Auckland.

At 5am on the 6th of February 2018, while some of my (maybe saner) friends were asleep, I was standing in the dark outside Waitangi Wharenui in Paihia, Bay of Islands. With over a thousand others, I watched the new Prime Minister welcome in the 178th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and celebrate the birth of modern day New Zealand.

Kia ora! My name is Amy, I’m a Natural Science student at UEA and I’m currently halfway through my year abroad at the University of Auckland.

The first six months have been incredible. From the beginning the Carlaw accommodation team threw everyone together, resulting in a wonderful set of friends from all over the world and a whole host of different adventures. I’ve climbed a mountain, stood in a hobbit hole, cheered on the All Blacks, marvelled at glow worms and, somewhere between the sunsets and the ice creams, managed to do some studying. However, as amazing and unforgettable as these experiences were, I want to tell you about Maori130.

Aside from my three Biology classes, I wanted to study something that is unique to New Zealand, something that would engage me with the place I was going to spend a year of my life. “Maori130: Te Ao Maori” (“The Maori World”) sounded like it would fit that purpose, introducing the culture and history of this bicultural nation of which I knew very little.

Our first morning began with a Powhiri (traditional welcome ceremony), and as lecturers and students respectively lined up for the Hongi (press noses and foreheads together to symbolise sharing of the same breath); it was easy to see just how integral this culture is to this country, and how different this is from everything I’m used to. Maori130 was looking very promising.

Te Ao Maori is not ancient history, it’s ongoing and it’s all around me: in the buildings of the city (such as the University’s Waipapa Marae), the language spoken on the street, the programmes on TV and the politics hotly debated in the recent election. Within our Maori130 whānau (family) we began to dissect our observations, delving into Maori epistemology to gain a better understanding, going right back to the beginning, both literally (the story of Papatuanuku and Ranganui – Earth Mother and Sky Father) and relatively, with the invasion of the British, resulting in the irreversible alteration of Aotearoa. Social justice and inequity, health, colonisation, activism and media representation all took centre stage as we moved through the course.

It was easy being swept away by these stories, but as a British student it was also quite personal; learning about my own country’s intrinsic links, positive and negative, with this culture, and my guilt of my lack of awareness before now. However, the intention of this module was not to make year abroad students feel bad (as our lecturer, Tiopera, did point out to us).  Both Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) were a part of the country’s past mistakes, and its future challenges.

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This leads me to Waitangi Day. It made such a difference to have an understanding of the background, so it wasn’t just a festival. Having learnt about some of the waiatas (Maori songs), when I saw them on stage I could identify them and understand their purpose.  The flags on the flagpole included the ensign of He Whakaputanga (NZ Declaration of Independence 1935), New Zealand’s other official flag, but something I would never have recognised otherwise.

Additionally, not everyone celebrates. Contention over Te Tiriti vs. the Treaty was something we covered in depth (I even wrote an essay about it), so when we saw the protest tapestries handing from the trees, I was aware of their significance. This all added so much to the day, and the 4am wake up was definitely worth it!

In the final lecture, Tiopera asked if anyone wanted to make a contribution. After about 30 seconds, a guy at the back stood up, and spoke to the class in Te Reo. Moments later he was joined by 10 other students, who proceeded to sing a waiata, in appreciation for what we had all been able to experience in the class. I understood only a handful of words, but this was one of my most moving experiences of my time here.

I haven’t suddenly found my calling in life or set my sights on one career, but before this year I was so scared of what this change would bring. Now, I can’t believe how scarily easy it would have been to miss out on this whole experience. Through this year, I’m not only getting to know what I’m capable of, but I’m getting to know a country, and that means the world to me.  My advice – if you get the opportunity to study abroad, take it!

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Amy studies Natural Sciences at UEA.

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