A New Zealander in New England
Māori Fulbright Scholar Will Flavell finds common ground in Massachusetts
Although Fulbright scholar Dr. Will Flavell comes from halfway around the world, his work focuses on the indigenous people who have a long history here in Massachusetts. A Māori researcher from Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Māori for Auckland, New Zealand), Flavell is studying language, culture, and identity in the schooling experiences of Native American youth in Massachusetts, first at the UMass Boston campus, then at UMass Amherst. We spoke to him about his work, his findings so far, and what has surprised him about life in a different hemisphere.
Tell us about your work.
My research project here in Massachusetts is looking at the schooling experiences of Native American youth. So, for example, can they see their culture, language, and identity featured in their classroom experiences? I’ll be interviewing a range of 18- to 24-year-olds and asking them to reflect back on their high school experiences. Once I understand a little bit more about their schooling experiences, I want to compare that to my work as an educator with indigenous youth in New Zealand and see if there are similarities or any differences between the indigenous young people here and in New Zealand.
What made you decide to come to Massachusetts specifically?
I’ve been to the States two times prior, but I had never been to Massachusetts before, and a friend of mine who works with the different colleges in the Amherst area suggested I come to UMass Amherst. I also recognized there was another UMass campus in Boston. So I thought, okay, maybe I could get away with going to both campuses.
I like the idea of public research universities, so I wanted to go to a university that a lot of people from the area attend. You see that those who live in Massachusetts, who are from Massachusetts, will go to UMass Amherst or Boston, and will contribute back to their local communities. I like that. Also, I like the idea that many of the students may be the first in their family to attend university.
What else have you been working on around these issues?
I’m a big fan of advocating for and strengthening the voice of Māori children. I feel young children can play a crucial role in influencing policy and local community decision-making. I recently published a book with 11- and 12-year-old Māori young people about community issues that were important to them.
Another area I’ve been working on is the idea that Māori communities need a broad and responsive education to succeed in New Zealand. We have a history in New Zealand where Māori students haven’t necessarily done well academically due to several factors, including poor relationships with key people, including teachers, in a school environment that has not recognized their culture, language, and identity. My work is to advocate for the need to look at how teachers relate to Māori students and create an environment both in the school and the curriculum to ensure that we are culturally connecting back to Māori students. Everyone succeeds when Māori succeed.
As a New Zealander in New England, what’s been most surprising to you here?
There’s so many, where do I start? The accent. There are times now I purposely change my accent, particularly when ordering food or in a rush. For example, I was having trouble once with tomato. You know, to-MAH-to. So I changed it to to-MAY-to. Oh, tomato, okay. [Laughs.] Things like that. We don’t tip in New Zealand, so that’s another interesting cultural experience here. I love the shopping, too. [Laughs.] Supermarkets are massive!