Higano Perez

Higano Perez says his degree in International Relations and Development Studies gave him a better understanding of what is happening in the world and why.

Country of exchange: Colombia

Exchange institution: Escuela de Administración, Finanzas e Instituto Tecnología (EAFIT)

Trimester/s and year of exchange: Trimester 2, 2014 and Trimester 1, 2015

Higano says student exchange is about more than just transferring to a different academic education. “It makes you adapt and think in a way that aligns you with your foreign surroundings, builds your character, and teaches youhow to get through problems that you have never encountered before. They also provide opportunities to build international employment contacts, widen your friend circle, and gain a different perspective about how another country views the world.”

When Higano first arrived in Medellin, Colombia, he knew basic conversational Spanish from taking three papers at Victoria University of Wellington, and some night classes. By the time he returned to New Zealand a year later, he could speak advanced-level Spanish. Highlights for Higano were meeting his current partner Emy who has returned to New Zealand with him, a jungle tour in the Amazon region, and daily witnessing the incredible transformation Medellin has taken from being the most murderous city in the world 20 years ago.

Higano found several similarities between Colombian culture and his own Tokelauan culture. Namely, Colombian people, like Tokelauans, are very family-oriented. He adds that in Colombia, chivalry is not dead. With male strangers offering their hand to ladies as they disembark from buses to which the ladies would reply “too kind!” before continuing on their way. Higano found that his prior knowledge of the rhythm and body movement of Tokelauan fatele (traditional Tokelauan dance) gave him an edge over the other foreign students in his salsa classes where he said some really struggled picking up the most basic steps.

Higano used EAFIT’s ‘International Night’ as an opportunity to teach local Colombian and other international students about New Zealand and Tokelau. He completed his presentation with a demonstration of both the New Zealand haka (traditional Māori war dance) and fatele and received scores of questions afterwards by Colombians and other exchange students, eager to know more about both cultures.

Higano acknowledges VicOE (now Wellington Global Exchange) and the Wellington International Leadership Programme (WILP) in supporting his exchange. He is also grateful to the Office of the Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) that awarded him with the Tufi Taufao Scholarship which ultimately made him financially able to go on exchange. Higano was able to fulfil his remaining degree requirements at EAFIT and is now looking forward to graduation.

Higano’s advice to Pasifika students considering going on exchange is to “believe it is financially possible”. As Pasifika students "we are eligible for a range of opportunities. Be proactive, save some of your own money, be prepared to do the administrative paperwork to get on exchange, and make contact with the people at Wellington Global Exchange and WILP who will help you. Talk amongst your friends about how you can take advantage of what is literally sitting there waiting for you to take hold of."

“You will never regret it, and the skills and experiences you will gain are not found inside any ordinary lecture room”.