School of Psychology

Seini O’Connor

Seini was born in Nuku’alofa and spent the first dozen months of life eating Tongan fruit and sand (yes, she ate the sand…) and basking in the sun under the watchful eyes of the extended community and family dog. She then completed her schooling in New Zealand, and, after a gap year in the U.K., decided to study medicine at Otago University. However, Professor James Flynn's amazing first year course in political philosophy and her neuroscientist flatmate’s tales of all the ethically dubious psychology experiments from the 1960s introduced Seini to new worlds of intellectual fascination, and she decided to major in psychology and philosophy instead.

As well as arts and science Honours degrees, Seini completed a graduate diploma in commerce. She worked for nearly 5 years as an economic consultant travelling the world looking at how best to organise water and electricity service delivery in rural and peri-urban areas. It was eye-opening, often fascinating, and she learnt a lot; but ultimately Seini says she felt disillusioned with the world of 'development'. In fact, her experiences travelling to other countries and working with people from different cultures led her to realise that she was ultimately less interested in economic / political institutions than in the people within them.

The MSc Cross-Cultural programme, which Seini completed in 2011, seemed to offer a great opportunity to build relevant skills for understanding and exploring cultural differences. These skills were further enhanced through her participation in the Victoria International Leadership Programme, in which cross-cultural learning plays an important part.

During her MSc study Seini spent a semester on exchange at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawai’i, in Honolulu. While there she became a student affiliate at the East-West Centre, and completed courses in Cultural and Community Psychology and Pacific Island Studies, as well as working on her thesis. She also learned to hula, hiked and cycled around Oahu, and joined a canoe club, making the most of the wonderful local culture and climate.

After graduating, Seini worked as a Research Assistant on a variety of cultural and community research projects (including in Vanuatu, working with a local policy institute), and continued her membership of the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Psychology. Although tempted by PhD scholarship offers in the US, she has recently decided to move Suva, where she will be working at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat – a truly cross-cultural organisation bringing together people from all around the Pacific to work on key regional policy initiatives..