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West Auckland teen aims to cultivate cultural knowledge at Yale University

William Sangster

Tongan-Kiwi Andre Fa'aoso aims to boost cultural knowledge at Yale

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A West Auckland teen is settling into Yale University life and is aiming to grow the influence and knowledge of Pacific culture on campus.

Andrew Fa’aoso, 18, arrived in the United States and began his studies at Yale in Connecticut about two months ago.

Earlier this year, he shared a heartwarming video on TikTok as he and mum Melodie Hallam opened his acceptance letter online. The emotional moment - which also showed the family dog jumping for joy in the background - went viral.

Fa’aoso, who is British and Tongan (Houmakelikao), is on a fully funded scholarship for four years at the Ivy League university.

He is the only Pacific Island student who was fully raised outside of the US, with students who are Hawaiians, American Samoans, Fijians and Micronesians also on campus.

“I appreciate the fact I have a place within the small Pasifika community to talk about my experience being from New Zealand and at Yale.

“I am part of a group of other Pacific Islanders here at Yale who are aiming to grow the influence and knowledge of Pacific culture on campus, and I am looking forward to getting involved in it.”

Fa’aoso and the Pacific community there have been celebrating Indigenous Peoples Weeks.

They will also host a benefit concert for victims of the wildfire in August on Maui.

Andre Fa'aoso (left) with a friend at Yale. Photo / Andre Fa'aoso

He says his experience on campus so far has been amazing.

“The range and availability of academic resources, the amazing people, the classes that are taught and the experience of living on campus have made this a life-changing experience.”

Immersing himself in the campus traditions, Fa’aoso says some are “quite obscure”.

“The waving off of a Yale-embossed handkerchief at formal dinners to our official student anthem. The food, the architecture and the academic resources and experience is something to behold.”

He is already active in student government on campus, a model United Nations, the Daily News team and a few student jobs.

In a few weeks, Fa’aoso will represent Oceania at the World Anti-Bullying Forum, which will be held in North Carolina.

Life at Yale University is a big leap from Te Atatu, West Auckland. Photo / Andre Fa'aoso

“I am still very much playing a role in representing Aotearoa’s youth while I am here at Yale, and I take great pride in that.”

Meeting some of the world’s most successful and wealthy people daily has also been a learning experience for the young student.

A care package from home with all the Aotearoa favourites. Photo / Andre Fa'aoso

“I’ve had to remind myself very often that what I am doing is enough and that I do deserve a place here, even though I haven’t been here long.

“I think I am generating a sense of belonging here.”

He says he has often been asked about Kiwi figures, icons, and cultures such as former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Taika Waititi, Lorde, the All Blacks and Māori culture.

Still in close contact with his friends and family in New Zealand, Fa’aoso looks forward to seeing them.

“Mum sent me a box of some clothes from home and also a nice serving of New Zealand foods that she knows I’ve been missing.

“We have a pretty amazing range of food arrangements and options at Yale,” he says.

Andrew Fa'aoso has been accepted into an Ivy League college, Yale University, in the US. Photo / Michael Craig

“But nothing tops having a late-night Tim Tam or Pineapple Lumps.”

He plans to return home for Christmas and work during the summer break from May to August.

Fa’aoso says he’s still adjusting to academic, student and Yale life and misses home.

“I am where I need to be in order to get where I want to go in life. I will forever be grateful for the privilege and opportunity that I now have.

“But that comes at the trade-off of being so far away from home.”

Hero image: Watch Andre Fa'aoso and his mum's reaction to the news that the West Aucklander was accepted into the Ivy League university. Photo / Andre Fa'aoso

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