Study Fono: Seeking community over independence
Danika Leitulagi Schuster
Villages: Apia Park, Lalomanu and Togafu’afu’a, SAMOA
Area of study: Law and Arts Conjoint (Majoring in Criminology and Psychology)
“Independence” is thrown around excessively in the world we live in today. It is as if the further we age, the more we should strive to ascertain our individual identity. But when I got my first taste of independence living in University Accommodation this year, I cannot say it tasted as sweet as it sounded.
Pulotu-Endermann said it best, the foundation of a Pacific person’s well-being is rooted in their family, aiga and vuvale. As Pacific students, we do not just miss our siblings, cousins and parents; we miss a part of ourselves that they forever carry.
This bittersweet taste is what many of us Pacific students carry along in our Accommodation journey. We often feel lonely and find it difficult to connect to others, leading to a sharp decline in our mental health and belonging. Through O’Rorke Hall’s grapevine, I discovered Study Fono. Run by O’Rorke’s own Resident Manager Melissa Leaupepe, PVC Pacific and Te Papa Manaaki | Campus Care, Study Fono aims to connect, study, and grow first-year Pacific students living in University of Auckland Accommodation.
Our Fono sessions ran every Monday night from 7 pm – 9 pm at O’Rorke Hall. Each Fono was prefaced with a slideshow that showed Pacific students our available opportunities and entitlements. Following the presentation, we would separate into our faculties with a Student Mentor supporting us, where we studied efficiently whilst eating snacks. We would sometimes conclude with pizza, otai and other delicious meaakai.
Throughout Samoan Language Week, we sang ‘Fa’afetai Le Atua,’ and Cocoa Rice. The same celebratory event was held for Tongan Language Week, where we were given mango Otai, a fruity Tongan concoction.
Throughout the weeks of Study Fono, the Campus Care team made themselves present in our life, offering their services and one-on-one discussions that made our progression in our first-year seamless. Their role was fundamental and was seen outside of the Study Fono to helping Pacific scholars and students with their mental-health as we navigate the ocean of University.
Having Study Fono as a requisite to attaining a scholarship ensures that students persist with their successful study techniques and learn from and teach other Pacific students. It forms a helpful push to us reaching our full potential.
As the year ends, I will undoubtedly miss the meaakai, atmosphere and study facilitation provided in the Study Fono. But, the relationships I formed, study techniques and services I learned are lifelong and invaluable.
The most important lesson that Study Fono taught me is that independence is overrated. We should strive for connection and community, where true success is found.