Students from the Pacific Islands shared their stories about being a college student at the SLCC as part of the Student Voice Project. Their stories illustrate that challenges may originate from every aspect of our life as colleges students.
The moderator of the forum, Latu Kinikini, from the island of Tonga, introduced the discussion saying that the purpose of this forum is to hear from students directly about the challenges they have to overcome in their college career. She hopes that these stories educate and encourage others in campus.
“Everything that has challenges is what stands out in these experiences,” says Kinikini.
Financial problems are not the only challenges to overcome in order to graduate. Family difficulties, cultural differences and even bad habits and lifestyle may contribute to cause students to drop their dreams.
“Challenges come from everywhere.” Kinikini says. “And the Pacific Island students’ stories show precisely that.”
Kinikini, a former student at the SLCC, and now an Assistant Director for Scholastic Standards at the University of Utah, asked to five students to introduce themselves and talk about the motivations and challenges they had while pursuing a college career at the SLCC.
Letizia Wolfgramm, from Tonga, says that the main reason why she decided to enroll at SLCC was cost.
“The cost of tuition makes more sense to me,” Wolfgramm says.
Wolfgramm indicated that after graduating from high school she spent several years working, changing diapers and taking care of her family.
“The biggest challenge was to come back to school,” Wolfgramm says.
Wolfgramm had to modify her daily life routine to accommodate school. She eventually graduated from SLCC and transferred to the Westminster College to pursue a degree in Education.
Leslie Langi, from Tonga, took a long time to come back to school because of family obligations. Now that their circumstances have changed, her parents have been very supportive and encourage her to concentrate on her educational goals.
She has also struggled with her age. Her biggest concern about school was attending class with younger students. Being the oldest in class did not seem particularly encouraging to her.
“I try to put that idea aside to focus in my educational goals,” Langi says.
Langi had to learn to focus on what was important in class, which was to get the best education possible. She is now pursuing an Education degree at the SLCC.
Tevita (Leka) Heimuli, a U.S. born citizen with parents from Tonga, says that he was one of the lost souls that drifted away from school.
“My biggest challenge was to come back because I didn’t have money,” Heimuli says.
At some point he decided to come back and complete his education. Although he did not have the economic resources, he has been able to manage to get some scholarships.
Once in school, Heimuli’s challenges did not end. Cultural aspects of his heritage played a challenging role.
“Asking questions to professors was a challenge,” Heimuli says.
Heimuli indicates that in the Polynesian culture they are not supposed to question the professor or teacher; it is a lack of respect to authoritative figures.
He had to readjust his perspectives to be able to engage more in class and get more out of his classes.
Stereotypes have placed challenges for Heimuli too. Due to his light skin color and slender body, he has been mistaken for a Hispanic or an athlete.
“Tongans are supposed to be fat and black” is what he frequently hears from people who stereotype him.
“I try to keep positive attitude when facing stereotypes and people’s expectations,” says Heimuli, who is now pursuing degrees in Social Work and Performance Arts at SLCC.
Leone Tunuufi, from the island of Samoa, says that she could not afford to get education outside of the state. A scholarship and the support of her family help her to stay in school.
“My biggest challenge was to make friends and get out of my comfort zone,” Tunuufi says.
Participating in class and “asking questions; having the fear that people would judge your comments when you express your opinions” was also a crucial challenge for Tunuufi.
At the beginning of Tunuufi’s college career the bad habits of poor listening and procrastinating that chased her from work caused her to get discouraged.
“I remind myself that I have to listen carefully and ask questions to understand what the professor is actually saying because that makes me learn more effectively,” Tunuufi says. “Procrastinating has been my biggest challenge.”
Tunuufi, who is pursuing a degree in Aviation at SLCC, comes from a very religious family who has high expectations for her.
“My family is very religious and expects me to pursue spiritual goals,” Tunuufi says.
She was able to compromise and keep a balance between her spirituality and college career, and learned new strategies to overcome her bad habits, along with other family and economic challenges.
Elaine Saena, from the island of Samoa, describes her educational experiences as made of ups and downs.
Saena explains that, for the Pacific Islanders, family is the most important thing in life. If any member is in dire straits they all together join forces to help and support. Family has priority above any other thing, even personal goals. They would drop school if they need to take care of family under difficult circumstances.
During the time Saena has been enrolled in school, her family experienced serious sicknesses and death. It caused a lot of pain and distress in the entire family. She was devastated and she considered dropping school.
Saena, with her emotions visibly shaken and tears running down her cheeks, said to the audience, “All I wanted was to quit school and support my family.”
Her family members were able to take care of the responsibilities that sickness and death in a family usually brings and she was encouraged to persevere in finishing her Education degree.
The Forum of the Pacific Islands’ Student is part of a series of events organized by the Multicultural Initiatives department of SLCC. Each Forum series seeks to provide information about the rich multicultural diversity at the college, as well as to promote a welcoming educational environment that enhances personal, educational and professional experience.
The next Student Voice Project will be on students who serve in the military, held Tuesday Nov. 12 from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Oak Room of the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.