University of Otago, New Zealand
A Place to Stand, A World to Explore
The University of Otago describes their Tūrangawaewae, Pōkai Whenua program as “a culturally-grounded study experience introducing tomorrow’s indigenous leaders to a global academic community.” The word “tūrangawaewae” has important cultural significance for Māori people—it literally means “a place to stand,” and refers to the place where Māori feel at home and connected. “Pōkai whenua” means “a world to explore,” a fitting name for an exchange program that promotes study abroad for Māori students and brings indigenous students from partner universities to New Zealand’s South Island.
Traditionally, students of Māori descent have not been as willing or able to take part in student mobility programs, but Tūrangawaewae, Pōkai Whenua is specifically designed to build partnerships between Māori students and the indigenous populations of the regions of partner universities. Tuari Potiki, the Director of the Office of Māori Development at Otago, explains that “Tūrangawaewae, Pōkai Whenua is more than just a standard exchange programme, it is based on a genuine reciprocal relationship between indigenous communities – facilitated through Universities. It incorporates manaakitanga (hospitality), tauutuutu (reciprocity) and most importantly whakawhanaungatanga (kinship networks). These values underpin who we are as indigenous people. Indigenous lead initiatives like TPW act as the foundation of indigenous knowledge transmission”.
Each participant learns, explores and grows within an environment that will support them to achieve their goals and aspirations as indigenous students. Their experience is bespoke, and based on their own cultural interests and background, and builds on a conversation about how the cultural dimension of the exchange will take place.
Interactions among the student, the host university, and the indigenous community begin before the student arrives. Professor Helen Nicholson, Deputy Vice Chancellor for External Engagement at the University of Otago calls it “a more culturally rich study abroad experience.” The students return to their home university with a better understanding of themselves and an opportunity to reflect on cultural practices and beliefs of another indigenous community.
Students who come to Otago in this program also contribute to a meaningful and culturally aware internationalization effort on campus. They engage with local Māori and provide opportunities for both Māori and non-Māori students to experience other ideas and cultures. While only in its second year, Tūrangawaewae, Pōkai Whenua already has six partner institutions across Australia, Canada, and the United States with an interest in adding more. More students participated this year than last year and more growth in the number of participants is the goal for the coming years.