We’re Not in Philly Anymore…

Thanks to the Fulbright Distinguished Award for Teachers my family has relocated to Wellington, New Zealand for the next four months. This is a surreal time to be out of the US. At the same time that daily developments in the States mock the idea of democratic process and #Resistance continues to grow, I have the privilege of learning from a functioning civil society.

I’ve only been here a week. I’m well aware that it takes a long time to understand a place and its many cultures and complexities. Several things already stand out:

There are many ways a society can make space for multiple cultures.

The history of colonialism in New Zealand is horrific. There were numerous iwi (tribes) on this land before the arrival of the colonists. These groups were labelled Maori by the colonizers. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by representatives of the crown and many Maori chiefs. The translation of the treaty was problematic — the English and Maori versions said different things. Maori seem to have been able to use this space for multiple interpretations to their advantage in the court system. Now Maori is one of the official national languages and many signs are printed in two languages. When people here speak of Maori culture, even those who are not of Maori descent, it is with respect and pride. I’m looking forward to learning more about the many cultures that co-exist in this society. (My kids are now attending a public school where 35 nationalities are represented in the student body!)

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A Maori pouwhenua above the city of Wellington

There are advantages to living in multiple worlds while being rooted in one.

The Fulbright folks organized a wonderful orientation for us which included an overnight powhiri (welcoming ceremony) at Waiwhetu Marae (meeting house). Before heading out we learned about Maori history and culture. Te Puoho Katene prepared us well. I was quite taken by his description of living in the wider world but then stepping back into one’s own culture. He described his turangawaewae, or his place in the world. This positioning allows him to maintain a focus on his greater purpose in the world. He asked people in the group to the think about what makes them who they are, the landmarks they identify with, and who their people are.

Social awareness can be the norm.

I’ve begun to pick up on the some of the divisions in society here and the ways different population groups discuss history and social issues. While I have a lot more to learn, I am impressed by the fact that social issues seem to be part of most people’s consciousness. People I’ve talked to don’t have a lot of tolerance for injustice and there is a definite shared vision of a functioning civil society. (It’s sad how revolutionary that concept feels right now.)

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My time here has just begun and there is so much to learn. I’m looking forward to upcoming school visits and opportunities to get to know teachers and students in-depth.

My daughter and I knew for sure that we weren’t in Philly anymore when we were walking and saw this sign:

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Can you believe how they spell it here?! (If it seems like I’m crazy, read this.)

Note: This is a personal blog. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.   

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