From an early age growing up in Porirua, Kristian Fanene Schmidt always knew he would be going to university thanks to the love and support of his family, in particular his Mum, who he describes as “the fiercest woman I know and the true definition of a Queen”. A top student who excelled at school in History, Maths, English and French, it was obvious there was never going to be just one career path for the young Samoan. So Kristian decided to have several.
Receiving a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship and enrolling in a Bachelor of Law and Arts majoring in Pacific Studies, the familiar feel of Auckland beckoned; having regularly spent time there visiting extended family during school holiday breaks.
After a tough first year where Kristian dealt with the unexpected death of his father, he soon found his rhythm and learned to balance his academic studies with university life.
“Much of my learning was outside of the classroom, getting involved in a number of student organisations and associations as a result of all the different people I met through my courses. From being an executive member in the Pacific Island Students Association to performing with the university Hip Hop crew all over the world; these experiences boosted my confidence as well as my leadership skills”.
Graduating in 2008 and being admitted to the bar, it was the university’s Mentoring and Tutoring Education Scheme (MATES) that was to prove a turning point for Kristian. Signing up as a mentor and eventually becoming the programme’s co-ordinator, the experience of helping young people from low decile high schools (much like the one he attended) ignited a whole new understanding of issues around equity. This eventually led to a role as the university’s Pacific Equity Adviser.
Securing a Fulbright scholarship in 2010 to undertake a Master of Education in Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Kristian’s research compared university equity ‘outreach’ initiatives targeted at Māori and Pacific students in New Zealand with Black and Latinx students in the United States.
“The US and New Zealand are more alike than you might think. Take segregation for instance – it prevails today through zoning and classroom streaming. While New Zealand leads the world in so many ways, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to our education system. It favours a particular type of student and they tend to have money and look nothing like me. If we all had equal access to quality classrooms with great resources, there wouldn’t be any Pacific “success stories” left to be told because it would be the norm.”
Returning to NZ in 2013 and joining the Centre for Pacific Studies as a lecturer, life took an unexpected turn for Kristian in 2014 when he won a nationwide search to become the next host for MTV Australia. Taking out first place among thousands of contestants, he says “working in the Australian and New Zealand entertainment industry helped grow my profile which gave me a greater platform to reach more young people and advocate for my community.”
Now living in Los Angeles, Kristian recently booked a role in a television pilot and is looking forward to more opportunities