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New Zealand minority student comes to Masaryk to motivate others to do the same

For the first time outside the continent and straight to the snowy Czech Republic. For New Zealand law student Joycintta Lavemaau, three weeks spent at the MU Winter School was a great experience, which she will pass on to other students through her work.

Joycintta Lavemaau studies Law at the University of Auckland. She also works there part-time in the International Office and she encourages minority students to study abroad.

Joy is a student at the University of Auckland, where she also works part-time in the International Office. She plans on using her international experience gained at MU to encourage students from minority backgrounds from her home university to study abroad and gain international experience as well. She herself is a minority student, as she comes from Tonga.

“This is my fifth and final year of university study in New Zealand, but I grew up in Tonga, a small island kingdom of about 100,000 people about a three-hour flight from Auckland. I am one of many Pacific Islander minority students, who come from the islands and countries in Oceania, and I decided to study in Auckland because it’s an opportunity to have a better future and gain a better education that I could pay forward to our communities and villages,” Joy explains.

Joy provides support to minority students as her job

Although New Zealand is known for its multicultural diversity and is home to numerous ethnicities and nationalities, including students from the Pacific islands and Māori, the native inhabitants of New Zealand, there are still disproportionate levels of access to opportunities on a systemic level, including opportunities to study abroad, to succeed at university, and to enter the workforce.

That is why local universities are doing their best to help minority students integrate into the academic community. To make the beginning of studies as smooth as possible, the University of Auckland provides them with a range of support programmes and activities. Apart from the support received from her faculty, Joy was also helped by the Pacific Island Law Student Association (PILSA), which put her in contact with other minority classmates early on in her studies. She still spends a lot of time with these students today.

PILSA became a second home to her, as it ensured that she was surrounded by other fellow Pacific Islanders, who helped her succeed on her journey through law school. Now, as she finishes her final year in her BA/LLB (Bachelor of Legislative Law) programme, Joy is one of the association’s co-presidents for 2023, coming back full circle and paying it forward by helping incoming Pacific Islander students.

In addition to her new role with PILSA, she has also been working at the International Office for more than a year as an advisor dedicated solely to providing support for Māori and Pacific Islander students who want to travel abroad. Such students make up 16 percent the University of Auckland’s student body, and Joy helps them with everything related to their time abroad, from one-on-one consultations to administrative tasks.

Previously, such work was done by New Zealanders of European descent, but over time it became clear that this situation was not ideal. Without having a deep understanding of Māori and Pacific Islander students, their cultures, their experience of being a minority, their different perspectives, and their fears about studying abroad, advisors found it difficult to motivate them to study abroad.

“I was therefore very pleased that our university took a very interesting approach to encourage more diversity on an outbound international scale by opening a student advisor position for Pacific Islander and Māori students, which I applied for with enthusiasm. And I am very happy that I got the job in the end. I really enjoy the work, even though it is quite challenging. However, the biggest obstacle that gradually became apparent was that I didn’t have any study abroad experience myself to pass on to the students. So, this January I went all the way to Masaryk University to study in Europe,” says Joy.

Be a positive example

Like many other students, she was afraid to travel halfway around the world and was cautioned by her parents living in Tonga, who consider nearby New Zealand overseas enough, but in the end, she decided to go. Perhaps it was because she has always been attracted to travel.

And so, for three and a half weeks she traded the summer weather of the Southern Hemisphere for the winter weather of Brno, where at that time it was about minus 6 degrees Celsius and snowing. “I had never experienced real winter. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve only known warmth, sunshine, and the ocean. Even in Auckland there is never snow; it's about 14 degrees there in winter. So, it was an amazing experience for me to see snow falling down from the sky and to enjoy my first snowball fight with my classmates. But I have to say that I realized as soon as I got off the plane that winter wasn’t for me,” she laughs.

Still, Joy is very happy that she went abroad for this short course and wishes she had more time to spend in Brno and to get to know this student city in the spring and summer. She would have also liked to spend more time with the other international students from all over the world that she met during the winter school. She hopes she will visit them in the future.

She was also enthusiastic about the Winter School of Human Rights and International Law, which has been taught for more than 13 years by academic staff from the Faculty of Law of Masaryk University. What Joy appreciated most about the intensive course was that she was able to experience what education in Europe is like. What she liked most about her classes was how interactive they were and that the international composition of the course allowed her to gain a new perspective on her field and see how law is approached in different parts of the world.

Nothing to be afraid of

“I'm so glad I decided to apply to Masaryk University, even though at first I was afraid to go to a country that I’ve never been to before, with no family or cultural ties. But I have to say that I was thrilled with the Czech Republic. I also found out that Tongans are quite similar to Czechs. For example, the demonstration of local folk dances was amazing and reminded me a lot of our culture. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Czechs themselves. At first glance, they are quite closed, but once you get to know them better, you’ll find that they are warm, funny, and incredibly sarcastic. They would fit in perfectly in our kingdom of Tonga,” laughs Joy.

However, her biggest takeaway from her short stay at MU was the experience itself, which she can pass on to her peers at the University of Auckland. “Now I can share my experiences with them and show them that they have nothing to fear, only lessons to learn and the world to see. Of course, no matter where in the world you are, you are and always will be a minority and there will always be differences in culture and religious and social differences. But all these lifelong lessons will teach you the importance of diversity, of keeping your mind open and making your voice heard especially as a minority in big foreign spaces,” says Joy.