Four South Pacific Self-Reliance Managers came from the island nations of Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji along with two representatives from the Pacific Area Office in Auckland, New Zealand, to Laie for meetings that helped them familiarize themselves with the opportunities and resources available at BYU-Hawaii.
James Faustino, director of Admissions, said. “This [meeting] is exciting for our department as these managers are often our facilitators in the Pacific. They are very well connected, and they travel to every corner of their respective countries to help individuals become more self-reliant.”
“As education is a key component to self-reliance, they would like to experience BYU-Hawaii and increase their understanding of our departments and services,” he added.
The first round of meetings on Wednesday, September 27 involved 11 different departments of the university from academic advising to Seasider Sports. Faculty and staff from each department presented the most relevant information to the managers so they could relay it to prospective students in their home countries.
Verna Tuku‘afu, SR manager from Tonga and a 1999 alumna, is one of the driving forces behind the increased enrollment of Tongan students to BYUH. She said in a forum for social work majors, “Self-reliance is a commandment from the Lord. If you are willing and you put forth the effort, the Lord will help you. When you are self-reliant, you are in a better position to help and serve others.” On her first day on campus, she met students from Tonga, some of whom she personally helped to apply and get into BYUH.
Manea Tuahu, SR manager from Tahiti and 2004 alumni, helped Tahitian and Cook Island students to come to BYUH. “The thing I learned the most while at BYU-Hawaii is how to lead and to become a leader,” Tuahu said. Currently, Tuahu serves as a bishop as well as being employed by the church with Self-Reliance Services in French Polynesia.
Along with Tuahu and Tuku‘afu were Ned Taito, SR manager from Fiji, and Bruce McCarthy, SR manager from Samoa. Dean Westerlund, SR manager of the Pacific Area, and Ariel Wetere, operations manager both from Auckland, New Zealand, accompanied them.
As an example of how it’s never too late to complete education, McCarthy encouraged students to “get all the education you can. It’s the most important – bar none.” McCarthy said he got his bachelor’s degree at the age of 40 and then his master’s degree in financial health shortly after.
While a degree is important, the managers each said internships are also very important because it helps students to gain skills and put into practice the things they learned in the classroom. Tuku‘afu said, “You need to start thinking of what you can give back for your country. There are a lot of internship opportunities in government and the ministry of education [in Tonga].” Overall, the employer will want to know what the student will be able to do versus what they’ve already done, the managers explained.
Another crucial aspect of successful employment in the future besides an internship and degree is getting certifications in the desired career path. Wetere explained employers will want to see that their potential employees have certificates in the appropriate sectors. “An internship could make a difference in Fiji, but it’s different in Australia and New Zealand. You need to understand where you’re going and the requirements needed for those places,” she said.
One Thursday, the managers had time to meet with the BYUH President’s Council. President John S. Tanner and his wife Susan Tanner hosted the managers for a luncheon with other members of President’s Council.
Sister Tanner said, “When John and I travel around the South Pacific, we feel that the managers are the best thing to happen to the church – it’s awesome to see you in action. We’re not joking when we say we thank Heavenly Father in our prayers for you.”
The meeting focused on the new Holokai general education curriculum. The program will be good for students in Tonga because of the opportunities it will open up for them, Tuku‘afu said. “One of the things we find in Tonga is there’s not a lot of employment opportunities, but there are teaching opportunities. If they want to major in business management, they should get a certificate in TESOL. They should have a skill in teaching English. [Holokai] is really good because there’s more options now.”
Westerlund agreed and said the students would be more marketable. “With this new curriculum, it gives them the opportunity to take their skills and majors to other areas.”
President Tanner reemphasized the vision that President David O. McKay had for BYUH – that it should be educating students from the South Pacific and East Asia. He said the goal for education at BYUH is to help students to build up the kingdom of God when they return home with their degrees.
On Friday, the managers met with representatives from the Admissions and Financial Aid offices. Questions regarding the I-WORK program (I-WORK stands for International Work Opportunity Returnability Kuleana) and other scholarship opportunities were discussed. They also examined challenges that international students face such as a lack of work experience, cultural challenges, making new friends, and difficulty with time management.
The managers each said the best way for students to succeed at BYUH is for them to prepare the best they can while at home before they arrive on campus. Some students feel that getting to BYUH is the goal, but that is only the beginning – the goal is for them to stay in the university and complete all their classes to get their degree.
The managers then spent the afternoon on Saturday at the Polynesian Cultural Center. While attending BYUH in the late 90s, Tuku‘afu said he remembers working at the PCC. Tuahu also worked at PCC in the Hawaiian Village – it was his first time to be back both on campus and at the PCC in 12 years.
On Sunday evening, the managers took time to meet with students from their respective home islands. Over 80 students from Tonga met with Tuku‘afu in the Aloha Center Ballroom. The other managers met with their country’s students across campus.
Westerlund said, “Students need to keep the end game in mind – that is to endure to the end. If you want to aspire to go to the temple, you’ll need a job that will allow you to do that. The end game is to return to Heavenly Father.”
Faustino said, “The [managers] strongly desire to continue to help, improve, and streamline this process. The investment in their time and resources to be with us, I believe, demonstrates the priority and attention by the Pacific Area Office in helping the youth better prepare and engage in more educational opportunities. I look forward to more Pacific area students joining us [in the future].”
NOTE: This article was originally written for the Admissions office, and department staff have given the Ke Alaka'i permission to republish this article.