Alumni, faculty and students share although the IWORK program is a great blessing, achieving the goal of the program can be a test of faith because of the fear of not having a job and intercultural marriage.
According to the BYU–Hawaii website, “The IWORK (International Work Opportunity Return-ability Kuleana) program is to assist students from the Pacific Rim (South Pacific & East Asia) in obtaining a quality education at BYU–Hawaii and help students become self-reliant.”
The site adds the goal of the IWORK program is to provide the necessary financial assistance to worthy members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Kathleen Dean Espi, a BYUH alumna and human resource manager for Ezy Service Center Corporation, said she and her husband, who was an IWORK student, faced the decision if they should return home to the Philippines after she graduated eight years ago.
“Was the decision to go home easy? It was not. I packed my whole TVA apartment in one week, and we had to ship 11 boxes back home. We had to live in a very small apartment and start from scratch, barely making ends meet because we were living in a third world country and on a third world’s wage.”
She shared although her husband had a well-paying job and working visa in Laie, they still opted to go home because they remembered what that their IWORK agreement said: once they were done with their education, they would go back and serve their home country.
“It was not easy, but it was all worth it because my husband ended up serving as a bishop. I ended up being a bishop’s wife at the age of 24. While we were serving as bishop, we were able to help Filipinos come to Laie as BYUH students.”
Financial Aid Counselor Jocelyn Lopez said IWORK students are given a loan, which is 50 percent grant and 50 percent loan. Students do not have to pay their loan back if they return to their home region and stay for four years.
“[IWORK] is an agreement between the [student] and the program that the skills and talents they are going to acquire here as a student will be used back home to help build the kingdom, community and help the people back home. Above all, it will have them be able to have their loans forgiven.
“If you return to your home country, it is a leap of faith. Sometimes when you return home, you don’t have anything to return home to.”
Lopez said the IWORK program was created in 2009, replacing a program called IWES (International Work Experience Scholarship.) In the IWES program, returning home was still encouraged, but there were no loans students had to pay back.
Lopez said she was IWES student and decided to stay in Hawaii after graduating because her husband was from Mexico, so Hawaii was halfway between her home in New Zealand and Mexico.
“My desire was to come here and return with a degree to work in Public Administration. That was my hope. Then I met my husband, and we were married.”
She added, “There are a few students who come here and fall in love with a U.S. student and they chose to stay in the United States, so they are not able to fulfill their obligation.”
Princess Lopez, Lopez’s daughter-in-law, was one of the students who fell in love with a U.S. student and had IWORK obligations, according to Lopez. Princess, a senior from Indonesia majoring in psychology, married Lopez’s son.
Princess said her main focus was to get an education, but along the way, she was blessed to meet her husband.
“Being married has definitely changed my plans for the future, since my husband is a U.S. citizen. I now have to change my visa status to be able to stay here with him to build our relationship and start our family.
“We both decided to stay in the U.S. as it will give us and our future family a better future and more opportunities.”
Princess added being a part of the IWORK program blessed her because she could pursue her major at an affordable price and work in a culturally diverse place that she said opened her mind. Still, she noted, deciding to stay was difficult.
“Deciding to stay in the U.S. is somewhat hard for me as the process to change [visa] status is very hard, challenging and complicated. I also had to sacrifice the fact that I will be far away from the comfort of my home country and especially away from my loved ones back home.”
“You can’t control love”
Lopez added IWORK does not discourage marriage. They are here to provide financial support not here to say do not fall in love.
“Can you control someone falling in love with somebody? No, you can’t. You can’t just say [since] you’re a U.S. citizen, I am not going to date you, or, I am not going to fall in love with you because you are a U.S. citizen.”
According to Pattica San, a sophomore from Cambodia majoring in business management, his life has dramatically changed since he came to BYUH through the IWORK program. He said he finally could live like a “normal person” after years of living in harsh conditions in Cambodia.
San said he thinks IWORK is a fantastic scholarship, but he wishes he did not have to wait to marry. He said if he marries and stays in the U.S. with his spouse, he will lose his scholarship.
“I will be going to go back home without being married. It is not perfect, but it is a noble program to help people like me to study here.”
Solutions to the fear
According to Lopez, it is essential students prepare now for what they will do when they return home.
“I think the hardest part of going back is if they haven’t been able to think ahead. You’re here in school. You are working. Everything is going fine. You are getting money and studying, but it's [there is] more. You have to think about what is happening in the end.”
Because of the Holokai program, Alumni and Career Services and events like the Asia Pacific Career Conference (APCC), Lopez said students have a better chance of finding jobs in their home country because they are not limited to a degree.
“Students are more marketable because not only are you going home with one degree, you have a degree and minor and certificate.”
After Espi came back to BYUH to help give students internships for the APCC in March, she said the school’s motto is more apparent.
“I was going around campus and going around the McKay [Building] area where it says ‘enter to learn, go forth to serve.’ It just makes more sense because not to brag or anything, but we went home and fulfilled our promise.
“Now, we are helping others get jobs. It was a leap of faith to do that. It is easier to leave something if it is not convenient. We had options to stay, so leaving something comfortable was faith promoting.”
Now, eight years after Espi and her husband returned home, she said, “It is faith promoting for someone who graduated from BYUH and went home and started from scratch. It is obedience and faith.”