A Student and a Traveler Walk into a Bar…

And they have a ton to talk about.

Why? Because it’s come to my attention that students and travelers are really similar.

  • They both share a proclivity for toting around their possessions in backpacks
  • They both eat on the cheap and don’t much care where they sleep for the night


  • They both explore the world to change it.

I was musing over a cup of coffee when it hit me. The student learns “inside-out” while the traveler learns “outside-in” before each person uses that knowledge to shape their world.

As a student, I attend lectures, converse with classmates, write papers and read books relating to whatever I’m studying. I then use what I’ve learned as a tool, untangling the knowledge and crafting it to help me achieve a goal outside of my own head. I use the knowledge to shape the way I interact with the world.

As a traveler, I go out into the world, talk to and befriend new people, try new things and experience different cultures, foods and languages. I absorb these experiences from the outside world and then use them to inform my thoughts, opening up new avenues. I use my experiences to shape my thoughts and ideas.

Therefore, I think it’s incredibly important for students and travelers to be one and the same. I think it’s important for travelers to learn like a student about the world around them, instead of just moving from one tourist activity to another. I also think it’s important for students to travel outside of their comfort zone and away from their home, whether it’s a few miles or across the sea.

A semester abroad was a perfect way for me to start weaving the path of student and traveler together. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to study in New Zealand and to have had time to travel and make friends while I was away.

There’s a whole lot of world out there and I hope to use more “inside-out” and “outside-in” learning as I move through it. And hey, side-bonus is I’ll be very interesting to talk to if you ever find me sitting at a bar.

Until the next adventure,

Rehana Asmi

P.S. If you come up with a better punch line for the title-joke, definitely share it with me!

Something Worth Protecting, Something Worth Sharing

My previous post lauded the revitalization efforts of my university and the government of New Zealand when it came to Māori culture and language. The topics were made accessible to tourists and foreigners, as well as the Kiwis. It got me thinking about the way New Zealand protects many pillars of their culture—not under lock and key, but by sharing and educating.

I joined the tramping (hiking/backpacking in Kiwi-speak) club at Victoria University. It was a fun group that blasted smooth jazz during its PowerPoint presentations, welcomed new members with bearded exuberance to Taco Tuesdays, and had a mountain goat as a glorious mascot. This group of students (and alumni, and random outdoor enthusiasts met at the Welsh Dragon pub) coordinated carpool trips and gear rentals for people in need of adventure. They had an expert on everything from avalanche safety to rock climbing to caving—and they’d direct a newbie down the right path for any information. The goal was to have a great time and to share the outdoors, safely. It wasn’t about hoarding secret hideaways, it was about making New Zealand accessible.

New Zealand is known for gorgeous landscapes (Sweeping shots from the Lord of the Rings and all) alongside a robust Department of Conservation. The trails are well kept, hut passes are at most $5 for a night on the trail, and there are no animals that’ll kill you out in the New Zealand wilds (although some flightless Weka will try to steal your food)  so it’s easy for anyone to jump onto the trails for the weekend. Even the Tongariro National Park Alpine Crossing, home to Mount Doom, was only a day trip and completely complete-abale for a jog-but-never-run-unless-being-chased girl like me. I even kayaked through Abel Tasman National Park despite having only a quick rental out in Wellington Harbor a few weeks prior.

I say this not to humble-brag, but to share. I jumped at the chance for these adventures because I was told about them by friends in New Zealand. They’d done it, and I figured I could, too. New Zealand made the outdoors accessible to me, someone who’d previously been too nervous to backpack without a hired guide on class trips, and that access made me value it more.

The same goes for Māori culture and language. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it without having access to sate my curiosity and without the channels to dig in deeper and recognize the value of something as simple as bilingual signage.

In times of fear, where people are tempted to stow away language or the wilderness in order to protect them, I think it’s something to realize that value comes from sharing and educating what makes such things important. So hopefully sharing some of these pictures will spark some curiosity in others to see what all the hubbub is about in New Zealand!


Kia Ora!

Kia Ora! (Hello!)

Ko Rehana tōku ingoa. He tauira o te whare wānanga o te ūpoko o te ika a Māui. Kei te pēhea koe? (My name is Rehana. I am a student at Victoria University. How are you?)

