Nellisa Jean Schaumkel Taliauli

Malo e lelei! Ko hoku hingoa ko Nellisa Jean Schaumkel Taliauli. I hail from the villages of Leimatu’a (Vava’u), Ha’ano (Ha’apai) and ‘Utungake in the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga.

Nellisa Jean Schaumkel Taliauli

I am a proud Tongan born who immigrated with my mum to Aotearoa. I am the eldest of five and have been told that I am also the better looking one, Ha! I am currently completing my MA in Geography, specialising in Disaster Risk Management with a focus on Tonga.

My mum played a significant role in my choice to attend the University of Auckland. I initially wanted to attend Victoria University so that I could escape the pressures that naturally came with being the oldest. In the end, my decision to study at UoA came down to receiving the University of Auckland Jubilee Award, which was a financial hardship scholarship that contributed towards my course fees for up to three years.

Studying a Bachelor of Arts double majoring in Pacific Studies and Geography are two subjects that I learnt to appreciate later into my undergrad years. I wasn’t too sure how I was going to apply this into the real world, and I was often asked, “what can you do with your degree?”. Honestly, I didn’t really know the answer at the time. I was just focusing on getting good grades.

It wasn’t until in 2018 when I attended the Australasia Geography Conference that was hosted at the University of Auckland, where I had the opportunity to listen to inspiring and ground-breaking researchers present their findings and discuss their papers with us. I was especially riveted by our Māori and Pacific researchers who were presenting on the Islands and using cultural frameworks. That essentially is what propelled me into applying for postgrad later that year and inspired me to keep going.

Being part of the Tongan Students Association (TAUA) at UoA and being surrounded by Pacific students gave me a sense of belonging. It enhanced my cultural identity while providing me with the opportunity to develop my self-confidence as a student.

Challenges that I encountered while studying at UoA was adjusting to university academia, balancing family commitments alongside course work, managing expectations, waking up early to attend my 8am classes, trying to resist spending all my Studylink money at Munchy Mart buying countless energy drinks. I can go on. What I did learn from all this was that I wasn’t alone in facing these challenges. Others were also going through something similar and it was comforting to know that it was okay to experience moments of self-doubt, uncertainty and confusion. Uni was about learning and that was not limited to what was taught inside the lecture theatres.

Participating in the School of Environment Tuākana programme and eventually becoming a mentor allowed for me to develop my leadership skills through supporting our up-and-coming tauira. Giving back to the kaupapa that helped to support me was important because it empowers students like me to connect with other Māori and Pacific students and makes learning more enjoyable.

Though I am still in the process of completing my Masters, I have come to appreciate the challenges and lessons learnt during my time here at uni. Knowing what I know now, my advice for those thinking about university or who are currently still studying is this; don’t be afraid to fail. Failing forward means that it is better to have tried and failed than to have failed because you didn’t try at all. Your desire and passion will motivate you to keep going. Everyone’s journey is different and people will achieve things at different times. You will get to where you need to be at your own pace. You just have to be patient and continue to work hard.

Malo ‘aupito,