International students based in Auckland have had the opportunity to spend a special day with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, a Māori tribe based in Auckland, learning about Māori culture as part of a trial leadership programme.

The Rukuhia Global Leadership Programme has had more than 140 tertiary level students from 41 nationalities take part in day-long workshops on the marae (ancestral grounds) focusing on leadership, values, innovation, sustainability and the connection of people, place and environment.

As part of the day, students experience a pōwhiri, meet iwi leaders, elders and youth council members, learn some te reo Māori (Māori language), participate in a waiata workshop, and have a guided walk across the ancestral lands of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei to discover the local flora and fauna.

The response from students who have participated was overwhelmingly positive, with 98% saying they would recommend the programme to their friends and 88% of students saying they feel the programme had a positive impact on their future career.

Bea Velasco, from the Philippines, is studying digital marketing at the New Zealand Institute of Education and found the experience incredibly moving.

“The Rukuhia Programme is one of the most genuine encounters I have experienced in my entire life. I have never thought that I could relate to another culture this much,” she says.

“I was not born Māori, but I felt really connected with the Ngāti Whātua ways, culture, how they revered their elders, nature, their identities. It was real, heartfelt, honest. I was holding myself from crying for the entire time.” 

The pilot programme has been designed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and is supported by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED)’s Study Auckland, Education New Zealand and the Ministry of Education.

The name Rukuhia is taken from a Māori proverb: Ki te hōhonu koe, me ruku kawau maro | Should you dive, dive deep like the determined Kawau bird.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has significant experience in youth education, community and leadership programme development. They deliver a range of sustainable business and leadership programmes for corporates but the Rukuhia Global Leadership Programme is the first one for international students.

Jamie Cook, Business Development Manager for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, says: “It has been our honour and privilege to host these young international students, whom are no doubt the future leaders of tomorrow.”

Research conducted by Study Auckland and Education New Zealand last year revealed international students have a genuine interest in learning more about Māori culture and values, but access to these opportunities at a meaningful level is not always easy.

Manager International Education – Study Auckland, Henry Matthews, says it’s important for international students living in Auckland to have a positive experience while they are here and feel included.

“We want these students to be well supported, welcomed and valued for their contribution to the country and communities they live and study in,” he says.

“As future global leaders and industry professionals, international students are also eager to learn about our Māori culture in order to help them fulfil their own leadership and career development potential.

“We believe a better destination experience (both on and off campus), will create more positive word of mouth recommendations to the offshore friends and family of international students, that in turn fuels the future demand of international students and visitors into our region.”

There are more than 75,000 international students enrolled in Auckland annually, contributing more than $2.2 billion to the local economy a year.

Anika Forsman
Senior Communications Advisor