'Incredible memories' from Native American visit
Students from an American Indian high school on a 10-day cultural exchange to New Zealand will take incredible memories, new friends and a better appreciation of their own culture back to New Mexico.
They will also take with them a formal student exchange programme with two Hamilton-based schools, Nga Taiatea Wharekura and Tai Wananga.
The first graduating class of the Native American Community Academy (NACA) is in Hamilton after a week travelling through the North Island, staying on marae and visiting the sights in Rotorua and the central plateau. They were inspired to come to New Zealand after hosting a group of Maori ambassadors at their school in 2006.
NACA student Nick Felipe, 18, said he didn't know much about New Zealand apart from what he had learned in class but he was amazed by the scenery and the people.
"As we started going towards Hamilton I was looking around at the scenery," he said. "It was really amazing. I wasn't expecting it."
Mr Felipe is from the Acoma Pueblo, a village in the middle of the New Mexico desert at an elevation of close to 2000 metres.
"It's very different from New Mexico just because we don't have as much green so that was amazing," he said. "Right away New Zealand just skyrocketed past my expectations."
NACA first opened its doors in 2006 and Mr Felipe was one of the first students through the door. He said meeting students from schools that share the same holistic approach to learning was the highlight of the trip.
"Just seeing how much energy and presence that was presented at the school was amazing," said Mr Felipe. "All the students were involved and very active, very humble and very open to us coming in and welcoming us as family."
The NACA students and teachers were guided throughout their tour by a handful of local youths who showed them Hamilton's city life, stayed with them on marae and helped out with local customs.
NACA principal Kara Bobroff is grateful for the local support and said her students had learned more on this trip than they ever would in the classroom.
"The students talked about the strong aspects of culture and customs and how that impacted them personally and what they want to take back to their own families and communities."
She said they stayed up talking into the night and look forward to seeing each other again.
"They most enjoyed getting to meet students from both schools and the person-to-person contact has been quite amazing for them."
The exchange programme was signed off by Ms Bobroff, Nga Taiatea Wharekura principal Watson Ohia and Tai Wananga principal Toby Westrupp. It was attended by students from all three schools and Te Wananga o Aotearoa CEO Bentham Ohia.
Mr Westrupp said the initiative was about reaching out to a global community. "It's the foundation to allow our students to become global citizens."
Tai Wananga plans to send a group of students to New Mexico in the next two years.
"Both schools, Tai Wananga and Nga Taiatea, are fortunate that we have students who have spent a lot of time with the NACA students so they have already started forging those relationships, student to student."
Elton Smallman is a Wintec journalism student.