Te Maiora Rurehe: building bonds and breaking down boundaries
Growing up in Minginui, in the foothills of the Ureweras, Te Maiora Rurehe (Tūhoe/Te Arawa) thought moving to Hamilton to study law at Waikato University was a big deal, until he found himself in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
He spent eight weeks in the bustling city in 2019, on a Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia (PMSA). “It was absolutely eye-opening. I came from a small village, population 100. For me that was the beginning and the end of the world.”
Te Maiora travelled to Vietnam as part of a diverse group of six rangatahi. Their study backgrounds included law, business, engineering, and supply chain management. The group was evenly split between men and women. Two were practicing Christians and one was Muslim.
“It was my first real exposure to the faith of Islam and I wasn’t really aware of their rituals of prayer five times a day. And the two Christian boys would get up every day and do their prayers and journalling,” he says. “It was amazing. I learned a lot from them.”
Good to go as a group
Travelling as part of a group was important for Te Maiora and he says he was fortunate that one of the other students was also Māori. “For me, the eight weeks in Vietnam was the longest I had been overseas. It was good to be there with her, and we could speak to each other in te reo Māori. It felt like a slice of home when we were a long way from our whānau.”
The team was introduced to each other and spent some time together before leaving Aotearoa, and supported each other while they were away. “We were all going through the same experiences and could share how we were feeling. “There were times when we needed to stick together, like crossing the road. It’s a whole different tikanga there!”
Te Maiora completed an internship with Rouse, a legal firm specialising in managing Intellectual Property (IP) issues in a part of the world where fakes of “big brand” products such as Nike and Louis Vuitton are big business. His internship was arranged through CRCC Asia and funded by PMSA. Without the funding, he knows he could never have gone.
“My parents are not travellers, they’ve never had the financial means. So for me, travel with the purpose of exploring a new culture wasn’t something I had considered before learning about the PMSA.”
He says the Vietnamese are very hospitable, treat visitors well, and are keen for you to leave with a good impression of their country. “I can commend them on their manaakitanga.”
But aspects of life there challenged core Māori values which he holds dear. “One of my passions is the environment and Papatūānuku (earth Mother), and the importance of her care and maintenance,” he says. “In Ho Chi Minh City, the river is dirty and there’s rubbish everywhere. It was quite shocking. It gives force to why we hold these values. If you revere something you can’t let it be diminished or polluted.”
Scholarship experience provides new perspective
Te Maiora says his experience as a PMSA recipient has had a huge impact on his life. “It changes your perspective and makes you realise that the world is bigger than the town or country that you live in, that there are no real boundaries between you and another country.”
“We talk about the revitalisation of te reo Māori here in Aotearoa, but in Vietnam everyone speaks the indigenous language despite colonisation and Westernisation of their country. It was a very empowering experience that I have brought back with me.”
Te Maiora is living in Rotorua now, working for law firm Annette Sykes & Co and loving it. He believes the PMSA experience helps makes you stand out with employers. “Not many people get these opportunities, so if you’re one of the lucky few it’s a real bonus on your CV.”
While he admits to initially lacking the confidence to apply, he would encourage others like him to step up. “I guess I just thought I’ve never done anything which would make me deserving of this opportunity. But the encouragement of a friend and mentor made me push through the barriers in my mind and I surprised myself when I was awarded a scholarship.”
“Take the leap into the unknown,” he says. “You will gain exposure to another culture, build your own confidence, and get to see how others view the world.”