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Marshall Islands ambassador reminds students they are important to the people in the homelands during trip to the U.N.

A group of college students dressed in business attire, stand on the steps of the United Nations in New York City. Flag poles and flags are behind them.

Chaille Faye Kioa, BYU–Hawaii alumna from Tonga who majored in political science, was one of nine students selected to attend the field study at the United Nations Headquarters in the first week of Spring Semester.

She said, “The events at the United Nations Headquarters are undoubtedly done without a whim and no rest. A piece of advice that has resonated with me since this field study was from the ambassador of the Marshall Islands. [She said,] ‘Get your act together! You are important to your people.’”

Christina Akanoa, assistant professor in the Faculty of Business & Government and field study coordinator, said she was happy the trip to the United Nations contributed to building students’ confidence in professional settings coupled with the education they gained at BYUH.

“I always tell my students, ‘Why can’t you be the next ambassador?’ You can’t say that only those people can make it. The only obstacle you have in this life is yourself. There are so many opportunities out there. You’re the one who gets out and makes it happen.”

Akanoa continued, “This experience allows students to realize they have the potential to do something about [an important Indigenous crisis], and they can be leaders in that capacity.”

student at UN assembly.jpeg

Beneficial connections 

Akanoa said she started in 2013 this field trip to the U.N. Headquarters in New York. “When I sent out the courtesy letter to them, asking them if we could visit with them, [it was approved]. Each year since 2013, [excluding 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19] we’ve been visiting with the [Polynesian] missions. It was just like a common courtesy for us to go and give our regards to the missions.”

Akanoa said she believes any professor can do a little something to help students reach their great potential and expand their network for future career opportunities.

She added, “It’s a two-week event, but we only go for the first week because … students can do a lot more networking. … The states and the governments are there to represent their view on the topics, so there are a lot of different networks.”

Thanks to the relationship first created in 2013, political science students have easy access to finding internships and job opportunities, she said.

Akanoa shared some of the students she took to the United Nations are now working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and several Pacific Island countries. She explained in the different missions and even on her recent trips, representatives offered help to find internships for her students.

“They were very impressed with the way the students carried themselves and the way they … behaved [respectfully]. Of course … that’s all part of diplomacy,” she explained.

On the recent trip, Akanoa said she accompanied nine students. One of them was Sivao Laurenson, a senior from Samoa majoring in political science. Laurenson said the trip helped her understand the competitiveness of diplomacy.

“[It’s important that] you present yourself and your best interests in front of others to be effective in a diplomatic context. I was fortunate enough to be one of the students to attend the United Nations field trip. This is a great opportunity for me.”

BYUH students dressed in business attire meet with the Marshall Islands ambassador in his office in the United Nations.

Intense preparation  

According to Akanoa, the U.N. field study aims at giving students a chance to observe those at the United Nations interacting and deliberating with international organizations on topics under the theme and agenda of the year, as well as engaging in other events organized by nongovernmental organizations and the states.

The theme for this year was: “Indigenous people, business, autonomy and the human rights principles of due diligence including free, prior and informed consent,” she shared.

Before the trip, Akanoa’s students prepared by attending night classes, learning about diplomacy, choosing an issue relevant to this year’s theme and writing a 20-page research paper, said Akanoa.

“We prepared a couple of weeks in advance because there are many things to cover. … This class is POSC 384, The United Nations and Intergovernmental Organizations, for juniors and seniors, but senior students get priority for this trip,” she added.  

Akanoa said her students said their visit with the ambassadors and their respective missions were fulfilling. “That was the highlight of the trip because [students] sat down and talked with their ambassadors. I mean, when do you ever have that chance? To sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with your ambassador or your deputy ambassador or permanent deputy representatives. This is a rare opportunity!”

Students dressed in business attire, pose for a photo sitting in the seats of the leaders of the United Nations. They are seated behind a long, curved wooden desk with job title and nation plaques in front of them and a mural behind them.

Bringing Indigenous issues to an international realm 

Another part of the trip Akanoa remarked on was the effectiveness of the feedback given by the ambassadors after reading and looking through the students’ research papers. “It helped the students reorganize their ideas and new thoughts they might have,” she said.

Solesia Lasa, a senior from New Zealand majoring in political science and one of the nine students who attended the trip, said it was an honor to be part of this important work which “brings Pacific issues to the international realm.”

Sakiusa Tukana, field study attendee and senior from Fiji majoring in political science, said he recognized the crucial need for the United Nations to perform as a platform for Indigenous people to voice their concerns and fight for urgent issues. “I realized that the battle against climate change and globalization is 10 times harder and more severe for the indigenous people. Therefore, diplomacy is key!”

He added, “This [trip] has helped me to be more sensitive and made my perspective clearer. ... There is a place for everyone. You just need to find it!”

Indigenous issues are important because they help small countries like Palau in the process of becoming independent, along with other indigenous issues, Akanoa said. The Office of the Historian explained, “Palau was part of the United Nation Trust Territory of the Pacific, administered by the United States, following World War II. In 1978, Palau began the process of independence and gained it in 1994.”

Akanoa added, “Any Pacific Island countries that have had issues of Indigenous people feeling like [their rights are being violated] and [property being confiscated], mostly land, attended the event [at U.N. Headquarters] to discuss the issue and seek for the assistance of any kind.” Among the Indigenous organizations present are West Papua, New Zealand (Maori), aboriginal people of Australia, Rapa Nui (or Easter Island) and Hawaii.

Akanoa explained the United Nations has six main organs and five of them are based at U.N. Headquarters in New York. She said these five include the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Court of Justice and lastly, the Secretariat.