Meet Sela Aholelei
Girl bosses who brunch is a series which seeks to celebrate the achievements of incredible Pacific women. All of my chats with the various girl bosses take place in a café and we discuss anything and everything ranging from their journey to success to how many people they pashed on the weekend (jokes, kind of). It is my hope that in sharing stories about successful women, this will inspire others to do better and be better.
Sela and I first met at the University of Auckland when we were doing a Film/TV/Media Studies paper. And although my potential to become a filmmaker of any sort became limited to drunken, blurred, snapchats of my surroundings, Sela, who paid more attention in class and was incredibly gifted in this area, actually went on to build a promising career in journalism.
Sela now lives in South Korea and I’m so thankful that she stopped by on her most recent visit to New Zealand to share her journey as a University graduate, a Pacific Island sports journalist and what it’s like to be a fine ass ta’ahine fo’ilole living in Korea.
Sela, a proud resident of Mangere, attended McAuley High School and was Head Girl of her year in 2009. At an early age, Sela always had a passion for media. “My favourite subjects in school were English and Performing Arts. I became really interested in journalism when I was in my second year of my double degree in Film/TV/Media Studies and English”. As a serious sports fanatic, she was particularly passionate about sports journalism.
Her first step towards working for her dream to become a journalist began with getting qualified and gaining work experience. Sela graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Film/TV/Media Studies and English. During her final year of University, Sela managed to grab a highly sought after position as an intern at Pacific Media Network and as a graduate, became a newsreader and sports journalist for Pacific Radio News. In her first year of working as a journalist, Sela was quickly creating a name for herself as she began interviewing sporting legends like Kevin Mealamu, Joseph Parker and Maria Tutaia.
Reflecting on her first couple of interviews as the new girl in the newsroom, Sela laughs when she thinks about the types of questions that she was asking. “In my first few interviews, I was asking questions like, ‘so, ahh…what injuries do you have?’ And I honestly thought, ‘man that is a bomb ass question!’ But I slowly learned from being around a lot more experienced journalists that I worked with, that the key to asking great questions is effective research and knowing how to use that to build an interesting discussion with the person you’re interviewing.” Sela took on the advice from the experienced journalists that she worked with and became more confident with each interview. “So I went from asking general questions to actually getting into more detailed and insightful conversations with athletes. That’s all because I was doing a lot more research and was to make a connection with each person that I spoke to. Little things like that made a huge difference in my interviews”.
After working at Pacific Media Network for 2 and a half years, Sela hung up her newsroom mic in Manukau for white boards, crayons and a class filled with non-English speaking students in Korea. “While I was at Uni, I saw a notice board in the Arts Student Centre that advertised a teaching in Korea programme. I’ve always wanted to travel as a kid and when you grow up in a big family, money is tight so it’s not easy. I knew that if I was going to travel, I would have to save money and work. I knew that it would take years. I saw this as a really great opportunity to not only put my English major to use but also an opportunity to learn and experience something different. So I ended up leaving my job at Pacific Media Network, which was sad because I loved my experience there, I learned so much from working in a professional environment. But I also felt like, I could probably stay there for another 20 years. And I wasn’t ready for that. I’ve still got a few years ahead of me to enjoy being single with no massive responsibilities. So I decided that I was going to move to Korea to teach English”.
However, moving across the world was not just an adventurous cultural trip for Sela. It’s actually part of a bigger plan for her career. “Journalism is so massive, I’m still learning. They label it as the jack of all trades, master of none. We have to know about a lot of things, like politics, sports, pop culture, because we need to be able to talk about these topics and engage with people on these issues. I felt like I could either learn that by just practising on the job or I could learn by travelling and immersing myself in a different culture and experiencing the world. You know, like I said, when I first started my career as a journalist, I felt like my questions were quite…soft. But being alone and so far away from my comfort zone has taught me so much. I’ll definitely be able to bring that into my career as a journalist”.
Sela’s journey to Korea was not easy. As a young woman in a Tongan family, talking to her parents about moving to a foreign country on her own was a difficult conversation for her family. “My Dad didn’t understand, he hadn’t heard of any opportunity like this before. He actually thought I was going to North Korea (laughs). That’s the reality of some of our island parents. My Dad was born and raised in Tonga. For him, he didn’t know that you could do that. So it was a shock for him to hear that I wanted to live half way across the world to teach English. My Mum on the other hand was just worried about me because I’m a girl and I’ve never lived alone. She wasn’t sure how I was going to do that in a foreign country. And if anything happened to me, she couldn’t just go down the road to help me”. After several discussions, Sela’s parents eventually came to understand the purpose of her travel to Korea and were extremely supportive of her. “I’m really blessed to have two amazing parents. They didn’t have the luxury of travelling but I’m going to share my experiences and opportunities with them. I’m actually planning to send my Mum over to Korea to visit me and we’ll do a bit of travelling together from there”.
Korea wasn’t a random choice either, Sela spent a lot of time researching before committing to the move. “There was a reason why I chose Korea. It was simply because they offer stability – rent free apartment, a job and from what I looked into, all the past English teachers in Korea said they had an amazing time. It just depends on how you approach your move.”
Like Sela, I’ve never lived alone and I too, have a big family. So naturally, I was dying to ask, ‘What’s it like living on your own?!’ And without even skipping a beat, Sela responded, “You know how I’m Tongan, well, it’s AMAZING! Even just little things, because being an islander, we get used to always asking for permission to go places. Now I leave the house and don’t have to say anything. To others it may seem like ‘wow big whoop’ but for me, it was different. Even if it was just to go to work, I had to report to my parents. To go from that to not having to, that was a big change for me.”
Sela is looking forward to seeing more of the world and later bringing back all of that experience and knowledge to a newsroom in New Zealand one day. She is also excited to return home because she is hopeful about the future of journalism in New Zealand. “I can definitely see that we are progressing. The fact that we see a brown face presenting the news, like Daniel Faitaua, is really encouraging. I want to be part of this progression and change. And I want young, Pacific people, aspiring to work in the media to know that there is a place for them. One of the most important things that I’ve learned as a young journalist is, you need to build your networks. Take every opportunity to create good relationships and networks around you. Journalism is about being able to communicate with different people from all walks of life and engaging in their story. I’m so passionate about storytelling, especially our Pacific stories. I want young Pacific women to know that if I can do it, they can do it too”.
Malo aupito to our latest girl boss Sela for sharing your story with Truths She Wrote. We wish you well on your travels and cannot wait to see you back in action when you return! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
If you’re an aspiring journalist or you’re hoping to travel overseas to teach English, feel free to contact Sela:firstname.lastname@example.org.