Twenty Questions with Tamatha Paul


Welcome to Twenty Questions!

Every week I invite a twenty-something onto the blog and share their responses to twenty quick-fire, intimate questions. No one featured on Twenty Questions is a public figure, and most of these people I don’t know very well, or at all. My hope is that by taking a peek into someone else’s soul you will realise that, despite our fundamental differences, we still have similar insecurities, make similar mistakes and have fought similar battles to become the people we are today.

Tamatha Paul, 21

What is your full name?

Tamatha-Kaye Erin Paul but I just go by Tamatha Paul or Tam.


How old are you?

21! I never know whether I’m scared to grow older or want it to hurry up so that people stop talking to me like I’m a young idiot.


How old do you feel?

I definitely feel 21. I like to think I’m an old soul but I’m also still learning and making mistakes which reminds me that I am young. I think characteristics that people normally attribute to older people; being thoughtful, patient, well-organised and well-rounded are attributes that I am seeing become more and more prominent within our generation, and I think that’s a side effect of inheriting a whole raft of societal and global issues. Climate change, people!


Where were you born, and where do you live now?

I was born in South Auckland in Otāhuhu! We moved around quite a bit – I spent my first few years up north in Paihia then we moved to Christchurch where I grew up until I was 8 – that was weird because I was definitely the only brown kid in my classes for a long time. Then I moved to Tokoroa where I finished primary, intermediate and high school. I regard Tokoroa as my home as it truly shaped who I am today. It’s also where my heart is. I live in Wellington now – I moved down here for university and I love it. It’s my favourite city in Aotearoa.


What do you do for work?

I am the full-time President of Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association. I oversee the governance of this organisation and lead a team of nine students. We represent all 22,000 of our students here at Vic: those on university boards, those on wider Wellington platforms and even sometimes on a national level. We have been very vocal about issues facing our student body and young people more broadly, including issues of sexual violence prevention, rental and tenancy issues, and mental health among youth. So yeah, we do a lot of good mahi towards the improvement of our students lives.


What do you do for fun?

I love art! I draw, design and paint whenever I get a spare minute. I love music, I listen to it all day long and I’ve low key got the best music taste out of anyone I know haha. But I think most of all, I’m a true extrovert – I love people and I get lots of energy from kōrero with those around me!


Did you go to university? If so, what did you study? If not, why?

I sure did and I was the first in my whānau to do so, which I’m incredibly proud of. I studied Political Science and International Relations. I chose Politics because I had no understanding of politics before I came to university and when I was living in Tokoroa I wanted to understand why a whole bunch of people from outside of our community were making decisions (and sometimes very poor decisions) on our behalf. I wanted to do International Relations because I was pretty good at history in high school and I think Aotearoa has a long history of being international role models. For example, Māori pioneered passive resistance long before Ghandi or MLK (just look at Tohu and Te Whiti’s passive resistance at Parihaka). We were the first to give women the right to vote, we were the first to stand up to apartheid and nuclear warfare. I’m pretty proud of that and I love to think about how New Zealand can participate as a member of the global community.


What is your favourite movie of all time?

Kill Bill 2, or Django Unchained. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan.


What is the biggest risk you have ever taken that has paid off?

Probably running for Victoria University President. I was dead-set on moving to Berlin where my sister lives and doing my postgraduate studies over there but with the end of year fast-approaching I did a lot of reflection and decided I still had a lot of time and passion to give to the issues I cared about most within the student community. It was a risky decision and at the time it felt like there was so many factors that would prevent me from winning (like the fact that there had only been one Māori VUWSA President before me). I was also worried that the stress would affect my health adversely (I have an auto immune disease called SLE Lupus which is exacerbated by stress). But to be honest, I was most worried about losing because I’m competitive as hell and knew I would hate it, but I also knew that if I stayed true to who I was and gave it my all that I could win. It turned out that all the connections and relationships I had made during my time at Victoria paid off, even though I never made those connections with an end goal in mind. Whakawhanaungatanga: it’s a way of life.


Hardest moment of your twenties so far?

When I graduated in December. I found it really hard because most of my family were unable to make it to my graduation due to financial and health reasons, which just goes to show that being first in your family to graduate from university does not solve any wider systemic issues. Graduating is really just the first step in undoing structural inequality. I was also grieving for my brother who’s partner had a stillbirth that same week which was extremely challenging. All of this is to say that my graduation was very melancholic, I cried a lot that week, but looking back I’m so grateful my mum and brother were able to be there alongside my beautiful friends who have become whānau. I’m also so grateful to have graduated at all; it’s an opportunity that my mum, dad, nana and grandad never had and without their hard work and emotional support over the years, I would not have been at university in the first place let alone graduate.


Best moment of your twenties so far?

All of 2018! I saved up and travelled to Europe, turned 21, graduated from university, became President of VUWSA, and went to Samoa.


Who do you miss?

I miss my parents and my grandparents. It’s fucking hard living away from them and I think about them every day, but I have to remind myself that they want me to be here doing good work.


What do you like the most about yourself?

That I have no fear. It’s an attribute that I inherited from my dad, a very tough man, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to use my voice and speak up. I will go 100 for the underdog – no brakes.


What do you like the least about yourself?

I don’t know, I’m definitely not perfect but I can’t really pinpoint anything in particular.


If you had toget a tattoo, what would you get? If you already have tattoos, which is your favourite and why?

I have seven tattoos but my favourite is the tā moko on my hands because it is born out of my favourite whakataukī (Māori proverb) “he kai kei āku ringa” which translates to “at the ends of my arms is food”,or, “with my hands I can create food”. The reason I like it is because being first in my family to complete a higher education means that I am benefitting from the hard work of those who have gone before me: my mother as a nurse and my father as a truck driver. Having tattoos on your hands is quite confronting but I wanted to acknowledge the hard work of my whānau and that without them I would not be here. I am very proud of my working class roots. I was always told it would be hard to get a job with tattoos on my hands but I’m doing okay so far.


How would your friends describe you?

They would probably say something about my temper – I’m a hot head and get worked up easily. They would also tell you that I’m incredibly passionate and will stand up for what’s right no matter what.


How would your parents describe you?

Loyal, caring, and hard-working. My parents are my best friends and I’d do anything for them.


When was the last time you cried?

On my way to work today, the song “2009” by Mac Miller came on and I shed a few tears behind my sunglasses.


What are you afraid of?



If you could start your twenties again, what would you do differently?

Nothing at all. I’m really grateful for everything I’ve done and experienced in my twenties and wouldn’t change a thing – good or bad.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club