International Education Week with Te Puoho Katene

This week marks the 18th annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, which celebrates and promotes the benefits of international education and exchange programs worldwide. Initially created so that America could inspire its students to travel abroad, IEW now encourages and supports foreign students interested in making the leap to study in the United States. Today, IEW is celebrated in over 100 countries, including New Zealand.

Join us as we profile student experiences this week. Today we chat with Te Puoho Katene.

Te Puoho Katene is in the process of completing a Master of Science in Management degree at Stanford University. Te Puoho graduated with a BSc and a BA from Victoria University of Wellington in 2007.

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What institutions have you studied at previously? Why did you decide to study in the USA and/or at Stanford?

I completed my undergraduate degrees in Science and Arts at Victoria University, Wellington. As a Wellingtonian, my choice to remain in my sphere of familiarity and safety is diametrically opposed to my current decision to study abroad.

I have tried to position myself to drive toward a career from a young age so that I can hope to contribute to positive social outcomes for my Māori people.  For 10 years I worked towards that goal in public service before realising that the development arc I was on needed to be accelerated as the scope of my task ahead came into focus.

The best method of learning comes from being outside your comfort zone.  In order to better myself and pursue knowledge, I decided to pursue my education horizons at one of the world’s leading institutes.

Stanford’s motto of “Change Lives, Change Organisations, Change the World” shifted those aspirational horizons I had set myself – even from the first consideration of applying. I aspire to change the world for Māori, and Stanford is a place where not only is this type of impact possible, it is wholly expected.

Now, through wondrous circumstance, I get to pursue those horizons every day, surrounded by brilliant, inspiring lecturers and students.

What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome studying in USA?

The experience has been fantastic, but not without hardships. After a 10 year hiatus from tertiary study, the process of learning in these environments is something that takes some time to relearn.

The most difficult part has been balancing my educational goals with family life. I am incredibly fortunate and amazed by the strength and selflessness of my wife, who has enabled me to pursue these dreams.

Would you be able to describe your program and how would it differ from study in NZ?

My program is a mid-career postgraduate business degree, known as the Stanford MSx program (previously Stanford Sloan). The program brings together 104 professionals from around world. The unique value provided by the program can be distilled down to two factors; people and culture.

The calibre of faculty at Stanford’s Graduate Business School is second to none – every day I am thankful to be exposed to people on the leading edge of business strategy, innovation and leadership. I am equally blessed to be influenced by the knowledge and experience of my fellow students, each accomplished and inspiring in their own right. The culture of the GBS is such that, when you’re here, all the matchstick barriers of self-doubt are disabused. The motto is to change the world, and here, in this place, that seems a perfectly reasonable standard to bear.

What is it like being an international student? What are the biggest hurdles to overcome?

I love being an international student. Our 104-strong cohort is more than 60% international, and one of the greatest things is sharing in the diversity and culture of my classmates. This semester the expats from each country are taking turns hosting cultural evenings – it’s a fantastic way to get to know people better and form strong bonds. Everyone is open and value different perspectives and life experiences.

The biggest hurdles from an international perspective are mainly practical – tipping, accent confusion (and ensuing hilarity), and finding replacements for the comfort foods from home.

Professionals from all walks of life across the world congregate for the Stanford MSx program. Photo Credit: Stanford University.
Professionals from all walks of life across the world congregate for the Stanford MSx program. Photo Credit: Stanford University.

What are your plans post-graduation? How has your time in the US affected your future plans?

The motivating factor that led me to embarking on this journey was to return and use the learnings from my experience to contribute to achieving social outcomes for New Zealand Māori. I know my future is home, with my people – and I am grateful for every opportunity I receive to add to my skillset here in the US to help me to do this.

I plan to return to New Zealand and, in my temerity, pursue avenues to engender social impact through business. My time so far has been extremely encouraging for this goal.  Enriching the business school experience with my focus on social enterprise, philanthropic innovation and the social impact of for-profit businesses has been very rewarding.

Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits that you noticed in your study? What are the biggest cultural differences between NZ and the USA?

The university experience is very different from home – from tailgating to homecoming, to the classroom experience, there are many things that I’m experiencing for the first time. Students being marked on vocal class participation is not really something that featured in my New Zealand university days, so it has taken some adjusting to classroom etiquette.

What was your biggest highlight or favorite achievement, both in and out of school?

In my list of highlights, and there have been many, there are a few that rise to the top of mind. The single proudest achievement for me academically is being here, at Stanford. It was a future I never imagined was open to me, and it is one I reflect upon every day that I am here.

I strongly believe that making memories outside of school is equally important as the academic journey. Being caught in a mountain hailstorm in Yosemite National Park, seeing the ground-breaking Broadway show Hamilton (which was on my U.S. bucket list), and walking the floor at the New York Stock Exchange rank very highly during my time here.

Te Puoho Katene exploring Yosemite National Park. Photo Credit: Te Puoho Katene.
Te Puoho Katene exploring Yosemite National Park. Photo Credit: Te Puoho Katene.

Do you have any parting thoughts or advice for prospective students seeking admission to prestigious universities or scholarships?

I’ve always wondered why we New Zealanders identify ourselves as “Kiwis.” Comparing ourselves to a small, nocturnal, flightless bird found only on our shores understates, in true Kiwi fashion, our ability to effect change both in our slice of heaven and on an international stage.

We New Zealanders have a tendency to underestimate our abilities. One truth that the admissions process revealed to me was that, rather than being a limiting factor, our “Kiwiness” is a unique value proposition we bring to the world. Not only can we foot it with the very best in the world, we offer a differentiated, idiosyncratic cultural perspective that is uniquely ours. And rather than, in that other truly Kiwi “tall poppy” fashion, shrink away from the prospect of standing out, we embrace the opportunity to share what makes us unique.

So, in your deliberations and uncertainties, remember that we are all special. It is not only our innate right, but also our obligation, to pursue our loftiest of goals – for even in the pursuit, we embolden our peers and family to believe in their own potential.

Our eponymous bird may not fly, but we can, but only if we allow ourselves to.

Te Puoho Katene poses in front of the U.S. Capitol. Photo Credit: Te Puoho Katene.
Te Puoho Katene poses in front of the U.S. Capitol. Photo Credit: Te Puoho Katene.

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Follow #IEW2017 to participate in the virtual conversations happening online around International Education Week.

Additionally, are you thinking about studying in America? There are thousands of opportunities for motivated students! Connect with EducationUSA New Zealand on Facebook (facebook.com/educationusanz) and Twitter (@educationusanz), and be sure to check out our free resources (nz.usembassy.gov) available to help you get started!