University of Waikato student Foa Samuelu (18) received the top result in New Zealand for her NCEA Samoan scholarship exam last year.
While Samoan was her strongest subject at school, Foa was surprised to hear the news.
“I speak fluent Samoan and have always enjoyed the subject, but I had to study hard for this exam and found it quite difficult,” Foa says. “I was so happy to find out I’d done well.”
Foa was born in Samoa and moved to New Zealand when she was two. She’s one of six children and grew up in South Auckland.
The former Auckland Girls’ Grammar School student has just started a conjoint degree in Law and Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato’s Hamilton campus. For her NCEA results, Foa received a $3000 Academic Merit School Leaver Scholarship. She also received the Edna Money Future Pacific Leaders' Scholarship worth $6000 a year for up to three years.
Foa’s living at Bryant Hall, one of the Halls of Residence on campus, and says moving away from home was part of her search for independence.
“My family is very supportive of me but I wanted to get out of Auckland and start living my own life,” says Foa. “Waikato was the right place for me because of its diversity and collective, community approach.”
Foa’s culture has played a big part in her journey and success so far. “My culture keeps me grounded and reminds me of who I am and who I want to be,” she says.
At school, Foa was the prefect for global citizenship and student trustee on the school board of trustees. She was also a student ambassador for the Graeme Dingle Foundation, a child and youth charity.
“I hosted and spoke at events to advocate the benefits of the Foundation for young people in New Zealand,” she says. “One of my highlights was meeting the Prime Minister and Governor General and telling them about my experiences.”
Foa was part of Project K, a 14-month mentoring programme designed to grow confidence in young kiwis. After experiencing some personal difficulties in her early teens, Foa was brought into the programme and matched to a mentor.
“It just takes one person to believe in you and suddenly you’re able to see your potential,” says Foa. “My mentor helped me do that and I’m thankful to the Graeme Dingle Foundation.”
After she graduates, Foa wants to combine her love of law and culture to advocate for minority groups in society.
“I want to work for a not-for-profit or create my own organisation that helps people discover their potential,” she says. “Too often success is measured by the same standard, usually academic. I think it’s important we realise every person is a treasure chest and it’s about finding the right key to unlock that treasure.”