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Sophia Leon de la Barra

Later this month, Sophia Leon de la Barra is hitchhiking from Gisborne to Waitoa, near Hamilton.

That might not seem too unusual, but Miss Leon de la Barra, of Oamaru, will only be speaking te reo Maori for the journey and in fact, for the entire last week of September – Mahuru Maori, or Maori Language Month.

After flying to Gisborne, she will hitchhike to Waitoa, where she will take part in a three-day kura reo, a language immersion course, before returning to Gisborne and flying home eight days later.

“I will accept rides from people who speak te reo, and have cards explaining where I am going to those who do not,” she said.

Miss Leon de le Barra has studied te reo Maori for five years at Te Wananga o Aotearoa and Otago University, and now teaches the language in Oamaru.

“I can hold a conversation at the pub for a while – I wouldn’t say I am fluent, but definitely conversational.

“Like any language you want to learn, immersion learning is where it is at.”

She had previously attended two other kura reo, and said they had been beneficial.

“They were both awesome experiences in terms of improving my language and really getting to use it.

“It will be cool to combine a full immersion experience with travelling and the ability to communicate in more everyday situations.”

When she arrives at the marae where the language school is based, participants will be welcomed with a powhiri before the course begins.

“They split you into levels, but no matter what level you are the expectation is you don’t speak English the whole time you are there.

“Other people who speak te reo really welcome the opportunity to speak it.”

The other course participants were helpful, she said.

“I have always felt really fostered with my language skills that people are wanting to answer my questions.”

She hoped to find plenty of people who spoke te reo Maori on her journey from Gisborne and Waitoa, as the language was strong in that part of New Zealand.

“It is only a 12-hour trip by road, so who knows, I might be able to do a few laps.”