Excited and scared, Alofia was only in New Zealand for two weeks before she started at her new school – one of the biggest in the country.
It was all so different. Alofia had done well at her small country school in Samoa but she found school work difficult big city school.
Falling behind in her school work, Alofia also found it hard to make friends and was teased by some of the other students.
“They made fun of the way I talked, the way I counted on my fingers, and, especially, the way I prayed before I had my morning tea or lunch. They didn’t understand my customs and I was very hurt.”
While school continued to be a challenge, Alofia was lucky, because she had somewhere else she belonged; a local Samoan church.
“They talked like me and we believed the same things. I realised my faith could give me strength, it was not just a reason to tear me down.”
Finding comfort in her prayers and the classes at her church, Alofia gradually rebuilt her confidence.
“One of the other girls from my church began to tutor me in maths and English. I studied hard and began to catch up and this made me feel better about myself.”
Alofia now has a group of friends who understand what it’s like to live in two cultures and support her when she’s having a bad day.
“Coming to New Zealand was a blessing, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Being bullied and teased didn’t just make me sad; I began to feel that I was a stupid person or that my beliefs were wrong. I found strength in my community and in realising that I have a place.
“I know also that I had something to teach the other kids at my school. They learned I was not so different and maybe I made it easier for the next kid who came along from a different country.
"Now, they are just curious – ‘What’s that you’re eating?’ ‘Why does your dad wear a skirt to church?’ – these are good questions, they help us to learn about each other. I know there is no unkindness behind it.”