Student profiles

Find out what study in the School of Languages and Cultures is like—read what our students have to say about their experiences.

Francesca Benocci (PhD candiate in Literary Translation Studies)

After completing her MA in Literary Translation and text Editing at the University of Siena with a dissertation on Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning novel the bone people, Francesca decided to go to Aotearoa/New Zealand to continue reading New Zealand literature and further her studies. A long and inspired phone call with Marco Sonzogni, and a VUW Doctoral Scholarship made her dream come true.

Francesca’s doctoral dissertation combines scholarly research and creative writing. An overview of the development of New Zealand poetry focused on women poetry, is followed by an annotated anthology of contemporary women poets that highlights and celebrates – through translation – their multicultural and multilingual characteristics.

A widely published literary translator of poetry and prose, Francesca is also a writer (poetry and short stories) and a blogger. Her translations feature regularly in Journal of Italian Translation (US) and Atelier (Italy). She was recently asked to join the editorial board of Atelier, one of Italy’s literary journals, and collaborates with Italian publishers as a literary consultant and translator.

Francesca's work is supervised by Marco Sonzogni and Claudia Bernardi.

Janette Briggs (PhD candidate in Chinese)

Janette Briggs' research uses approaches of nation-building theory to examine Lao She's poetic account of a journey to war-torn northern China in 1939. 'Jian bei pian', blending modern poetry and vernacular speech in a traditional oral storytelling ballad form, is often dismissed as part of Lao She's 'patriotic propaganda' writing during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The research seeks to present an alternative view of the poem as another wartime experiment through which Lao She dealt with his anxieties about modernism and the patriotic cause.

Harrison Gibb-Faumuina (BA student in Asian Studies and Japanese)

Since learning languages my world has become enriched culturally and intellectually. I now feel confident taking steps towards my future. Since a young age I have always wanted to be able to speak another language, and as I have grown older, this passion for languages has only grown. Since 2013, I have been studying a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Japanese and Asian Studies. When the opportunity came up to study in Japan for a year in my second year, I knew that it would be extremely beneficial for my future and myself. Being able to go to Japan is just one of the many opportunities Victoria has offered me. Since returning from Japan, it is fair to say that I now have a firm grasp of the Japanese language. My experiences in Japan, coupled with the knowledge that I have received while studying at Victoria, have definitely set me up for a future that I am excited about.

Lehyla Heward (PhD candidate in Chinese)

After graduating with her Master's in Chinese Literature from Northeast Normal University in Changchun, China, where she had been living for four years, Lehyla (李海兰) moved to New Zealand to begin her PhD research at Victoria. She is investigating the links between Chinese and Korean intellectual writings from the Manchukuo period in Northeast China. She believes the two years she spent as an undergraduate exchange student in China, South Korea, and Singapore, learning Chinese and experiencing the variety of cultures in Asia, has played an integral part in preparing her for her current work.

Lehyla's research interests also include literary translation, in particular the economics of such an exchange, which she wrote about in her Master's thesis on Mo Yan and his reception among American readers. She was chosen to attend the British Centre's Workshop for Literary Translation at Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in 2014 where she worked with a group to translate work by the writer, Li Jun. During her time in Changchun, she was the recipient of the Chinese Government Scholarship and a member of the university's team that competed at the national level of the Experiencing China Competition in 2013.

Lehyla's work is supervised by Yiyan Wang and Stephen Epstein

Wenwen Liu (PhD candidate in Chinese)

After finishing her MA in Anthropology at Minzu University of China in 2008, Wenwen decided to take a pause in her academic career. She worked as an executive editor for art magazines in Beijing. After three years writing for publications each month, Wenwen decided to spend three or four years to finish just one piece—a PhD thesis.

Wenwen’s current study is about guohua (Chinese ink-brush painting) in the 1980s. Her research focuses on how guohua represented a combination of the literati’s taste with those of the plebeians in contemporary China. Wenwen’s project is primarily research into contemporary Chinese art history, investigating the changes on motifs and expressions of guohua. The purpose is to investigate the so-called ‘Chinese tradition’ in ink-brush painting, and examine how Chinese tradition has been continuously
reinterpreted in terms of nationalism.

Jon Preston (PhD candidate in Spanish and Latin American Studies)

Jon Preston obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Mathematics, and a first-class Honours degree in Spanish at Victoria University of Wellington between 2007 and 2010. During his undergraduate studies, he was fortunate enough to spend one semester on exchange at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile. This not only improved his Spanish language ability, but also opened his eyes to Chilean culture, history and politics, which would soon become a passion of his.

After living and working in Chile for almost two years, Jon returned to Victoria in early 2013 to embark upon doctoral research, with a view to build upon his critical observations of the way Chile’s polarised history continues to strongly influence the country today. His PhD thesis, titled ‘Remembering a Different Future: Dissident Memories and Identities in Contemporary Chilean Society’, analyses three forms of cultural production which engage with episodes of conflict in Chile’s history: David Aniñir’s urban Mapuche poetry; sites of memory commemorating victims of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship; and Carmen Castillo’s autobiographical books and documentaries. These diverse topics coincide in the ways they challenge hegemonic official discourse in Chile today, which utilises a narrative of reconciliation to attempt to draw attention away from and even whitewash unresolved aspects of the divisive past. Jon intends to submit his thesis in late 2016.

