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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (August 15, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---Growing up in Papua New Guinea, Baulon Maibala dreamed of one day leaving his Pacific Island country to experience life abroad.

It wasn’t until this summer, at the age of 28, that Maibala’s dream came true.

Maibala is one of the four students selected this year by the South Pacific Island Scholarship Program to attend the University of Hawai‘i. The program is funded by the federal government and jointly administered by the U.S. State Department’s Office of Education Exchange and the East-West Center’s Pacific Island’s Development Program.

It allows four students from the Pacific to receive a college education in the United States.

This year’s students selected are:

Mr. Robertson Szetu of the Solomon Islands;

Ms. Nese Ituaso of Tuvalu;

Mr. Baulon Maibala of Papua New Guinea; and

Mr. Tepueli Tupou of Tonga

"I was a bit nervous about going to a bigger city," Maibala said in an interview at the East-West Center in Honolulu. "If things go wrong, obviously one can get lost. But I didn’t encounter any problems."

Maibala will be working toward his master’s degree in anthropology at UH. He received his undergraduate degree in the field from the University of Papua New Guinea in 1996.

"I’m looking to refocus my studies in anthropology," he said.

Maibala said he learned about the program while researching scholarships on the Internet.

Lack of resources and funding prevents many students in Papua New Guinea from obtaining a higher academic degree. Students sometimes go to Australia, New Zealand, England, Fiji, the United States or other countries to further their education. But that can be costly without a scholarship.

Maibala said experiencing new cultures abroad not only broadens his view of the world, but also plays an important role in his studies.

"Especially for people in my field, it’s important to go outside and experience other cultures and people," he said. "In anthropology we talk about cultural differences. The way people see things are not the same as where you come from. For me this is a cultural experience to experience other people from other backgrounds."

After he obtains his degree, Maibala plans to return home and either work at a research institution or teach within the anthropology department at UPNG, where he previously worked as a tutor and student assistant.

The South Pacific Student Exchange Scholarship Program was started in 1994 by the U.S. Congress to provide educational opportunities to future leaders in Pacific nations, said Linda Moriarty, the program’s co-coordinator at the East-West Center.

Competition for the scholarship program is tough. Only four students are selected each year out of 300 applicants from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.

Two students will work on getting a master’s degree, while the remaining two students work toward their bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s students start their first year at UH-Hilo and have the option of transferring to UH-Manoa or another university on the U.S. mainland.

"We want them to have as broad an experience as possible and familiarize themselves with a democratic government," Moriarty said.

The program includes a six-week summer internship in Washington, D.C. with Congress or a government organization. Another summer is spent in their home country participating in a community service project.

"It gives them an opportunity to reconnect with their community," she said.

The goal is for the students to return home after their studies.

Another student, 27-year-old Robertson Szetu of the Solomon Islands, will be studying business administration at the University of Hawai‘i.

Szetu studied law in New Zealand, but never completed his degree. He said the program will help him get back on track and finish his education.

"Most Pacific Islanders wouldn’t be able to afford to study by themselves," he said. "These scholarships are really sought after back home."

Although Szetu will be leaving his family back home, he said completing his education is a top priority.

"I’ve heard the business school here is one of the most prestigious ones," he added. "I hope to work toward my MBA."

Nese Ituaso, 28, is a master’s degree student from Funafuti, Tuvalu. She was a medical officer at the Princess Margaret Hospital and a graduate from the Fiji School of Medicine.

She will be working towards a master’s degree in public administration with emphasis on health services.

Kepueli Tupou, 19, is from Ha‘apai, Tonga. He just completed his Form 7 from Tonga High School and will be pursuing a bachelor’s of science degree in biology.

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