17 August 2016

Gambier Islands students ‘snowstruck’

The opportunity to ski and see snow for the first time was a key drawcard for a group of teenage students from the Gambier Islands who came to Taupo Language School to learn English for two weeks.

The 33 students and their guardians spent three days travelling from their home in Mangareva Island, the largest island in the remote Gambier archipelago, which is more than four hours’ flying time south of Tahiti, to reach Taupo.

This remoteness means the Gambiers are known as 'the islands at the end of the world'. With a tropical climate, coral white sands, coconut palms, mountainous peaks and expansive fishing lagoons, the French-administered Gambiers are most famous for their black pearl industry. The 14 islands are also a popular sailing destination.

Unaccustomed to Taupo temperatures, the group – a sizeable proportion of the entire 1530 Gambier population – had to borrow warm clothing from their homestay families when they arrived. There are no clothing shops and very few stores on their remote island. The teenagers quickly discovered Taupo's shops and got busy buying clothing and gifts to give to their families.

As part of their two-week English immersion course, the students took part in activities in and around Taupo, including indoor climbing, meeting pupils from Taupo-Nui-a-Tia College and visiting a marae. The visitors could understand the Māori language, as their local Marquesan language is similar.

However, the highlight of the trip was two days spent learning to ski at Happy Valley, the “magic carpet” learner slope of Whakapapa Ski Area on Mt Ruapehu near Taupo.

Parents and teachers accompanying the group said Taupo Language School was recommended by Air Tahiti nui because it could offer the skiing and adventure activities, and the town is an easy and safe place to shop. They spent nine months planning and fundraising, although some expenses were subsidised by local government.

One of the parents, Denis Salmon, said they were pleased with how much the students' English had progressed.

"Not only have they become more independent and confident, but they now realise the importance of learning this language."

Taupo Language School director Rose Blackley said attending multi-cultural classes meant the students made friends with Saudi, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and South American nationals.

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