Emma lived at Helen Lowry Hall for a year after moving to Wellington from London in 1986. After initially studying English Literature and History, she returned to Victoria in 2013 to complete a Master of Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Emma has starred in the iconic television series Outrageous Fortune and in September her new play Anahera premiered at Wellington’s Circa Theatre starring Jacqueline Nairn and Neill Rea.
On a sunny Wellington morning, Emma returned to her former room to meet Xin, an international student from China who is doing postgraduate study in Engineering and Physics at Victoria. The pair bonded over living in foreign countries, making new friends and hall food.
What’s it like to be in your old room? Has it changed much?
It’s really lovely because I haven’t been back here since 1986, but I feel like I’ve gone back in time—it looks exactly the same. I would have had Queen posters and theatre posters on the walls though.
Was it your first time living away from home?
Actually no—I’d lived in London on my own for two years, so I decided to go into a hall of residence because I didn’t know anyone in Wellington. After two years in London, it felt really safe to come to a hall, being cooked for and looked after.
What’s your favourite memory of living here?
I think I saw every single episode of M*A*S*H. When I was ateenager we didn’t have a television, but there was a TV hereand people used to gather in the upstairs social commonroom. Dinner time was six o’clock, but every night we wouldgather from about five thirty to chat and watch M*A*S*H. That’sthe strongest memory I have of this place—that lovely half hour before dinner.
What was the food like when you lived here?
It was still quite traditional—the most exotic thing we had would probably have been spaghetti bolognese. I do remember though that the food was good. There was always toast, tea and coffee available, so you never went hungry.
What advice do you have for Xin?
When I lived here I did a lot of stuff that was outside of Helen Lowry Hall, and the thing I might have done differently is spend more time doing activities with people here. I think you should just grab opportunities as they come because you never know where they’ll lead—someone you’ll meet or something you try that opens up a whole new path you might not have discovered.
Why did you choose Victoria University?
I come from China and spent three years in Beijing. It’s a very cold city, especially in winter. After graduation I wanted to live in a place with a friendlier climate. I looked at studying in the Southern Hemisphere and there are only two countries there with world-class universities—New Zealand and Australia. Wellington is a very lively city and I think it’s good for me to improve my English communication skills here because there aren’t as many other Chinese students as in Auckland or Australia.
How are you adjusting to life in New Zealand?
There are very distinct cultural and lifestyle differences between China and New Zealand. Our eating traditions are also very different—in New Zealand the cooking is more simple, but also healthier. The chef here at the hall made Peking-style roasted duck once and it tasted very similar to the roasted duck in Beijing.
What’s your experience of Helen Lowry Hall been like so far?
It’s a really lovely environment to live in. I remember when I arrived I kept getting lost—I didn’t know how to get anywhere! But the hall assistant helped all of us to find our way around and guided us through the University. It’s very friendly here and I like getting to know different people.