When Dannevirke's Reihana Paewai left home to study for two years at the United World College (UWC), it was a coup for him and his school Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Tamaki Nui-A-Rua.

Reihana, then 17, the son of Moira and Stephen, won a scholarship to the college in Singapore. Now he's graduated and undertaking a gap programme in Nepal.

"We're pretty proud of him," father Stephen said. "Reihana was just 17 when he left home and I guess, like the parents of any child leaving home, there was the odd concern. But we knew he had the right personality and we had a lot of confidence in Singapore and UWC is quite inspiring.

"He's done so well and now most students from the Kura are going on to further study and one of our hopes is to see others from there do well."

Dannevirke's Reihana Paewai (far right) with graduation friends in Singapore.
Dannevirke's Reihana Paewai (far right) with graduation friends in Singapore.

The biggest challenge was adapting to change, Reihana said when he was home last August.

"Once I got over those cultural and language challenges, it was fun and it's people who make the college. They come from the four corners of the world. The cultural diversity is amazing and the opportunities wonderful."

There were 3000 on the same campus as Reihana, 360 students in his year and another couple of hundred in the boys' hostel, a vast change from Dannevirke's Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Tamaki Nui-A-Rua.

"It would have been quite daunting and when we visited four months later we were amazed at the facilities," Mr Paewai said. "UWC has a huge alumni and the financial support for the college is incredible. The resources and facilities are first class and they even have an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The lights on the sports fields would be equivalent to those at city grounds in New Zealand."

And while the emphasis is on academic achievement, students at UWC are encouraged to volunteer for community service. Reihana worked in a community kitchen for a women's refuge.

"It's about encouraging the students to be all-rounders and giving back to the community," Mr Paewai said.

"There is a huge expectation on students to study outside school hours and the standards are so high, teachers push the kids. But it's more than just six subjects, students are expected to do community service and Reihana has even completed a 10,000 word extended essay."

Reihana also completed a project at a school in Cambodia and he's now volunteering in Nepal at Maya Universe Academy at Tanahun, an eight hour trip from Kathmandu in the lower part of Nepal, which was set up by a former UWC (India) student.

The school has a farm helping it be self sufficient and it's the farm Reihana had thought he was heading to.

"He was expecting to be on the farm or helping with the earthquake rebuild, but he's teaching English instead," his father said. "Just two people in the village spoke English, along with three volunteers who have now left, so he's in a different world."

School is open six days a week and closed Saturday, or when it rains.

"The facilities are quite basic. Reihana's classroom has bamboo walls, a thatched roof and no floor and one hose supplies all the village's water," Mr Paewai said. "Everyone helps collect the water, including Reihana."

The villagers rarely have meat, except when a goat is killed and is shared.

"Reihana's staple diet is potatoes, rice and vegetables, but he said, with the all the spices used, it's never the same and it'll be interesting to see what he looks like when he comes home in November after almost a year with no meat," Mr Paewai said. "But kids are kids and he's enjoying his time. And I think he's creating some excitement because he's a prop forward so is a different physique from those around him, but I imagine he's in his element."

Reihana will be home in November, but heads off to Luther College in Iowa in August next year.

"When he's home we hope to get him working so he has some pocket money," Mr Paewai said.