By: Jianna Vasquez
NMSU will have hundreds of graduating students this December, and among those students will be a New Zealand native, Andrea Tauai.
Tauai was only 18-years-old when she made the decision to study and play college volleyball 7,000 miles away from her home.
“It was a big step, but I was super excited about the experience,” she said.
Tauai only had a 50-pound bag with all her belongings, as she was about to start a new journey in a new country. Boarding the plane and saying bye to her family wasn’t easy. She recalls not being able to breathe because she was balling her eyes out, but that soon changed.
“I walked through the gate and then I saw Justin Bieber,” said Tauai. “I immediately stopped crying and called my mom.”
Tauai took this as a good sign and she knew she was on the right path. She boarded the plane for her long 12-hour flight to the United States to play college volleyball in Tampa, Florida at Hillsborough Community College.
During her freshman year she said that she often thought about going back home to New Zealand. She explained that American volleyball was far different from New Zealand volleyball. She went from practicing twice a week, to practicing six days a week for almost six hours when she was in Florida.
“At the time I didn’t realize that it’s just the culture of American Volleyball, but I look back at it and I’m so glad I didn’t quit because I wouldn’t have met the people that I’ve met and I wouldn’t have grown, not only as a person, but also as an athlete,” she said.
Tauai appreciated her two years at Hillsborough because she says it helped her become stronger when it came to being away from her family. Being alone forced her to make new friends and to try new things.
She often had to remind herself of why she made the decision to come to the United States.
“Andrea is a self driven young lady and when she sets her mind to doing something she’ll follow it through,” said Andrea’s mother, Tao Tauai.
Tauai finished her two years at Hillsborough where she earned her associates degree in Liberal arts, but her journey was far from over. She was offered a full ride scholarship to play volleyball and to continue her education at New Mexico State University.
Tauai, much like many people her age, didn’t know what career she wanted to pursue her bachelor’s degree in, but she knew she would have to eventually decide.
She remembers picking up a catalogue and seeing journalism as a degree choice. When she read further into what journalism had to offer she came upon broadcasting.
“When I came to New Mexico and took a few journalism classes, I loved it,” she said. Tauai said she never really enjoyed science or math classes, but once she took journalism classes, she knew that’s what she wanted to do.
Tauai’s journey as a college student will come to an end when she walks across the graduation stage on December 10. But walking across that stage means so much more to her than just a degree.
The road to graduation has been anything, but easy, not only for Tauai, but also for her family. Months before she embarked on this journey for the United States her older sister, Amanda had passed away. Although, it was a hard time for her mother, father and older sister Irene, Tauai says that they were always behind her and any decision she made.
“The most difficult thing as a mother is having your children all leave at the same time, but we are so proud of her,” said Tauai’s mother, Tao.
Leaving her parents at a time like this was one of the hardest obstacles to overcome for her, but she now knows that she did the right thing.
“I felt like my sister would have wanted me to come over here and get a college degree, play volleyball and do what I love,” said Tauai.
Her mom explained that the loss of her sister motivated Tauai to pursue her dreams.
“Her sister would have been so proud,” said Tao.
Tauai will be the first in her family to obtain a degree and she couldn’t be prouder of herself. Her four-year journey to graduation will be over in a week.
“I’m super excited to see my hard work pay off and their hard work too, because they have supported me throughout my whole college career,” she said.
Tauai’s parents will be traveling from New Zealand to see their youngest daughter not only graduate, but accomplish the first of many dreams she had made for herself.
“She has grown to be an independent young lady and more responsible,” said Tauai’s mother. “We are so proud of how she’s worked really hard to succeed at what she was trying to achieve and proud of how she’s managed to stay away from our family for four years.”
NMSU’s commencement ceremony will be held December 10, 2016. For any further information about graduation contact the Educational Service Building at 575-646-7382.