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We are thrilled to reflect on the successful completion of an extraordinary opportunity brought to you by TupuToa. Thanks to the generous funding from Education New Zealand’s Prime Minister’s Scholarship and Pagoda Projects, Māori and Pacific tauira had the chance to participate in a transformative 1-week onboarding and 8-week internship and entrepreneurship program in Taipei, Taiwan, widely renowned as Asia’s Silicon Valley.


From March to May of 2023, our selected group of 19 talented individuals, including TupuToa alumni and current interns, embarked on a remarkable journey of cultural exchange and personal growth. Throughout this period, they immersed themselves in the dynamic and innovative environment of Taipei, gaining invaluable professional experiences and forging lifelong connections. The program provided a unique opportunity to explore Taiwan’s thriving tech industry, learn from industry leaders, and navigate the exciting challenges of entrepreneurship. Our interns not only enhanced their skills and knowledge but also developed a deeper understanding of Taiwanese culture and its vibrant traditions.


Larissa Smith, a passionate software engineering student at Yoobee Colleges in Wellington, who shared her inspiring story as an intern with TupuToa in Taiwan. With a love for math and problem-solving, Lara pursued her studies in software engineering, an industry she felt lacked representation for women and Pacific Islanders,

“There aren’t many women in STEM, and there especially aren’t any Pacific women in STEM. I’d like to see that change within the next few years.”


Having discovered TupuToa through an Instagram advertisement, Lara was immediately drawn to the program’s mission. She found the application process straightforward and was quickly contacted by TupuToa with internship opportunities. Within a month, she secured an interview for a summer internship in Wellington with FAST New Zealand, where she worked as an implementation consultant intern,

“I was an implementation consultant intern, but it was I think that’s a fancy way of saying software developer. We would like test the software and implement changes to the software depending on what they needed. I worked with FAST New Zealand, they help IRD implement tax changes so that IRD workers can do processes better, faster, easier. That’s what I did, it was really fun, I loved it.”


After completing her internship in Wellington, Lara embarked on another internship in Indonesia before venturing to Taiwan without taking a break. Her enthusiasm for travel led her to embrace every opportunity to work and explore different countries. Taiwan, a place she had never considered before, captured her heart with its unique appeal and became the next stop on her international journey,

“I just want to travel as much as physically possible I want to work in every country in the entire world. As soon as I saw Taiwan I was like oh my gosh. I’ve like never thought about going to Taiwan, it’s the coolest place to work and live. I love it so much.”


In Taiwan, Lara interned as a software engineer at Fusion, an engineering group. Assigned to a project involving microcomputers, she found herself challenged by the task of developing an AI system to detect how long people had been sitting at their desks, reminding them to take breaks. While initially unfamiliar with electrical engineering concepts, Lara persevered and successfully implemented person detection using microcomputers within the two-month internship period,

“I knew nothing about electrical engineering. So it was kind of hard setting that up but yeah, I learned heaps. I know everything about Arduino, now I know everything about Expressive and their boards that is ESP 32 if you need help with that, I know everything you can to know about that.”


Reflecting on her experience, Lara highly recommends TupuToa’s programs to other students. She emphasises the transformative impact of the summer internship, which she found immensely enjoyable. Furthermore, Lara encourages students to take chances and apply for every opportunity, even if they feel they might not meet all the requirements. Her own experience exemplifies the power of seizing unexpected opportunities and embracing new challenges,

Lara’s remarkable journey from being a software engineering student in Wellington to becoming a global intern showcases her resilience, adaptability, and passion for making a difference in the tech industry. As she continues her travels and professional growth, Lara serves as an inspiring role model for aspiring interns and advocates for increased diversity and representation in STEM fields.

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