Airline Customer Service Agent

Name: Grace
Age at interview: 31 years
Occupation: Customer Service Agent

Ethnicity: Samoan
Country of birth: Aotearoa New Zealand

In this video
0:00Early Years and Family Background
5:14Family Expectation
6:25Kindergarten and Primary School
9:49High School
12:03University Degrees and Finding a Direction
16:31First Jobs and Fearing Change
18:57Moving to Australia and Finding Work
21:52Involvement with Pasifika Community
24:07Home Life
27:32Youth Involvement with Pasifika Community
28:52Family Expectations
31:21Support for Pasifika Youth
35:15Role Models
36:56Cultural Values and Expectations
40:14Support in Higher Education
41:57Career Aspirations
44:13Advice for Youth

Early Years and Family Background


Okay. Thanks, Ane, for having me for this opportunity. My name is Grace Tuiala, I’m 31 years old. I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, and I am [a] second generation migrant in New Zealand. I am the youngest in my family. I have five…Sorry, I’ve got one brother and three sisters, however, my parents took in my first cousin, so two brothers. And then they helped raise another girl, so all together there’s seven of us including myself.

So I’ll start from my parents. My mum, well, she was born and raised in Samoa and she’s the oldest in her family. And she moved to Auckland, New Zealand for a better education to help her family in Samoa, so she moved there with her younger brother. And she went there when she was 12 and she finished high school when she was 15. So she had two more years in school, but because she had to help out her parents and her younger siblings she had to leave and work.

Because she had her little brother with her, she was supporting him to continue on with his schooling and he eventually went to uni. And now he owns his own airline in Samoa, so he always acknowledges my mum and always says thank you to her and stuff, so he’s always there for my siblings and I and my parents, because he always says if it wasn’t for my mum, he wouldn’t be where he is now.

My dad, he was born and raised in Samoa as well. My dad’s family, they lived in poverty, so it was opposite from my mum’s family, they weren’t really well off, but they had much more than my dad’s family did. And my dad’s family, they’re from a village that’s far away from the city, so for food and stuff like that they had to go fishing, they had their own plantation. And my dad’s older siblings went on and studied in Samoa, so they did their schooling, but there was no one to help my grandparents.

So my dad was the one that looked after the plantation, since I think my grandpa said my dad would sleep out in the plantation when he was seven. So my dad was doing that by himself and he was going to school as well, but because there was so many siblings…Then my grandma’s sister passed away, so then all her nine kids had to go live with my grandparents, so there was a lot of mouths to feed, and my grandparents couldn’t handle having all the kids, they couldn’t afford to.

So my dad actually left school when he was 10, so he left in primary, my dad, and he looked after the family by fishing, getting food and stuff like that. So my dad didn’t really have an education, like he wasn’t book smart, but he was street smart. So then he looked after family, then when he was much older he moved to New Zealand and then that’s how my parents met. I’m not sure how exactly they met, but I know that they met in New Zealand.

And they worked really hard and then they slowly started bringing over their siblings as well to New Zealand. And yeah, so that’s…

Family Expectation

My parents always say that they work hard. They left school early, they worked hard to look after their families, and then when they had their own kids, they really wanted us to focus on school. I think out of all my siblings, I think only three of us finished high school.

So my two brothers, they finished high school and my oldest sister, she finished high school as well. My older brother, he went to a university and he graduated from engineering, and so he did that. My other siblings, they didn’t…no, they didn’t finish high school. They went on to work as well. So it was up to me to go to high school and graduate.

Kindergarten and Primary School

So I’ll start from kindy, I went to two kindergartens, and I went to a Samoan one. My mum was the cook there, so she would take me with her. So my older siblings, they could all speak Samoan, but because mum and dad were always working, my siblings would help raise me and my aunties would help raise me, and they all would speak English to me. So I didn’t really know the Samoan language.

So my parents were like, I need to go enrol into fa’a Samoa, so that’s Samoan kindy. And I also went to a pālagi (Western)kindy. So I was going to both kindy’s up until I was five and then I went to primary school. In primary, I really liked art. So I remember I would draw pictures for the expeditions (exhibitions) and then people would buy my artwork. And in New Zealand I went to intermediate.

So where I grew up in Auckland when I in was kindy and primary, I would say it was like the Port Melbourne of Melbourne, so it was like a well-off area back then. But that’s because that’s where a lot of the Islanders would migrate, was like in central Auckland. And then as the house prices started growing up everyone started moving out south, out west, and that’s what my parents had to do. So we moved out West Auckland, and then there were a lot of Islanders and Maoris there.

