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Locked down in Otago: Samoan scholarship students write home

Homesick but determined: students from Samoa studying at the University of Otago in Dunedin say they miss home, are struggling through the radical lockdown conditions in New Zealand but are committed to their studies.

In letters to Samoa delivered by the Pacific Islands Centre of the University, nine scholarship students shared their experiences of their first year at University dropping away overnight as New Zealand went into Level 4 in a bid to eliminate COVID-19.

Centre Manager, Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai and Toroa College Manager, Christina Watson-Mills (where the students live near campus) said the global pandemic’s effects on New Zealand had some students wondering why they left home at all.

“Strong in their cultural upbringing, the prayers of their parents and elders, the loving messages on social media, and their new-found friends and colleagues on campus and from around the world, they have persevered and are much better for it,” the two wrote.

The students: Marina Tolo, Jireh Tamapua, Raymond Mualia, Asiasiga Naseri, Emily Fruean, Glenis Ah-Far Williams, Davina Suaalii, Vetalcy Lees and Niger Roebeck each shared how they are coping with the sudden change to their life in Otago.

“So far it has been hard, but they say if you are persistent enough and are family oriented then bob’s your uncle,” Glenis Ah-Far Williams from Vaitele-Uta, Lefaga and Vaisigano said. 

“I felt so much uncertainty and did not know how to place my thoughts. When will the borders open again? When will I see mum and dad again?” said Raymond Mualia.

One theme came through loud and clear. Faith and family have helped these students get through the chaos.

“By the Grace of our Heavenly Father, I am coping well with studies despite the constant changes and also with living as everything is slowly going back to normal and we can see and predict into the future,” Health Science student Asiasiga Naseri said.

“As of now, I am relishing this new learning ‘normal’ and I appreciate the work of my teachers and tutors in ensuring we get the best learning experience in such adversity.”

Jireh Tamapua, who is studying a Bachelor of Commerce said the lockdown made him even more homesick than before, and prayed for the pandemic to end.

“I wish I was home with my family but [I] am trusting our Almighty God through it all, and He has given me so much Peace and Joy that surpasses understanding,” Jireh said.

“I declare and decree that by next month Covid-19 will end, in Jesus’ name, so that I can go home for the two-week semester break and see my family.”

Commerce classmate Marina Tolo, who is from Alafua and Moata’a said she has been able to get through her homesickness and anxieties about the pandemic and lockdown and is ready to keep studying.

“It’s nearly two months now since school stopped and lockdown started. A lot has happened ever since, much of which made me homesick and long for home even more. But with the help of peers and academic advisors, I was able to get through most of my challenging moments and the unbearable tears I had during these times. 

“As of now, I can confidently say that I have overcome these emotions, as I’m reminded that God is always with me and will never leave or forsake me. With that belief, I am ready to take on the rest of this year and hope to visit home and be with my family and the people I’ve been missing.

Many of the students also said their college, the University International Student support system and the Pacific Islands Centre have helped them get through the lockdown, keep on top of their studies and stay connected to each other.

Read the students full testimonials:


In times like these, we really miss our families and friends back at home. Being away from home for the first time and having to deal with all that’s been going on has been quite challenging. We have recently had communication with the Samoan government encouraging us to keep in contact with Samoa’s High Commissioner in Wellington. 

With the support provided by the University’s International Student Support and the Pacific Islands Centre, we have been able to adapt easily to living in a different environment and also transitioning to online classes. Our biggest support system is our Residential College’s staff who we now consider family. They have supported us from the beginning and through these uncertain times and have ensured that not only are we focused on studies, but they also make sure we are enjoying ourselves and are well taken care of. 

Although it has been hard being away from home, we are surrounded by so much love and support. We miss home and we sure do hope to come back safely in the near future. We are sending love to our families and everyone back home. Best wishes and God bless. 

Vetalcy Lees and Niger Roebeck.


Talofa lava, my name is Davina Suaalii. I am currently studying Foundation Year program at the University of Otago. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to be awarded a Scholarship in 2019 to study in Dunedin starting in 2020. 

