From September 1–4, the Sāmoan Students Association (VUSSA) participated in the annual Sāmoan students’ conference in Hamilton called So’otaga (literally “connection”). The four day program was a celebration of culture, an opportunity to network with other students from across the country, and an important chance to discuss the future of our Samoan people, particularly that of students within Aotearoa. More important than the formalities, however, was the sense of community and value that we felt and took away.
For many of the international Sāmoan students, moving to a new country and studying under a new education system is a constant challenge. The new language, the new customs, and even the new food takes adjusting to, let alone the additional pressure of assignments. So’otaga was an invaluable opportunity for students to express these and other concerns. It was a platform upon which presenters and audience alike felt supported and empowered. At a time when the number of non-Aotearoa-based Sāmoan students is quickly increasing, such a gathering could not have been better scheduled. For many who attended the So’otaga, being among people who face and overcome similar issues as themselves left them feeling inspired, encouraged, and, most of all, ready to face whatever hurdles their university journey presents them next.
So’otaga gave members based in New Zealand the chance to watch and participate in traditional dances, singing, and rituals like the ‘ava ceremony. The sense of inclusion they felt was amazing. Having grown up away from the homeland, Sāmoa, many students were excited to be involved in activities such as the debates, through which the important social and academic issues of the community were addressed. The association executives called for each university’s Sāmoan association to put together one team for an English debate, and another for a Sāmoan debate. This gave the activity both a modern and a cultural feel.
So’otaga was a wonderful few days of sports (volleyball being a favourite from back home), Christian themed music and drama, and fellowship. It was a time and place where the homely atmosphere of Sāmoa was recreated. We went away with great memories, new ideas, and a little sadness that the program was only four days long.
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