Tereinamu Hakopa (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa) is used to graduation ceremonies, yet this week’s event signifies a key stage in her journey as both a tauira and kaimahi at Otago Polytechnic.
The path to her latest qualification, the Bachelor of Social Services (Career Practice), began at another graduation – in 2018, when she crossed the Dunedin Town Hall stage to celebrate completing a Bachelor of Applied Management through Capable NZ.
“At the ceremony, I saw Khyla Russell stand up to acknowledge all the Māori students who walked across the stage,” Tereinamu recalls. “I wanted to do that, to be a cheerleader for Māori and be part of their journey.
“However, I didn’t want to scaffold further study on my BAM. I thought carefully about what I wanted to study.”
Having contemplated moving overseas, Tereinamu found herself at a crossroads. She talked deeply to others, including her dad and her bishop, who encouraged and challenged her to make a plan.
“It was clear things weren’t working. So, I prayed that if I was to remain in Dunedin, I needed a reason to stay. A short time later, I got into my car and an ad came on for an Otago Polytechnic information night. I thought, ‘that sounds like a sign to me’.
"I then attended the information night, which put me on the right pathway – straight to the Bachelor of Social Services."
“I thought I’d be the only older person and the only brown person in my class, but the first person I saw looked just like me, and there were people older than me.”
Tereinamu says her second year was hard, but the third year was more comfortable. Having a supervisor in the final year helped her navigate the ways work life and personal life affect each other.
“For example, I asked my supervisor: ‘Why do I have to learn models for practice that already exist in my culture?’ They just listened, then said: ‘It must be really hard to learn through a Western-centric model’. That was great because I just needed to be heard, and to do things on my own terms.
“As a result, in my research paper I reflected on the professional tools I had acquired by using metaphor, which is key in Māori culture. I used what felt right to me, despite a lack of models, and found that this was highly appropriate.”
At the end of 2021 Tereinamu reflected again on that moment of inspiration a few years earlier.
“I’d started this degree wanting to help Māori and to be their cheerleader, and I thought I needed a PhD – like Khyla Russell – in order to do that.
“But I realised I was already supporting tauira Māori in their successes – in my role as Kaiāwhina in Te Punaka Ōwheo, where I started at the start of 2021. It was a full-circle moment.
“As I was studying the BSS, the Marketing, Communication and Engagement team was looking for someone to help as a Māori Liaison. The combination of my learning in Career Practice and my understanding of Te Ao Māori seemed a win for all. So now I juggle this role with the Kaiāwhina role.”
“Dunedin is a place of education for my family. I was born here when my dad was studying surveying at the University of Otago – where he gained one of his two PhDs, the other being at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
“Dad’s family are from Taupō and that’s home to me. I grew up there and was close to my grandparents. I lived with them for four years and am named after my nanny, who passed in 2004.
“Dad now lives in the Far North and two of my siblings have moved north, with another soon to move, too.
“So, while I’ll continue to enjoy this playground of learning, I’m waiting for something to pull me back home.”