Earlier this week I was asked to present to the staff of Porirua College, a secondary school outside of Wellington. I’ve spoken to and worked with teachers in many different contexts but the thought of standing in front of a room of teachers from a different culture, who teach in a school that mainly serves Pasifika and Maori students (two population groups I am just beginning to learn about,) filled me with insecurity. Images from post-colonial literature sprang to mind (see Chinua Achebe, Franz Fanon, Barbara Kingsolver, or others.)
My first task was to confirm that the audience would be interested in my work and ideas. The principal and a teacher assured me that they are looking to reinvigorate and redesign the content of courses and that the staff is looking for ways to make learning more engaging for students. That was a good first sign.
Next, I began consulting with other New Zealanders about the appropriate and culturally respectful way to open a presentation to a group. I have the image of a foreigner bumbling through a native language as extremely offensive. However, in New Zealand multiple people have told me that Maori appreciate Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) and outsiders who make an effort to participate in Maori culture, even if they don’t get it right.
My trusted advisors helped me write my own mihimihi. A mihimihi is a Maori form of introduction where people stand and introduce themselves based on where they are from in the world.
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa
Ko Wissahickon te māunga
Ko Schuylkill te awa
Nō Philadelphia ahau
Ko Joshua tōku ingoa
Greetings, Greetings, Greetings to you all
The mountain that I affiliate to is Wissahickon
The river that I affiliate to is Schuylkill
I am from Philadelphia
My name is Joshua
I practiced my pronunciation, prepared my presentation, and had the honor of sharing my work and hearing from the teachers at Porirua College. I have not doubt that some ideas of mine didn’t travel well across cultural boundaries and that there were ideas from others that I misinterpreted or just missed.
Facilitating a group that comes from different backgrounds is an enormous challenge and a reminder that authentic cross-cultural communication is quite difficult and messy. My hope is that the teachers found the time productive. One teacher told me as I was leaving, in what I assume to be classic New Zealand speak, “Truly inspirational! There’ll be a ripple after this one.”
Click the image below to view the slide deck from the presentation:
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.