Te reo Māori may seem like a strange thing to learn while studying abroad, but I found it incredibly useful–especially when taking a Māori culture and society class alongside it!

The Māori language was an oral language before missionaries started creating a writing system in their schools in the early 1800s. Kaumātua (elders) passed down their knowledge and traditions with stories about the atua (gods) like Māui who fished up the North Island with his hook, or Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (Earth Mother.) These myths shape the worldview in Māori culture and also provided examples for what is tikanga (the right way.)

Some of the coolest experiences I had in my Māori classes were at the Te Herenga Waka Marae. A Marae served as a communal space to celebrate the Māori culture and language and can be used for religious and social events. My Māori 123 Class (Culture and Society) had the opportunity to participate in a Pōwhiri, basically a welcoming ceremony for guests onto the Marae. My lecturer responded to the tangata whenua (people of the land, the hosts of the Marae) Karanga calls. Then we listened to the whaikōrero (speeches) and waiata (songs) before proceeding to the Hongi greeting where two people close their eyes and press their noses together to share the “breath of life” (coming from the myth where Tāne, the forest god, created Hineahuone out of clay.) I do apologize to anyone I headbutted during the Hongi!

A few weeks later I was back at the Marae for my Māori 101 (Language) class, where we would stand up and recite, from memory, our mihimihi to the Marae. A mihimihi is an introductory speech, starting with where you are from, including landmarks such as mountains and rivers, and then naming some of your family members before finally saying your name. In the Māori tradition, knowing where you’re from and who your relatives are was more helpful to figure out who a stranger was than simply learning their name.

My mihimihi went something like:

Nō Seattle ahau. Ko Rainier tōku maunga. Ko Sammamish tōku awa. Ko Yasser rāua ko Johanna ōku mātua…

Even the language has cultural significance. As you can see, I use ōku and tōku to describe possession of my parents, mountains and rivers. These are in the “o” category because they are important (elders, immovable landmarks, etc.) Also, nō Seattle ahau literally translates to “I belong to Seattle” rather than just “I am from Seattle.”

I am continuously surprised with the Māori language’s integration within Pākehā (Non-Māori, European Kiwi) New Zealand. It could be the simple “Kia Ora!” greeting on Air New Zealand flights, the Haka chant by the All Blacks, and the Māori half of the national anthem.

Bilingual signage is also common, such as Victoria University’s logo. In Māori, the school’s name is “Te whare wānanga o te ūpoko o te ika a Māui” which translates to “the school on the head of the fish of Māui”

As you can tell, Māui is a pretty important demigod here. Victoria Uni has a sculpture of his hei matau (fish hook) out in the main court yard. Pounamu (New Zealans jade) amulets with Māui’s hook are also common, said to give the wearer good luck and protection when traveling across water.

All of the Māori culture and language that I’ve experienced has been a treat. As student minoring in anthropology, I soaked up the new words and the cultural significance of the Haka or Pōwhiri, the difference between tapu and noa, the patterns of intricate jade and bone amulets that were worn by Māori and Pākeha alike.

But by taking classes at Vic, I learned this was hard earned and it’s still a process to protect and promote Māori culture and language. Language revitalization movements surged in the 1970s and 80s when Māori realized they were losing their language. More political activism followed, including the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal to deal with historic land claims and breaches of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi with the Crown (a treaty with very different translations of sovereignty between the English and Māori versions.)

It’s not all stuffy academics, either. New Zealand also has Māori radio and Māori TV that was launched in 2004, and then a te reo channel in 2008 thanks to the Waitangi Trib declaring te reo a “taonga” or “sacred treasure” that is protected under Māori sovereignty in the Treaty of Waitangi.

As a journalism student, and someone hoping to get a career in media, this also fascinated me. Early Māori newspapers like Te Hokioi were important to communication and coordination of activism, and now modern media is continuing the fight to make sure Māori narratives stay on air.

So it all connects. Te reo and Māori history, history and language revitalization,  Māori and media representation…

If you’re ever planning on visiting New Zealand, of course go to Queenstown and bungy jump. Of course take a kayak for a spin out in Abel Tasman and go visit Hobbiton. But also take a moment to learn some Māori, take a moment to learn the main characters in their mythology and why the rituals are they way they are. You won’t regret it!

Ka kite! (See you later!)