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In autumn 2015 a delegation of five teachers from Samoa set foot on VUB for an Erasmus Mundus exchange in the Master of Educational sciences. For Pauline it was a heartbreaking choice to leave her family and three children for two years, but she decided to grab the ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. As it is common in Samoa to name babies after places, Pauline’s brother living in Australia offered her the honour to name his daughter after this ‘life changing’ experience. Baby “Elsenay” was born on 4 May 2017.
The Samoan student delegation existed of two staff members of the National University of Samoa, Pauline Nafo’i Lee Hang and Victory Utumapu-Milford, and three Apia Primary School teachers Rosanna Sua, Wanda Pau and Robert Ugapo. They would soon be known as Team Belgium Samoa in this faraway Brussels commune called Elsene. Together with the birth of baby boy ‘Brussels’, the story of Elsenay shows how some of these seemingly ‘everyday student lives on campus’ are intensively shared and experienced by families and communities on the other side of the planet. It puts perspective to how some Belgian students consider their student life as utterly common and logical. What is just a campus for some can be a life changing experience for others.
“It took me almost three months to adapt to a new environment so different from our own”, Pauline explains. “The time difference, culture, the food, the weather … almost everything. Thank God for Skype and video calls to lessen the pain of homesickness and missing home, especially my babies. I luckily get to see them on Skype every day.” An international exchange not only affects the students, but also their relatives. In July Pauline and Victory, the last of the Samoans, will head home after a long and distant journey. But first they will stop a few days in Sydney to meet little Elsenay.
“My experience has taught me the true meaning of patience”, Pauline looks back on her adventure. “It was difficult, but the sacrifice will all be worth it in the end. I owe a lot of gratitude to my family, husband, my three little girls and friends for their support. Despite missing them every day, the interaction with different cultural backgrounds and beliefs was so enriching. Sharing knowledge and skills, and collaborate with so many smart, talented, enthusiastic and motivated people that work so hard to achieve their goals, has been one of the best learning experiences. I witnessed some life-threatening situations which reminded me of the preciousness of life, and the importance to live each day and moment as if it were your last. I have also learnt that education is one of the most important aspects of change. We can be the turnover that will help our children and future generations to be better off. Taking responsibility for the happiness of our children is the greatest unselfish kindness one could ever do for others.”
The full story of ‘Team Belgium Samoa’ can be read in the next issue of our university’s magazine Henri, featuring an interview with Pauline’s friend Victory. When Pauline says “I love my VUB, and I love Brussels”, her words sound very genuine. We understand their real nature, because of the story behind them. We end it by wishing Team Belgium Samoa, on behalf of the whole VUB community, the best of luck and a lot of success in the future, and baby Elsenay a long and happy life.