Ngāti Whātua programme connects international students to Māori culture

By Jessica Tyson

The Rukuhia Global Leadership ProgrammE at Ōrākei Marae has helped more than 140 international students from 41 different countries feel better connected to the culture.

The Rukuhia Global Leadership Programme aims to increase the cultural understanding and social inclusion of the students living in Tāmaki Makaurau.

The students experience a pōwhiri, meet iwi leaders, learn some te reo Māori, waiata, and history of the area as part of the workshops.

Bea Velasco, from the Philippines, is studying digital marketing at the New Zealand Institute of Education and found the experience “incredibly moving”.

"The Rukuhia Programme is one of the most genuine encounters I have experienced in my entire life.  I have never thought that I could relate to another culture this much," she says.

"I was not born Māori but I felt really connected with the Ngāti Whātua ways, culture, how they revered their elders, nature, their identities.  It was real, heartfelt, honest.  I was holding myself from crying for the entire time." 

Business Development Manager for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Jamie Cook says, "It has been our honour and privilege to host these young international students, whom are no doubt the future leaders of tomorrow."

The response from students who have participated was overwhelmingly positive, with 98 percent saying they would recommend the programme to their friends and 88 percent of students saying they feel the programme had a positive impact on their future career.

The pilot programme has been designed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and is supported by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED)'s Study Auckland, Education New Zealand and the Ministry of Education.


The name Rukuhia is taken from a Māori proverb:

Ki te hōhonu koe, me ruku kawau maro – Should you dive, dive deep like the determined Kawau bird.