And the school that I attended, because I’m in…sorry, I’m going back and forth. In primary there was a lot of Islanders, but there were a lot of other people of different cultures, so there was Asians and Europeans. But yeah, there was a lot of us. So, when I moved to West Auckland there were a lot of Islanders and Maoris in my primary school. There was only a handful of Europeans, like pālagis and that. And intermediate, I wasn’t really focused in intermediate.

I think because I was unhappy with where we moved to, I just didn’t want to be there. So I would just go to school, hang out with my friends, play handball, stuff like that. And then I went to…I think I was just focused on high school, like I just wanted to get to high school to be with my first cousins.

High School

And then I went to high school, and I was…from 13 to I think I was 18. And I didn’t do really well in high school, and I know now it’s because I didn’t have a sense of direction, like I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.

And I think when I was around 14, I wanted to be like a makeup artist, so I wanted to get into beauty, but I had family members that would tell me, “It’s a waste of time. You won’t get a career out of it.” My parents and my siblings were supportive, whatever I chose to do they were supportive, but it was my aunties and uncles, and cousins and stuff, they were like the naysayers when I were telling what I wanted to do. And so, I just disregarded that dream.

And I just honestly mucked around during high school, like I just went to hang out with my cousins, my friends. And my parents would be like, “You need to do your homework,” and stuff like that, and I’d be like, “I am,” but really, I wasn’t, because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always thought “it was a waste of time, school was a waste of time, I just want to go work and make money”. But I had to finish because my parents, they encouraged me to stay in school.

They would always remind me how much they sacrificed to look after my siblings and I. And so, I finished high school, but I actually didn’t finish with any…what is it, credits, like NCA levels?

University Degrees and Finding a Direction

And then I worked after high school in 2008. I worked at a company doing…like I was a night fill for a material company. And I would go to uni to hang out with my cousin and stuff, and I would talk to my cousins and their friends, and they would give me advice like, “You should do this, you should do that.”

And I started hearing about different degrees that uni had to offer, because I didn’t know what degrees were out there. I didn’t know what was available because I never looked into it, because I was never interested. And I think in 2009 I just wanted to fit in with everyone, because all my friends went to uni, so I applied at a uni. And I was doing…My mum really wanted me to study nursing, so I went on and did nursing for a year. I had to do a foundation course in the first six months because I didn’t have any qualifications, I didn’t have any credits to get into uni, so I had to do a foundation course to help me get into nursing.

And I did that for six months and then I started doing nursing for a year. And because I actually don’t like the sight of blood, like I feel nauseous when I see it, so I told my mum, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” And she was like, “Okay, you gave it a go. Do what you want.” And that’s the thing, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But that’s when my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband, he enrolled me into a uni to do business, a business degree.

So I went and did business for a year and I was like, “I hate it.” It wasn’t for me, the business degree. And I think in my first year, the first six months I took five papers and I failed one, so I had to do it again. And the next six months of the business degree I passed my papers, but I knew it was something that I didn’t want to do. I was like, “I don’t like business. I’m not good with numbers and that.” But my parents were quite upset because they really wanted me to stay in business, because the uni that I went to was actually a good one.

And they didn’t want me to give up, so I had to go like, “You need to stay in uni. Even if you find another course or something, like another degree that you’ll be interested in. Just please don’t leave.” So I did some research and then I went into a Bachelor of Arts and I majored in English and in Media Studies, and my minor was Event Management. And I really enjoyed that degree because it was about creativity and your ideas.

So I actually did really well during…actually, I struggled the first six months of it because I wasn’t focused, and then when I saw that I failed papers I was like, “No, I can’t waste any more money,” because I saw my student loan, and I was like, “I can’t waste any more money. I need to get serious.” So I did and I passed. I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts.

First Jobs and Fearing Change

But while I was at uni I was working as a rehabilitation assistant at a rehab for people that had brain injuries from a car accident or if they were born with it, so would help rehabilitate them to normal, so a normal life.

So I was doing that as well as going to uni. And when I graduated in 2015, I always wanted to move away from the rehab, but I think I was just scared to change. I was scared of change; I was scared to…I don’t know, I think I was just scared of being successful, really, because I didn’t…no, I don’t know. I don’t want to say I didn’t see success, because I did with my aunties and uncles, but yeah, I don’t know. I think I just had a lot of self-doubt.

So I stayed at the rehab until 2019, but while I was there, in 2017 I went and worked for a sports organization. So I worked in the communications department, so I was a communications assistant and I just helped with interviewing athletes, attending events, press conferences, and also writing articles and stuff like that. And I really enjoyed that, but I was only there for a year. I got married and I stayed at the rehab.

