Alumna Lora Vaioleti found the Fulbright network opened doors in the United States and her career continues to reap the benefits. Just a few years after finishing her award, she is back in the U.S.
completing a prestigious and competitive internship at the United Nations Mission in New York.
When Ms Vaioleti came home in 2013 after her Fulbright exchange to University of California, she took up a position delivering a Master’s level paper on State Policy and Indigenous Development at the University of Waikato. She conceptualised and managed the delivery of the first Pacific research conference – Kiwa’s Colloquium – at the University where local and international experts discussed Pacific education, enterprise and climate change.
Not long after her exchange ended, Ms Vaioleti was also accepted as one of the first Pacific Security Scholars for the recently formed Pacific Islands Society (PacSoc) in the U.S.
“I interviewed regional experts in person and produced a series of original articles over the course of the year which were published across international fora. After a year I continued to write for PacSoc, focusing my work further to interview regional policy experts on challenges such as evolving Australia – Fiji relations. I also travelled to Manila, Philippines in February 2014 with a regional research group IMPAECT to present my research from California at a UNESCO conference on climate change education.”
In 2014 she worked in Melbourne as an Occupational Rehabilitation Consultant drawing on both managerial and communications qualifications as well as her previous qualification as a physiotherapist.
“My time in this role was of great value, forcing me to grow my skill base in stakeholder engagement, conflict resolution, and negotiation. It was while I was in Melbourne that I was made aware of the opportunity to work for the New Zealand UN headquarters, report writing, preparation of correspondence to the New Zealand office, assisting with hosting receptions.”
She first heard about the opportunity in New York from a fellow Fulbrighter. “I then contacted a couple of Fulbright Alumni who had previously been associated with the Mission in New York and after an insightful phone call to NYC with one of those Alumnifrom a café in Melbourne, I had enough insight to decide on committing to applying for the internship. Phone interviews followed my online application and a few months later, news of an offer came through,” Ms Vaioleti says.
“I believe it is an especially busy time for the Mission with the commencement of New Zealand’s seat on the UN Security Council this year. I am excited to gain further insight into the process of negotiations and planning around my special interests of climate change and development in particular.”
During her Fulbright exchange, Ms Vaioleti was supervised by Professor Richard Matthew at the University of California Irvine for two terms. Prof Matthew also heads the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs and Ms Vaioleti became a member of this group, attending and contributing to regular research meetings, breakfast clubs.
“I loved my time at UCI – the pace of study, and the commitment of my fellow students to their work challenged me to extend myself. I found the tertiary experience in the US to be far more consuming than my experience here . You are expected to participate in extracurricular groups, join interest organisations, and contribute to formal social events with fellow students and lecturers alike.”
She made sure to make the most of being in the U.S. while on her exchange, experiencing the culture in many ways.
“I drove with friends to Las Vegas for my birthday, attended a Fulbright Enrichment program in Phoenix Arizona which was excellent, flew to San Francisco and stayed in little motels by myself in San Mateo to hold interviews for a research project I ran on Pacific kin networks. I took salsa dancing lessons! I was also in California for the 2012 election, and was lucky to attend a Democratic rally at the University and hear ex-President Bill Clinton speak on election policies,” Ms Vaioleti reminicises.
She attended the first Tribal Listening Conference held at UCI where she met with and began to understand some of the local indigenous challenges, in their words, regarding resource stewardship.
“Here I was also a participant in a number of ‘smudging’ ceremonies led by a local tribal leader which was humbling; and I was invited as a guest to an event my Supervisor spoke at in NYC, ‘The Moth’ in the infamous Players Club, where he story-told of some of the dire situations he had found himself in during UN security missions in Congo.”
Beyond her current internship, Ms Vaioleti wishes to contribute to the global policy space around climate change action and development.
“Long term, I aim to build a social enterprise which links the Pacific with major global markets which I hope will contribute to improved climate resilience for some of our regions most exposed.”