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Eye contact: it is quite common for people from the Pacific to avoid eye contact. This is not a sign of disrespect or disinterest, but in fact the opposite. When engaging in conversation with Pasifika students looking down or away are very common behaviours. This is particularly common when speaking to someone with authority.
Sitting in the back: often Pasifika students will congregate together in the back of the lecture theatre/classroom. This is often a behaviour displayed to show humility (Luke 14:8-11) and not always to do with being shy (see the above section on ‘spirituality’ for more information).
Taking things literally: through our Talanoa with some students the term “There will be no extensions given” often said by lecturers is taken quite literally. Often lecturers state that extensions will only be granted for serious reasons. We understand that this is meant to give the impression that extensions will not be handed out lightly but the dilemma of what is deemed serious and by whom then becomes the deciding factor of when an extension is requested. This is just one example of how often Pasifika students take most things literally. Be mindful that the language you use, with an awareness that many of our Pasifika students come to university with little to no cultural capital and understanding of the ‘common’ functions and unwritten rules of tertiary study.
Stereotypes/assume nothing: it is important to deconstruct common beliefs about Pasifika peoples – The colloquial term ‘fresh’ is often used to describe the Pasifika accent and pronunciation of the English language. Often this accent is associated with being illiterate and/or uneducated. To help avoid this common mistake keep in mind that Tonga for example has more PhDs per capita than any other country in the world. It is also stated by UNICEF that Tonga has one of the highest literacy rates in the world with over 99% of the adult population being able to read and write in both English and Tongan (UNICEF, 2012).
Using an individual’s accent as a means to assess their academic capacity can be misleading. It is also important to remember not to mimic their accent or make obvious changes to the way you speak when communicating to Pasifika students.
The Pasifika population in New Zealand is an evolving and highly diverse group of people. It is important not to assume that all Pasifika students were born in the Pacific. Almost two thirds of the entire Pasifika population in New Zealand was born here and often regard English as being their first language.
It is common knowledge in most spaces that certain familial obligations for Pasifika people often requires time out from everyday preoccupations. Funerals can be eventful and very time consuming for Pasifika students. There is often a feeling of scepticism associated with Pasifika students and attending funerals and the time required for traditional practices around death and mourning. Be aware of the language used when talking about extensions for funerals and other family obligations. There is awareness with Pasifika students that their non-Pacific peers and teaching staff often question the authenticity of Pasifika familial obligations.
It is important not to allow deficit views of Pasifika communities and families to influence how you view Pasifika students. A large percentage of Pasifika families are living with socio-economic challenges but this is not a reality for all families. Pasifika families may not have the same cultural capital in spaces like tertiary study; however they are always willing to support each other where they can. This goes for members of the family who are studying at university.
Page authorised by Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori and Pasifika
Last updated on Monday 19 December 2016