And I was just really unhappy because I was so complacent, but I didn’t know how to get out of it, I was just really scared to get out of it. And I was talking to my husband, I was like, “I really hate it here in New Zealand. It’s just the same old…I need to get away from everything, everyone, everything.”

Moving to Australia and Finding Work

So we moved to Melbourne in…so my husband moved to Melbourne in 2019, October, and then I had to stay back because my cousin was getting married in Jan.

Yeah, so my husband moved to Melbourne in 2018 and then I moved to Melbourne in 2019, in January 2019. And I thought when I came to Melbourne, because my friends and some of my family that are here, they were like, “It’s so easy to get a job. You’ll be fine. It’s more money.” And they seemed happier here because they were in the same situation that we were in in New Zealand. And so I was like, “Okay, we’ll move.” So we moved here and I was looking for a job for a long time.

I was looking for a job to do with my degree, but because I didn’t really have much experience, I wasn’t getting any jobs. I just had that one year at the sporting organization. So I was just getting rejected a lot and then I started applying just anywhere that I could, I just needed to get a job to help pay bills. And then I got a job at the airport. So I was looking for a good…almost a year and then I got a job at the airport as a customer service agent.

And I wasn’t really interested in the aviation industry until I got into it, and I was like, “Man, I really like it here. It’s fast paced, it’s challenging and it’s just different all the time.” So yeah, I’m working there. Also, in 2019 before I started working at the airport, I started doing a lashing course. It was a two-day course and I finished that, so I’m a qualified lash artist, but I just haven’t practiced yet. So yeah, that’s what I have.

And I’m still at the airport and I’m just looking into starting my own business with the lashing, but I just have to sort things out before I launch.

Involvement with Pasifika Community

And I’m actually part of a community group here in Melbourne, it’s actually my first-time doing community work, like actually being involved in the…Pasifika community. And the reason why is because in Auckland, New Zealand, I grew up with a lot of programs and events for Maori and Pasifika people. And there’s even scholarships just specifically for Pacific Islanders, and schools and uni.

So, when I moved to Melbourne, I was actually shocked to see that there wasn’t much happening for Pasifika people. And I remember asking my friend, I was like, “Man, there’s not much stuff out there for Islanders, and where’s the Island community?” Because I grew up with it everywhere. And I actually took advantage of it because it was just so normal. And there was always something happening, and even on TV, I’d see just brown faces and even on the radio, I’d just hear like Pasifika music artists, so I saw it everywhere.

And when I moved to Melbourne there wasn’t much of it. And when I asked one of my friends, she introduced me to this community group, so now I’m involved with that and it’s just rewarding, and at times it can be tiring, but I just have to remind myself of why I’m doing it and why I started doing it, helping the community. And yeah, I’m enjoying the community work. I can’t wait for Melbourne to be the same as what it is in Auckland in terms of the…for the Pasifika people and also the indigenous of Australia.

Home Life


So, when you said when your parents moved to NZ and they obviously had all you and your siblings, and then they took in some additional cousins, what was that like growing up with all of the…Do you remember it being a struggle?  What do you remember of those times when you were growing up? And do you remember your parents being around much, or what was that like?


So, when my parents moved to New Zealand and had all of us kids, they actually had bought all their siblings over. So we were living with my aunties and my uncles, so we were living in a three bedroom house, my sister and I were sharing a room with my parents, and my two brothers and my two uncles were in one room. But everyone was like crowded in a room, and also the lounge was a bedroom.

And I don’t remember struggling, because I had all my cousins around, my siblings, and my neighbours, we just had this community there and we would go swimming, play cricket. And we lived opposite the zoo, so the people at the zoo, they knew us, so we would go there and just explore. There was always something happening. And my parents were there, but they were always working, like there would be times where my mum would…I would have to go to work with my mum because no one was there to look after me.

And so, I’d finish school, she’d finish her day job and then she would do cleaning or something. So I’d have to go to the school where she cleaned. And it got a bit too much on her, the going…I think she was juggling like three jobs. So she would work in the morning doing her day job then she would do the cleaning, and then at night she would go and care for some people with disabilities.

And it was just overwhelming, so my siblings and I would actually have to go help her clean the school. And so, we were always with my mum at that time, cleaning, and then after dinner she would be gone. And my dad, he was there as well, but he would do his day job, and then he would come and then he would fix peoples’ cars, because he was a panel beater. And the men from church would come and bring their cars, and my dad would fix it up and stuff, so my dad was always busy.

So I was really always with my siblings and my mum’s younger sister, so she’s like my second mum as well.

