From German time to island time: The German student living with a Samoan-Niuean family

"Tauranga Boys' College was the best school. I instantly relaxed and felt better about my decision."

From German time to island time: The German student living with a Samoan-Niuean family

We arrive at the Talopa’u family’s beautiful home in the Tauranga suburb of Bethlehem, the front door steps decorated by rows of shoes running down either side.

We’re here to talk to Linus Dieter, the German student who has been living with the Talopa’u family for the past year while studying at Tauranga Boys’ College. Eight of us cosy up in the family’s living room sitting on couches, cushions and the floor. The three teenagers in the house are all completely engaged in conversation and no phones are in sight.

It’s obvious that there’s something special about this family!

Here’s the story of Linus’s year abroad in Tauranga and the Samoan-Niuean family that warmly welcomed him into their home, their culture and their lives.


At 16 years old, Linus had finished Realschule, the first level of secondary education in Germany, and was about to enter Gymnasium – the specialised vocational programme that prepares students for tertiary education. Wanting to further his English language skills and experience a completely new way of life, he decided to take a gap year first, spending this time studying in New Zealand.

Leaving his home town Tuebingen, a city of around 100,000 people in southwestern Germany, Linus arrived at Auckland Airport, weary from the flight. Unable to find his shuttle down to Tauranga, Linus had a chance encounter: he spotted a man wearing a Tauranga Boys’ College shirt and approached him for help.

“It turned out he was the Principal, Robert Mangan, who had just returned from a school trip with a group of students. He helped get me down to Tauranga while the students told me I had made a great choice, Tauranga Boys’ College was the best school. I instantly relaxed and felt better about my decision.” – Linus


The Talopa’u household is made up of Dad Alex and Mum Alva, eldest son Dre who is away at his first year of university but visits regularly, and Shanay and Reece who are still school-aged and living at home. Both financial advisors who work from home, Alex and Alva consider moving their family down from Auckland in 2016 the best thing they’ve ever done.

“Everyone looks out for each other here. We didn’t use to leave our shoes outside, until our neighbour said, ‘you’re in Tauranga now, it’s safe’.” – Alex (Host Dad)

As soon as Linus arrived, he felt warmly welcomed into the Talopa’u family. Host children are encouraged to participate in the weekly family meeting, are allocated chores like the other kids and have a home-cooked device-free dinner almost every night. Alex explains that he always wanted five children; now that he can host up to two international students at a time, that dream is complete.

When asked whether he’s a friend or a brother, Linus’s host sister Shanay answers without hesitation: “brother, definitely.”


By staying with a Samoan-Niuean family, Linus doesn’t just get to experience the broader Kiwi culture, he also has been lucky enough to gain first-hand exposure to New Zealand’s Pacific community. Many of these experiences have stood out as the most significant during his time in Tauranga.

The Talopa’u family had a stall at the Pasifika in the Bay Festival and sold pani popo – Samoan coconut cream buns that Alex is quick to point out Linus, a keen cook, even baked himself – alongside chopsuey and rice.

With his host brother and sister in the school’s Pasifika group, he also got to see what goes into the group’s dances and performances at school and festivals.

“The Samoan culture is really lovely; they are so warm and open. The entire Samoan community feels like extended family.” – Linus

Home life is a mixture of Kiwi and Island culture. The family grows taro leaves in the backyard, filling them at times with coconut and fish, other times with corned beef – and this fusion of cuisines is the perfect analogy to the blended cultures within the Talopa’u family.


The family always wanted to host international students but never had the space in Auckland. Since moving to Tauranga, they have hosted three long-term German students and a number of short-term Japanese students.

“It’s really special to have someone come and live with you and experience your culture, but at the same time they’re teaching us about their culture.” – Alva (Host Mum)

“Linus is very laid back; as soon as he came here it was easy to talk to him. He is easy to get along with and has similar interests like basketball and Playstation.” – Reece (Host Brother)

Alex’s only concern when taking on host students from so far away was whether the students would feel at home with his family and this very different country, but that worry quickly melted away. And with his home country Samoa having been colonised by Germany, having German students join his family feels extra significant.


One of the most striking cultural differences between Linus and the family is how they perceive time. While Germans are famously strict on time, Pacific Islanders (and Kiwis) take on a far more relaxed, casual approach.

“Sometimes we have to say, ‘Sorry Linus, we’re on Island Time today,’ as the family continues to potter around with Linus ready and waiting at the front door,” his host Dad laughs.

While nobody is likely to change their attitude towards time, it has become something of a family joke. When asked how Linus feels when he’s waiting, he says: “I could have slept in 15 minutes longer!”


In Germany, all schools are co-ed and often limited to 500 students; there are no uniforms, you don’t choose your own subjects and personal devices are not allowed. By contrast, Tauranga Boys’ College has around 2,500 male-only, uniform-clad students who choose subject areas that match their interests and tablets and computers are incorporated in the classroom.

It took a few weeks to adjust, but Linus is enjoying schooling in New Zealand. He likes that here extra-curricular activities and socialisation – things that happen on your own time in Germany – are a big part of the school day. He loves the opportunities for outdoor education that his school offers and has taken part in surfing camps and fishing trips as well as an overnight trip to the Coromandel.


“The best advice is be open to everything. I’m not religious but I go to church with my host family. Get involved in sport. Be open to trying the local food. Talk with people – New Zealanders are interested, when I say I’m from Germany they want to know about my culture and country.” – Linus