Known as the world’s best diving and snorkeling location, the island country of Palau is located in the western Pacific Ocean and is home to approximately 22,000 residents, according to the World Factbook. Kaytano Edeyaoch, a junior majoring in business management, is the only student at BYU–Hawaii from Palau and said he feels proud to represent his country.
“I feel so small being here. Especially seeing the flag out there in the circle, knowing that it’s literally representing only me. It’s an honor to be here at BYUH and represent Palau,” Edeyaoch said.
“People usually think Palau is in the Philippines or they have no idea at all. I rarely come across anyone who has even heard of Palau. Not much is known to outsiders about Palau except for the diving, but we are a great island.”
Ellie Hadley, a sophomore majoring in computer science from Pohnpei and fiancé of Edeyaoch, said, “He won't admit it, but it can be lonely to not have any other Palauans here. I wish more people knew about Palau. It’s such a beautiful place and the people are great.”
Hadley explained he talks about home a lot and feels a sense of pride when he sees his flag at the Flag Circle. “Even though people don’t know where Palau is, he won’t hide the fact that he’s from there.
“He often takes out his phone and shows people where it is on a map, and shows the flag. He’ll do whatever he can to show he’s Palauan.”
Life in Palau
According to Edeyaoch, Palau is a small island where everybody knows each other. “It’s the typical island life.
“Everyone and their large families live in the same house. In mine, we had me, my grandparents, my parents, several uncles and an aunt.
“I spent a lot of time growing up going out fishing in the reef on a bamboo raft, farming the taro patches and building summer houses from our own hands and trees we cut down ourselves.”
Edeyaoch explained this was normal life in Palau. “We would use trees from the jungle and trees from the mangrove to make houses and then buy tin for the roof. Our family would just build our houses out of natural materials and this is very common on my island.
“Many people on the island fish for their own food. We would go out and fish on our bamboo rafts with our handmade fishing rods and catch fish, usually rabbit fish or in the reef we would get clam and oyster.”
From Palau to Hawaii
After getting an associate’s degree in Palau in the automotive field, Edeyaoch said coming to BYUH was something that he always wanted to do ever since he was a boy. “
There are several BYUH alumni in Palau and the majority of the Church leaders in Palau came to school here. They had a big influence on me coming here.
“It was always graduate high school, go on a mission then go to BYUH.”
Since arriving to BYUH, Edeyaoch said he has made the most of his stay and is keeping busy studying, working at the Cafeteria and thinking of a business idea.
Along with some of his friends, Edeyaoch tested his hand in a mechanical business as part of the Great Ideas Competition. Their idea was to supply students with a cheap and convenient way to have their cars serviced and fixed.
Edeyaoch said, “As soon as we started and people were finding out, we were getting a lot of interest. Because of timing and scheduling, we couldn’t go through with the business at the time, but it was interesting to test it out and learn.”
Preparing for his next steps
Preparing for marriage in December, Edeyaoch said he felt fortunate to be able to meet and soon marry someone from Micronesia adding the closeness of their cultures has made the dating experience much smoother. “
I think because our cultures are very similar, that already brought down so many barriers. Pohnpei, where she is from, is literally the closest thing to home. We never felt too different... being Micronesian and understanding those values helps us to have natural bonds.”
Hadley said being with [Edeyaoch] makes her feel like she’s at home. “I’m grateful because there’s no cultural barrier and no spiritual barrier either. We share the same beliefs, goals and have a closely related culture. He can be crazy, but he is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He’s straightforward, honest and a simple guy.”
Having met as missionaries in the South Africa Johannesburg Mission, Ronald Sipiri, a junior majoring in accounting from Papua New Guinea, said of Edeyaoch, “He was my district leader and he gets along with everyone and has a great sense of humor. He is a really charitable guy and is willing to help in any way possible. He is still the same up until today.”
Edeyaoch plans to return to Palau when he graduates with his future wife and encouraged young Palauans and Micronesians to take every opportunity that comes their way. “We can succeed and go far. No matter how small my country is, it won't stop me from being the best I can be.”