Youth Involvement with Pasifika Community


Do you remember as well like how much involvement did you and your siblings have in the Samoan community? And it can be like in church events or community events, or were you guys heavily involved in the Samoan community, or not really? Or what was that like?


To be honest my siblings and I weren’t really involved in community work. The only thing that we’d do for the Samoan community that we were involved with, was with church. So if we weren’t at home or helping my parents, my mum at the school, we were at church for practice for like a performance we were doing on Sunday, or White Sunday. So it was just mainly church, but we honestly weren’t really involved in community work with the Samoan community, just because it was like everything was already set up, so I think we felt like there wasn’t really room for us to do anything.

Even when I was older, I was like, “Man, everything’s done.” It was just normal to have all this community stuff for the Pasifika people.

Family Expectations


So when you were in school, Grace, I think you mentioned that your primary years were pretty good and then in high school, I think, that’s when you started to notice that you were a bit…there were some things, you needed a job, but you were disengaged. Why do you think that was? Why do you think you didn’t really know what direction you had in life? Do you think that there’s anything in your life that would have impacted your way of thinking like that?


Yeah, I think it’s because with how I said I wanted to be a makeup artist and get into beauty, and then when that was shut down, I think my confidence just shut down with it. So I was scared to speak out and say what I wanted to do. So even though they shut it down, I actually still wanted to do it, but because my family were like, “Yeah, that’s a dead-end job. You won’t make money.” I just didn’t speak out because I was just afraid that they would shut me down again, because my mum’s siblings, they’re actually well educated.

So my mum’s siblings, they’re accountants, and like I said, my other uncle owns his own airline. And my other uncle, he was a professor at a university in Auckland. So they were all like, “Beauty? No, you won’t make money or anything like that.” So I believe that’s why I didn’t. I lacked confidence in high school, and I was just afraid to speak out and say, “No, I actually still want to do this.” And because they shut it down, I think I was just afraid to dream again, like just think, “What else is there for me?”

I just started thinking if I say, “I want to do this,” they would shut me down again, so to avoid all that rejection I just didn’t bother with school.

Support for Pasifika Youth


Because you know how there’s all these resources available to our students that usually help them to work on, “Okay, so these are your strengths and this is what’s going to be really good for you,” like, do you think our Pasifika people, or our Pasifika youth, understand these sort of resources available to them? Or maybe…or we don’t really take advantage of it, or it’s not really tailored for us?


Yeah. In high school we had like a careers committee and there was a teacher there that would help us plan out our life after high school. And I remember doing it with her, but still I had a lot of self-doubt, and she’d ask me, “What are your strengths?” And I’d be like, “I don’t know.” There was just no confidence there. And I remember her trying to get it out of me like, “What’s your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you want to do?” But I was just so…yeah, I was so shy and so like…I don’t know. Yeah, I lacked confidence and I just didn’t want to say what I really wanted to do.

And I think it would have been better in high school if we did have like a Pasifika tutor that could help us, because they would understand more of what we were going through and stuff like that. And they did have that, but it was only for certain students. I think it was available to everyone actually, but for me, I felt I’m not worth the help. So I just didn’t seek help at all. But my friends that did, that took advantage of these programs, they went on to be real successful. But I just thought that I wasn’t worth the help and the attention.


How did you learn about like how to write a resume, how to prepare for an interview? What were some of the things that you’d had to do to learn those steps?


So I would ask my siblings, and my friends would give me tips. My older sisters actually used to…they would help me with prepping for interviews. And because I was the youngest, my siblings would do everything for me, which at the time I felt I’m so lucky, but now as an adult I’m like, “I wish they had let me do things for myself,” because I never really had to work, because my siblings gave me everything and my parents did as well.

And I think because of that, I’m not really good with conflict, I’m not good with…yeah, I didn’t really have confidence to do things on my own. And so, I actually didn’t even know what my CV looked like until…so my sisters would have done it for me when I was 17. I didn’t really know what it looked like until I was like 20 because they did it all for me, and they would just tell me what to say at the interview. And that’s what I’d do, I’d just say what they’d tell me to say.

Role Models


We always have certain key influential people in our lives that we look up to as either mentors or as inspiration. Can you think in your life who…because I think you’ve probably already mentioned them already, but who were some of the key people? Who is that one person in your life that you have always looked up to in terms of your career and education journey?


The person that I always looked up to was my mum’s brother, to the one that she moved to New Zealand with when they were younger. So he’s always been like the family’s goals, because he was so successful in his career and also he was such a humble man. Whatever my family needed, he would just give. And he had all this money, all this success, but he really loved his family and his community. He loved his country.

