Dreams without borders - Māori student heads to France

By Mare Haimona-Riki

19-year-old Manaia Matafeo has his eyes set on France after being accepted into one of the most prestigious and selective European schools in the social sciences worldwide.

The Auckland-raised teen is no stranger to living in foreign countries.  He spent his last two years of high school at the United World College Dilijan Campus in Armenia where he graduated with an International Baccalaureate Diploma.

His new journey takes him to “Sciences Po” in France, a primary institution of higher learning for the French political and administrative elite.  It's an institution that has educated seven of the last eight French presidents.

For Matafeo, the decision was easy.

“[Sciences Po] are not married to European studying practices.  They’re ready to evolve and they really have a big focus on integrating international students as well…. It just felt right,” he says.

Manaia Matafeo will be one of the very few Polynesian students to ever attend Sciences Po.

Matafeo's main goal is to return to New Zealand with world-class knowledge and the tools to be a transformational change-maker in the community with a focus on the most vulnerable in our society.

“I have always believed that political change is best executed at the community level.  I hope to return to Aotearoa with the skills to implement my own philosophy of integrating community projects and business interests, to create solutions from the ground up that may operate in tandem with government initiatives,” he says.

Matafeo believes that it is time for indigenous voices to be heard in the oldest and most respected arenas of eurocentric knowledge and is fully aware that the trip represents an opportunity to do this while promoting tikanga Māori in a global setting.

“I think that Polynesian culture/Māori culture has a lot to offer in terms of the core values that we have that are very relevant today, for the issues that we have, such as kaitiakitanga of the land relating to global warming … we have had those values since day one.”

Upon his return from France, Matafeo wants to look for ways in which he can use his qualifications for the betterment of the community, starting with the community in which he resides. 

“I would like to start work within my iwi and once I start to solve the problems that are in that motu I would like to strengthen the connections between other iwi."

Matafeo will be departing for France at the end of this month.  To learn more about his story and help him on his journey, go here.