Kia ora! Talofa! Malo ni! My name is Aleila Melita Alefaio. I come from a family of Samoan and Tokelauan descent. I am a senior at the University of Washington studying Medical Anthropology & Global Health.
I am currently president of the legacy group called Polynesian Student Alliance, which is an organization that serves to spread Polynesian culture awareness, voice the presence of an active and lively Pacific Islander community, and outreach and recruit Pacific Islander students for higher education. I am also part of a research group called Research Family made up of students of Oceanic background that uses their identities to connect with outside communities and decolonize cultural objects at the Burke Museum. I am a student researcher and assistant at Haborview Medical Center in the Global Health Department and Division of Medicine – Allergy & Infectious Disease Department. Much of my work involves intensive research and working with youth in the Pacific Islander community.
I grew up in an affluent predominantly Caucasian area and found myself struggling with my identity. There was a constant battle between embracing my own culture and assimilating to the American culture. I was fortunate to find an empowering group of Pacific Islanders at the UW who helped me find who I was.
This is my first study abroad trip — I found this trip to Aotearoa a perfect opportunity to learn more about my people, my brothers and sisters of Oceania, and myself. I also saw this trip as perfect opportunity to build a relationship between students at the University of Auckland and the University of Washington. With my field of study, leadership roles, and this trip to Aotearoa, I hope to project the voices of Pacific Islanders and empower future generations to reach for higher education while staying connected to the roots of our cultures.