Actively choosing to learn from another culture on your own volition is a lot like summiting a mauka (mountain) on a starry night. You can read about the environment and what possibilities the magnificent landscape might have to offer, but you can never prepare well enough for the dark and unknown. I came to Aoteroa (New Zealand) to learn as much as I possibly could from the Maori whanau (family). I, along with my new friends, have done our research as best as we could for our trek up this cultural mountain. We were most excited at the beginning, but we quickly faced multiple challenges starting up the base of the metaphorical mountain. We have participated in many ceremonies and rituals due to the kindness of our hosts. They were fun challenges, but difficult due to the cultural separation. The best part of hiking is that everyone is challenged as different parts of the journey.
The biggest challenge I have faced on this trip came in the form of an opportunity. I fell in love with the language from the moment I heard Tiaki speak to us as part of our introductory ceremony. The language rang in my ears like how the ocean waves crashes into a beautiful melody. Tiaki asked the UP Wayfinders for an individual to speak – on behalf of the University of Portland whanau – to the Marae (a Maori community center) in their native tongue. I was shocked to see my hand raise before I could process what I had done. There was no logic behind my action; I am utterly terrified of public speaking. So why would I choose to publicly speak on behalf of my friends in a language other than my own and attempt to memorize the speech in one night! I was in complete shock and my dumb, worry-some face expressed that when everyone busted out laughing. I spent the majority of the night attempting to learn this speech and impress the elders the following day. The following morning Tiaki asked me about the speech; I expressed my fears of failure and feelings of aloneness. He stared at me and said “you are so terribly wrong. You carry the weight of your mountain, your body of water, your home, your friends, your family and ancestors, your experiences, your honor, and most importantly you. That weight could crush anyone, yet humans stand tall every day. So stand up for those things because those define you as a person and give you a great mana that will never be taken away from you. Speak your words not for yourself, but for those you love.” Talk about no pressure, but oddly enough I stood taller and felt more confident in the words I said. I sat in the front with Tiaki and before I was about to stand he leaned in and whispered “breathe and look behind you.” I took a quick glance saw the shining faces of all of my friends who have my back. I stood up; my knees were weak and my arms were heavy. I opened my mouth:
Ka taki te Titi
Ka taki te Kaka
Ka taki hoki ahau
Tihei Mauri Ora!
E te Wairua tapu
Tenei te mihi, Tenei te mihi, Tenei te mihi
Raki e Tu nei
Papa e takoto nei. Tena korua.
E ka mate Haere, Haere, Haere
Moe mai ra
Ratou ki a ratou, Tatou ki a tatou
Tihei Mauri Ora!
Karioi mauka, tena koutou
Whaingaroa moana, tena koutou
Tainui awhiro, tena koutou katoa
Tenei Matou te Wananga o Portland
E mihi nei
No reira tena koutou, tena koutou
tena koutou kato
The Tiki calls
The Kaka calls
I also call
There is life!
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you
To our sky father
and mother that lay before us. Thank you.
To the dead, Go, Go, Go
Rest in peace
Them to them, us to us
There is life!
Karioi mountain, thank you people
Whaingaroa ocean, thank you people
Tainui awhiro, thank you all
This is the family of the U. of Portland
In conclusion thank you, thank you,
Thank you everyone
Just like that it was over. My friends sang a song for approval and I placed a gift before our hosts. After the experience was over I had time to reflect on what had happened. A lot of emotions came swimming through my mind before I was bathing in the reflective waters. I stumbled through the speech and failed to pronounce words correctly. I would classify it was a failure, but a humbling failure that forced me to grow as an individual. The last night in Solscape, we were each given a red threaded wristband to signify our connecting as a group of friends in this common journey; that red band was the major reason I was comfortable enough to speak in a different language.
Just like climbing a mountain in the dark, we all stumble and fall. I fell hard that day, but the best part of this metaphorical trek was to look up and see everyone in the group reach out a hand to help me up. I will be honest and say I am nowhere near the top of this mountain. I know it will be a long trek, but I have all my friend (past, present, and future) to help me along this climb. This hike is dark and hard to see, but with each experience of culture a star appears in the sky. I know that this study abroad experience will cause and explosion of stars to light my way for future endeavors. Below is a photo I took of the night sky our first night.
It will take some time, but along my trek I hope that my sky will be as bright as this photo. Lastly, I would like to thank all of those who helped me in the discerning process of experience. Thank you to my parents Tina and David, my brothers Nolan and Daniel, my best friends Sam and Andrew, and the love of my life Jacey. I will be sad to leave this beautiful place that I am fortunate to call home for a month, but I look forward to seeing all of you back in the States for more adventures. Tihei Mauri Ora!