Welcome Dr Helena Cook, our new director of Pasifika Pathways

Dr Helena Cook introduces the Pasifika Pathways programme and shares with us a little about her background, her recent experiences, her love of Wellington and some personal goals in 2020.

Afio mai e le School of Languages and Cultures! We are excited to welcome Dr. Helena Cook to our team. Helena is currently settling into her role as Director of the new Diploma in University Studies (Pasifika Pathways) and looking forward to meeting the programme’s first students in Trimester 1. We would like to take this opportunity to ask Helena to tell us a little bit about the programme as well as herself.

What is the Pasifika Pathways programme?
The Pasifika Pathways programme is a new programme, designed as a one-year pre-university diploma to help Pasifika students transition to university. Students will complete courses designed to help them learn how to navigate the university environment. It’s very interdisciplinary and we’ve been fortunate enough to have a tremendous amount of support for this programme from across all the faculties as well as the Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika)’s office.

Can you tell us a little bit about your own background? 
I grew up in Christchurch; my dad is Samoan and my mum is Irish, so I have a very mixed cultural heritage. I’ve always been interested in identity and telling people’s stories: my master’s degree was on Pasifika MPs in the NZ Parliament and my PhD on identity performance of MPs. When I returned to New Zealand in 2014, I worked with international Pasifika and ASEAN students on the New Zealand Aid development scholarships programme.

What are some of the unique things you love about Pasifika people?
I’ve always felt connected to the idea that my ancestry (Samoan, Chinese and Irish) is made up of migrants; people who travel in search of new knowledge, new lives, and new adventures. I think the Pacific has been the cradle of so many great explorers, creators and storytellers and I really appreciate the ways that these have been brought into New Zealand culture. My hope for this programme is that we can inspire new generations of Pasifika people to find ways to tell their stories.

You’ve been studying in the UK prior to coming back to Victoria. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I studied in the UK for almost four years and later returned to work with high school counsellors in Europe and the Middle East to support international students attending pathway programmes at UK and US universities. This was a wonderful job as I got to travel to all sorts of unexpected places like Albania, Kuwait, Cyprus, and Turkey.

What sorts of things do you like to get up to outside of work?
I love interior design so enjoy spending time searching out interesting pieces to decorate my home with. I usually have a few good books on the go and enjoy dragging my friends to do bad karaoke!

Apart from our glorious summers, what did you miss about Wellington while you were away?
I missed summer in Wellington like you wouldn’t believe! I think Wellington has its own vibrant, diverse spirit which you don’t find anywhere else and I’m looking forward to diving back into the cafés, shops and nightlife here! I’m hoping to do more exploring of Aotearoa, especially the North Island and I’d love to improve my te reo too, so that’s a goal for this year.

Helena is warm and approachable – we encourage anyone interested in learning more about the Pasifika Pathways programme to get in touch with her. You can do this using the contact details on her staff page.

Article: Benjamin Swale