We are currently under lockdown period but we had been blessed with the support of the University community here at Dunedin. I would like to thank the support of the Staff of the Toroa College (where I am staying); Otago University International Office; Scholars from the past years; the staff of the Pacific Islands Centre as well as the local Samoans, and above all, our Lord and Saviour, who has been keeping us healthy, safe and strong during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also appreciate and acknowledge the support and prayers of my parents, relatives in Samoa, NZ and Singapore.

We believe that despite of so many things that are going on around us, we are still able to do our school work and of course laugh and smile every now and then to release some of the stress that we experience from staying isolated in our bubbles. It is during these times of isolation that we feel home sick and wanting to return home to be with parents and family members. However, for now, I shall continue to stay focus on my studies, do my best to remain COVID-19 free; strong and healthy to enjoy my learning here at Otago University, so that I may return home with victory to serve the people of Samoa.

Faafetai tele mo le Tapuaiga, faamanuia le Alii!

E sao mai i Amouta ‘ae tali’ le Amotai, fa’i fo’i o lea, ‘a o le toe aso i Moamoa; matou te faatasi pea ma 

Davina Suaalii


Talofa Samoa!

I am Glenis Kirstie Ah-Far Williams from the villages of Vaitele-Uta, Lefaga and Vaisigano.

I am 18 years of age and currently studying Biomedicine in Otago University in Dunedin. 

So far it has been hard, but they say if you are persistent enough and are family oriented then bob’s your uncle! 

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it!”

Stay safe Samoa! 

Glenis Ah-Far Williams


It has definitely been a roller-coaster ride of emotions and events. Remembering the first week of sudden enormous change and shutdown of all normality: How did yesterday turn into today’s mystery? 

A day before all this started, lectures and labs were still going on as usual. A multitude of students, as well as me, kept wondering when “the day” would come – and what a day it was when it finally came.

On that day, Wednesday 25 March, the Government announced the Level 4 lockdown as COVID-19 cases in New Zealand and across the globe continued to soar.

All schools and universities closed, everyone was told to stay home, all non-essential services terminated, and literally everything that made the Dunedin city busy and lively died away in just that moment.

The first week was tough.  We students, lecturers and university staff were thrown into this new situation whilst trying to figure out the best way to engage in, and deliver online labs, lectures, assessments, tests, and the upcoming exams. 

It was not easy, I would say, being stuck at home, and seeking to learn how to study productively in a totally different environment and atmosphere. The residential college I stay in also made drastic changes so unusual that it got us all thinking about how quickly everything we were accustomed to vanish within a day. 

From eating together at the same table in the dining hall to being set apart so that we ate alone, two metres away. We even had to stand in line two metres away from one another, rather  what used to be only a foot way! It was so odd. In the same way, many students’ normal gym/exercise routine were tarnished, and so home workouts were the only option for staying fit and active during the first few weeks.

 Even the loud ‘Scarfie flat’ parties that Otago is known for around the streets at night, also ceased.

That same week we were told to stay two metres apart from the students we were living with in the same unit within our college. It seemed quite absurd at that time, for it is not close to normal to be talking with people within the same household two metres apart at all times. Going outside for fresh air was not a choice either unless one had to buy something essential from the pharmacy or supermarket. This only occurred once every two weeks for my unit. When we did go out to buy our essentials, everything had changed immensely. We at last saw how much of a ghost town Dunedin had turned into. 

At the New World supermarket people were lining up at marked-interval distances, and there was mandatory sanitising before anyone could enter the store. 

Supermarket staff spraying everything with disinfectant while being masked for their own protection. It was quite a strange encounter but has almost become a norm here now after these changes have unfolded.

However, as it is a global pandemic, these changes were and are still for the best: to reduce community transmission, keep each other safe and thus maintain the safety of the whole nation. 

Even if anyone is asymptomatic, we were (and are still) to treat ourselves and each other as if we were carrying the COVID 19 virus.

After two weeks, slight changes were made, and we could come into close proximity with anyone in the same unit/household. Nonetheless, we could not interact with anyone else from another other unit in or outside of the college. 

This meant that I could not converse normally or discuss the day’s lectures or progress tests with some of my friends living in and outside of the college. It was predominantly only online communication from there onwards.