Supervisors: Miguel Arnedo-Gomez and Sarah Leggott

Sian Robyns (PhD candidate in Literary Translation Studies)

A PhD candidate in Literary Translation Studies, Sian Robyns returned to university in 2007 after a very bad day at the office.  She was planning a short sabbatical from life in the public sector but discovered the pleasures and frustrations of literary translation and is now in the second year of her doctoral research.

Sian's project has two components. The first is an annotated translation of Le Complexe de Caliban by the novelist and essayist Linda Lê, while the second, the research component, is an investigation into the possibilities offered by annotation and commentary to engage readers in a dialogue about the process of translation, thereby contributing to the development of what translation theorist Lawrence Venuti has called a 'translation culture'. Her work, for which she holds a Victoria PhD scholarship, is supervised by Associate Professor Jean Anderson and Dr Richard Millington.

Sian's interest in French and New Zealand literature has also seen her become a trustee of the Randell Cottage Writers Trust, a Thorndon-based writer's residency for New Zealand French writers.

Keala Senek (BA student in German)

Coming from a multicultural background, I have always had a strong interest in foreign languages, so choosing to study languages at Victoria University was an easy decision. Although demanding, acquiring another language is extremely rewarding. Through studying German, I had the opportunity to study in Germany, which allowed me not only to build on my language skills and learn about a different culture, but also learn another way of seeing and thinking about the world around me.

The study of another language has helped me to appreciate other languages and cultures and is something that inspires me to continue to develop my own knowledge and skills. In the future, I hope to use my passion for languages and the experiences I have gained in a career where I can work and interact with people from different cultures.

Sadat Muaiava (MA in Pacific Studies)

"Fa'atālofa atu i ou pa'ia Samoa. Le Susu i le pa'ia o le aufaigaluega a le Atua ma o latou faletua. Pa'ia i Aiga, le mamalu i faleupoluga, faletua ma tausi, sa'oao ma tama'ita'i, fa'apea tupulaga o lalovaoa. Malo le soifua manuia ma le soifua maua."

I was born in Samoa and hail from the villages of Safa'ato'a (Mua'i'ava) and Falease'ela (Leatu'vao), Lefaga. Having resided in Samoa, American Samoa, Otara and now Wellington, I have become the complete 'stranger' in many environments meeting new people and facing new challenges. These experiences have led me to explore the tagata 'ese (stranger) experiences of Samoan Faife'au (pastor) Kids in New Zealand at postgraduate level.

I liken Pacific Studies to a craftsman carving the traditional pate kilikiti (Samoan cricket bat). The kilikiti is carved skillfully through the implementation of indigenous 'know-how'. The weight, interwoven sinnet fibres and triangular dimensions portray balance and unity. That is what Pacific Studies is to me. It is about awareness and balance of both traditional and contemporary ideas and issues. With these skills and kilikiti, I can 'play ball' in the academic playing field gaining knowledge to share with my family and future generations to come. Soifua ma ia manuia!

Emalani Case (PhD in Pacific Studies)

“Holo i Kahiki. Sail to Kahiki.”

In Hawai’i, Kahiki is a general term used to refer to any land outside of the Hawaiian archipelago. I first travelled to Kahiki when I was eleven. This journey took me to the island of Ra’iatea where I took part in celebrations honouring the coming together of wa’a kaulua, or double-hulled canoes, from around Polynesia. This experience would come to influence many of my academic and personal pursuits, the most recent being my PhD studies with Va’aomanū Pasifika here in Aotearoa.

“It was during my first visit to Kahiki that I realised my passion for stories. I wanted to know where my ancestors came from, to hear about their voyages and adventures, and to seek and find connections between Hawai’i and Kahiki. I have again left my home to embark on a new journey of research; one that will focus on stories passed down through oral traditions and later recorded in a series of Hawaiian language newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I am excited to see where this physical and intellectual journey to Kahiki will lead me.”

Shailesh Lal (PhD in Pacific Studies)

To understand Fiji, you have to understand its performances........and vice versa.

I was born and raised in Fiji and have lived almost my entire life in the capital, Suva. As a hobby, I took to performing as part of the University of the South Pacific's Theatre Arts Society. Since then, theatrical performances have had a huge impact on my life. Today, it has formed the subject of my PhD.

My research traces Fiji's theatrical performances between 1998 and 2008 which were mostly hosted or initiated by the university. Simultaneously, I examine the significant social and political events taking place in Fiji for the same period. I intend to argue that although not a causal relationship, they each have an illuminating effect on the other. Therefore familiarity with them helps one understand Fiji better.