Class of 2015
Osaka, Japan/Hamilton, New Zealand
In 2010, Keriana Rennie found herself standing before a class of German high school students in Munich as an ambassador of the culture of Japan, a culture she herself had found utterly alien only a few years prior.
Born in New Zealand to a Caucasian mother and a Maori father, Keriana moved to Fiji at the age of four. There, she says, "the population was incredibly mixed due to European colonization, with Indian laborers, Pacific Islanders, and indigenous Fijians living side by side."
Despite the teeming diversity of Fiji, Keriana, who attended boarding school in New Zealand, cites her decision at age 14 to follow her family to Osaka, Japan, as the crucial turning point on her journey to becoming a global citizen. "In Japan, I was the absolute minority as a foreigner and experienced a crash course in Japanese culture and language."
In a country where foreigners make up less than 1.5 percent of the population, Keriana initially struggled with both language and customs. Soon, she not only adapted but also thrived; within six months, she was elected president of the student congress. "I had a limited knowledge of Japanese at that point, and thus my linguistic skills were always being forced to develop so as not to compromise my leadership responsibilities," she says.
In a few years, Keriana came to consider Japan her home and fell in love with its temporal pluralism, citing the "fusion of the ancient Japanese customs of modesty, conservatism, and dignity with modern, advanced, technological pop culture."
Keriana scored a perfect 45 on the IB exams, became proficient in both Japanese and French, and led a trip to the mountains of Bali, where she collaborated with local students on ways to improve their school's recycling system.
"My purpose in life is to travel; to experience as much as I can of what the world has to offer and, in return, offer it whatever I can," says Keriana. To her, it is the growing interconnectedness of the world that defines the present moment and constitutes the arena for her particular talents and personal history. "The ability to interact with people from diverse backgrounds is imperative," she says. "A dream in a small Ethiopian village may eventually become a small business in Greenwich Village; overfishing in Japan may affect restaurants in Turkey."
In 2009, on a family trip to the Emirates and Oman, Keriana "fell in love with the Middle East." As well as appreciating the weather, food, people, lively vibe, and beautiful landscape, she realized that the Middle East would be "incredibly strategic" for her chosen course of study: social research and public policy. When she discovered NYU Abu Dhabi, she felt that studying in a cosmopolitan city surrounded by students from all over the world was an opportunity tailor-made for her.
In addition to her travels and her commitment to experiencing the intersection of cultures, Keriana has also recently renewed her connection to her Maori roots. "I discovered that my great-grandfather is the last chief of my tribe, Ngata Wai, and that, as the oldest child of his oldest grandchild, I play an important role in the family heritage," she says.
As she focuses on her education, Keriana keeps an eye out for ways in which she might be of aid to her tribe when she begins her professional life. "I believe that a global citizen can adapt to and learn from various international settings without compromising a strong sense of identity."