A life of service abroad

posted: 3:30 pm - 11th January 2018
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Life as a Foreign Policy Officer has brought opportunity, change, cultural awareness and adventure to the fore for Tupe Solomon Tanoa’i (pictured).

 Twelve years ago, Tupe joined New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) where she has embarked on a meaningful career advocating for NZ’s interests, while representing her Pasifika heritage abroad. 

“It’s an exciting job – throughout the course of a career at MFAT there is the opportunity to rotate through a range of different roles in Wellington and offshore at one of New Zealand’s 57 embassies, high commissions, missions or consulates in 50 countries around the world,” Tupe explains. 

Currently, Tupe is on secondment to the NZ Commerce and Industry Office (NZCIO) in Taipei, where she has been the Deputy Director for three years.    

NZCIO facilitates NZ’s trade, economic and cultural relationship with Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic relations.   

It is the second time Tupe has been posted to Taiwan with her family - husband Esera, and their two daughters Telesia (10) and Tuasivi (7). 

“Taiwan is one of the most densely populated places in world with a population of 23 million people living on an island the size of Northland,” she says. 

It is one of the top performing economies in the Asia Pacific, and it is NZ’s seventh largest market for goods’ exports.

“It is also an interesting place to live and work, with bustling cities, stunning natural landscapes, and a fascinating culture.” 

Born and raised in South Auckland, the Samoa/Fijian New Zealander attended Baradene College of the Sacred Heart and the University of Auckland, where she studied a conjoint degree in Law and Arts. 

With an interest in international work, Tupe set her sights on this career path in high school, where her favourite subjects were French and Japanese.   

“Early on I discovered to a requirement for becoming a Foreign Policy Officer is a tertiary qualification preferably at post-graduate level or conjoint/double undergraduate degree. 

“MFAT recruits across a broad range of disciplines, so I chose my course according to my interests,” she adds. 

During her time at university, Tupe made the most of opportunities to develop a broad range of skills through involvement in various student associations such as the Pacific Islands Law Students Association, and the Auckland University Law Students’ Society. 

Along with hundreds of candidates, Tupe applied for a place at MFAT in her final year of her studies, and she was one of 25 to be offered a position. 

To date, Tupe’s journey has been “amazing”, providing variety and new challenges all the time, from learning fluent Mandarin to representing NZ at the World Trade Organisation. 

Among her career highlights, is her involvement in the signing of The Agreement between NZ and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu on Economic Cooperation (ANZTEC).   

The agreement delivers preferential tariff access that gives NZ exporters a key competitive advantage, and includes innovative provisions on film and television, indigenous cooperation and air links that will expand existing creative, cultural and people-to-people links. 

“I was involved in the negotiations for ANZTEC, and one of my favourite memories from that time was visiting businesses all over New Zealand, but particularly employers in my hometown of South Auckland, to talk to them about their experience of doing business in Taiwan and how we could address any barriers they were facing.  

“Professionally it’s very satisfying to be back in Taiwan to see the fruits of that labour.” 

Bilateral trade has grown from strength to strength and 99 percent of NZ’s exports to Taiwan now enter the market tariff-free.   

A big part of Tupe’s work at NZCIO is to continue helping businesses to take advantage of the Agreement. 

Another one of Tupe’s responsibilities is helping to facilitate the relationship between Māori and the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan. 

There are 16 recognised tribes in Taiwan, making up two percent of the population.   

“If you’ve seen the documentary ‘Made in Taiwan’ you will be aware of the DNA evidence suggesting Taiwan was the original source of the Austronesian peoples.   

“This group occupied much of Southeast Asia, and are the ancestors of the peoples of Polynesia.”  

As a proud Pacific New Zealander, this connection has always brought special significance to Tupe’s work in Taiwan, she says. 

“The DNA linkages are apparent in my travels around the island - I’m often asked which of the tribes I belong to. 

The 16 tribes have 42 languages between them, many of which are critically endangered.   

“Taiwan is at the beginning of its language revitalisation journey, having passed legislation to help protect indigenous languages last year, and New Zealand has much to share from almost 30 years of experience in revitalising Te Reo Māori.”  

Building relationships is at the heart of what MFAT does, and it is important the Ministry representing NZ off-shore is reflective of the diversity of NZ’s society – including its vibrant Pasifika population, she adds. 

Tupe strongly encourages Pasifika to consider working in the Foreign Service and says to give it a go and apply. 

“If you’re currently studying, work hard to get the best results you can, but also put yourself forward for development opportunities outside of academic study like student associations or community involvement.     

“Keep an eye on MFAT’s website for vacancies:  occasionally, there are also opportunities for summer internships.”