Manaakitanga – a warm Kiwi welcome to international students

“One by one each had their moment and their selfie with New Zealand’s prime minister”

In New Zealand, manaakitanga means to show respect, hospitality, care, generosity, and care for others. Not only the people themselves but also their stories. That is what the warm welcome to international students’ event symbolised and demonstrated on September 2 when New Zealand’s Prime Minister and Minister of Education attended an event in Auckland.

Hosted in the University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau Unleash Space, first opened by the Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern in 2018, this space is predominantly a student co-working space nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit. Government and Education leaders came together to honour and celebrate the return of international students to New Zealand.

Seventy international students from across the sector came together to be part of this welcome event. You could feel their excitement as they sat in anticipation of this event, as invited guests of University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater. 

This event was for and all about our international students. Each student receiving their welcome pack upon arrival and proudly wearing their name badge reflecting their name, where they are studying and their home country.

The formalities included something quite special, something uniquely New Zealand, the giving of a Tū Ngātahi pin. Tū Ngātahi is a te Reo Māori phrase calling us to ‘stand together’. Developed by Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao, the central image of Tū Ngātahi is the pounamu (greenstone) carved into a Pikorua twist. This twist design is inspired by the pikopiko fern, whose fronds curl around one another, which is a symbol of the connection of cultures and the importance of friendship.

One of the international students featuring in Education New Zealand’s ‘I am New’ global campaign, Malina Grube, university conjoint student from Germany, spoke of her earlier travels touring New Zealand ensuring her love of this country.

Malina shared her experience of New Zealand being welcoming and friendly, the indigenous Māori culture and the rich cultural diversity in Auckland. On display was her graduation gown design, her kākahu, that features in the global campaign. Malina’s design is based on her own story and the importance of the ocean that connects Germany and New Zealand. 

With the close of event formalities, it was time for morning tea. Almost immediately a queue was forming with every international student lining up to meet (and take selfies with) New Zealand’s prime minister. The queue snaked from one end of the Unleash Space to the other.

Watching this first hand, I saw the anticipation in meeting a globally recognised leader, Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern. Student smiles were broad, some with happy tears, but one by one each had their moment and their selfie with New Zealand’s prime minister.

It was extraordinary to see and the impact immeasurable to international students. Speaking to many afterwards, they were overwhelmed with excitement and having already shared it with family and friends on their socials, it was an experience they said they would never forget and would not likely happen in their home country.

This event was for and all about international students. To say haere mai – welcome – to New Zealand. We appreciate you studying here with us.

About the author: Vasso Koutsos is Deputy Director of International Marketing and Recruitment at the University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau.