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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

New Zealand

One day, Zenaida, my island mate from the Peace Corps, and I were hanging out at my house after school. As we chatted, we found ourselves imagining what it would be like to bring an I-Kiribati to America and share our experiences as foreigners in a foreign land. We even joked about taking our host families to malls and amusement parks, with Zenaida convinced that Meeki would love roller coasters. At the time, we never truly believed such a scenario could unfold. It seemed unimaginable to see our friends and families from Kiribati anywhere else. 

However, nearly a decade later, I found myself on a Fulbright scholarship studying the transnational migration of I-Kiribati in the context of climate change. I collected migration stories from I-Kiribati individuals living in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America. Surprisingly, much of my host family from Tarawa had relocated to New Zealand. It was a realization that echoed the improbable scenarios Zenaida and I had once joked about, now materialized into reality.

The 12-hour and 40-minute journey from Los Angeles to New Zealand felt like a dream. With each passing mile, I was getting closer to my family! As I stepped off the plane, I was greeted by a bustling crowd of travelers, some holding signs with names written on them. Amidst the crowd, I scanned eagerly for my family, only to hear my name being called from another direction. There they were - my host aunt, uncle, and my niece, who had grown so much since I last saw her. We exchanged warm embraces and loaded my belongings into their car, ready to embark on the hour-long drive to Morningside, a suburb about an hour away from Auckland Airport.

The evening before my arrival, the community in Morningside had gathered to bid farewell to a beloved Catholic priest who had served in Kiribati during the 1980s. His deep affection for the I-Kiribati people and their culture had left a lasting impact, and the Kiribati families in Morningside were truly grateful for his presence. Despite the bittersweetness of his departure, they celebrated his service and friendship with heartfelt joy. This morning, as my uncle drove to pick me up, the echoes of the previous night's celebration lingered in the air, adding an extra layer of emotion to our reunion. Nonetheless, as I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by my family with open arms, their warmth and love outweighing any sadness.

Around ten in the morning, we pulled up to Sarah's house, my sister from Tarawa. She had now become a mother of two charming boys, aged eight and six. Les, her husband, was busy mowing the lawn while their two boys shyly peeked through the windows, curious about the commotion outside. Little did I know that in the following year, I would be living with this wonderful family and the larger Kiribati migrant community in Morningside.

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