The rocky road to becoming educated

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As a single working mum and PhD candidate, I often feel guilty about the time I spend away from my kids if I’m at work, if I’m studying, if I’m having some ‘me’ time (such a luxury). Its quite a juggling act and I often think, ‘why am I doing this again?’ and let me tell you, sometimes the easy road sounds like a FAR more attractive option. Then I remember why I’m doing this…

In a blog such as this, there’s no need for me to go into stories of colonisation and the damning affects it is had on us as indigenous people. I know the effects it had on my whanau and I know the effects this had on me and my education growing up. Although I come from a loving and supportive whanau (family), we weren’t encouraged to pursue academic excellence. Why would we when there were negative conceptions of school in my whanau. Nevertheless, I did well at school up until high school. The moment I could leave, I did. Fast-forward 10 years to the moment I met an ‘educated’ Māori woman. Her achievements amazed me and I decided I needed an education too if I was to make something of myself and provide a solid base for my own whanau. It was the best decision I ever made.

As I’m writing this, I reflect on moments that affirm my decision to go to university. One of these moments was with my nan – a strong Ngati Kahungungu woman who was sharp, clever and witty. Did she have qualifications to affirm her intelligence? No, but that didn’t matter. She could command a room, speak her mind and look ever so graceful doing this. My dad grew up in the Central Hawkes Bay and for some of my whanau, getting caught up in gang life was inevitable. My nan and koro didn’t support gang culture and it was unpleasant for them to see whanau get caught up in the gang. We were at nan’s in Central Hawkes Bay for Christmas in 2010 and me, my brothers and dad were invited to my uncle’s house. We arrived and were shocked to see that he was now a patched up gang member. We assumed everyone knew but the look of shock and horror on my nan’s face when she came to collect us was a look I’ll never forget. In that moment, a woman I’d always known to be so strong looked weak, helpless and perplexed. Her face said it all ‘not another one, let alone one of my children’… We drove back to nan’s in silence. I remember telling her that if it was any consolation, she’ll have a university graduate in the whanau soon. She smiled, told me how proud she was of me and told me to keep going. I’m grateful that she was still with us when I became a university graduate, first in both sides of my extended family.

So as one who listened to nan (everyone listened to nan otherwise you’d know about it), I’ve kept on going. My PhD research focuses on how tertiary organisations can better prepare first in family students for post-tertiary employment. We’ve come a long way with higher levels of Māori participating in tertiary education, however retention and completion is an ongoing issue. With an increased focus on graduate employability in the tertiary sector, I seek to identify ways to ensure employability practices within tertiary are equitable. Employability is defined by a myriad of psycho-social factors and often, our future outcomes are defined by our socio-economic environments. For many indigenous students, making it to university is an achievement in itself. Its our duty in tertiary education to ensure we’re preparing students well for their future lives and careers.

Oftentimes I wonder what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t met the educated Māori woman. Higher education can certainly facilitate upward mobility but at the same time as I reflect on my journey, it can come at a cost. As I delve into the first in family literature, students who are first in family tend to experience dissonance between academic and home life. Immediate family members aren’t familiar with academic life and it can be quite an isolating experience the more educated one becomes. Sometimes it can be difficult to fit in not only at university as an indigenous student but also at home. When I talk about my research with whanau, I’m met with vacant (albeit loving) stares, yet whanau is one of the reasons I chose to become educated. Although they might not quite get what I’m doing sometimes, I know they’d want me to keep going too… Let the juggling continue!

Narissa

Narissa is of Tainui, Ngati Kahungungu and Ngati Porou descent. She is a Professional Teaching Fellow in Learning and Instructional Design at the University of Auckland Business School and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK. Her PhD research focuses on the institutional practices, policies and programmes within higher education management and how these support the employability of first-in-family students within the NZ tertiary context.

6 comments

    • So did I recognise myself in this story. It makes me want to do my PhD too and then I’m reminded about the “guilty” and “self” times needed to push through to end the project. I’m well aware of my shortcomings and start to talk myself out of it. This story is an inspiration and I need to read more like it for motivation.

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      • I’m pleased to hear it inspired you in some way. I’ve been fortunate to have strong female role models in my life who juggle so much yet make things work somehow. Guilt and selfishness are feelings that I’ll always battle with but these are outweighed by thoughts of regret that I might have if I don’t do it… I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for you in the end.

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  1. As a “first-in-family” I’m rarely asked about my studies or work and know only too well the blank “glazed over” look I get in response to any mention of my PhD or higher learning employment. Also deeply inspired, by educated, successful Maori women (yourself included, now), I aspire to be an inspiration to other Maori women through my academic pursuits. So as a fellow procrastinator……. thank you Narissa and please keep blogging!

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