 Some   days, this abnormal way of living left me feeling down, but my parents assured that to get through this I needed to think positive and to be strong.  After all, our lockdown situation was not as bad as in some other affected countries.

That encouragement truly changed the way I thought about the situation in the following days and weeks.

Moreover, despite being on Zoom almost every day for bible study, tutorials, and some catch-up meetings with mentors and university staff, I was encouraged and positive that indeed this was just another obstacle to knock down with the help of the Lord. 

Since then, we have received a lot of support from hard-working university staff on how to learn effectively online and maintain our mental health and wellbeing during these difficult times.

The residential hall and collegiate community have also worked very hard to ensure that we get what we need and that we students are able to try something new to make every day a little more exciting and fulfilling. 

A lot has happened since all the changes have progressed.  New Zealand now stands with over a thousand COVID-19 cases and with almost 80% of those infected recovered. 

We are now on Level 3 lockdown and hopefully have only a week or so left until we can experience a slice of the more familiar. 

In spite of this, we all know that things won’t feel quite the same again until some time has passed.

Emily Elizabeth Fruean.

Talofa, my name is Asiasiga Naseri, and I’m doing Foundation Health Science studies at the University of Otago. I’m from the villages of Safaatoa Lefaga, Siutu Salailua and Nofoalii. 

It’s the first few days of level 3 lockdown now and not long since the upsurgence of COVID-19 here in New Zealand. Many changes have been made in the way we live, and I have acclimatised to these as they are for the best. 

It really was hard at first when it limited our social and interpersonal contact with others and restricted our travel to and fro, but most of all, it was challenging having to learn virtually across screens with lecturers and tutors. As of now, I am relishing this new learning ‘normal’ and I appreciate the work of my teachers and tutors in ensuring we get the best learning experience in such adversity. 

I also acknowledge the good work of our Residential Colleges and the Pacific Islands Centre staff, who have been mothering us and caring also for our mental and spiritual well-being by hosting evening devotions, zoom calls and emails to check up on us.

By the Grace of our Heavenly Father, I am coping well with studies despite the constant changes and also with living as everything is slowly going back to normal and we can see and predict into    the future. I look forward to the end of this academic year so I can return back home to family and friends and tell of the many great experiences I’ve encountered here at the University of Otago.

Asiasiga Naseri

I never thought of the question, “how are you coping as a student overseas?” until the very recent events: This world wind of a virus called Covid-19. I felt so much uncertainty and did not know how to place my thoughts. When will the borders open again? When will I see mum and dad again? 

Thankfully, technology has been on my side these past few months. Seeing my parents and family back home on my cellular device was just perfect. Besides technology, our Toroa College master Christina Watson-Mills, as well as her college team, has been such great support to her students. Keeping everyone safe and sound through pastoral support. 

And lastly, I’ve also been coping knowing that we have our Pacific Islands Centre always checking up on us.

Raymond Mualia

Talofa lava, my name is Jireh Maluina Tamapua and my parents are Victor and Arlene Tamapua. I am from the villages of Moataa, Vaivase and Faatoia. I’m studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Otago, Dunedin. 

With Covid-19 hitting the world at a time like this when I’m away from my family, it has made me more homesick and feeling so low. I wish I was home with my family but am trusting our Almighty God through it all, and He has given me so much Peace and Joy that surpasses understanding. Thanks to Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai and the team from the Otago Pacific Islands Centre for always checking up on us and making sure we are okay.

I declare and decree that by next month Covid-19 will end, in Jesus’ name, so that I can go home for the two-week semester break and see my family.

Jireh Tamapua


Talofa lava Samoa lo’u Atunu’u pele, 

I am Marina Wong Ling Tolo from Alafua and Moata’a. I am in my first year studying for a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Accounting, at the University of Otago.

It’s nearly two months now since school stopped and lockdown started. A lot has happened ever since, much of which made me homesick and long for home even more. But with the help of peers and academic advisors, I was able to get through most of my challenging moments and the unbearable tears I had during these times. 

As of now, I can confidently say that I have overcome these emotions, as I’m reminded that God is always with me and will never leave or forsake me. With that belief, I am ready to take on the rest of this year and hope to visit home and be with my family and the people I’ve been missing. 

Marina Tolo


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