The warm welcome and support Tongan student Latai Sepi Makasini received during her studies at Whitireia Community Polytechnic in Porirua more than offset adjusting to the capital's cooler climatet.
Latai Sepi is one of the latest students able to live on campus in a three-bedroom house. The house, Sia ko Mo'ui 'Aonga, which means Abode Where Useful Living is Nurtured, was officially opened in September 2007, by Her Royal Highness Princess Salote Mafile'o PilolevuTuita.
Latai Sepi shares the house with two female Tongan students and says the arrangement is a godsend.Together they support each other when missing home and share financial responsibilities.
"I didn't even think ofWhitireia until one of my cousins explained the benefits of being able to live onsite. Once I heard about it, I thought it would be a great opportunity," she recalls."And it has been.The house is part of the campus, so we don't have to pay for transport. It takes only a couple of minutes to walk to class."
Sia ko Mo'ui 'Aonga was established primarily for female Tongan international students recognising the relationship Whitireia had with TupouTertiary Institute. Pasifika Success Advisor Leisha Williams says, "The house provides a safe and culturally friendly place for students. The students pay a minimal rent, which includes WiFi and electricity".
Hailing from the village of Haveluliku on Tonga's main island of Tongatapu, Latai Sepi attendedTakuilau College and was awarded Dux in 2014. It earned her a scholarship to St John's College in Fiji, completing Year I 3 at boarding school. She enrolled in business studies at Tupou Tertiary Institute, graduating with a Diploma in Business in 2017 which led to her enrolment at Whitireia.
While she admits it took some time to adjust to the colder weather, Latai Sepi knows the sacrifice was well worth it, which her family readily acknowledges by their support.
"My dad, Kivalu Makasini, was a school teacher inTonga and contributes to my school's fees," she says.
"Both he and my Mum, Naite Makasini, pushed me to continue advancing my studies. My uncle in Australia,'Emila Makasini, helps a lot with the rent and other things.
"Ultimately, my main goal is to graduate and become an accountant, which will make my parents happy and open the opportunity for me to establish a good career"
Latai adds studying at Whitireia was a "great experience, with Leisha Williams (Pacific Academic Student Success Coordinator) maintaining regular contact with us, making sure we were okay and was always available to talk.
"I've made friends and have stayed in touch with many of them. It has been a unique and wonderful opportunity which I'm very grateful for".