So he got offered a lot of good jobs around the world and he would work there for a little bit, but he’d always go back to Samoa because he said, “If we don’t go back and serve our country, who would?” So he would. And I really admire that about him. And it wasn’t only because of his success with his career, but him serving his country and being humble, and serving his family. So that’s who I always looked up to, and I still do.

Cultural Values and Expectations


I know that Samoan culture is similar to Tongans, we come with a lot of obligation in terms of family responsibilities, cultural responsibilities, church responsibility, do you find that you’re still heavily involved in a lot of that, or are you a bit removed? Or how does that work in your family in terms of the delegation of responsibilities?


I feel like I…responsibilities like that, I still have to help out with my family. Like, if something happens to a family member, like someone passes away, or like a birthday, I still have to contribute money, and in the Samoan culture that’s called fa’alavelave (cultural obligations). So I think for every Samoan, we’ll always have to contribute money and that. But in terms of church and the rest of it, I’m not really involved in the Samoan community just because I go to a pālagi (western) church here.

And yeah, but back home, yes, I had to do the White Sunday and we had to attend like…we had to do all the Samoan traditional stuff like the mats and food, and stuff like that. But for the community, it’s just what I’m doing now in the community group in Melbourne as well as helping my family when needed.



With your Samoan speaking skills, how would you rate your speaking of the language?


I’m not really fluent. And my husband, he’s fluent, so he encourages me to speak it regularly. So, because I say to him, “I really want to hold a conversation speaking Samoan,” because I’m close to my nana, but it’s a barrier, the language barrier’s really hard to get across what I want to say to her, even though she does understand English, but I just feel rude speaking English, responding in English. So that’s a goal of mine, is to become more fluent.

And even my mum speaks English to me, and my dad gets really annoyed because he’s like, “You know it’s your fault that she can’t speak Samoan.” And so, my mum mixes it, but my dad is just straight Samoan. And I even feel rude responding in English to him as well. So he helps me, him and my husband help me speak it. So yeah.

Support in Higher Education


I know that you mentioned before that you failed a couple of papers, but then when you finally decided, “All right, okay, I better take this seriously,” how long was that journey?


It was three years. So I started…well, the degree that I graduated with, it took three years. So I think I started in 2012 and I finished in 2015.


Did you get any support, for like educational support to do your degree, like in terms of understanding the content, the curriculum, the study patterns? Did you get any support at all, or did you just kind of work it out?


Yeah, the uni that I went to, they were really supportive. And there’s actually a big Pasifika community group there, so a lot of our tutors and the lecturers were actually either Maori or Pasifika, so they would set up little mentoring groups, and us Pasifika students would go and do that extra…we had that extra support there where, after our classes, we could just go attend the tutoring and they would be there to help us. So I did start taking advantage of it and I do believe that that’s what helped me a lot, because I was hesitant at first to go.

But once I did, man, it really helped. It really changed the way I thought about education and my future.

Career Aspirations


Is lashing and the beauty industry where you see yourself in the long-term?


Yeah, I’ve planned up what I’m going to do throughout the next few years, and I do believe that lashing is what I’ll be doing full-time. I know I’ll start off part-time and still doing aviation, but I really want to do lashing full time. And I want our family to live off this income so my husband can go and finish off his studies, because he had to leave school the same reason why my parents had to leave school, was to look after a family, because he’s the oldest in his family.

So he had to leave to provide for them. So I want to…yeah, I’m hoping that from lashing, that our family can live off this income while my husband finishes his studies, and then he can do what he’s passionate about.



Grace, for you, what’s your definition of success? So what does success look for you? And it could be to do with finance, education, family, your…it can be anything. What to you is your definition of success?


My definition of success is, I think, to be happy with life and just to live life to the fullest and being content with what you’ve got. My parents, they didn’t have much, but they were happy. And even us kids, we didn’t have much as well. And I think my parents were struggling, but we didn’t notice it because we were happy. And yeah, so I think success is just being happy with life and being content with who you are. Yeah.

Advice for Youth


If you were to give three tips to someone who is watching your journey and has listened to your story, what would be the three tips that you would recommend to help the next person coming through?


Yeah. My three tips, well, one is if you have a dream, then just stick to it. And even if you have naysayers, just block them out and just focus on you and what you want to do, because later you could end up regretting it, like how I did and wasting a lot of precious time. So just stick to your guns and just live your dream, or work on your dream. Two is, I really believe that education, knowledge is power, so take advantage of all the resources if you’re still in high school or uni, just focus because it will benefit you in the long run, even if, I know studies are hard, but just stay focused and just think about the endgame.

And the third tip will be, I think just, it’s kind of the same as the first one, just be confident in what you do, just be confident because that will take you far, confidence.

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