A journey to a foreign country inspired our international student Poonam Pait to write a story of her origin, what makes her who she is and inform people about what makes her unique like her home country of India.

I came from the extreme north-eastern part of India called Arunachal Pradesh, where the sun rises first and the land is filled with unexplored greenery. It is a beautiful place with a scenic exquisiteness that reminds me of New Zealand. Twenty-six indigenous tribes live in Arunachal and I belong to the Mishing tribe. Some of our people are found in the hills while most live in the plains of Assam, the neighbouring state. Nevertheless, we are the same people with the same ancestry. I live in a small town called Oyan and it falls at the East Siang district, where the mighty Siang river flows.

My name is Poonam Pait. I am an International Student studying at Unitec Mt Albert campus, pursuing a post-grad diploma in International Communications. It is exhilarating to study in this country! New Zealand has been one of my favourite places to explore because of its marvellous picturesque landscapes. Watching The Lord of the Rings film franchise encouraged me to come and study here.

I am loving every moment! There are things that take me back home – the landscape, the small houses, the vast greenery, and the flocks of sheep – things I saw when I was driving from Auckland to Hamilton, Tauranga, and Paihia. It is so peaceful and green. It is like a home away from home but just between us, I reckon that New Zealand is more beautiful!

Being questioned about my ethnicity challenged me to reassert who I am more than ever before

At first, I was surprised at what I discovered in Auckland. I simply hadn’t anticipated so much diversity! Queen Street is always full of people from all over the world and that shows how richly multicultural Auckland is. The city celebrates tremendous cultural commemorations like Diwali, Chinese New Year, Korean Day, Japanese Day, Pasifika Festival, and Latin Fiesta to name a few. It feels good to celebrate festivals from your own home country and experience other countries’ festivals as well. I have always been keen on learning about different cultures, so being able to experience them here is a blessing. It’s a beautiful way to learn about another culture and develop an interest to know more.

I’ve met people who have become my good friends and confidants. I have also had my share of awkward moments due to the way I look. I am proud and so sure of my ethnicity so I find it startling to meet people, whether in class or at my part-time work, who tell me that I don’t look like an Indian but more of an Asian. Although difficult at first, it has ultimately become an inspirational experience for me. Being questioned about my ethnicity challenged me to reassert who I am more than ever before. One thing bothers me though and I can’t help but want to ask, “Isn’t India in Asia?”

It feels like for many people here in New Zealand, India and Asia are two different continents. It might be because India is such a big country with twenty-nine states, various religions, different, distinct landscapes, and a variety of colourful cultures. We may be living in one country but we Indians also have many regional differences. For instance, Northern Indians most often wear turbans, but Southern Indians generally wear a wrap-around called a lungi. Western Indians have a different way of speaking and Bollywood is a big part of their lives while Eastern Indians have their own characteristic appearance and a big heart!

New Zealanders seem to judge my appearance and assume I’m a South East Asian yet, no matter how different I look from other Indians, at the end of the day, I am an Indian and my country falls under a huge continent and although it may be a surprise for some, it’s Asia!

We, Eastern Indians, have always faced an identity crisis because of our features, but we are very much Indian. You should also be aware that India is in Asia so we are also Asians. India and Asia are not two different coins but they are the different sides of the same coin.

Being met by such strong perceptions, my stay here in New Zealand has given me lots to reflect on. Above all, it has been inspirational. I have had time to think about my identity, what makes me ‘me’, and how my appearance and cultural heritage can be explained to others. I feel both proud and grateful to have the chance to let them know more about my people and Arunachal Pradesh.

I’ve met students from all over the world here at Unitec and I now relish the chance to teach them about my ethnicity. In turn, they’ve shared heaps of their stories with me, stories about their parts of the world, and I look forward to gathering more wonderful experiences and memories while I study here in Auckland, my second home.

Words by Poonam Pait.