While the continuing impact of Covid-19 means that global travel remains a distant dream for most people, experiencing international culture and language is surprisingly easy at home, especially for local students.
That’s because the make-up of Hibiscus College schools has become increasingly diverse in recent years, as migration to New Zealand has boomed from every part of the world.
In a snapshot survey of local high schools and colleges, the absolute minimum number of languages being spoken by students and/or their families was 13, with upwards of 26 far more common.
Perhaps the most graphic illustration is at Whangaparāoa College, where flags representing each country that students’ and staff’s families come from are hung in the auditorium – and there are currently more than 70 different flags on display.
Principal James Thomas says the number has grown dramatically in the 15 years since the school opened.
“There’s been a huge growth in the range of people and national groups represented here as part of our whanau,” he says. “We hang the flags from each country, so people feel connected with their roots.”
Only around 13 of the nations represented are those from where Whangaparāoa’s international fee-paying students hail from; all the others are families who have moved to New Zealand to live, and from every continent.
The college holds a range of events to celebrate diversity, including an international food festival, as does Ōrewa College. Head of languages there, Masami Stewart, says their event includes cultural performances from many countries.
“We usually have 20 or more food stalls, music and dance performances, and many international students participating in the festival” she says.
“Our language classes are also covered in posters and flags from around the world, and we regularly celebrate student cultures by integrating them into our courses and discussions.”
James Thomas says that Whangaparāoa students are encouraged to respect each other as a matter of course, including any differences.
“Our recent senior school show touched on lack of understanding or perceived ideas between different cultural groups,” he says. “The Hibiscus Tuakana group included some Pasifika dance and some very challenging dialogue about attitudes and ways forward. It was really well done.”