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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (November 16, 2001 – The Marshall Islands Journal)---Difficulty in adjusting to cultural differences in the United States and elsewhere is a cause of the high dropout rate among Marshallese college students, suggest local public and private school principals.

According to the RMI Scholarship Program statistics, more than two out of three scholarship recipients do not complete their studies.

The way of life in countries like the U.S and Australia is fast paced and values are different. So when a RMI student goes off island to study, usually their first time abroad, the result is facing a huge cultural shock, in addition to the rigors of a normal college education.

"The Marshall Islands is a very communal country, ‘what’s mine is yours’ sums up our attitude," said Rita Elementary School principal Elmo Kabjor. "This is not so in countries like the U.S and Australia. Their attitude is ‘mine is mine and yours is yours.’"

Students are unprepared for all the differences they will face at off-island schools. There is also no one for them to talk with about the differences or problems they face on arrival. Family, which plays a large role in any student’s life, is no longer readily available.

"Students are finding themselves all alone away from their parents and relatives," said SDA High School principal Jeff Brown. "They can’t just pick up the phone or walk down the road and visit when they need to talk to someone."

This has become a problem for RMI students abroad as they have trouble mixing with other cultures. "Students are frustrated and embarrassed," said Marshall Islands High School principal Sister Dorothy Nook. "They have a poor image of themselves and have low self-esteem."

Most RMI students abroad are on scholarships or U.S. federal aid. This money is not always used for the student’s studies.

"Students are spending their money on parties, clothes, jewelry and picnics -- luxuries that aren’t needed for studying," said Assumption Elementary School principal Sandy Dismas. "They are buying two of all appliances so they can send one back to their families."

Students have found themselves in countries with all new things available to them that they have never experienced before. With little experience in handling money, this often results in their finances being spent all at once and the student not being able to afford to continue their studies. Many students "are using all their money for fun and not budgeting," said Kabjor.

All educators agree that the students need to learn budgeting and time management skills. "Students need to prepare for the way of life off-island," said Dismas. "They need to prepare mentally to meet many things unexpected while off-island."

All principals interviewed suggest that a preparatory course be held for all high school graduates that wish to continue with their studies off-island. This course should run over a few years, either during the final years of high school or after year12 graduation, they suggest.

The Ministry of Education for the first time this year held a group orientation for scholarship students prior to departure. The local principals feel that more in-depth preparation of prospective RMI college students is essential if the RMI is to increase the benefits and results of the money that it is spending for college educations of Marshallese.

Two of Three College Students Drop Out

Fewer than one-third of Marshall Islands students receiving scholarships from the Marshall Islands have completed their fields of study, according to statistics from the RMI Scholarship Office.

According to the program, 897 students have received funding since 1987 and 295 have completed their courses of study.

Of that number, one-third (97) completed short-term certificate training programs and 26 percent (77) completed AA degrees -- almost six out of 10 graduates received only an AA or certificate.

Another third (101) completed their bachelor’s degrees.

Only six percent of the total completing their studies gained advanced degrees in medicine and other fields.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail). 

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