Land of the Long White Cloud: It was my first time to the magical land of Aotearoa, New Zealand where Ange spent the first 8 years of her adulthood. New Zealand is the westernmost point of the Polynesian Triangle, a group of over 1000 islands that share enduring cultural bonds, namely their integration with the ocean environment and spirit of exploration.
We also visited Fiji, a conglomeration of 333 islands and Hawaii, the apex of the triangle. In each place we were able to flex our appreciation of beauty muscle. Stunning coastal views, unspoiled nature, geothermal wonders and vibrant plant biodiversity greeted us daily.
Although these islands share deep cultural and historical bonds, political and economic factors have cultivated different environments for locals as well as tourists. In New Zealand, the standard of living is high, and the ethos to travel and venture beyond the shores was witnessed in everyone we met. Often times, as in the case of Annabel, a trial lawyer in Hamilton, young New Zealanders leave the country to gain valuable experience abroad before ultimately returning home to settle down.
In stark contrast was Fiji where a weak currency stifles dreams to visit other places. In addition, the social climate is muddied by deep mistrust between some Indian and Fijian communities resulting in political jousting for power. Of all the Fijians we met, none had travelled beyond their borders, and economic hardship was apparent in those we interviewed and met.
Our interviews in Fiji reignited a potentially rich theme in participants who describe their passion in life prospectively rather than in the present or past tense.
Hawaii has the largest population of all Polynesian islands and the tourism industry is second to none. We visited Oahu and stayed in the heart of Waikiki Beach while also visiting the North Shore.
Our interviews in Hawaii reflect the cultural diversity living on the island: a Cook Islander working at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a Korean video store owner moonlighting as a cab driver and a Mexican-American nurse. A common theme among these three interviews was the importance of family, however there were major differences in the story of why. Beginning in mid January our job will be to make sense of complex stories like this from over 30 diverse cultures who report similarities in what they love and are passionate about, yet also paint diverging emotional reasons why.