By David

In 1967 I was one of twenty New Zealanders selected to spend a year in the United States as an American Field Service scholar. I ended up in the small Wisconsin town of Thorpe. It would be a lie to tell you my academic career made much progress in the USA, but I had a ball. I was selected to be the kicker on the football team and, as a result of having the longest punting average in the state, I had my class ring presented to me by Bart Starr, the quarter-back for the world champion Green Bay Packers. I sold the signed football he gave me for $US5000 to a Packers fan in Los Angeles. I went to Sadie Hawkins, Homecoming and the Prom with Mary Ann Lewsneski, Deputy Captain of the Thorpe High School cheerleading team. I won the Wisconsin American Legion oratory contest, but was beaten in the USA national final. I acted in the senior class play and spoke at the 4th July Independence Day church service. I even went to a Milwaukie Prom as the partner of Sue Davidson, a member of the Harley Davidson family. An extraordinary year ended with an extraordinary bus trip from New York to Los Angeles.

My foreign student experience contrasts starkly with that of a German foreign student who is about to end a year’s stay in New Zealand. Reka is sixteen and comes from Cologne. She has spent much of her year training and competing for the West Auckland Aquatics Swim Team. Her participation has been well past the recreational level. Week after week she has swum 60 kilometres; 362 kilometres in the past six weeks. And her swimming has improved as a result. She qualified to swim in the Age Group Nationals but the stupid Coach (that’s me) didn’t get her entries in on time. She made the finals of the Auckland Championships and last weekend ended up fourth in a good quality “skins” competition at the Waterhole 400 Meet. Reka is a good swimmer. She works hard and is that rarest and most valued of products: she’s terrifically low maintenance.

But best of all Reka is great fun to have on the team. She knows every second hand clothing store in Auckland. It’s an education seeing the new and interesting outfits she manages to buy for a few dollars. She went sky diving in Queenstown and, according to her, bought New Zealand’s best pizza in Wanaka. A second earring has been installed in the top of her left ear. She loves New Zealand but is not so sycophantic that she is afraid to enjoy our many odd foibles. She clearly thinks some of the school conversations are a bit limited. “All they talk about” she says, “is drugs, alcohol and make up.”

Reka was the source of a lovely moment at the New Zealand Olympic Trials. She was employed by Auckland Swimming to guard the main doors into the competition pool. Her duty was to prevent members of the public sneaking onto the pool deck without paying. With efficiency characteristic of her nation, Reka policed the door. All was well until I noticed two of New Zealand’s outstanding swimmers, Matthew Stanley, the swimmer who just broke double Olympic Gold Medallist Danyon Loader’s 200 and 400 freestyle records, and Lauren Boyle, New Zealand Olympian, record holder and champion over 400 and 800 freestyle, advancing towards Reka’s door and the toilets on the other side. Unaffected by, or perhaps unaware of, the status of the intruders, Reka firmly and politely asked to see their passes. Neither swimmer could oblige. For Reka, no pass, irrespective of rank, meant no exit. The moment was a gem.

The sort of student exchange that brought Reka to New Zealand is good for Reka and the school she attends here. It this case it has been especially good for our club. The presence of a bright and intelligent international visitor broadens the outlook of the New Zealanders on the West Auckland Aquatics team. It brings a refreshing foreign view that benefits us all. It demands more understanding. It is a good thing.

In five weeks Reka will return to Germany. She will be missed. It’s been great having her here in New Zealand. We wish her well on her return to her German homeland. Haere Ra. Kia Kaha.