My story, which I have shared with my Early Years colleagues and my clients in the early childhood sector, tells of my own transitioning from a tiny village in Samoa to a large city. This story has prompted a lot of discussion, and provoked many thoughts. A number of early childhood teachers who have heard my story at professional development meetings have approached me in different learning contexts, and made comments such as, “I listened to you sharing your journey, and I had tears in my eyes”. Others said, “Your story was very interesting, as I never thought about the contrast of having no fences around houses in a village verses fences here in New Zealand. It must be hard for you when you experienced your first winter.”
After thirty-four years residing in New Zealand, the number of Pasifika people living in the Canterbury region has increased immensely. Looking back on my journey, I have experienced success as well as many obstacles. One incident that remains with me was when I phoned a landlord and told him that my husband and I were interested in his rental flat that was advertised in the paper. His immediate reaction was: Sorry the flat has been taken. My husband, who is an educated palagi, phoned the same number later in the evening and the same guy responded, saying that the place hadn’t been taken and he would make an appointment for my husband to come and see the flat. I wish I could turn the clock back, and that I’d had the courage to challenge the landlord. Unfortunately, it was in my early days of settling, and it was hard to comprehend and express my thoughts in a succinct way.
This made me think. I wonder if he was unwilling to give me a chance because of my accent. I wonder if he was thinking that I might not be able to afford to pay my rental. It was not so much my inner circle, but I felt my outside world was pushing me backwards and forwards as I was trying to piece everything together.
Moving to a different country with different smells, sights, and sounds prompted my thinking around the new families who have just moved from tiny villages in Samoa during the last year. And, of course, there are more families expected to arrive before the end of the year. Some families having from two to eight children who are participating in early childhood, primary, and secondary schools in Canterbury. My memories of moving to a different environment, and the struggles that I had experienced all flashes back as I hear these new families and fanau moving into unfamiliar environments.
I wonder what is going on in children’s minds as they first enter an unfamiliar environment?
The questions for teachers and schools are:
- What systems do you have in place to support children and parents who have just moved from a tiny village to your school environment?
- How do you support families with no English or English as a second language?
- What would you do if a child shows signs of ongoing disengagement and challenging behaviours?
- What can schools do to ensure that new families from the Pacific are well supported and nurtured in the learning environments?
- What opportunities do early childhood services and schools offer to support children’s identity, language and culture?
In my experience it took me a long time to settle and how this experience makes sense and meaning when working with diverse families who are going through challenging times of transitioning to new countries and unfamiliar environments.