UCMe - Okirano, Political Science, University of Canterbury, NZ
Okirano Fialele Tilaia


Okirano Arts

What inspired your choice of subjects?

I’m studying Political Science because there aren’t many POC in those spaces. Pacific people and minorities are often treated differently. I want to break down barriers by understanding how it all works.

And what attracted you to UC?

I was born and raised in Ōtautahi Christchurch. In high school I worked for UC’s Pacific Development Team (PDT), so UC became my home even before I enrolled.

Tell us about the Pacific Development Team – what’s their role?

The PDT is about making sure that Pacific students have a voice and get the support they need. They’re there to ensure that Pasifika people can see themselves at UC – so that when we come here, we feel like we belong.

How are you involved with the PDT now?

I’m part of CUSSA, the Samoan Students’ Association. We help the PDT with catering and events. This year I’m working with others to create a wider Pacific advisory group. Our goal is to create direct communication between students and the university through a new Pacific association.

What have you enjoyed most about your academic experience?

I’ve loved the challenge. The lecturers have been amazing. They told us right from the start, "this is going to be difficult but it’s worth it in the end. If you put in the effort, you can do it."

"At UC you meet people from right across the country and beyond, of all ages. I’ve really enjoyed hearing other people’s stories."

How does uni contrast with high school?

The independence factor. At uni, you really take charge of your own learning. But there is support too. For example, Pasifika students can reach out to the PDT for mentoring and tutoring, help with course selection and social events too.

How has UC expanded your horizons?

I’ve met so many new people at UC – and not just people from Ōtautahi Christchurch! At UC you meet people from right across the country and beyond, of all ages. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about other people’s stories.

Any advice for Pasifika youth reading this?

I think of the words by Samoan poet Joshua Iosefo. He said, “do not be afraid to be the change. Not in skin tone or colour, but a change of mindset.” If you stand up for what you believe in and keep pushing, you can create the world you want to see.